The changing role of the record label

There are a couple of interesting articles about Frank Ocean’s new album and how it’s causing a lot of waves in the music industry. The short version is that Ocean found a clever way to get out of his agreement with his label Def Jam, and sign an exclusive deal with Apple Music instead. As Ben Sisario notes in Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ Amplifies Discord in the Music Business, the labels aren’t happy:

“The unprecedented run of exclusives by digital music services has put a tremendous strain on the relationship between artists and their record companies,” said Larry Miller, an associate professor of music business at New York University’s Steinhardt School. “We are seeing that play out in public now.”

In Def Jam Can’t Compete With Apple Justin Charity explains further how Apple has become a giant player in the music industry:

Today, with Iovine’s connections and industry guile, Apple Music is becoming a de facto record label of its own. In just over a year, Apple has struck deals with Drake, Future, Chance the Rapper, and Travis Scott. […]
In response, Universal Music Group, which owns Def Jam, is quickly mobilizing against Apple Music’s exclusive streaming-rights model, which naturally limits the audience for new music. Without this model, Apple Music would be back to a prolonged competition to differentiate itself from its streaming competitors. With it, there’s a new, unprecedented competition: conventional record labels, which ideally develop artists into stars, versus Apple Music, which pays stars well.

I’m going to be in the minority here, but I don’t like Apple getting into the record label business. The entire idea of “exclusive” music releases rubs me the wrong way. And I’m just going to say it — this is the kind of stuff that happens when we get rid of physical media.

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