I recently read an article titled Universal-EMI Merger Could Yield New Mega-Label To Threaten The Future Of Music. The article speaks to how said merger would give “control over 40 percent of the market alone” to just this one “major label.” It should also be noted that I found this under the tag “The Day Music Died?”
I’ve struggled to understand this article. Because I can’t figure out if I’m truly in shock over the mentality major labels (and the author of said article) have in believing we mindlessly follow everything they do. There is the old adage “The bigger they are the harder they fall” and the masses could make that happen. But it starts with you.
I am not saying the four majors (EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers) are some terrible giants bent on creating some Orwellian musical culture. Their libraries hold some of the most important recordings in the history of music. What I am saying is that labels, authors and the “mainstream” world should be afraid. Independent music and artists selling their own music is on the rise (even addressed in aforementioned article).
There was once a time when the radio held all of our musical secrets. DJs made or broke musicians based on their tastes and listeners demand. DJs had the options to play what they wanted to hear and had the ability to make some artists very famous. Nowadays DJs are simply monkeys pushing the play button on a set-list outlined for them by the real major business monsters (a discussion that will be reserved for a later time) and people now buy, believe and follow the diversity-lacking money-hungry music that has lost almost all sight of their original intentions; the music.
The significance of even the potential of a merger like Universal and EMI should not be from their stake in what they already limit us to buy, but from what effects it will actually have on the music industry. When was the last time you were in a major retail store and you wanted to find an album? 15 years ago, there were aisles and aisles of selections ranging from new independent labels to the major four. Today, there are about 5 shelves and they’re packed with 800 copies of Dave Matthews and Beyonce. Which is ironic in its own right, seeing as “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” was originally a B-Side, it had to have been picked out by someone with the common sense to bring it to the forefront and add a major boost to her career. Does this mean Columbia (parent company Sony) mishandled the composition of I Am… Sasha Fierce? No, it simply means the opinion won out. We’re already monumentally limited to what can be absorbed via the “mainstream,” therefore this merger means a lot to an industry and nil to an art form.
There are plenty of labels out there who are not in the less-than-fab four that have the ability to flip the world on its head the moment people realize that we don’t want to hear the same 30 minutes of music on loop, that we shouldn’t care about who they can shove in our face for award shows that were once significant or that by simply plastering 800 copies of the same album on record store shelves doesn’t make them any better. Polyvinyl (based out of Illinois, releases a plethora of fantastic music), Urban Scandal (San Francisco based, probably one of the hardest working labels I’ve ever encountered) and Sub Pop (Seattle, released Fleet Foxes, The Postal Service and The Shins) are three perfect examples of a great place to start, but hardly a comprehensive list. The options are almost endless. Does this mean every independent label is great? Not necessarily great, but certainly vital. If the story were titled Universal-EMI Merger Could Yield New Mega-Label That Will Swallow Independent Music, we’d be screwed. But it’s not and thus we’re just fine.
Short of a Clockwork Orange type rehab on the musical world, we need to realize we can’t change it. Because we can’t change the fact that there will always be the major four, in some form, we shouldn’t care about what they want to do. It should only drive us to be what we used to be, friends who stopped and said “Hey, look what I found” and continue to spread the music WE want to hear, not what THEY shove in our face. One of the most significant things we can do is to take a chance on an album from an independent label or even from the artist directly. Buy the album and keep supporting what truly makes the musical world turn, the little guys and fans like you.