For whatever reason, today seems to be the day that the music industry
reminds us that it's still in total upheaval. Soundscan tells us that
relatively few people actually bought music in 2010, unless they were fans of Eminem and Katy
Perry. Dave Matthews spent the last 10 years collecting $500 million dollars
from non-stop touring. And The Beatles get their iTunes royalties paid
directly to them from Apple, which is unprecedented. Doom and
gloom forecasts aren't new, but today's onslaught of news is
proof that any effort to salvage the existing business model might
ultimately be futile.
Sure, major record labels have been in decline for awhile, due to their inability to anticipate future industry trends. And independent artists have
been finding new ways to subvert the majors every day. But this onslaught of
news about the world's biggest musicians is a hefty reminder that major
labels are only becoming more irrelevant by the day. Here's why:
According to the Soundscan reports, many of the top 10 selling artists sold
less in a year than artists used to sell in a single week only a decade ago. While it's
not shocking that smaller artists have been hurting in album sales, the fact
that even the biggest artists aren't even selling that many (relatively
speaking) means something big is wrong.
Meanwhile, the report on Dave Matthews Band and the half billion
it earned through touring is just proof of what some artists have been saying for
years: the money is in the live shows, not album sales. Instead of
album-centered promotion for artists, maybe incessant touring is another
option. With the right combination of free music releases and media exposure
(read: song licensing), they could probably rack up just as many dollars
with more creative control.
And the Beatles deal is a whole other beast entirely. If the biggest band in
the world can get their royalties paid directly to them, why wouldn't
everyone else try do the same going forward? Now that music relies on physical
media less and less, it's looking like the labels need the artists more than
the artists need the labels. And the fact that Arcade Fire and Vampire
Weekend both debuted at number one last year on quasi-independent labels
shows that major-label-caliber marketing budgets aren't the only way to attain widespread popularity.
So really, if you were an up and coming artist able to generate sizable buzz
before signing with a label, would you go with a major? It just doesn't make sense anymore.