Thursday, March 20, 2008
Record Labels: Shut Up. You Are Passive Distributors.
Lou Reed was belaboring the obvious in his South by Southwest keynote speech, when he told the audience that there was no reason for any budding musician to sign with a major label. Not only does Internet distribution cancel any good purpose labels might serve, Reed said, but they often stand in the way of effective marketing or visibility.
Case in point, Nashville teen-punk band Be Your Own Pet. The band lamented that Universal forced them to take three songs off the just-released second album, Get Awkward. So big deal, they'll release the songs as an EP. Universal execs whined that they were violent or uncomfortable, and chances are I might not have liked them, but that's for the listener to decide, right?
One of the reasons labels join the despicable RIAA is that they're uncomfortable with the notion of being passive distributors of an artist's work, with no say-so in shaping the artist's direction -- or serving as censor, for that matter. But a terminal patient does not get to choose mode of survival. When broadband communications debuted a few years ago, large telephone and cable companies said they didn't like the notion of serving as commodity bit-pumps. Analysts told them they'd better be quick in moving to value-added services. Censorship or control over the bit-pipe was not an option, as Congress told Comcast recently. Content shapers like music labels and film/video production companies are in the same boat. They will end up being commodity distributors unless they figure out useful ways to help artists and consumers alike. Maybe Be Your Own Pet was naive and dumb to let Universal determine content, but Universal was about two decades too late in even attempting such a thing. As Lou Reed said, it would be better for everyone if music labels simply died. In the meantime, they'd better just shut up and get out of the way, and realize they have little practical function in life except aiding distribution of content.