Who’s really in control?
When CDs were first introduced, record labels were reluctant to move their artists to the new format. That was until they figured out that it was a great way to get people who had bought music on an vinyl album to buy it all over again at a higher price with the promise of greater durability and sound quality. That realisation was the beginnings of the most financially rewarding for the music business, but the big mistake that the labels made was thinking it would never end, then holding on for dear life when first Napster and then iTunes pulled the plug on their control of the supply chain. To make things worse, in a series of bad PR moves, they discovered they’d not only lost financial control but also the hearts and minds of the record buying public.
The rising popularity of web enabled subscription services has once again caught the traditional music business off guard, and it’s interesting to note that in 2015 the loudest voices debating the rights and wrongs of streaming isn’t that of the labels. Arguments about inferior quality sound and lack of proper financial compensation for writers and performers is being led by the artists themselves – Taylor Swift the most high profile, alongside Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Neil Young.
It’s not so long ago that major artists such as George Michael and Prince were at war with their labels over contracts that they claimed gave them no rights in relation their own music. In 2015 it seems perfectly acceptable that Taylor Swift has enough power and control to hold Apple to ransom. That’s a big shift, and it will be interesting to see if artist power makes its way further down the chain. When you can decide how, where and when your music is released – what do you need a label for anyway?