Mike Eckhardt on Record Label Operations
It’s no secret that Mike Eckhardt aspires to be a music journalist someday. He knows that in order to be a great music journalist, he must first understand how the music business works. Record companies (known as record labels because albums have a label indicating which company produced it) take on a lion’s share of the work of the music industry. They sign, develop, record, promote, publicize and sell music. Of course, all those things happen before the album ever gets into the store. Record labels come in all sizes, from small independent labels run by one or two people to huge corporations made up of hundreds of people in dozens of departments.
Nowadays, many record companies are huge corporations that own a variety of record labels. These corporations usually consist of a parent company that owns more than one record label. For example, Warner Brothers Records owns Reprise Records and Maverick Records. BMG owns Arista Records, RCA and J Records. To describe the hierarchy of a record company, it’s best to start at the top. The CEO, or Chief Executive Officer, is in charge of the business of the whole company. In addition, each label also has its own president. Under the president of the individual label, there are vice presidents in charge of different departments.
Let’s take a look at two departments that typically make up a major record label:
A&R.The A&R (artists and repertoire) department is often considered the most glamorous department at any record label. This is because A&R is in charge of discovering new talent. A&R people work very hands-on with the artists that they “sign”. When a record label “signs” an artist, it simply means that the artist makes an exclusive contract with that record label.
A&R people are also expected to understand the current tastes of the market and recognize the kind of artists that will be commercially successful. They are also expected to oversee their artists’ recording process, whether it’s assisting with song selection and choosing the people that will produce the album, to deciding where the album will be recorded. The people in this department work as the link between the recording artist and all the other departments of the record company.
Artist development.This department is responsible for planning the careers of the artists who are signed to the record label. It promotes and publicizes the artists over the course of their career. According to Music Biz Academy, many labels no longer have artist development departments. As record labels have come to see artists as products in recent years, some artist development departments have been renamed “Product Development.” Many insist that this is because the emphasis in the current music business is to promote artists very heavily in the beginning of their career, as opposed to long-term planning.
Remember that any given record label may have a slightly different organization. As large companies buy up smaller record labels, the organization of record companies changes a great deal. Most record companies have their own web sites where you can find what labels the company owns and what artists the company is promoting.