Amid some big changes in the music industry, new RCA Records CEO Peter Edge and longtime colleague Tom Corson, who was promoted to president and COO in August, have officially shuttered historic labels Arista and Jive. J Records, launched by Clive Davis in 2000 as an “instant major,” will also see its artists bequeathed to RCA.
In the digital age, one might think these closures mean there is little value, awareness or loyalty to a label by name, but the execs insist it’s quite the opposite. “The concept is that there is value in branding RCA and not having it confused or diluted by other labels,” says Corson.
That’s an odd quote in answer to a statement about label identities not having value, as, of course, there is no real identity to the RCA ‘brand.’ The writer’s statement is perceptive, and brings up a good point. Labels seem to matter less and less as we rely on proprietary software for streaming music. Apple Music and Spotify only mention the label of origin on a release’s ‘page’ as a required copyright line in fine print at the bottom. One certainly can’t search for a favorite label and listen to a streaming ‘playlist’ of its new offerings, unless it is a pre-packaged playlist that someone put together to focus on that label. Spotify at least lets labels have profiles, which come up if you search for the label name. But these don’t offer much information beyond label curated playlists … not even a list of the latest releases.
I’ve written a bit about the problems with curation on streaming services, and removing label identity could be seen as a part of that issue. The labels that inspired me when I was young (Factory Records, SST, 4AD, and so on) had attraction as a type of curator, in that I knew what I was getting into – for the most part – if, for example, I listened to a 4AD release in the ’80s. There are certainly some great indie imprints active now that benefit from a closely moderated identity, sonic and otherwise. Or, at least, they could benefit, if the streaming services would give labels some credit.
But the quoted article above may reveal the problem. The major labels, being the ones that shout the loudest at the streamers, don’t need or care to foster this sonic identity. One could say Jive had a sound … there are a group of classic dance records that come to mind when I think of the label, and it could be argued they were identified by a certain pop style in recent decades. But that’s hardly important in the age of streaming, so it’s fine to make things less complicated and throw it all under the RCA blanket. And that makes sense for them … label identity, and having streaming services highlight labels and their intrinsic sounds, can only benefit the independents.