It has been said over and over again, perhaps more than the prophecies surrounding the imminent death of the vinyl record, that the era of record labels is coming to an end. The advent of the Internet, which allows individuals to produce and release their own music to a wide audience, has been the main backbone of that assumption, and for the most part, quite rightly too. Artists can cut out the middleman and connect with their fans directly, removing any need for record executives, A&R men, exec producers and people of that ilk.
All for the greater good I’m sure most people would say. Why, most labels have made a living by milking their artists for all their worth anyway, right? True enough, but you see I’m a kid completely obsessed with record labels in general and certain well run & iconic labels in particular. The way they present the music, how they design the artwork, they way they spread the wealth, how they mould the artists’ sound and they way some music labels come to represent a whole era in music or even an entire genre have always fascinated me from an early age.
Thus in these series I’d like to discuss a few of my favourite record labels of all time. And while I had to pass out on many exemplary labels (the likes of SST, Chess, Brainfeeder, Wild Pitch, Rush Hour, Impulse, Fondle’ Em, Def Jux, Sub Pop, Verve, Trojan, etc.), I’ll boil it down to these essential six:
Blue Note Records: The big one: my favourite of all time. One of the finest jazz labels ever and one that has changed the name of the game for record labels in general.
Atlantic Records: The label that came to define electric blues, early R&B (rock & roll), jazz, soul and psychedelia.
Def Jam Records: Perhaps the label most associated with the era that made hip-hop great (86-94).
XL Recordings: XL is undoubtedly the best-run independent record label of our age. Radiohead, Prodigy, Adele, Gil-Scott Heron, they’ve all been represented by this London based label.
Soul Jazz Records: A textbook example on how to run a label specialised on releasing reissues. Virtually every single release they made is a well-researched gem.
Warp: Surely one of the finest contemporary ‘electronica’ record labels available.
Do stay tuned; as for the coming 6 months I’ll post an article every month providing as much detail about each record label as I possibly can. I’ll explain why I’ve grown to be obsessed with them, what made them special and -at the risk of making this whole thing sound like a dissertation- why I think future record labels can learn from these six labels in the post world-wide-web world we live in.