What is the future of traditional music labels? We are currently seeing a significant change in how music is produced, released, and consumed. Once upon a time, people shopped at record stores to buy LP’s, cassettes, and CDs. Now, you have instant access to music with Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Napster, etc. While music accessibility is easier than ever before, how does this impact the business model for traditional music labels? Moreover, how does this impact the independent artists who are not signed to a music label?

When I think about artists like Chance, who offer their music for free, it makes me wonder if traditional music labels are still relevant. Chance offers his music for free and makes money from performances and merchandise sales. He is an example of how most independent artists hope to achieve success. Never in a million years, would I imagine that someone not associated with a major record label, would win 5 Grammy Awards.

As an independent Blues artist, I still sell traditional CDs (I cannot believe I am referring to a CD as traditional, but that’s another topic for another day), in addition to offering my music on various streaming websites like Spotify. For those of you familiar with free streaming services like Spotify, you may know that artists do not make a lot of money from streaming services. Artists generally make a few cents per stream, which can make things difficult for your average unknown independent artist. I recorded my first project, with the hope of getting more gigs (which I did before I entered grad school) and possibly gaining enough attention to join a record label.

I, like many aspiring artists, have dreamt about securing a recording contract. It would be so nice to have a record company to record, produce, and promote my music. However, record labels are struggling to stay in business these days. For years, they have depended heavily on record or CD sales. Now, they are depending on online music sales, which has proven to be less profitable than selling physical copies of music.  Part of me wonders if I should continue to release my own music or even if I should release it for free?

While some people would agree that I should make my music free to all, I am not sure if I could sustain on making music from shows and merchandise (which I currently don’t have). For those of us who have copyrighted and published our music, then it is possible to earn money from royalties, too. I was very excited to get my little check from BMI Music.  It seems logical to focus on making money from performances, but as history has shown us, every artist is not able to perform until their last day. Yet, you have artists who are 6 feet under, that are still generating revenue and royalties from their music.

What kind of advice would you like to offer to me and artists like me? Moreover, how do you think this transformation in music consumption will impact the way artists make a living off of their music?

Best,

Brother Jacob

Host of Blues and News with Brother Jacob, Every Sunday from 6 pm to 8 pm

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