The last few days, I’ve been adding additional metadata from my CDs into my ripped files so I can identify them better when logging them in Discogs. As I was going through each of my CDs, I was logging the record label, the barcode and the catalog number. As I was doing this, I had a few thoughts.
The first thought I had was noticing that when an artist or band would change record labels, their defining sound would usually radically change, and usually for the worse. Most cases where this happened would be leaving a major label like Geffen and going to a tiny label like Ray’s Music Records. There are some cases where an artist would change from a megalabel to a boutique label, like from EMI to Relativity or Magna Carta and although their sound would change, it would still be recognizable.
This got me thinking about how much influence a label has over an album. Maybe it’s because the larger labels have a stable of high-quality producers that mold the artist’s sound with a heavier hand? When the band leaves, they either self-produce or are provided a producer from their new label that has a different concept, so maybe that is the reason for the drastic change?
So maybe there is a distinct advantage to being signed on a big label, despite the massive disadvantages that go along with it. And that was my second thought. When I look up an album on Discogs and I see there are over 100 different releases of it, I get angry. I can understand that there may be reasons for an album to be released on different labels in different countries. I also can understand if a label gets bought out by a different one. But when I see the album sold by multiple companies, that irks me. That comes down to who owns the rights to the music.
One time, I picked up a book written by a musician about her story and experiences as an artist. I didn’t read much of it, but I happened on a passage saying that if a contract ever uses the phrase “in perpetuity” to run away and don’t look back. The meaning of that term is that the record label owns your work forever. They can do whatever they want with it: sell it off, license it (whore it out to multiple people), or keep it locked away in spite of huge demand. Whatever they want. And that’s what really angers me about the music industry – the idea that the artists and their work belong to them.
It’s not an arrangement like, “You make your music, we’ll help sell it and we’ll take a percentage of the sales for doing that for you.” It’s more like, “You make music for us, we’ll sell it and give you a percentage of the sales for your efforts.” And for some long-running acts, you see this terrible situation where they’ve been released from their contract on one label, moved on to another, and the original label starts rehashing all their old songs into different compilations and collector’s editions. That ends up cheapening the artist’s image. I’ve seen artists that have 10 albums and 40 compilations. How fair is that to the artist?