Schwartz: Independent record companies maintain diversity in the music industry

The constant evolution in the music industry stifles the creative rights of the artists that the companies in the industry claim to support.

Today, to the untrained eye there appear to be hundreds of record companies looking to publish and distribute the musical creations of artists in America and around the world. A close look at the industry, however, indicates that every company is in fact a subsidiary of one of the “Big Four” record companies: Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and EMI.

While there are independent record companies in existence, they don’t make up a large share of the industry and are generally insignificant. Together the Big Four dominate the music industry and control the artists. As investors in these musicians’ artistic futures they have the right to require music to meet certain criteria and to exhibit messages that are not the artist’s own. They also allow so-called artists – who are more-so performers – to publish records that show their skills with auto-tune more than actual instruments or voice.

Prior to the 1990s, there were many more record companies independent of the market leaders that put out records on their own. Being smaller and having to compete more, they faced a more difficult field. Founders of a record company were more likely to be in the business because they really cared about making good music and not because they wanted to make money like today’s record companies.

Ultimately the problem with the music industry is that it has been so thoroughly commercialized that the record companies are not concerned with making good music but instead with selling records. So-called artists are produced based on a formula that company executives think will bring in the most money and the Big Four don’t really compete with each other. They collectively form a monopoly over music production.

As a monopoly, there is nothing to keep these big corporations honest as long as the four of them agree to the same ideas. Seeing that they are this powerful, there is honestly no reason for them to care about the music. That is where independent music companies come in.

They have always existed, but have been expanding rapidly since the 1980s. Many of these independent labels also distribute their own records, rendering themselves completely free of the Big Four. Being that they are smaller and deal with predominantly local artists they are more interested in finding and assisting musicians in moving forward in their careers.

Instead of using the funding of the Big Four to spread the word they use the Internet and word of mouth, which has proven very successful for bands that broke into the mainstream in recent years.

Some of the strongest examples come from artists such as Death Cab For Cutie and Modest Mouse. An artist who gains a following on an indie label can use it as collateral when trying to find a major label. Having a following means that they will bring in more money right at the start but if the new label tries to stifle their creative rights they can say they will go elsewhere. Arguably such artists are in the best bargaining positions out of any in their industry.

The Big Four are the enemy of free expression and the rights of musical artists everywhere. The people can fight back by supporting artists not controlled by these companies to allow them to succeed in an industry that is opposed to any form of independent action.