Recently NPR’s A Blog Supreme Blog had a blog on “Do Major Jazz Record Labels Matter”. I think it is a interesting question for the global jazz artist community. I believe in many ways we are way past this question. Besides the headliners on the “major jazz festivals” around the world who could name more then 5 jazz artists, particularly new artists, who are on a major label? The “Big Four” are EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group and when you see the word group we realize that what we have is a financially based investment corporation that puts together a group of smaller labels that have proven to have some financial success. Its a lot like a financial mutual fund. So if the record company in the fund is not making money it is dropped from the group or torn apart and remade. So for we global jazz artists that have learned to survive with out this phenomena it has been irrelevant for a long time. We have had to learn to find the funds to record, market, and book ourselves for so long it has be come our “norm”.
But before we write them off, lets take a look at the Pros and Cons of the “Major Record Label”:
1. They have deep pockets and can do a lot of advertising and promotion along with booking and tour support. My experience is that unless you are already a money maker like Herbie Hancock, this ain’t going to happen. The artist has to prove that they can make the label money.
2. They have connections that they have built up over years. If you are a Blue Note artist under Universal you might be able to hook up with the booking agency Ted Kurland who has handled a lot of Blue Note artists. But again, unless the artist has a proven track record Ted Kurland will have to convince venues that this artist can put “butts in the seats” and that Blue Note will help promote the artist.
3. Size – because of the money they can spend if they choose to, then you may get a quicker review in a trade that they are putting full page adv. in on a regular basis. Never bring this up with a trade as they will always tell you that editorial is kept separate from adv dollars……..hee hee hee.
1. Big Pond, Small Fish – you are competing on your own label with a lot of artists who may have proven track records.
2. Continuity – Maybe you have a big fan at the label who has been shepherding you through the maze. Major labels are very famous for shaking up staff and if that person gets on the “the bad side” or leaves the label you are possibly on the shelf particularly if you are still in the building stages.
3. Unfriendly deals – please know that these labels are like banks and any monies that are spent you, you now owe against any profits that you make. And your royalty rate is going to be pretty low if you are new to the world. And there is that heavy chance you will be releasing a lot of creative control, in art work, music, etc.
Another note is that jazz CD sales have fallen as most retail has the ability of a Major Label to distribute the CD’s music has been equaled by the digital universe. Digital sales have overtaken physical sales and most artists can get aggregators to distribute at the same level.
So this is why many many jazz artists have actually chosen smaller independent labels where there is more care and passion about the artist, better financial deals, and less tying up of intellectual property and careers. Next we will take a look at the wide range of independent record labels and what they offer and how this can open up a artists career.