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In a field as competitive as the music industry, how does an artist become successful and stand out from the competition?
Navigating the ever changing state of the traditional music industry can be daunting at times, especially if you’re just beginning your career.
Historically, many popular artists have had the help of a major record label early on in their careers, so you may think that landing a massive record deal is instrumental to your success as an artist.
While signing to a label may give an artist exposure, recent advancements in technology have made creating and marketing music more accessible for everyone.
As a result, some of the biggest names in music have launched their careers independently!
With the right knowledge and tools, you can learn how to navigate the music industry on your own and make personalized decisions that are best for your career.
Music In The Digital Age
As technology has advanced, the music industry has continued to evolve. First, it was the transition from vinyl to CDs.
Then when digitalization brought radical changes to how music is distributed and promoted, iTunes and digital downloads dominated the industry until streaming services became the standard way of consuming music.
Today, the dominance of streaming and utilizing social media for marketing has completely altered the structure that the music industry operates under.
Since anyone can share their music on social media or become an artist on Spotify, the music industry’s move towards technology opened up the market to individuals that are not signed to a label.
Back when Apple first introduced Garageband, a platform packed with all of the tools needed to create basic music, it was seen as a revolutionary tool for giving virtually anyone with a laptop the power to experiment with different sounds and tools on their own.
Now with further advances in technology and the help of artificial intelligence, anyone can create and produce high-quality music without booking studio time.
The accessibility and affordability of these tools have democratized the music industry, letting way for all artists to show off their creativity, establish their niche, and grow their audience.
The dominance of social media platforms has also contributed to the discovery of many of today’s most popular artists.
Starting back in the early-2010’s, video sharing platforms have birthed some of the biggest names in music today including Justin Bieber on YouTube and Shawn Mendes on Vine.
Today, popular songs and emerging artists are discovered on the video-sharing platform TikTok as the backdrop for dances or memes.
The Evolution of The Live Music Experience
Not only has technology changed how music is promoted, sold, and consumed, but also how artists reach their audience and perform.
Even though streaming has become more lucrative in recent years, musicians still don’t often see much of a return even if they have thousands of streams.
Just like with physical album sales, the money that is generated from streaming often goes to the record label or the streaming services themselves — we will go into more detail about this later on.
However, where most artist tend to make their money now is from live performances.
According to a survey done by the nonprofit Music Industry Research Association – – “live shows remain the main source of revenue for professional musicians”– Music Industry Research Association
Even with the substantial impact on live shows, due to the coronavirus pandemic, touring and performing will most likely remain a big source of income for artists once the dust settles.
However, even before live shows were restricted, Virtual Reality (VR) was touted as the new way to experience live music.
Since the hologram of Tupac awed the world at Coachella in 2012, the music industry has been investing in ways it can utilize VR and other technologies as both a lucrative tool and a way for artists to use to reach fans around the world.
With live concerts restricted due to the pandemic, millions of people around the world have tuned in on their laptops and VR headsets to see their favorite musicians perform live from the comfort of their home.
The Role of Major Record Labels
Today, most of the music industry is controlled by three major record labels: Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group.
Major record labels are responsible for discovering and crafting the careers of so many legendary artists. Up until the last few decades, the music industry had control over the music people listened to, and therefore what music is considered “pop” or “mainstream”.
In some ways, they were the gatekeepers of music, by choosing which artists to invest in and which ones to reject. The main role of a label is to sift through emerging talent and invest in artists that they believe could have a lucrative career. Labels spend millions of dollars each year searching for emerging talent and investing in artists’ careers.
Additionally, a signed artist may have access to valuable resources and connections through their label so the artist can navigate the industry alongside some of the best in the business.
However, it’s important to remember that to a major record label, artists are seen as investments that are expected to make a return.
This means both your public image and your music has to be palatable to a wide audience, which could be controlled by executives and other people that work for the label.
Simply put, if your music is not seen as marketable, label executives could have the power to make changes to your music, alter your image or even dilute your creative vision.
The Fight For Music Rights
Labels invest money in finding talent so they can scoop up the next big artist or the next chart-topper. So since artists are creating the music on the labels dollar, the major record labels could retain the distribution rights to all of the music forever.
