Today’s music industry is concentrated in the hands of few major companies which are Universal, Sony and Warner Music. Although different songs are registered under different record labels, these labels belong to the same major parent companies. This paper explores how the music industry is dominated by the three major companies, the advantages and disadvantage of such a domination and the difference between independent and non-independent companies. I will also include a collection of 10 songs, assess them and chart them by either the three major companies or by an independent company and analyze trends and themes that dominate the collection. Finally, the paper will raise the question of how can we support independent artists without supporting the big companies, especially with the shift from physical CDs to online downloads through the internet. In this regard, I will focus on the example of how Apple’s iTunes replaced the leader of CD and Music – Wal-Mart.
It might seem at the beginning that the music industry is big and diverse but it is not. In order to be aware of media control, a person must know the differences between an independent label and a major one. While the major label is owned by one of the big parent companies (Universal, Sony and Warner Music), the independent label doesn’t belong to any and functions separately from the dominant music industries. The big music industries control the whole process of creating, producing, marketing and distributing songs (Croteau, & Hoynes., 2013). Thus, they have the final word in everything. They decide who to include as a part of its staff and who to fire, they even take the financial decision on behalf of their artists and set their budgets according to what suits them (CammieSarah5, 2014). In fact, artists in the major companies receive only 10 to 15% of the song’s benefit while the rest goes to the parent company (CammieSarah5, 2014). They are abided by contracts and these contacts dedicate only small portions of the revenues to the artist (CammieSarah5, 2014). This however is not the case in the independent companies; artists receive 40 to 74% of the benefits which makes it more appealing to them (CammieSarah5, 2014).
Another difference is the diversity in songs’ style, lyrics and theme. Before the revolutionary shift to online form, CDs and DVDs were mostly prevalent and they were distributed by the major companies. Audiences thus had a very limited access to what they can listen to (mostly what was produced by the major companies that control the music industry). With the advancement of technology however this has changed. Independent companies gained access to various media platforms and reached a wider audience. This technological advancement broke the control of parent companies on music distribution and gave more power to the independent media to spread their content in which, the audience can download it for free online. Concerning the content, this ownership of media exerts an influence on the diversity of media products in terms of both form and content. The emergence of independent companies however breaks this influence and contributes to producing a diverse content that doesn’t only reflect the ideas of the people in control.
Still, the three big companies are expanding and taking over the music industry (Croteau, & Hoynes., 2013). By doing this, they’re controlling the music production. This control happens through the processes of concentration, conglomeration and integration (Croteau, & Hoynes., 2013). While the three major companies are expanding, they are purchasing little music companies and merging them with their conglomeration (Croteau, & Hoynes., 2013). Thus, a single company can control all aspects of production and distribution on various social media platforms (Croteau, & Hoynes., 2013). This increasing control however is a double-edged sword that has its advantages and its disadvantages.
One of the disadvantages exerted by this kind of ownership is the control of ideas and voices of the people. With the absence of competition, the ruling minority will use the media to promote a certain way of thinking that reflect their interest (Croteau, & Hoynes., 2013). Media will be used to disseminate biased images and ideas on controversial issues to help legitimize particular behaviors or practices (Croteau, & Hoynes., 2013). Since the media industry is dominated by the upper class white male society, they’ll determine what to show and what not to show, who should be represented and who should be silenced. This is then translated into practical application through determining the songs’ style, lyrics and theme. Thus, our thinking is largely shaped by the ideas and the images that the media show to us through both visual and audial mediums. A possible advantage however is the promotion of a untied style of music among different cultures. The homogeneity doesn’t always negatively affect the music industry but can rather contribute in promoting a common ground of music style among different nations.
