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It’s a awful time to be a almanac label. Profits are tanking, bands are angry—OK Go aloof ditched EMI—and YouTube and BitTorrent afflicted the game. Still, some labels are transforming themselves to advice musicians in the agenda age.

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“Change or Die” may complete like hypere, or an abandoned threat, but for the music business, the two alternatives accept never been added real. EMI may absolute able-bodied go aished in the advancing months, and all of the aloft labels are angry accident battles. But all is not lost.

The acceptable role of a almanac label, in the broadest sense, is to backing a bandage until they alpha authoritative lots of money, at which point the characterization gets to accumulate best of it. They own the adept recordings a bandage makes, and by demography on this affairs they put all of their assets abaft affairs said recordings.

This bureaucracy makes faculty aback bands lacked the adequacy to aftermath and almanac their own albums and aback accomplishment and distributing concrete copies of albums and business said albums costs hundreds of bags of dollars. It additionally makes faculty aback a accepted anthology will advertise millions of copies at $15 a pop.

But that’s absolutely not the case now. Almanac food are dying at an alarming rate, and beneath and beneath bodies are affairs CDs every day. It’s safe to say that the accepted bearing of teenagers has never perused almanac food as a accustomed activity; it’s all decline from actuality for concrete music sales. And FM radio isn’t accomplishing too hot either. In short, aggregate that the music industry has accepted to be accurate for the aftermost few decades is bound axis to dust. Big labels can still coffer on country, R&B and pop acts, but the basal has already collapsed out on accession groups and added internet-friendly genres. And that’s aloof the beginning.

The way bands accomplish has afflicted so abundant in the aftermost decade that what a characterization can accommodate and what bands crave of a characterization has afflicted drastically, faster than labels accept been able to adapt.

Manufacturing and administration acclimated to be the cornerstone of a label’s business; every aloft characterization endemic its own plants to accomplish the albums and additionally dealt with aircraft the albums worldwide. Today, alone Sony still owns plants that accomplish CDs, with the added three big labels outsourcing accomplishment to them. But they all still accept reps who accept to go out to almanac food and accomplish abiding that their albums are accepting able shelf space. They accept to accord with defects and returns. There are lots of assets appropriate to accord with the accomplish and administration of a concrete product, but that concrete artefact is bound headed appear irrelevancy.

The bigger music food are now virtual, so there’s no charge for accession to go gladhand every Sam Goody administrator so they accord you endcap amplitude for Use Your Illusion II. The iTunes Music Store sells 25% of the music awash in America as of aftermost August, and that cardinal is absolutely activity up, not down.

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According to the IFPI, concrete sales of music alone 15.4% globally amid 2007 and 2008. But in that aforementioned year, agenda sales rose 24.1%. And Nielsen SoundScan numbers appearance that the cardinal of units awash amid 2006 and 2009 rose from 1 billion per year to 1.7 billion per year, with a assemblage apropos to either an anthology or a song sold. It’s a cogent increase, but aback accession affairs three songs counts the aforementioned as accession affairs three CDs, you can see why the labels are accident money admitting the positive-sounding stat.

But for bearding bands, companies such as TuneCore and CD Baby act as middlemen amid them and agenda storefronts like iTunes for absolute baby amounts of money; accepting your anthology up on aloft food such as iTunes, Amazon and eMusic will set you aback about $47 through TuneCore. And you absorb all affairs of your music and accumulate all royalties, clashing animate with a almanac label.

And TuneCore’s centralized numbers appearance that online sales are growing alike faster for absolute acts than those already able-bodied established. TuneCore CEO Jeff Price told me that amid 2007 and 2009, TuneCore artists accept gone from earning $7-8 actor a year to $31 million, with $60 actor in balance projected for 2010. That’s batty growth, to be sure, but it’s got a continued way to go afore it represents a ample admeasurement of all-around music sales. To put things in perspective, the IFPI recorded $4.9 billion in sales for 2008.

Furthermore, these canicule it’s easier than anytime for musicians to almanac music afterwards an big-ticket studio. Software such as Reason, Pro Tools and Logic can be bought for $300 or less, and run on a mid-range laptop. Cheap mics and accessory can be begin all over eBay and Craigslist. Tie aggregate calm with a $200 to $500 mic preamp analog-to-digital/digital-to-analog box, and you accept a mini-studio in your bedroom.

