Welcome to the Music Industry, 2011: Records Don't Sell, Touring Can Make Bank, and Major Labels Are (Mostly) Useless

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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.

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Brownboxxmusic
Brownboxxmusic

people keep saying you don't need a label anymore but unless you know where you can find producers to work on your music for free, and find studios that will record it from free, find engineers that will mix and master if for you for free, and then find CD duplicators that will press it for you for free, and don't be fooled it isn't free to sell music on line either, and major stations that will play it, you still need a label and the one thing people who are not in the industry don't realize is that it cost money to make music, us musicians still haven't figured out a way to get free instruments, or recording equipment, or studio time.

Brian
Brian

The reality is that the music press used to be ingrained into our culture and once that it was ripped out from that status everything has been going downhill ever since

thesfcritic
thesfcritic

The next discussion has begun about the advertising (blogging methods) at SFCritic, where several of today's premier bloggers responded to one writers disheartening story. http://bit.ly/dTyM9G

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