Inside Record Labels:
by Christopher Knab, Fourfront
Media & Music
Updated April 2010
Back to Music
There is a lot of work involved with signing, recording, promoting,
publicizing, and selling music. The following introduction to the way major labels and independent labels setup
the business of music marketing is broken down by departments. As you will see, the larger record labels have the
luxury of having many different departments and dozens of employees to carry out the many responsibilities involved
in running a label. And, the smaller companies, that have the same work to do, have to be quite creative and energetic
to get all that work done.
Major Label Departments
What are the key departments at a record label, and what are those departments
responsible for? Let's take a look.
For starters, the CEO
of a major label will generally oversee the business affairs of all the affiliated labels under their corporate
umbrella. Each major label will have its own President who is responsible for all the label activities. For example, at Warner Brothers,
there is a president for Warner Brothers Records, a president for Reprise Records, a president of Atlantic Records,
Every department at a major label is usually run by a Senior Vice
President, in charge of one of the following:
- The Business Affairs
Department takes care of label finances; bookkeeping, payroll,
- The Legal Department handles all contractual issues and other legal responsibilities.
- The A&R (Artists
and Repertoire) Department locates and signs new talent. They
work with the artist in song selection, choice of producers, recording studio selection and they communicate with
the label's Business Affairs Department to make sure all the paperwork and accounting issues involved with the
actual recording of an act's record are setup properly. In short, The A&R Department can serve as a liaison
between an artist and all the other departments at the label.
- The Art Department supervises all product design jobs, (CD, Tape, Vinyl cover art etc), trade and
consumer press advertising, retail sales posters and flats, and other needs of the print media.
- The Marketing Department is responsible for creating the overall marketing plan for every record the label
is releasing. They are also involved in coordinating all the promotion, publicity, and sales campaigns that the
label is committed to.
- The Publicity Department arranges for any feature stories, interviews, or record reviews in local and
national newspapers, magazines, web-zines, as well as the broadcast opportunities for such coverage on radio stations
and television. They may also co-ordinate any of these publicity opportunities with an artist's own Publicist.
- The New Media Department produces and promotes the music videos for the label's artists that are shown
on MTV, VHl, etc. This department also oversees some promotions and marketing opportunities on the Internet that
use the audio and video technologies available from online hardware and software sites that support music..
- The Artist Development
Department usually oversees the career planning of artists signed
to the label. This department coordinates a consistent marketing and promotion presence for an artist throughout
their career with the record label. The Artist Development Department has changed over the last decade. Many labels
no longer have such a department. Others have changed the name to Product Development and concentrate more on "breaking,"
or promoting artists quickly in order to try to speed up the return on their financial investment. The pressure
to return a profit to shareholders has changed the face of the music business dramatically in recent years, so
the emphasis has been more on Product Development, and securing a hit as fast as possible.
- The Sales Department oversees all the retail activities of the label, and concentrates on building
relationships with the key record store chains and other mass-market retailers. The Sales staff coordinate their
efforts with the major label's distribution company, as well as communicating regularly with the Promotion and
Publicity departments at the label.
- The Label Liaison is the person who coordinates the business of the major label's distribution
company with the needs of their parent record labels. Street dates, (the date that a new release goes on sale at
music retailers), must be approved by the label's distribution company
- The Promotion Department's primary goal is secure radio airplay for their company's new releases. These days that means not only traditional FM radio stations, but select Internet stations and satellite radio as well. Their
ability to get songs played on the radio is central to the success of the whole company. The Promotion department
is closely connected to and constantly communicating with other departments within the label to make sure that
all strategies being used to market and sell an artist's record are working together properly. Soliciting videos
to MTV, VH1 and other music oriented television networks and programs may also be the responsibility of this
department. At some labels this job is a separate department, or part of the New Media department.
Every department at a record label plays an essential role in the success
or failure of the company. They are team members, working together toward the goal of selling their records
and CDs as one lean, mean machine.
Inside an Independent Record Label
Independent record labels come in all sizes and shapes. The large, well-funded indie labels are organized by departments
much like the major label operations described above. The more money a label has the more they people they can
hire to handle the various responsibilities of a label. Smaller, grass roots or garage labels organize the work
of promoting, selling and publicizing their releases by wearing as many different hats as they can. These smaller
labels have an awesome task marketing their records because there may be only two or three employees, including
the label owner, doing the A&R scouting, calling radio stations about airplay, working with a distributor (if
they even have one), checking with the music retailers, and coordinating the publicity and new new media efforts, as well as dealing
directly with their artists and bands helping them find gigs and put tours together.
Running a record label is a very expensive and time-consuming job. One of reasons so few independent labels succeed
is related to the issues I have just outlined. It takes a lot of money, and a lot of time to operate a legitimate
record label. The more research and planning a young label does before jumping into the world of music marketing,
the higher the likelihood that they will survive, and perhaps even prosper in a very competitive business.
Note: This is
an edited version of a longer chapter from my new book 'Music Is Your Business: The 3rd Edition'' available NOW
from the Music Biz Academy bookstore.
Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He
is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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