Are record labels dying?

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Welcome to an installment of Ask the Music Guy!

This time, we’re talking about how music venues can be more appealing AND if record labels even matter any more.

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What do local venues have to do or provide to get young people going to see local artists again?

— Ian (@IanAeillo)

Let’s start with how venues can be inviting to young fans.

A lot of venues are also bars, and they make probably most of their money selling drinks. It might not be a huge priority to be inviting to young fans, but the kids in your venue now will eventually turn into the adult concert nuts later in life.

First of all, having an all ages policy is a huge step. Here in Omaha, there’s actually city law that defines how underage fans can be allowed in music venues. They have permission slips signed by parents/guardians, hand stamps to keep them from buying alcohol and things like that. I’m sure it’s a pain for those clubs, but if you’re a parent, you can drop your kid at a show and know at least as well as you can that they’re going to be alright.

Obviously, inviting artists that young people like is the next step. There’s all kinds of artists I wouldn’t ever care to see but are hugely popular. Or those tours that are just fancy meet n greets for YouTube stars. But they appeal to kids.

So local bands? That’s a little harder. Getting anyone to see local bands can be tough. Booking those local acts that care and are charismatic is a huge deal. They need to do promo, real actual promotion and not just make a Facebook event. It’s hard to lock in on them, but local artists that are popular with the younger crowd is a must, too.

But what about amenities? What things would attract or retain younger audiences?

I think that’s even more important.

These are the sorts of things that, once they saw it, they’d go, “That’s a cool place. I can’t wait to see another show there.”

I do think going beyond the bar thing would be a huge help. Coffee houses are great alternatives to bars, and I remember hanging out in coffee places all the time as a teenager because where else can you hang out late in public? So hire a barista? I could see that being a pain in the ass, but it could also be a big hit. Heck, I’d definitely get a coffee at some shows, especially the late ones.

Have something to do that’s not just the show and the bar. Partner with a nearby restaurant to do some food. (More like slices of pizza, not a sit-down meal.) Arcade games. A photo booth. Or maybe even a selfie station.

Maybe that sounds dumb to you, but if there was a well-lit corner of your venue with a sweet mural or a neon sign or something signifying live music or your venue, guess how many people would take selfies in front of it? Tons.

Plus free advertising for your venue.

Got any other ideas? I’d love to hear them.

Do you think record labels will be obsolete at any time with the way bands/artist can basically do everything themselves with the internet?

— Kelvin (@TwinTwisterDad)

So the nature of major record labels have changed, but I don’t think they’ll go away.

Why? They’re still the best way to get your music out there.

First off, a label is offering its connections. They know people. They know studios. They know publicists. They know producers. They know booking agents. They’ve done this whole thing a bunch of times, and doing it with you will be easy.

Second, they are like a bank. Recording an album properly — renting a studio, hiring a producer, getting it mixed, getting it mastered — is damn expensive. A label fronts you some money, called an advance, to help pay to make the album. Technically you owe them that money and will pay them back through sales and streams of your music until you hit your repayment goal (called the “break even” point).

That’s the simple version of your typical record deal, and there are lots of different ways a deal could be structured, but more or less, they’re basically the bank loaning you money to make your record.  The alternative is paying for it yourself or doing Kickstarter or whatever. And that’s risky.

Labels are also an all-in one services business. They have a publicist. They have a radio department. They do merchandise. They work to get music placements in TV and movies. They have designers to make your album art. They can simply do a lot of stuff for you and take it off your plate.

Labels have definitely become less important than they were. You can do almost all of this stuff on your own, and a lot of artists definitely have and been damn successful at it. Plus it’s easier than ever to launch your own label.

But if my decision was between a label offering to pay to make my record and do all that extra stuff for me vs. doing it all on my own, I’d probably take the label.

Most musicians you know probably would, too.