Now, with a self-upload feature, Spotify is cutting out more of the label’s traditional middleman role and giving some artists more control and transparency over their work (and money gained from it since they don’t have to split royalties with other parties) than a label can provide. But of course, choosing to go that route as an emerging artist still means foregoing the vast resources and backing of a label — which may be too much a risk for most to take.
The word “choosing” here is working overtime. An issue of music industry coverage for decades is this idea that if artists can just put out their music then why would they need a label? The assumption is that all labels do is put out music and collect checks. This both undervalues the monopoly major labels hold on the industry in terms of promotion and how little power artists with zero industry connection holds in terms of being able to get heard. A state doesn’t promote a lottery with highlights of scratch-off losers.
I don’t say this as an endorsement of the traditional exploitative major label system. A label in this instance could be Atlantic Records, Sister Polygon Record, or even just a dude who happens to know a couple curators and understand the basics of music distribution. None of those business will shift due to this Spotify for artists update. If an artist wants to get on radio they need a label or at least a team that can work radio stations, which is something a single person can’t do. If an artists wants to get consistent press coverage they’ll need to hire public relations. If a band wants to go on tour…I think you get the idea. None of that changed.
My question is this: Who is the winner in a world where labels don’t exist? Eventually all artists will be able to upload their music to Spotify…then what? How does that music find an audience? How does an artist build and sustain a fan base? Who is footing the bill to record their music? All of these are things that labels, big or small, provide on top of any other connections in terms of live touring, licensing deal, etc. Never underestimate music industry middlemen, they’ll always find a new home.