Joseph F. Turcotte, PhD

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So so Def

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As long as I can remember Def Jam has been the premier hip-hop record label. Started in 1984 by Russel Simmons and Rick Rubin this imprint is arguably the most important record label in the history of rap music. So it was rather shocking, albeit not completely unexpected, to wake up to find the news that Jay-Z had left the label and is now a completely independent recording artist.

What that means, I’m not entirely sure. But what I am sure about is that the future for large record labels is growing bleaker and bleaker. The Broadcast Era that allowed these giants to reap record profits throughout the 90s and (very) early 2000s is dead and has been replaced by a new generation of music fans and, perhaps more importantly, technologies.

Large, “catchall” record labels aren’t going to cut it anymore when fans can download thousands of songs and create their own musical inventory without having to go through the gate-keepers (music editors, label execs, etc).

But tears shouldn’t be shed for these dying beasts, and perhaps I’m wrong and they’ll innovate and once again become the home(s) for music fans everywhere– that seems quite unlikely given their past aversion to change though. Just like all of the big companies that made millions (or billions) off of consumers in the glory days, these giants have had their run.

What’s exciting for music fans is the possibility for the future. New ways of doing things can emerge. Record labels now need to cultivate contact and ties with their fans and can’t wholly depend on glossy gimmicks and  marketing campaigns. Smaller labels and promoters can fill the void left by these giant footprints.

That’s the key to digital media and the future of the media industry. Going smaller, worrying less about massive profits and building something that people care about.

It’s time to cater to the fans and consumers. After long being just a cash cow that had few options for music and culture, we now have an abundance of possible choices. Damn, that’s empowering. To keep fans you’ll have to invest in them (and what they like, the artists). Build ways for people to interact with like minded individuals. Create avenues of distribution that are focused on the individual but are related (and connected) to the label/group at large.

The revenue model for big media, and record labels, is dying. It’s time to change it. Look to Google and the other new businesses that are making it work. Only then will there be a chance to continue to make money (albeit not to the extent previously seen) in the media/culture industry.

So, so so (long) Def Jam et al

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