I have included 10 different songs in the table that belong to different artists. They are charted by artist, record labels and the owner company.
|Song||Artist or Band||Record Labels||Owner Company|
|Bambro Koyou Ganda||Bonobo||Ninja Times||Sony|
|Hazy||Glass Animal||Caroline Records||Universal|
|Lose it||Oh Wonder||Caroline Records||Universal|
|Flow||Crooked Colours||Sweat it out||Warner|
|Magic||Cold Play||Universal Music Group||Universal|
|Something about you||Hayden James||Future Classic||Warner|
|One Dance||Drake||Sony Records||Sony|
|Stressed Out||Twenty-One Piolet||Warner||Warner|
My music collection contains a verity of music genres like Indie rock, Electric pop, downtempo and Contemporary R&B. It also includes some unpopular artists like Bonbo and Hayden James. Surprisingly, they all turned out to be a part of the three major music labels in the media business which are Universal, Sony and Warner Music. In fact, my music collection shows that 5/10 songs belong to Universal company. Such a result emphasizes the dominance of these companies (especially Universal) over the music industry. Furthermore, it shows how this dominance has expanded to include a bigger diversity of music collection and not just one type. This perhaps is the result of loosening the market concentration. The three parent companies permitted great diversity and innovation in popular music through increasing control over record labels and record firms. This open system allows major companies to gain more profits through expanding its control over the various music markets.
Although my music genre is diverse, I have noticed a common style of music between them. The songs are mostly composed of distant beats, husky vocals, weightless percussion and stuttering-wispy rhythms. The emphasis is placed on the beat and the musical instruments more than on the vocals in the song. This style of music is mostly produced by Universal parent company that have artists like Glass animals, Tender and Oh Wonder who are particularly known for this kind of music.
The dominant theme in my music collection is humanity. The topics of music videos and lyrics mostly revolve about humanity; breaking free, and living your life as you want it to be. For example, Life itself music video of Glass Animal is so powerful. The message which they are trying to deliver pertains to how human should live their lives. Glass Animals suggest that you can break free from the social pressures that constrain you and force you to be someone you don’t want to be (Today’s Song, 2017).
“Daddy was dumb, said that I’d be something special, brought up though but I was a gentle human, Said the he loved each my two million freckles, When I grew up was gonna be a superset”. In fact, Glass Animals are known for their extraordinary ways of thinking about life. I find the message they are trying to communicate very realistic and far from being naive and meaningless. The same goes to Twenty-One Pilot with their song Stressed Out. The lyrics mainly talk about the transition from childhood to adulthood “Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days. When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out. The song makes us feel nostalgic, and reminds us of the “good old days” – when we were younger and not “stressed out” (Calderon, N., 2016). Again, the focus is on human qualities. The same human theme dominates my music collection but under different topics.
This was not intentional. I only realized that my music collection’s dominant theme is humanity after I looked into it. This made me think that the reason behind it is because I want to know about who I am as a human. In the end, this is what matters to me. Thus, the music industries did a great job in picking the topics that relate to us -the audience. The conglomerate companies turn out to be more powerful than what I though they are. By defining who is a human and how we should live our lives as human, the companies would achieve their goal of spreading their ideology and controlling the people.
The music industry has witnessed a major shift in terms of the form of distribution. Before the technological advancement, music was distributed on CDs. People used to buy CDs in order to listen to their songs and Wal-Mart was ranked the first in music sales. They controlled the physical store of music at that time. The rise of technology however marked the decline of the major company and the rise of Apple’s iTune instead. The physical store of music is no longer requested by audience. iTune has facilitated the way people reach their music through online access and search. Listening to music has become free and easy to reach without any effort.
As a conclusion, the music industry is dominated by the three major companies that are Universal, Sony and Warner Music. This dominance has its advantages and disadvantages. Although it contributes in the process of homogenization and disseminate bias ideas to the audience, it unites people from different cultures worldwide. The advancement of technology allowed the online download of music from iTune and replaced the physical store of it. In this way iTune became number one on music sale and replaced Wal-Mart.
Calderon, N. (2016, February 26). Theme for: Stressed Out, by Twenty One Pilots. Retrieved October 21, 2017, from https://prezi.com/lycrtmk0gkrc/theme-for-stressed-out-by-twenty-one-pilots/
CammieSarah51 Follow. (2014, March 26). The major differences between a major and an independent record compa… Retrieved October 21, 2017, from https://www.slideshare.net/CammieSarah51/presentation2-32771121
Croteau, D., & Hoynes, W. (2013). Media/society: Industries, images, and audiences. Sage Publications.
Today’s Song: Glass Animals and the Meaning of “Life Itself”. (2017, May 06). Retrieved October 21, 2017, from http://atwoodmagazine.com/life-itself-glass-animals/