The term record label stands for many different types of
companies that put out music. It can
signify a conglomerate like Sony or Universal which are huge well-established
multi-national corporations with offices in many countries around the world, or
it can indicate a small artist-owned company with a staff of one or two,
putting out their own CDs, like Killer Mikes GrindTime Records. Therefore, an artist who just wants to sign
to a record label, ANY record label, is doing him or herself a real injustice
unless they do the proper research and have a solid understanding of how the music
Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, we could all feel sorry for
the artists who were unfairly exploited and taken advantage of. But with all of the information available
today in books, and on-line (much of which is free), its hard to feel sorry
for folks who get jerked because they didnt take the time to understand what
they were doing before they jumped in with both feet. Action is a wonderful thing, provided it is
backed up with the proper research, planning, and understanding. Greed and quick, uninformed decisions have
never been a good thing.
Here is some of that free information of which I speak.
The Major Labels
A major label is a large company that has numerous
departments that are involved in propelling an artists career forward. All of the major labels are international,
and all of them are publicly traded corporations– which mean they answer to
stockholders. Companies that have
stockholders, often focus on the bottom line financially because they depend on
people to buy and sell their stock, therefore many of the decisions they make are influenced by
stock prices and dividend payments.
Most of these companies also have other businesses that make
up the corporation, so selling CDs is just a small part of their money making
operation. Major labels are huge. If the marketplace is an ocean, major labels
are cruise ships. They are big and
heavy, carry a lot of people on board, and take a long time to stop or to make
turns in the water. Because of their
size, they are relatively safe, but also because of their size it can take a
lot longer to accomplish anything, like releasing a CD for an artist into the
The major labels are:
Bros, which consists of Warner and Atlantic Records, two separate
companies. They also have an
incubator called Asylum, which signs artists that they dont feel are
able to go Gold or Platinum yet, or possibly at all. They are a place for smaller labels
without extensive experience in the marketplace, to incubate.
which consists of Sony, Epic, Jive, and J Records. Their indie distribution arm is called
RED Distribution. They are a good
distributor for independent record labels who are properly financed and
have some experience in the marketplace.
Records, which consists of Motown, Republic, Interscope, and Island/Def
Jam. Unis incubator is called Fontana.
the last major left is now a combined effort of EMI and Virgin. They just had a large round of layoffs
and I am closely watching to see how they restructure and resurface in the
marketplace. This has affected EMI,
Virgin, and Capitol Records. Their
incubator is called Imperial.
There are also two large independent rap distributors/labels
in rap that must be mentioned. Folks in
the industry usually refer to them as Mini Majors because they are quite
large. The major labels dont
necessarily consider them competition, but in the past 5 to 7 years, they have
made quite a bit of noise in the rap marketplace: Koch and TVT. Both labels/distributors usually offer splits
that are more favorable than the major labels because they have a different
business model than the major labels.
Both have smaller staffs and can react in the marketplace more quickly
than a major label.
Also, with the former New York Attorney General, Elliott
Spitzer, coming down on the major labels for payola in the past few years, this
opened up radio a bit for radio spins for independent labels. Both TVT and Koch fall into this category,
allowing them increased airplay at radio today.
A step removed from the major distributors and the large
independent distributors, are the Sub-Labels.
These are the companies picked up by the major labels because they see
them as closer to the streets and more effective at finding and nurturing
talent. Some of the more successful
Under Def Jam:
Ludacris DTP, Young
Jeezys Corporate Thugz, etc.
Dres Aftermath, 50 Cents G-Unit, Eminems Shady Records,
Mr Colliparks Collipark Records, Polow Tha Dons Zone 4, Akons Konvict
Steve Rifkinds SRC, Cash Money, etc.
T.I.s Grand Hustle, Poe Boy Records, Ted Lucas Slip-N-Slide,
Under J Records:
Bryan Leachs Polo Grounds, etc.
Hopefully, I havent left anyone out of my Major,
Mini-Major, and Sub-Label examples (if I did, it wasnt intentional).
The remaining record labels make up the largest portion of
the businesses putting out rap CDs: independent record labels. This includes successful labels like D4L,
SwishaHouse, Thizz Nation, etc; as well as small labels like Killer Mikes
GrindTime, TMI Boyz TMI Entertainment, XVIIs Major Entertainment, JAGs On
Tha Grind, etc. If the major labels are
cruise ships, the indie labels are jet skis.
They can move quickly, dart in and out of obstacles in the water, change
direction quickly, and turn around in a very small space. Being able to react to the marketplace and
change quickly to meet new demands is important. Major labels are not able to do this.
Having said all this, just signing to any record label is
not a smart move. Any person with a
little bit of money can press up business cards saying they are a record
label. Anyone can spend three grand to
wrap a van and call themselves a record label.
If an artist is short-sighted enough to sign to someone who cant afford
to market or promote them, or someone without the proper experience to put out
a CD, then what? Recording contracts are
for 5 to 7 years in length. For some
artists, thats an entire career. If the
label cant afford to work the record properly, its not as if the artist can
walk away and go elsewhere. A contract
is binding. There are a million rappers
stuck in bad deals who will never see the light of day.
If this business is going to be your career, whether you
plan to be in the spotlight (like a rapper, producer or DJ) or behind the
scenes (like a manager, lawyer, publicist, or street team member), its
important to learn the industry, learn whos who, and do business with those
who are worthy of your talents, those who pay properly, and those who are good
at what they do.