Just because artists have the ability to do everything themselves doesn’t mean they should.
That was the general consensus of one of Canadian Music Week’s more engaging panel discussions, “Majors, Indies and DIY—Oh My!” comprised of Cadence Music/Fontana North General Manager Tony Tarleton, Last Gang Entertainment General Manager Chris Moncada, CD Baby’s Director of Music Publishing Rob Filomena, Dine Alone Records/Bedlam Music Vice President Lisa Logutenkow, and Cooking Vinyl Managing Director Martin Goldschmidt.
Moderator Stuart Johnston, President of the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA), kicked off the discussion with the provocative question of, given the music industry’s ever-shifting technological landscape, is the traditional record label model still working? While none of the panelists gave an outright answer of no, they each indicated that the relationships between artists and labels have changed dramatically as control has shifted in artists’ favour.
In Tarleton’s view, “Labels are now often more like consultants, but the timing of these relationships is important. Artists need to be ready to make that next business step.” Others echoed that sentiment, adding that if artists have displayed the commitment to a partnership, a label’s greatest asset is still providing promotion and distribution tools, along with the connections needed to build a successful team.
“Our relationships with artists are now similar to married couples,” Moncada said. “You have to compromise. At the same time, it’s easier than ever now to get a sense of how far an artist can potentially go, based on their online numbers. It allows me to look under the hood quickly.”
Filomena drove that point home, saying, “Artists have to gauge how their audiences are responding, and use that to their fullest advantage. We [CD Baby] have artists who only have a presence on YouTube and that works for them. You have to own your audience.”
While Filomena’s company has long been an innovator in terms of online distribution for independent artists, the future of labels seems to be providing “360” services, which combine the traditionally arm’s length entities of management, publishing and booking under one umbrella. Most importantly, there is the access to revenue streams that artists are not often aware of.
According to Logutenkow, “We used to be more reliant on major labels, but the emergence of all the digital platforms out there has made things easier. There are all sorts of little money streams out there, and having our management and label working in tandem I think provides a lot more value for the artist. We still do fight occasionally with ourselves, though. Sometimes that’s just unavoidable.”
The future does indeed seem bright for mid-sized labels able to tap into these revenue sources both at home and abroad, with the emphasis on the latter becoming increasingly important. Tarleton admitted that was behind Cadence Music’s recent rebranding from MapleMusic in order to present a more international image in an industry that most predict will be driven by streaming revenues sooner than later.
Goldschmidt provided the last word on the matter, saying, “It’s great when artists take control, but labels really add value. If you want to play arenas and have number one albums, you really need to be working with someone who understands those margins. Labels are still able to best navigate the middle ground between artists and consumers.”