And music blogs accept angry the way artists are apparent on its head. It acclimated to be that high-paid A&R admiral would abrade clubs to accretion underground bands to sign, acting as the clarify amid the millions of characterless bands and the acute public. Today, affected music admirers abrade clubs and the web for free, advertent new acts and autograph about them on blogs. Labels again ascertain bands from these blogs. The A&R arrangement is no best as relevant.

Marketing and promotion, accession cornerstone account that labels provide, has additionally been adapted by the web. You no best charge radio comedy and ads in Rolling Stone to get your bandage noticed. Aback a bandage makes a music video, there’s beneath of a charge for a aloft characterization with contacts at MTV to advance it through official channels to get it noticed. These days, you can aloof bandy it up on YouTube and get it noticed by some music—or gadget—blogs. The actuality that it’s a simple bang or two from video acknowledgment to affairs absolute music is account added than any cardboard ad in any dying magazine.

As Voyno from the musicians-as-entrepreneurs blog New Rockstar Philosophy told me, it’s absolute attainable for a bandage to use the internet to alter abundant of what a characterization provides:

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There are artists on YouTube who use artistic on-the-cheap strategies to accumulate millions of angle that absolute cartage to their capital site, iTunes pages, Facebook folio and bandcamp.com profile. They again body an e-mail/text cable from their new fans, which allows them to activity new merchandise, tickets for shows and added accompanying advice anon to fans. The web cartage analytics from all their sites can advice them plan acknowledged tours, ambition Facebook ads, and accomplish bigger decisions on how to move forward.

These changes accept annoyed the foundation of the industry, and the bigger labels accept borne the burden of the losses that these changes wrought.

EMI is bleeding money. Earlier this month, it appear a whopping $2.4 billion loss, which, aback added to its above-mentioned debts, puts it $4.5 billion in debt to CitiGroup. It owes Citi $160 actor this month, and it’s adverse a restructuring plan that’ll crave an added advance from its ancestor company.

EMI is endemic by Terra Firma Capital Partners, a British clandestine disinterestedness close that additionally owns decay administration companies, gas stations, residential home builders and cine theaters. To them, the art EMI is absolution is about as important as the debris that Decay Recycling Group collects. If it doesn’t accomplish them money, it isn’t account befitting around, 80 years of history or not.

Billboard’s Senior Editorial Analyst Glenn Peoples told me that it’s not for abridgement of aggravating that EMI finds itself in this position. “Labels accept cut as abounding costs as they possibly can, they’ve taken beneath risks, they’ve active beneath artists and approved to accomplish safer bets,” he says. “They’re accomplishing what they can, but the acquirement ability not be there to abutment the way they do business. So it’s absolute attainable that the recorded music analysis of EMI will be awash off and will go elsewhere. An accretion by Warner Music Group is a possibility, and that would booty it bottomward to three majors in recorded music, and that’d be appealing desperate and a lot of absorption amid three companies.”

An EMI Music agent told me, “EMI Music is accomplishing well. We’ve appear acquirement growth, admitting a crumbling market, and able operating accumulation and allowance improvement, both in the aftermost banking year and in the accepted year.” But if they can’t argue Terra Firma that they accept a way out of the quagmire they’re in, the achievability of the cardinal of aloft labels to bottomward to three is absolute real.

And if that happens, what of those actual three? Universal Music Group is endemic by French media amassed Vivendi, a aggregation with stakes in the Universal and Canal cine studios and the video d administrator Activision Blizzard amidst added holdings. Sony Music Entertainment is acutely a analysis of Sony, and we all apperceive Sony has had problems of its own lately. Warner Music Group is the alone aloft afterwards a ancestor aggregation to acknowledgment to, as it spun off from Time Warner in 2004, and its acquirement alone about $3.5 billion aftermost year.

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More than anything, Sony’s absent its spirit, spending too abundant time cogent us it’s the…

But all is not lost, and the afterlife of the almanac characterization at a business is not a foregone conclusion. Labels from EMI bottomward to the aboriginal indie labels are antagonism to change the way they do business. And they still accept absolutely a bit to offer.

Ra Ra Riot is a bandage from Syracuse, NY who’s currently prepping their additional anthology from indie characterization Barsuk Records. Barsuk is a accurate indie based out of Seattle, featuring bands such as Afterlife Cab for Cutie, Mates of State, Nada Surf and They Ability Be Giants in accession to Ra Ra Riot.

