Rob Stringer makes the point in this week’s Music Week cover story that the balance of power between labels and artists has shifted, and that a superstar artist now has just as much – if not more – leverage as even the biggest label.
Sony Music’s CEO – renowned for being an artist-friendly exec – makes his comments, ironically enough, just as George Michael’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1 returns to the No.1 spot. The court case that followed that album’s original release by Sony in 1990 marked one of the first times an artist had stood up to the power of a major label.
Nowadays, a superstar could refuse to promote their album and it’s unlikely their label would even blink, let alone end up embroiled in a legal dispute. And it’s absolutely right that the people who actually create the music have, at long last, become the biggest power players in the business that needs their creative spark in order to exist, never mind thrive.
But, equally, the history of music is littered with albums whose prospects of success and creative quality could have been improved no end had the artist listened to some good, old-fashioned A&R advice. The current streaming environment can be brutal on even the biggest stars if their song isn’t good enough, and no one knows that business better than the labels.
The relationship between artist and label may have been oppositional in the past but, nowadays, projects have to be collaborative in order to give themselves the best chance of reaching an audience. Listening to voices on both sides of the artist-label relationship simply makes sense, both commercial and creative.
Of course, not all executives are like Rob Stringer. But then again, not every artist is a George Michael either.