About Todd Smith

Music, art, technology. Founder and CEO @myFamilyChannel

In Defense Of The Record Label

Let’s face it:  labels have a bad rap, at least the major labels.  Ok maybe they did get off track and lose sight of the core values that fueled the golden age of the business, e.g. “artist development” or “caring about the music.”

Hey, everybody makes mistakes.  Business is an endless parade of iteration.  Any human institution is prone to devolution.  But as the smoke clears and we turn the corner into the third age of the entertainment industry, it will become evident – as it was in the beginning – that the labels serve a critical function in the music industry ecosystem.

Without labels you have… MySpace.  Without labels we drown in an endless sea of noise, fueled by every garage band who made their record on, well, GarageBand.  Don’t get me wrong.  You can make a great record on GarageBand.  If you write great songs.  And you know how to play or put sounds together.  And you know how to mix.  And you have a good microphone.  And you can edit yourself.  And I’m just getting started.

There are a ton of “ifs” to making a great self-produced record, and the vast majority of bands out there have not developed the skills, the savvy, or the detached professional self-examination necessary to make a great record without benefit of seasoned, professional guidance.

Enter, the record label.  Or at least, the label of yore.  The archetypical label would find you like a great detective, pull you out of your bar gig, give you a paycheck to do your dream job, hook you up with a mentor producer to hone your craft and release to the world the best possible version of you that could be.

You would lean on their years of experience in the trenches, learning the ropes, building the relationships that would get you on the radio or that opening spot on the tour that would break you out.  You would gladly siphon their relationships and let them take the risk (and the fall), and you would gladly cash their checks.

Without them you were just another dreamer hanging on to the hope that “one day” you would “get signed” and your troubles would be over.

“Getting signed” used to be a little more like a lottery ticket than it is today.  Smart bands today don’t want to get signed, they want to do it themselves and keep all their money.  Smart bands today can do that, because the distribution pipes have opened up, and labels don’t promote anymore anyway, at least like they used to.

So who’s fault is it that the business got off track; is it the fault of the labels, who got puffed up full of hubris, or complacent with their success, or distracted by concerns over profits; is it the fault of the fans, who looted the labels’ profits after the digital revolution, storming the Bastille and screaming “off with their heads;” is it the fault of the artists, who cared more about making “it” than making “music,” and failed to dig in deep on their craft until it was undeniably great…?

The industry had become a dysfunctional hot mess.  Of course this is going to blow up and reset itself.

We think we are well into the re-build, and we like where it’s headed.  The only sustainable solution is one where everybody wins:  artist – label – publisher – distributor – fan, and Gyroskope hopes to play a part in engineering the solution for the new planet.


Direct-To-Fan: A Future-Proof Model

The classic model of the music business was based around the power of the pipeline (distribution); i.e., whoever owned the pipes made the money.

Exploitation of pipeline control drove up prices and frustration on the part of the fans.  Fans paid, labels made money, artists came last.  Arrogance and complacency of the ruling class set the stage for the digital revolution.

After the revolution and into the file-sharing/ p2p era, power shifted to the fans.  So now, music was free, labels got screwed, and fans were vindicated; but the artist still came last.

The only sustainable model for the music business is one in which the artists eat first, since they are the source of the content stream.  Fans, once intoxicated with free music, are beginning to realize that it is their responsibility to replenish the stream.

A new model is built around direct-to-fan transactional relationships, where artists can make a fair profit for their work.  What will this infrastructure look like?