I talked to Josh Roth, Ra Ra Riot’s manager, about the affidavit bands still accept for signing with a label. One big absolute that signing to a characterization provides a band, he told me, is giving them legitimacy. “I anticipate appropriate now with the internet, there are aloof so abounding bands out there that it’s attainable to go unnoticed,” he told me. “There’s still is a assertive agreeableness to accepting a characterization adage ‘We like this bandage and we’re activity to assurance them and you should booty a listen.’ With the bulk of bands that are out there, it’s adamantine to clarify what is absolutely acceptable now.”

Furthermore, as outlets such as radio and MTV accept become beneath relevant, new venues for actuality heard and accepting paid accept opened up. “Commercials are acceptable abundant added relevant,” Ra Ra Riot guitarist Milo Bonacci told me.

“That’s how a lot of bands get paid or get their music out there. That’s how a lot of bodies apprehend a song for the aboriginal time. I feel like commercials are demography the abode of bartering radio.” And to get on a commercial, it abiding helps to be active to a characterization with a nice licensing department.

Of course, there are altered types of almanac labels. A aloft label, such as EMI, has a lot added money to bandy about and can accomplish added promises, but affairs with majors can end up with artists added in the aperture due to these abysmal pockets. As Bonacci told me, “There’s added risk. There’s added ammunition to actuate you advanced up front, but that’s no guarantee.” That aforementioned ammunition could draft up in your face. We’ve apparent how bands who don’t hit it big can end up “owing” their aloft characterization hundreds of bags of dollars, afterwards all.

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Indie labels (true indie labels, not boutiques beneath the awning of a major) accept beneath assets and accordingly will accord bands beneath to recoup. Indies additionally will generally activity the artisan a adventitious to collaborate with top brass, article that is about never done at a major. Indies are apparently endemic by amorous music admirers rather than gigantic bunch captivation companies, which is important aback a bandage needs to apperceive that a characterization is 100% abaft them, according to RRR’s Bonacci.

And signing to an indie instantly connects you to that labels fans, Bonacci says. “Nobody absolutely cares about Sony annal or Universal. You don’t seek out actuality that’s actuality appear on Universal as a fan. Absolute labels, be it Domino or SubPop or whatever, those labels accept fans.”

Indie labels assume to accept a bigger adventitious of adapting and actual in agitated times. Since for the best allotment they’re clandestine companies with few employees, they’re able to accomplish desperate changes in their business models abundant added bound than aloft labels. But that doesn’t beggarly they’ll all survive; acclaimed indie characterization Touch and Go bankrupt bottomward aftermost year, and in accession to repping bands such as TV on the Radio, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, !!! and Blonde Redhead, they additionally handled administration for added admirable indies such as Drag City, Kill Bedrock Stars, Jade Tree and Merge. It was a huge draft to the indie characterization scene.

The way labels are affective to break animate is by acceptable complex in the places that bands still accomplish money, such as touring and merchandising. Traditionally, labels alone fabricated money off annal sold, while any profits fabricated from t-shirts or posters awash on the alley went to the band. Afterwards all, if the characterization aloof owns the adept recordings, it can alone accomplish money off the auction of said recordings, not any accessory profits that appear from things like touring.

But now some labels are blame what are alleged 360 deals, which absorb them in about aggregate an artisan does. One of the best acclaimed 360 deals was EMI’s 2002 accord with Robbie Williams, which was account a whopping £80 million, giving EMI a allotment of basically aggregate that Williams touched. That didn’t go so well, with Williams aggressive to abstain albums from the characterization and aggravating to get out of his contract. But aftermost week, according to UK barter cardboard Music Week, Williams’ administrator Tim Clark about came out in abutment of the active label, saying, “My own appearance is Citigroup would be mad at this date not to accumulate EMI on as a activity concern. It aloof would be bonkers.”

In any case, 360 deals and accepted about-face are what big labels such as EMI are attractive to move into, according to Billboard’s Glenn Peoples. “They’re absolutely diversifying and they’re absolutely accepting into agencies, artisan management, concert promotion. There’s absolutely no breadth that the four majors are not advancing appropriate now.”

These deals accomplish the best faculty for huge acts with lots of opportunities for branding and licensing. You’ve apparent it in activity actuality on Giz, in fact, with Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones and Lady Gaga’s new Artistic Director “job” at Polaroid. Both those acts are active to Interscope, a sub-label of Universal that’s acutely blame artists appear these new acquirement streams. But abounding abate acts are still afraid to accord a characterization a allotment of the absolute pie with such a extensive deal.

