Ask any music junkie and they'll tell you that music makes the world go round. The music industry does generate billions of dollars every year and the influence it has in all societies is undeniable. Pretty much anyone can find music that they enjoy, even if their favorite genres stray pretty far from the mainstream. But despite the worldwide impact that music has, most people don't really understand how the industry works, especially now that music streaming services have become so prominent. Has streaming helped or hurt the industry? Are music labels still relevant today? The answers aren't always so black and white.

 

Music streaming services have often been cited for directly affecting the role of record companies and this fact is definitely true. Before the digital revolution and the introduction of streaming services, it was next to impossible to make it as an unsigned artist. Record companies were the ones who pretty much bankrolled everything from the production to the distribution of songs and albums. Basically, without a label your music would most likely never be heard by anyone since there would be no way to get it to potential fans (unless you could afford to mass produce all your own CDs and/or vinyl records). Because of this, labels used to have a lot more notoriety, often being household names alongside the iconic artists they would sign.

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Labels essentially made most artists' career possible in the first place which also meant they held a ton of power over them. The contracts that artists signed would usually give labels complete control over what an artist would sing and even what that artist's entire image would be. And because the music was being created and distributed by the label, the company would usually own most, if not all the rights to the masters i.e. the original recording of a song. So basically, artists agreed to make music that they didn't actually own and would only get a tiny fraction of the profits it generated.

 

A huge portion of the industry still works this way and these contracts have often created huge rifts between the label and the artist. Unfortunately, it's often been the artist who loses out in the end because of the purposefully confusing and predatory tactics within these legal documents that always favor the label. For many years, artists like Prince and Taylor Swift have been outspoken about this issue and have pushed for all artists to get more power and more profit from their own work.