The following is a guest post by the writer of Lachlan J. Faces The Music, for whom I also wrote a post about record labels. You can go to his blog here: http://ljfacesthemusic.wordpress.com/ to read my piece and other great insights about music!
If you are at all familiar with the music scene, music culture, or have friends who are musicians, chances are that you have at some point in your life heard the words “record label”. It might have been the guy at the record store telling you that you know an album will be good because it was from a certain record label, or it might have been your punk-rock buddy screaming “fuck the majors!” while smashing bottles of beer over an amplifier, or it might have even been your other friend who sits up late in his room composing techno music on his Macintosh computer telling you that he’d just released his first EP through his own independent record label, but, wherever you heard it, I think it is a topic that warrants at least a little bit of discussion. I mean, what do record labels actually do? Who are they? Have they changed over time? Are they even really still necessary? These are the kind of questions that I will be asking and hopefully answering in this post here.
Well, to start with a basic description of just what the hell a record label actually is is probably called for so I’ve come up with a nice, concise, little, broad-strokes definition of what record labels are and do. Put simply, they are the guys with the money and equipment who help a band make a record. They provide producers and engineers, studios, and recording desks, they even go so far as to print and distribute the newly produced record and promote it. Sounds great doesn’t it? But there’s got to be a bit more to it than that, otherwise people wouldn’t try so hard to get themselves signed to particular record labels right?
Right! Many labels specialize in particular styles or genres of music and seek out bands that fit with the label’s image. Hellcat, for example, mainly deals with punk and psychobilly, and Def Jam is a straight up rap and hip-hop label. So we can see already that labels are a little bit more than just a place that pays you to make your record, but there is still a niggling little problem with this whole idea of record labels, namely, that there are essentially only three of them.
That’s right! Only three record labels control almost all of the music that is produced today! They are Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music, and Universal Music. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking; “This can’t possibly be true! I listen to music on all sorts of labels like Island, Polydor, Def Jam, Asylum, Interscope, Roadrunner, and the list is almost endless!” Well, don’t get your hopes up because I’ve got news for you: these are all owned by the three record labels I listed above.
That’s right. They are all actually owned by the same three companies, and, just in case you didn’t believe me, I’ve prepared a little list to blow your minds:
Labels Under Universal Music Group
- Interscope (and subsidiaries)
- Shady Records
- Star Trak
- will.i.am music
- Island (and Tuff Gong)
- Def Jam (and subsidiaries)
- GOOD music
- Radio Killa
- ANTI- (Under Republic)
- Capitol Records
List Of Labels Under Sony
List Of Labels Under Warner Music
- Atlantic (and Subsidiaries)
- Grand Hustle
- Sub Pop
So, you see that if you’ve ever bought a record it was probably produced by one or other of the big three record companies.
Now, I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing, or that all music is being controlled by corporate execs – nothing like that. In fact some sub labels like ANTI-, despite being technically owned by one of the big three, have quite a large amount of autonomy and make their own choices for themselves. But, it still all comes down to the fact that most of the ‘independent’ record labels that people talk about really… well, aren’t.
Of course there are some truly independent record labels out there, like Jason Webley’s 11 Records, but most of these are so small that it’s almost impossible to actually find their music, and when the one band that was signed to that record label gets their big break they usually move over to one of the bigger labels so they have the resources to make bigger and better albums.
Make of this what you will. It might be a good thing, it might be a bad thing, but however you look at it it’s going to be a thing. There’s just no away around the fact that there are only three real record labels with any power in our world today. So if you want to get signed to a record label you might want to keep that fact in mind, or if you want to tear down the global capitalist system you might want to stop buying music forever.
I guess I don’t really have anything more to say on the topic.
Lachlan J. is an Australian writer and academic currently completing his degrees in Popular Music and Film. He runs the ‘Lachlan J. Faces The Music’ blog as a means to discuss music in a free and open way and to provide frank criticism whatever records come his way.