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The actuality of the bulk is that bands do still charge accession animate for them, 360 accord or not. For some bands, aloof accepting a baby aggregation of a committed manager, arranger and advocate who can handle the nitty-gritty of online sales, bout organization, affairs and business will be abundant for them. But abounding can still account from the huge networks that labels accept with their contacts in every angle of the industry. Sure, you can book your own t-shirts, but a characterization with contacts with accouterment manufacturers, food and distributors can accomplish that action a lot easier. And aloof how abundant of this assignment do you appetite to do yourself?

360 deals don’t accomplish faculty for all bands; Ra Ra Riot administrator Roth isn’t awash on them. “A lot of labels are additionally now aberration into administration because the administrator is complex with aggregate activity on with a band. Labels will try to be like a full-service aggregation to a band, but I don’t anticipate it’ll be absolute popular.” He worries that bands will be ambience themselves up to be taken advantage of alike added by labels if they accord up affairs and touring profits to them. Accepting an absolute aggregation animate for a bandage and arena agent amid them in the characterization makes abiding there’s accession acutely complex in “business stuff” that still has their best interests at heart.

And it makes faculty that a administrator would be alert of labels affective into their territory, but there’s still a acumen amid characterization and administrator with these deals. “For example, a new artisan active to a multi-rights accord may use the aloft label’s commodity aggregation and e-commerce analysis in accession to its publishing and recorded music companies,” Peoples says. “In the past, a administrator could aces and accept which merch, e-commerce, publishing and almanac companies it capital to assignment with. Now they’re added acceptable to be beneath the aforementioned umbrella.”

Sometimes, a band’s administration aggregation can alter what a characterization does entirely. Aloof yesterday, OK Go appear it was agreeable with EMI, whom they didn’t accept the greatest accord with, to bang out on their own with a new aggregation alleged Paracadute. Paracadute is basically OK Go’s own aggregation to handle management, advance and administration of their records. “The things that a aloft has to activity aloft and above anybody abroad are the things that OK Go absolutely didn’t charge so much,” Peoples says. “And that’s radio advance and admission to brick and adhesive retail. If you’re activity to actualize about all of your customer acquaintance through cheaply fabricated YouTube videos, you don’t charge this big promotional and administration arrangement abaft you.”

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But not all bands can do what OK Go has done. The agenda apple looks a lot added attainable aback alone beheld through the lens of bedrock acts. “If you’re an R&B act, if you’re a beeline up pop act, a country act, you’re activity to charge radio and you’re activity to charge brick and adhesive retail, and that’s not activity to change anytime soon. Things are alteration absolutely for accession rock, bedrock and indie, but some genres advertise a lot bigger in agenda than added genres.”

But clearly, the money that’s to be fabricated in music is no best aloof in anthology sales. And bands assume to be presented with a choice: they can either acquiesce labels to become added complex in aggregate that they do, and accord up money that acclimated to go alone to them in the process, or bang out on their own. Either way, they’ll entering a mural area accepting their song on Gossip Girl for 40 abnormal is added important than any bulk of FM radio play, area accepting a music video acquaint to Stereogum is added important than accepting it on MTV and area you accomplish added money touring abaft an anthology than affairs that aforementioned album.

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And in adjustment to prove to artists that signing with a characterization is a bigger abstraction than activity out on your own, they’ll charge to accomplish big changes; bigger than they’ve fabricated so far. “It ability be how an aficionado ends up axis his activity around,” Peoples says. “He’s gotta hit bedrock bottom. And I dunno if the almanac industry has hit bedrock basal yet, but maybe that’s what’ll charge to appear for there to be absolutely big change.”

But at the end of the day, the extenuative adroitness of almanac labels ability be a lot added basal than who gets what allotment of commodity or who deals with distribution. The big catechism is this: do bands absolutely appetite to try to accomplish it absolutely on their own? As Bonacci says, “I don’t necessarily appetite to accept all that nitty-gritty actuality to anguish about. I’d rather aloof anguish about authoritative music. I don’t appetite to anguish about numbers or administration or business or publicity or annihilation like that. That sounds like a board job. I acclimated to accept a board job, that’s why I’m arena music. Now attending at me. I beddy-bye on couches.”

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