The rise of smaller music labels
Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 22:02
Many music fans know the basic structure of the major record companies and the labels they own. Perhaps the best-known record company is Universal Music Group, which owns major labels such as Interscope, Geffen, Motown, Def Jam, Capitol, Polydor, EMI and Verve. Another major corporation is Sony Music Entertainment, which owns RCA, Epic and Columbia Records. Rounding out the “big three” is Warner, which owns Atlantic, producer Diplo’s “Mad Decent” label, Warner Bros., Rhino, Sire Records and Epitaph, to name just a few. The vast majority of “Top 40” and other popular artists are managed by one or more of these labels, which combined with the fact that the same songwriters often lend their skills to many major artists, is likely a major cause of phenomena like the “pop-punk chord progression” and the general sense that popular music is decreasing in variety.
Smaller labels, however, are on the rise, using social media to reach fans who might otherwise never have heard of their label. One commonly used social media music-sharing site is SoundCloud, where artists can upload sounds that can be downloaded or shared. Artists have also used SoundCloud as a route to gaining traction on Facebook, which has an app that allows artists to provide free downloads only to those who “like” their pages. Several of the artists on these smaller labels have mobilized quite a following, largely through their social media use and by providing free downloads to gain necessary exposure.
Perhaps one of the most successful independent record labels is Bella Union. Owned and run by former musicians, Bella Union boasts an incredible lineup of modern indie acts, including Department of Eagles, Explosions in the Sky, Beach House, M Ward and Fleet Foxes. Explosions in the Sky is an entirely instrumental act drawing from classical to electronic influences.
Record label Soulection is arguably one of the fastest-growing labels in social media terms. Sango, an electronic artist on the label, is quickly growing in popularity since his set of The Weeknd remixes entitled “More Balloons.” Sango has quickly amassed almost 50,000 followers on SoundCloud. Fellow Soulection artist Lakim is also growing in popularity for his urban electronic hip-hop, and labelmate Ta-ku, famous for his “Songs to Break Up To,” has been garnering a lot of success as well.
Pretty Lights Music is also using the Internet to gain traction with followers, though a 2014 Grammy nomination for headlining artist Pretty Lights certainly did not hurt. The label, founded by electronic artist Pretty Lights (best known for “Finally Moving,” the first of several recent songs to sample Etta James’ “Something’s Got a Hold On Me,”) has a policy of giving all of its music away for free. Though Pretty Lights (the artist) is now well-known within the mainstream, he is still active within his label, which also represents electronic artist Gramatik, who has seen a massive increase in popularity over the past year.
Rounding out this short list of successful independent labels are Ghostly International and Cascine. Ghostly plays host to acts like School of Seven Bells, popular electronic and remix artist Com Truise, and rising star Tycho, while Cascine boasts rising electronic artist Chad Valley, indie band Keep Shelly in Athens and remix artist Kisses.