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RIAA-Commissioned Report Argues Labels Still Beat DIY Approach, Even in Digital Age

A comprehensive report highlighting how record labels are evolving in the streaming age, commissioned by the RIAA from an academic at NYU, has cast a positive light on the music business moving forward.

“Same Heart. New Beat: How Record Labels Amplify Talent in the Modern Music Marketplace” was based on almost 50 interviews with top executives at both major and independent record labels by NYU’s Larry S. Miller, who also hosts the Musonomics Podcast. The report sets out to highlight the “changes that have taken place in the past decade to make labels an indispensable partner for the most ambitious new, developing, and superstar artists.”

Miller, director of the music business program at NYU, surveyed the execs to compare old and new school approaches to A&R, marketing & promotion, artist contracts, and services and data in an era where manufacturing and distribution have taken on evolving roles at the major label level.

“While there are examples of individual DIY artist success,” Miller writes in the report’s intro, “the realities of the 24/7 global marketplace demand specialized teams with the ability and resources to react instantly to opportunities wherever and whenever they pop up — and the labels have evolved to meet this need. Record labels have transformed themselves from B2B providers of albums into music-based entertainment companies — accelerators of artist brands that directly reach the music consumer on every platform, territory and connected device around the world.”

Miller points out that the introduction of real-time digital discovery and consumption data “has fundamentally changed every functional area” of the modern-day record label. He quotes UMG EVP Michele Anthony on how important the record company can be. “Don’t mistake millions of streams for a career,” she says.

Adds Republic Records chairman/CEO Monte Lipman: “My job is to take all that data and make it usable.”

Miller also goes into the curation ability of major labels, with Capitol Music Group president Ashley Newton weighing in that it’s not all about the numbers. “Encouraging data can be reassuring for a signing,” Newton says, “but you still want to get those goosebumps from sheer artistry.”

In the streaming world, according to Miller, record labels must not just promote and brand artists, but provide context and narratives while finding the appropriate media partners to do so.

RIAA chairman/CEO Mitch Glazier penned a Medium piece, “It’s Still All About the Music… And Labels Remain at Its Heart,” lauding the survey’s observations. “Professor Miller’s report captures what I’ve seen first-hand  —  our labels still discover, develop, promote, market and connect artists with fans as much as ever, but in more ways than the past and often using radically new means to support artists. The result is a growing, vibrant and vital music ecosystem driven by label investment and action  —  one in which more artists are creating and more fans are listening.”

To follow up on the report, the trade org has just launched its own dedicated website, “Rebooting the Record Label,” with the hashtag #Labelsatwork, to showcase the contributions and work of today’s companies across the areas of A&R, artist services, sales & distribution, data analysis, and marketing & promotion.

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