This has been an ongoing problem with artists and their labels. Recently, some musicians including Kanye West and Taylor Swift have openly stated that they are negotiating for the rights and masters of their music.
For artists including JoJo or Kesha, these legal battles are politically charged and can be detrimental to an artist’s life and career if lost.
Once a label invests in your music, they may be allowed to profit off it for as long as they wish. These rich archives of music have allowed for the major record labels to continue leading the industry even in the digital age.
Many musicians have been critical of this model for years and have even encouraged some bands to leave their label after becoming established. It’s no longer imperative that an artist signs to a label to become successful, and in some cases, it could even impede your success.
As streaming has become the most common way to consume music around the world, generating billions of dollars of revenue, the music industry could soon see larger profits, according to Pitchfork.
For these reasons, added with how easy it is for artists to distribute and promote their music, it’s no wonder why more artists are moving away from the traditional industry model.
The Rise of Independent Artists
A few decades ago, it was clear that the music industry was run and dictated by the major labels. This is still very true to this day as the labels simply just hold too much collective power and even have stakes in platforms like Spotify & Apple for example.
Before the advancements in technology, this resulted in very few independent artists breaking into the mainstream.
But as many famous musicians battled in court for the rights to their music, emerging artists started to take advantage of the internet platforms including Soundcloud and YouTube, where they could instantly share their music with the world.
Soon enough, many artists that built a platform on YouTube were being signed by major labels after releasing their music independently and self-promoting their music on social media.
But even after major success, some musicians including Chance The Rapper made the choice to stay independent. At the 2017 Grammy Awards, Chance The Rapper became the first independent musician to win the Best New Artist award in history.
Although Chance’s success may not be representative of all independent artists, his commercial success without the help of a major record label signaled that the music industry was beginning to open its doors to more independent artists.
Are Independent Artists The Future of Music?
As younger generations continue to emerge into the music industry, they’re leveraging various platforms to release music and promote their image.
Today, there are many ways for an artist to become successful — it can be as simple as posting a YouTube video or having one of your songs go viral on TikTok.
In 2019, Forbes reported that independent musicians are “the fastest-growing segment of the global recorded music business” with independent artist sales rising 35% over the previous year.Forbes
Although record labels have access to connections, money, and resources — the rise of music entrepreneurship has proved that with the right knowledge and tools, distributing and promoting your music is easier than ever.
Having a successful career as a musician may take years and tons of sacrifices to become successful. But it’s never too late to start a career in music as long as you’re willing to plan out what your focus and priorities will be as an artist.
If you think it’s time for you to pursue music more seriously, it’s important to create a game plan and set goals for your career.
The success of independent artists today is proof that if you devote time to improving your craft, and implement a strategy that makes sense for YOU, then navigating the music industry without the backing of a big label is more than possible.
Related Reading: Why Musicians Must Have a Vision And Mission Statement
Related Reading: How To Find Your Target Audience As A Musician: 8 Questions To Ask
Related Reading: Why You Need To Build A Team For Your Music Career: The E-Myth Model
Related Reading: How to Release Music & Build Momentum With Ease
Final Thoughts on The Changing state of the traditional music industry
We’re not here to tell you that you need to stay independent, or that your success will be tied to your ability to sign with a label, or that you need to have millions or even thousands of followers on every social media platform possible.
However, what we will do is continually provide you with the latest strategies and tips for you to implement along your journey. The whole goal is to help you define what “Success” within this industry truly means and looks like for YOU.
Although the future of the industry remains uncertain until the pandemic is brought under control, music plays such an important role in people’s lives that there is no reason the industry won’t be repaired and restored soon.
We hope that you’re an optimist because it is our belief that the pandemic is about to open up a whole new realm of possibilities for independent musicians to capitalize on.
As advances in technology continue to shape the future of the music industry, and with new technologies constantly being released, keeping up with the latest trends and advancements in the music industry is imperative to understanding the business of music and obtaining YOUR idea of success.
Music With Flavor Staff
Helping You Taste Success In Music