Unlabeled Creativity-Intro

Hello! So maybe I haven’t written in six months and the first thing I post is about music. We’re rolling with it! This was a school project in Literary Journalism, and I had a great chance to interview some cool people about their experiences as independent artists. This first post is mainly an overview, based on my discussion with Malachi Lossen.

Musicians tend to pursue their careers to create and share art. Record labels start as profit-seeking ventures. This dissonance leaves many artists feeling betrayed and constrained, but with modern streaming services and independent distribution options, artists are creating their own careers. Record labels have served their purpose and have assisted many of the world’s greatest modern musicians, but like all industries, they’re being replaced by a better method. The dissonance of art and bureaucracy is getting too loud to ignore, and the artists are taking control, one song at a time.

Artists have been speaking out about these constraints for years, but independent distribution is offering new leverage to even the score.  “There’s a lot of noise being made right now about record labels. A lot of things that are about to change,”  according to Malachi Lossen, an independent rapper, and communications major at Bethel.  As an observer of the record label industry rather than a participant, Lossen is rather skeptical about the future of Big Records. Popular musicians have struggled with their record labels for decades, the most recent example being Kanye West, who recently revealed his contracts on Twitter, comparing himself to Moses and the record industry to slavery. This garnered attention from major media outlets and drew comparisons to acclaimed Minneapolis artist Prince, who performed on the Today Show with the word “slave” written on his cheek. Like Cobi, Prince had more available material than the label could handle and wanted more creative control. He was introduced on the Today Show as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince” after legally changing his name to a symbol in 1993 in protest of his constraining record contract. 

Lossen points to the enduring problems of labels and the recurrence of reform efforts.  “[Kanye] started the conversation that people have already been having, just not on this big scale. . . record labels will sign people to contracts and then essentially screw them over because they own all the artist’s masters.” However, the tide is slowly but surely shifting. In this new generation, a lot of artists see the commonly horrific terms of record deals and aren’t signing. If they do sign record deals, they agree to record leasing where the label has masters for only a few years.  

All of the independent artists interviewed use DistroKid to release their music. DistroKid is a popular subscription service that uploads music to Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, and other platforms for $20 per year. This is just one of many affordable and independent distribution services that allow artists to pace their own careers. Prince found a unique way around distribution problems by mailing physical copies of his Planet Earth album to newspaper subscribers in 2007 and creating an exclusive online fan club. Prince would be overjoyed and proud of the independence in this new generation of unlabeled creators. This is an amazing innovation, but the best feature of DistroKid is that artists entirely own their master recordings.

“Master recordings” are a somewhat nebulous term, but a decidedly contentious concept. The master is defined by MixButton as “the official, original recording of a song”. Owning “master rights” connotes controlling how and when the song is distributed. The legalities of master rights have caused major controversy for major artists from Prince to Kanye to Taylor Swift.

As the rules of producing and releasing music change, Lossen muses that “labels are having to adapt to the times, and I think all hell’s probably gonna break loose before anything gets better…the labels are gonna [sic] have to adjust or maybe rip up some contracts.” The main historical advantage of record labels is leverage, such as funding for recording and industry connections, and now independent artists can create their own industry connections through social media. With the rise in independent artistry, the ballad of the record label may be playing its final notes.

My September Playlist

Hey! I’m making an effort to reinvigorate the page while I adjust to living in Bethel’s dorm. I realized that I hardly ever mention music here, but it is one of my passions in life, more so than movies or books. I create a new “current hits” playlist about every two weeks, so I’ll start blogging about them!

    Selections from the Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again soundtrack-The whole soundtrack is great, but these four songs stand out as my favorites. I’ll address these in my upcoming comprehensive review of the film.

    “Crier tout bas”-I will confess I just found this song today, listening to it in the trailer for A Simple Favor. I will also confess that while I’ve had 12 years of Spanish, I don’t speak a word of French. Still, it has an upbeat tempo, but haunting vocals-an interesting and intriguing blend

    I’ll Be“- This song is older than I am (released in 1997), and it reminds me of when I was about 5. I used to think I was unique for wanting this as my wedding song, before I learned this was a cheesy 90s pop hit. I still want this one for my first dance though. 😊❤️

    Work Song“-This is one of the most unique songs I’ve ever heard. Hozier is an indie/R&B/rock artist who isn’t as mainstream as he deserves to be. Yes everyone knows “Take Me to Church” but real fans know many of his songs were much more deserving of popularity. This is a slow, tender, haunting melody that is unlike anything else. This is my #1 favorite song of all time and everyone should look it up on YouTube and then buy it.

    I Write Sins Not Tragedies“-So I’m about 10 years late to the Panic! At the Disco fandom, but I’m here now. This song is a verified ear worm, and it’s been in my head for days on end. It makes zero sense to me, but it is energetic yet simple .

    High Hopes“-This is the only other PATD song I know, and it’s a great motivational song. If “I Write Sins” is analogous to Miley Cyrus in 2013, “High Hopes” is like Hannah Montana.

    New Wine“-This latest Hillsong hit was first introduced to me in Bethel chapel. Like “High Hopes”, it’s motivational, but calmer, with a Christian twist.

    Tom’s Diner“-This one is from 1991 but was also popular around 2005. I’ve been on a real nostalgia kick over the last few weeks. This is the only Suzanne Vega song I know and like many of these, it’s calm and sweet. The lyrics show a simple and relatable slice of life.

    Last Request“-Another song that’s over 10 years old! As a child, Paolo Nutini’s voice tricked me into thinking the song was deep and poetic. Now I realize it’s a cheesy song about ‘one last time’. His voice is still so beautiful, similar to James Blunt.