Labelled with love: Can you still build an iconic record label in 2019?

Labelled with love: Can you still build an iconic record label in 2019?

This week in Music Week, we celebrate one of the UK’s oldest labels, Decca Records. Our cover story in this week's print edition, available now, highlights the label's incredible history, acquired over 90 glorious – and occasionally not-so-glorious – years.

There are other big anniversaries this year – Island (whose iconic logo is pictured above) turns 60, so does Motown, as the world’s landmark record companies move ever-closer to old age in human years.

The question in the age of algorithms is: Will we ever see the creation of such game-changing labels again? In the digital age, does anyone see a record company logo and see it as an automatic stamp of quality? And, since the indie boom of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, how many truly iconic labels have come to the fore? 

Some might make a case for Fueled By Ramen or Glassnote, while the ever-thriving world of hip-hop has brought us the likes of Aftermath, Roc Nation and Cash Money. Here in the UK, Boy Better Know and Dirty Hit have successfully forged a distinctive identity, but still have some way to go before they can be considered alongside the true greats.

Lyor Cohen – who knows a thing or two about running iconic labels – recently told Music Week that he’s convinced the type of entrepreneur that launched many of today’s best-known imprints is returning to the music industry.

But the landscape has changed so much since those pioneering days, it’s hard to see today’s consumers buying – or even streaming – everything that comes out via a particular label, as people did with Sarah Records, Def Jam, Creation, Warp, Trojan, Sub-Pop or Acid Jazz. Could such a singular vision even flourish in a world where tastes are more eclectic and less tribal every day? And, in a globalised business, can any new player achieve the scale needed to compete? 

Maybe it doesn’t matter in an age where anyone can release their own music. But a great label with an amazing roster can change the culture and create an environment where artists that might otherwise struggle can thrive.

To return to those days, or at least their spirit, we certainly need more maverick characters fully committed to a musical vision. But we also need the wider industry to back them and allow them to make mistakes.

And, if anyone’s looking for inspiration, the fact that Decca recovered from turning down The Beatles – aka the biggest band of all time – to celebrate its 90th birthday should be more than enough to get you started.

* To read our celebration of Decca's 90 years as a label, see the new print edition of Music Week, available now.

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