Our role in the music business

How we affect the music business

Tala El Hallak

American University of Beirut

SOAN 207

Professor Jad Melki


How we affect the music business

Artists need to have records companies in order to promote their records and market them. Moreover we will see that there are different types of companies. All those companies care about is business and money. They would do anything in order to increase the money entering the company. Some of the people who work there might even hate their jobs, and might hate music but continue working there for money, especially when it’s a big company. We will talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each of those label companies.

Musicians are often confused and don’t know what record company they should go for. In my opinion, beginners might as well start with smaller companies such as the independent ones. In addition we will see how most of the songs turn around the same topics, and same themes. Some of them in different countries might be banned.

We will see as well how a dominant leader in music sales can fail and lose his place as a leader in the market.

Unfortunately business and money have become the main reasons for all the decisions taken.

How we affect the music business

Each and every artist belongs to a Record label company that promotes his songs and markets them. Throughout this essay we will see how fans can support their artists even though there are problems with the label companies. Then we will see the different aspects of each of Major labels companies and Independent labels companies. Finally we will discuss an issue concerning Wal-Mart and how it affected both artists and consumers.

Artists Album’s Name Universal Sony Warner Music EMI Independent Label Rotana
Mariah Carey The Emancipation of Mimi The Island DEF Jam Music Group
Shakira Laundry Service EPIC Records
Michael Jackson Thriller EPIC Records
Elissa Tsadaq Bmein Rotana Records
Justin Timberlake Justified Zomba Recording


..all this time A&M


Tribute Virgin Records
Elton John 


The one Rocket Records
Enya A Day without Rain Reprise Records
Pink Floyd The Division Bell EMI
Total number of Albums An album list price Total cost of my albums

My collection







Breakdown of the cost of a single CD at $15.99 A breakdown of the total cost of my collection of $2398.5
Musicians’ unions $0.17 $23.98
Packaging/manufacturing $0.8 $120
Publishing Royalties $0.82 $120
Retail Profit $0.8 $120
Distribution $0.9 $144
Artists Royalties $1.6 $240
Label Profit $1.7 $264
Marketing/Promotion $2.4 $260
Label Overhead $2.91 $456
Retail Overhead $3.89 $575

According to the above chart, the Label companies are the most to suffer from the free downloads of albums. Their overhead and profit in addition to the marketing profit will drop a lot. Artists can find alternative ways to generate money.

There are several ways for fans to support an artist they like or a band. Every artist needs to have a record label in order to produce, distribute, manufacture and promote his album. A record label is a company that directs “the production, manufacture, distribution, marketing and promotion, and enforcement of copyright protection of sound recordings and music videos” (wapedia.mobi/en/record_label). But wouldn’t it be possible to support an artist by pressuring a dominant music company particularly when fans find it irresistible to wait for the record label to release the expected album or delay its release for unreasonable excuses? Such is the case of the Lupe Fiasco long waited release of his album in Manhattan, where protestors assembled in front of Warner Music Group demanding the release of the ready album.

Another way of supporting an artist would be through the internet via facebook and other social networks. For instance, creating a page concerning a particular artist could motivate all the fans to join the page and support him. When an even comes up such as a concert, people and fans show support when they come in big numbers. Therefore a way of supporting artists would be by assisting to the concerts or events organized. An artist would then feel encouraged.

There are two types of record labels, the independent ones and the major ones. The independent labels also known as “indies” offer less money for the whole process of recording, producing, manufacturing, distributing… However independent labels give much more attention and importance to the artist than the major labels do. They are in a way guiding the artist and taking him from step one. Owen Husney says “You can get them working side by side with you”.  He means that independent labels really focus on the few artists they have that are signed up.

Major labels offer much more money than independent labels do. Therefore they may offer a large investment in the process of recording an album, organizing tours and concerts, video clips and more. Not only money plays an important role but the good connections as well. Major labels know well their business and are well connected everywhere. This could help the artist in his career. Although major labels have all these advantages, artists can sometimes encounter difficulties and problems because major labels connect with a variety of artists and not all of them are successful. That is why the big associations can sometimes get rid of a certain band or artist because of the low number of albums that were sold. Major companies can’t give everyone all the attention needed because of the amount of artists involved. “You can find yourself with a record out that isn’t getting much promotion and a label that doesn’t return your phone calls” (musicians.about.com/od/beingamusician/a/majorlabelpandc.htm). Some people who work at major label companies don’t have a passion for music. Their main concern is business and specially money. We don’t find this or rarely do in the independent labels companies. This could lead the artist in a wrong direction and probably end his career.

