Is It a Banger?: Major record labels do more harm than good for their artists

In Arts & Entertainment, Columns, Lifestyle, Music
A row of CDs and records in a music store.
Courtesy of Pexels

Sliding through the living room hall “Risky Business” style, breaking out “Guitar Hero” and acing the solo for Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” (a nearly impossible task on expert mode) would make any kid want to become a rockstar. Especially this kid, who still button smashes to this day – I guess I’m called the newsroom child for a reason.

The best part about finishing a “Guitar Hero” song as a kid was the crowd cheering as a huge slogan flashes across the screen reading, “YOU ROCK!” After beating “Guitar Hero” several times, I knew I had a calling and I had to unleash my inner musician. I couldn’t let my skills collect dust on a shelf, even at eight years old.

So naturally, the first thing I did was search up potential record labels so they can realize what kind of superstar they were missing out on, even if the only guitar I could play was the one connected to my PlayStation 3. Oh boy, so naive, so youthful.

But today, as I search up those record labels once more, I realize that eight-year-old me might not have wanted to become a slave to the music industry and maybe this journalism gig was the right choice after all.

The role of a record label is to support the artist and vice versa – a “You take care of me, I’ll take care of you” sort of dynamic.

Record labels have marketing teams that promote their brand, because the more people who know the label, the more revenue they receive. Labels are supposed to work with their musicians as they help develop artists, and along with the obvious publishing of music, the labels also are responsible for copyright enforcement.

That all sounds fine and dandy, but somewhere along the way, lines are blurred and corruption encrypts the lives of up-and-coming artists, as well as some of the most successful musicians the world has ever seen.

Major labels treat musicians as puppets with the labels pulling the strings. Prince is known as the self-righteous innovator because of classics like “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry.” He didn’t put up with anyone, though he still suffered at the hands of his record label, Warner Bros.

After the announcement of the release of his new album “HITNRUN,” Prince told Rolling Stone magazine it was exclusive, only to be released under Jay Z’s streaming service, Tidal.

“Record contracts are just like — I’m gonna say the word — slavery,” Prince told the magazine. “I would tell any young artist … don’t sign.”

Although “HITNRUN” was released in September 2015, it wasn’t Prince’s first account of fighting against “the Man.”

In 1993, Prince would frequently perform onstage and appear in public with the word “slave” slathered across his cheek. It represented the feud between Prince and Warner Bros. over their record contract. Prince even changed his name a couple of times so he could be free “from the chains” that bound him to Warner Bros., according to the magazine.

While Prince was known to be a diva, he wasn’t the only artist fighting for freedom.

Immortal Technique is an influential activist recognized in the hip-hop community as a self-proclaimed rapper who became successful without the help of any major record label. His nightmarish beats and dense lyrics are vivid and bold as they explore the gray areas of morality. He’s not afraid to tell major labels to stick “it” up their behinds in tracks like, “Freedom of Speech.”

During an interview with Hard Knock TV, Immortal Technique compared being signed to a record label with being stuck in an unhealthy relationship.

“It’s like a woman that wants to marry an abusive rich man because she figures she can take the ass-whooping for a few years and get some money from the divorce,” said Immortal Technique in an interview, which was posted in a 2012 video by 2DopeBoyz.

In “Freedom of Speech,” Immortal Technique raps to a remixed beat of Disney’s “I’ve Got No Strings” from the film “Pinocchio.” His verses dive into the typical relationship of major labels and the way they handle their musicians.

During interviews, he would never abide by labels’ rules of how to act or what to rap about, even going as far to say, “40,000 records sold, 400 grand… I won’t pay anyone else, I’ll bootleg it and sell it to the streets myself. I’d rather be that than signed and stuck on the shelf.”

When artists entrust their talent to these major label entities, musicians break out of their shells in order to create something beautiful with their image and music. They shouldn’t be suppressed by those who claim to help them, it’s all about creating a mutual respect for one another as opposed to being held captive as a prisoner.

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