How The Producer Killed The Record Executive
The landscape of the music industry has gone through quite a transformation this past decade. We've shunned physical media and approve of just about any product starting with a lower-case i and possessing a fruity logo. Social media has brought fans increased access to their favorite artists. The ease of uploading creations with the rise of SoundCloud and YouTube has established a platform for aspiring producers and musicians to share their work on a larger scale than ever before. Perhaps most significantly, this radical change has transformed the way artists are discovered and the manner in which their music is released.
Before 2007, only a few artist-owned labels such as Steve Aoki's Dim Mak Records and Armin van Buuren's Armada Music enjoyed much notoriety. The formation of Excision's Rottun Recordings and Deadmau5's mau5trap Records as well as the Chase & Status-helemed MTA Records just barely preceded the avalanche of musician-formed record labels that has entrenched us the past few years. We now sit in a sea of labels from every facet of EDM whether it be Skism’s Never Say Die imprint or Avicii and Ash Pournouri’s Le7els. There are clearly more artist-run labels than ever before.
So why exactly does it seem like every moderately successful artist these days is starting their own label? Because they are—and it's paying off. Artists promote through their Facebook pages, their Twitter accounts, and their YouTube channels amassing as many fans as possible. Those fans are a consumer base. They are a collection of people most likely to be receptive to artists you sign to your label and promote—an exact target demographic already collected via the artist's own success before they ever start their label.
But the advantage doesn't end with online promotion. This is the biggest departure the EDM explosion has exhibited from the mainstream music industry. The album—though seemingly making a resurgence the past year with Mat Zo’s Damage Control, Avicii’s True, and Porter Robinson’s upcoming Worlds—is typically de-emphasized in EDM. Singles and 2-4 track EPs released every couple months are the way of the industry as opposed to an album release every couple of years. This involves much more consistent promotion with the goal of remaining prominent enough to obtain the volume/quality of bookings desired, artists willing to collaborate, and general industry status.
Also unique to EDM is the opportunity for tracks to gain notoriety through DJ support. In order to achieve their maximum sales and buzz potential, tracks need to be played pre-release by the right people. This seems obvious, and it is given the inherent nature of a DJ set, but as far as mainstream music is concerned, it’s a fairly new concept. Artists are able to expose their fanbase to tracks released on their own label cementing their own brand of EDM, carving their niche in the industry. Imagine how attractive an OWSLA release with Skrillex DJ support is to an up-and-coming producer without a massive established fanbase.
Occasionally, the catalyst prompting an artist to form their own label isn't any of the aforementioned strategic advantages, but the desire for more control of their release timetable. There is significant lag time between creation and release—sometimes up to a year with major labels. Rusko released his Songs EP from 2012 on his own label before his latest OWSLA release. His reason was that he recently formed Rusko Recordings to "give the fans the music in real time.” His label, similar to Krewella’s releases under Krewella Music before their Columbia Records album, was solely intended for self-release rather than signing other artists which would involve much more time, money, and energy. Given the success of these endeavors, this trend of self-release will only increase in the coming years as artists see the opportunity to gain more control over their work while losing very little if anything.
So the artist has killed the record executive. Or rather, the artist has become the record executive. The struggle for control between the producer and label has never been more lopsided in favor of the former. And as more and more artists begin to come to this revelation, the minimization of major labels from EDM seems imminent. The success of major label albums from EDM heavyweights in the coming years will certainly have an impact on their future success in the industry but as long as the single and EP are king, artist-run labels will continue to flourish.
Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of EDM.com.
Cover photo credit: prophex
Written by Patrick Ryan