A big difference between an independent label and a big label is the kind of music that is promoted. Major labels put out a variety of songs and genres that include several artists because as we said previously, major labels have a large number of bands and artists. Alternatively independent labels usually promote the same type of songs and artists. There certainly are qualitative differences between both of the companies because major labels have more money and permit themselves to pay more for quality. Since Independent labels are financially less powerful than Major label Recording companies, it is normal that the production of the music gets affected.  But the drawback of having to deal with an indie label company is the marketing and promotion sector which demands a big amount of money. “A lack of funding means a smaller budget for recording, production of physical disks, packaging, distribution costs, tour support, merchandise, etc. Another significant issue caused by a lack of budget is that proper marketing for the artist is sacrificed” (Othrow Jonathan)

Based on what I saw in my music collection, I can tell that there is less freedom of expression and more control by the censorship in Arabic music. Issues such as politics, religion are banned from the music companies. “Artist that address issues such as politics, sex, religion, minorities and the like have been and continue to be persecuted” by Ziad Rahbani. In the US, most musicians agree to keep a clean version of their songs specifically in megastores (such as virgin, wal-mart…). They try to avoid mentioning anything about their beliefs and thoughts, homosexuality, abortion. For instance Nirvana changed its song title from “Rape me” to “Waif me” for megastores.

Yet we don’t find any of these topics in Arabic music. They are totally banned. In the US, it is very possible to find the album as it was recorded (including the swear words, and unwanted topics) in stores.

After looking in my records collection, I noticed that generally most of the songs are about love whether they are English or in Arabic. Musicians avoid songs about politics or religion because most of the time they are banned. Love is generally the theme that dominates most of the records collections. People have different cultures, different values, and different ways of viewing things. Therefore when an artist writes a song about any topic, all that matters is his point of view because people for example could interpret the lyrics in a different way depending on their social backgrounds or traditions. Some people even avoid listening to songs that go against their cultures or values even though they like its beat. For example some people would refuse to listen to Akon’s song “Noisy neighbor” because he describes a woman next door getting undressed.

Finally some large companies who used to be dominant leaders in the sales of CD’s are now failing and are thinking small.Wal-Mart for instance who used to be very important for its records sales is now focused on small stores and not expanded everywhere. Wal-Mart is offering so many discounts and different offers. One of the reasons for getting small would be to fit in densely populated places. Another reason is to attract people to the market because the lower the prices are the better it is for the customers. But some people lose their jobs and stay unemployed. So they can’t even afford to buy anything even with the low prices. “Cheaper is not better if it causes pressure on the suppliers as well as lowers the standard of living for the employee. The low prices become only a better deal for the retailer not for the consumer” (Business and society)

In conclusion we can say that in general all that matters in some companies is business and how to make money as fast as possible. Even if the work is not correctly done, it doesn’t matter as long as it brings money to the company. Therefore artists should be careful before choosing whether they should sign up with a Major label company or an independent label company. Both have advantages and disadvantages. It is up to the artist to see what is more convenient depending on his status. Artists need good record labels in order to be successful and to give everything in their music. They should keep in mind as well the idea of censorship. An artist who disobeys the law and states different fragile topics mentioned earlier, might get into trouble and even know the end of his career.


-Rahbani, Ziad. (2009, June 18). Retrieved from


-Wikipedia. Retrieved from


-Husney, Owen. (n.d.) Major Labels vs. Independent Labels. Retrieved from


-McDonald, Heather (n.d.) . Major record label deals: pros and cons. Retrieved from


-Othrow, Jonathan. (2010, May 16). Indie vs. major: which record label contract is right for you? Retrieved from

http://www.musicthinktank.com/mtt-open/indie-vs-major-which-record-label-     contract-is-right-for-you.html

-Business and society. (2008, April 27). Is Wal-Mart good for America? Retrieved from



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