I was just thinking this morning about what a hilarious and glaring anachronism the term "record label" actually is. The "record" as a popular medium for musical commerce was essentially replaced by the CD when I was about 5 years old. There haven't been "labels" on popularly consumed music nor have they been sold in "record" form in approximately 25 years. Yet mavins of popular culture wonder "what will become of the record label system?" When will they finally embrace the digital model (or a digital model)? Will they just continue to sue copyright infringers until it's no longer profitable to do so? How long has it honestly been since record labels even bothered with the pretense of being purveyors of culture, anyway?
A buddy of mine forwarded me a link to a nicely written piece on the stages of music business decline that we've all witnessed over the last ten years. Recommended reading.
So, let's remove the rose colored glasses that I had on for the trip down memory lane that was my post on the valuable service that record labels once provided to American culture. Let's talk about the flipside of the equation. It's been a long time coming, and is something I've been meaning to get to sooner. There are many reasons I'm leaving RRE at this time. The fact that of the impending record contract which would obligate me for the next several years is only part of the story from my end. One of the other parts is that I'd feel kind of like a D-bag for signing a record label contract on the one hand while doing everything in my power to kick the legs out from under the entire faltering system on the other. Make no mistake about it - I think that the record label system and most of the folks who have made a living in the record business for the last 50 years deserve everything that they are reaping right now. They used to provide a service over which they had a monopoly - the recording and distribution of recorded works. There was no practical way around the fact of recording and distribution for an artist in the age when physical media were the only media.
This monopoly was supported on all sides by a conglomeration of other media companies - print publications, radio stations, television studios - whose sole purpose was to make and promote product that made money for all. The cultural side effects were a bonus as far as shareholders was concerned (if they were concerned at all). However, all of these media outlets now find themselves in the exact same position of irrelevance. The tremendous and spectacular downfall of the recording industry was only a prelude to what's to come for all the rest of these companies - witness the Boston Globe, or NBC, or any of the awful top 40 Clear Channel radio stations out there whose ad revenues are dwindling in the face of the coming storm. Don't even get me started on TicketBastard and their "convenience" charge. Go ahead and merge with LiveNation, you're only hastening and enlarging your own downfall. It will come.
For the last ten years there's been no practical justification for that model to remain in existence save for the folks in charge are familiar with it, that's how it's always been, and that's how it is. They will all be dead soon enough, though. Our musical and cultural heritage will not, however. So it is up to us to figure out the path toward self-sufficiency in the cultural arts. Here's my high-falutin' theory ->
If what burned the old way to the ground was 1s and 0s, then what shall rise from the ashes and light the way forward for us all shall also be 1s and 0s. This obviously means the internet. Where other efforts to cram the old model into the new era have failed, ours shall succeed. Where the old models existed for the enrichment of a very few in the business, the new model shall succeed in creating a sustainable livelihood for those of us who create art, who create cultural value, and who share our artistic wealth in the interest of enriching the lives of others as well as ourselves.
Record labels and middlemen of all stripes be warned. I'm coming for you.