Most record labels were started by people who loved a particular type of music and wanted to share their passion. They liked to make money, but most were driven by a real love for music. Labels had unique identities - Atlantic, Delmark, Blue Note, Reprise, Prestige, Columbia, Nonesuch, Verve, Folkways, Deutsche Grammophon... As I discovered music I felt a clear loyalty to particular labels that has been absent for decades.
As the record business grew the focus shifted to what they did and how they did it - throwing money at radio, creating mega-stars, selling CDs, music video, etc. By the dawn of the Internet age the music business had been replaced by the CD-selling business. Lacking consensus and visionary leadership the industry completely missed the huge opportunity presented by technology companies like Liquid Audio and Napster. Steve Jobs stepped in to pick up the pieces which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. Apple is all about Why and they understand how music works in people’s lives. So what can we learn and what happens next?
Why first, execution 2nd…
The music aggregators of the future may not look like old-school record labels, but I don’t think success will be based on a particular distribution methodology. The opportunity is for smart business people and artists to get back to the Why of music and build from there. Smart execution is key to creating a profitable business and distinguishing yourself in today’s flattened, over-supplied, music world is a formidable challenge. But first you need to know what you stand for and why you are doing what you do. If that starts to get fuzzy, your business will fade into the noise with everybody else.