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Setlist podcast ponders the death of the record label

By | Published on Monday 20 November 2017

This week’s Setlist podcast from CMU discusses the big news that all record labels are now redundant. Well, that was the fairly bold claim made in one article about new artist services company UnitedMasters, which – according to said article last week – is going to single-handedly replace the apparently now defunct multi-billion dollar, growing-annually, label-led record industry.

Billed as a revolutionary new way for artists to release their music and get back analytics to better service their fanbase, UnitedMasters has been set up by major label veteran Steve Stoute. It also arrives backed with $70 million of investment, including money from Google parent company Alphabet.

Far from being a total game-changer, UnitedMasters – Setlist presenters Andy Malt and Chris Cooke note – has a lot in common with existing artist services companies like TuneCore, CD Baby, Ditto Music, Kobalt’s AWAL, and possibly direct-to-fan set-ups like Music Glue. However, after stripping away all the hyperbole, they conceded the new business could still be interesting.

“As far as we can see, this company is going to offer digital distribution to artists, and then it’s going to have some data technology”, says Cooke. “The hope is that it’s going to pull some data off the streaming platforms and then help artists to sell tickets and merchandise. Then, once they’ve got all that data flowing, and they’ve got all those direct-to-fan relationships in place, they can then go to brands to get further backing for the artists”.

“Nothing here is particularly revolutionary or new, in that loads of people – including people at record companies – have been talking about this kind of thing for some time”, he goes on. Although, he adds, while “people have been doing some interesting stuff in this area” already, “it does feel like nobody has yet completely capitalised on these opportunities. So perhaps these guys, with their technical knowhow, will be innovators in this space”.

So, the death of the record label? “Even if it does all work, it has to be said, record companies still have a role to play”, Cooke adds. “Major record companies still have a role to play. But what is interesting about this, and all of the other companies that we’ve referenced here, is that there is now a great choice of business partners artists can work with on getting their content out there, marketing both the content and the artist’s brand, and raising money. And because there are now more companies doing that, the more traditional record labels are doing more flexible deals”.

Greater choice, and the ability to pick and choose services from different business partners, is definitely a good thing. Signing a traditional record deal is no longer the only option. But this does present it’s own challenges. Cooke notes: “What it does mean is, as a manager, as an artist, or as a lawyer working with artists, now you’ve got to make a choice. You’ve got to decide which of these companies is right for you”.

You can find out more about the array of label/distribution deals now on offer to artists in the newly published ‘MMF Deals Guide’, produced by CMU Insights. And you can listen to the full Setlist conversation about UnitedMasters, as well as chat about CISAC’s latest round of stats on global publishing royalties and Ryanair and YouTube getting into ticketing, here: