Who benefits from the latest Spotify announcement and what does this mean for artists and labels?
In an interesting twist Spotify have announced a beta direct uploading tool for artists worldwide, apart from the obvious ramifications for placing the power of distribution directly in the hands of the creator does this spell the end for labels and distributors worldwide or will it simply fracture the music industry even more?
First of all, what do you need to actually release a track:
· The track itself – i.e. recording, mixing and mastering the track/album
· PR/Marketing – Building the hype, getting it to the right digital/printed media.
· Radio Plugging – Getting it in the hands of DJs to play on shows.
· Distribution – Getting it into the hands of consumers.
Still the most important point in the whole process. The actual creation to a track is something that cannot just be done by anyone – ignoring the skill of the musician(s) themselves, you also have the producers of the track, the mixing and the mastering still to consider. Creating a desirable product is still the most important part of the entire process and though this can be done on the cheap (think Jamie T recording his first album in his bedroom or even Ferris & Sylvester creating their EP in their Streatham flat, or even Michael Baker releasing an EP of songs released from recordings on his iPhone in the back of a van) the actual costs of the equipment required + the time of skilled professionals make this the point that not just anyone can do to a high quality.
Having said this, I was privy to a conversation with a label whose A+R person quite rightfully pointed out that most people listen to music through tinny speakers now, meaning that recordings don’t have to be as perfect as once was required. Now the artist can choose how important getting the song out there to raise their songwriting profile vs. the actual mastering of the track opens up avenues for artists who can choose to release even just a rough sketch of an idea and it still be a viable release and raise their profile.
In fact this latest decision by Spotify may well result in loads of B sides, ideas and initial recordings being released by established and non-established artists even just temporarily to whet the appetite of fans, try out a new song idea or simply do it just for a laugh. [I, for one, would love to see if there is going to be a surge in drunken releases by artists – that’d be hilarious. But there are already platforms well established in this methodology (think Soundcloud) and artists won’t tend to do this because of wanting to present their best work. Is it too much to ask for an acoustic version of Wonderwall performed by an intoxicated Birdy?]
Up until recently, labels and distributors undoubtedly held a lot of the power in ensuring the release of music. The practical costs of distributing music before the digital format was one of capital. Bands could not afford/did not have the practical capital to get the music out there – the cost of creating physical products and getting it worldwide was one that ensured that companies focused on a corner of release. Whether it be the manufacturing, creating distribution networks, transport costs and finally the sales of records created the practical need for artists to approach labels who would be able to advise and release artists through their own networks.
The dawning of the digital age subverted that slightly whilst still existing within these established parameters. Consumers are increasingly buying vinyl resulting in a 25 year high of vinyl sales, boasting a want from the consumer to have something physical to treasure, but in the same flip of the coin it is being driven by increased streaming. This is nothing new, of course people are not likely to invest blindly in artists’ new albums without having a little listen on their respective mobile device. What is new though is that these networks are now easier to penetrate than ever because of the internet. In fact AWAL’s tag line of “Be Your Own Label” is one that had huge draw at this year’s Great Escape for independent artists and this announcement is likely to be music to the ears of self releasing artists. The question is what threat that trends like this holds for traditional labels, it is more and more possible to be a self releasing artist and make plenty of cash.
Again, on a casual level it is very easy to get reviewed and featured. With places like Submithub offering an easy digital PR option for anyone with a few bob put out to digital audiences worldwide means that you are able to get your music in the hands of, listened too and commented upon (even if it’s not published) by gatekeepers means this can happen relatively easily if you want to put in minimal effort.
Yes, for a decent release you still need to have the relationships (yes, journalism is still a who you know as much as any other industry), advertorial and marketing expenses that a mid/large budget affords, but this is getting easier for small artists to get noticed if you know the right methodology. It’s probably the one area where established labels can boast a power and ensure a decent release, the sheer capital needed to do a huge Number 1 release is frightening and your bedroom producer is never going to be able to compete (save a viral release capturing the public’s imagination as happens occasionally).
This is the one place where major labels will hold sway for a long time – they have the power to boast all of this built up over years of investment and return on successful releases, but among insiders it is considered that majors only take a punt on sure bets a trend which will continue because of the increased competition. In fact, one could very easily argue that unearthing undiscovered gems will become easier because of this – you can release a rough track, get a few thousand plays and some wicked feedback on it from a few tastemakers, take it down and approach a label with this feedback in place for a full recording.
So, who are the main beneficiaries and what will change?
Spotify! Genius move. By doing this they have given artists worldwide an even simpler method to be able to get their music heard worldwide and on their platform. Add to this the playlister option now publicly available on the Spotify For Artists as well, it will mean a huge surge in music on the platform attracted by people thinking “well I will be able to distribute it on Spotify” promoting the brand whilst hoovering up the costs of using their platform.
More than anything it ensures they are relevant once again - staving off recent threats from Apple Music, Amazon and Deezer.
Not really many others – it will continue much the same as it has already – the trend towards digital and self-releasing music is only going to continue, placing more and more power in the hands of the creator and manager but this won’t really be affected by Spotify’s announcement, really it’s just a signifier of the direction that people have expected it to go for a long time and that it’ll take inventive means for artists to enable a successful career as recording income is likely to decrease, meaning a need for labels to diversify (hence increase of 360 deals including Publishing and Live).
If they’re smart about it though it will benefit artists and therefore management. Managers in particular are in a fantastic position (particularly those with large rosters) to really take advantage of this and become a series of pseudo-labels,enabling them to keep everything in house and promote their artists exactly how they and the artists want too without any pesky label involvement telling them how to or not to sell the music.
This is a whole other article though.
It could be a very interesting time in the industry to come.
If you have any questions I am available to help and advise artists having managed/worked with the teams of artists such as Jamie Cullum, Ferris and Sylvester, Amaroun, Carmody and Yakul. Feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.