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Q: Do (top) artists leave labels to promote their music themselves? with success? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Do (top) artists leave labels to promote their music themselves? with success?
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Music
Asked by: macchiato-ga
List Price: $7.00
Posted: 04 Mar 2004 11:03 PST
Expires: 03 Apr 2004 11:03 PST
Question ID: 313417
I am looking for artists who decided not to continue their contract
with a music label and started to promote themselves. Specifically, is
it true that Prince sells his music using his own label after his
publishing contract with Warner-Chappel expired. is he successful? Can
you find other (top) artists who do not cooperate with a label anymore
and instead promote themselves (how)?
I would be thankful for detailed data about 1 or 2 cases, but am also
interested in a list of artists who did so.
Subject: Re: Do (top) artists leave labels to promote their music themselves? with success?
Answered By: scribe-ga on 05 Mar 2004 10:28 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello Macchiato,

The breadth of the answer must depend to some extent on how ?top
artist? is defined. Certainly there are musical artists who are quite
well known who run their own successful record labels, for recording
and distributing their own creations as well as those of kindred
This website gives you some idea of the large number of such artist-owned labels.

There is also the category of record labels owned by a group (or
collective) of artists, one of which was auctioned online recently:

But if we define ?top? narrowly, as artists with national and even
international fame, two ?case histories? come to mind.

Certainly the case you mention, Prince, is one of the best known
instances of an artist who sought greater independence from major
record labels. But another, and less well-known, case to which I would
draw you attention is that of Ani DiFranco.

First, Prince.  No question but that his career seems to have peaked
(sales-wise) back in the mid 80s (?When Doves Cry? topped the
Billboard charts in 1984). Probably the best overview of his career
can be found at:

There, we learn that after his 1995 ?emancipation? from Warner
Brothers, he went on in 1997 to release ? a 3-CD set of unreleased
material available by mail-order from Prince's website. With Prince no
longer associated with EMI Records, the artist felt a greater sense of
musical freedom: 'My success is no longer defined by others...'
Internet sales of Crystal Ball have shown to be brisk. Although total
sales are less than a typical release would initiate, the direct
profit for the musicians is more substantial.?

Although Prince?s proprietary label NPG is apparently still in
business-- has never completely
liberated himself from record labels. His first release after the
Warner Bros. Divorce, ?Emancipation?  was released on Capitol.

And it is interesting to note that after this year?s Grammy Awards, he
said (rather strangely) that he was going to ask ALL the major labels
to distribute his new release, ?Musicology.?
So he seems to have decided he needs them all. All of them.

A better model for ?top? artist independence is Ani DiFranco. Not only
has she created her own label, Righteous Babe Records, but she has
become a source of pride for her hometown of Buffalo, NY, where she
returned to live and to establish her recording company, create
state-of-the art recording studios, and make the entire music scene of
that city a whole lot hotter.

A big and loyal fan base keeps her recordings selling well.
It?s interesting to note that her entire catalog seems to be available
on Righteous Babe, including releases recorded for other labels prior
to her going independent. So she must have retained rights. (Warner
Brothers continued to release material Prince recorded for them, after
he left the label.)

I hope this begins to answer your question.

macchiato-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $2.00
thank you, the answer definitely gave me more insight in the matter
and helped my research (well, it kind of confirmed it). I understand
that Ani DiFranco never worked with a label, but founded her own
rightaway, but that's interesting, too.
Also a big thank you to hlabadie, your comments were also very
helpful. I am afraid I can't tip you, though.

Subject: Re: Do (top) artists leave labels to promote their music themselves? with succes
From: hlabadie-ga on 04 Mar 2004 20:29 PST
Perhaps the prototypical success was Frank Sinatra, who left Capitol
and founded Reprise, which also recorded other artists as well.

Subject: Re: Do (top) artists leave labels to promote their music themselves? with success?
From: macchiato-ga on 05 Mar 2004 03:26 PST
thanks, that was interesting. primarily I am looking for recent
artists, say after 2000. I have verified that Prince has done that (in
2001). numbers about his success (albums sold now, before) would also
be helpful.
Subject: Re: Do (top) artists leave labels to promote their music themselves? with succes
From: hlabadie-ga on 05 Mar 2004 11:55 PST
Prince (by whatever name) has been moderately successful marketing his
own label (NPG - New Power Generation) releases. He has not entirely
separated himself from the five major labels, however, His two most
recent albums were sold in stores through one-shot deals with EMI and
Arista, combined with online sales through his Web sites. Neither
album sold well enough to go gold, although Prince has not disclosed
the online sales figures. (N.E.W.S., 2003, is currently 1253rd on the
Amazon sales ranking.) He has proposed a novel arrangement for the
release of Musicology, his next album: a five-way deal, with all of
the major labels (even Warner) participating in the distribution of
the recording. If that proposal isn't approved, then he is willing to
work with the label that is most enthusiastic.

Prince uses Web to aim directly at hardcore fans
Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune

"The artist formerly known as The Artist is foremost among a number of
high-profile musicians, from fading veterans such as David Bowie to
contemporary stars including Dave Matthews, who are bypassing the
conventional channels of the music business and marketing themselves
directly to fans via the Web."
"He won't disclose how many members his club has. Outsiders guess
anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000."
"Subsequent one-album deals with EMI and Arista resulted in meager
sales. Except for last year's "The Very Best of" collection -- which
Prince denounced because he said it profited Warner and not him --
none of his albums in the past half-decade has gone gold (500,000
copies sold).

"The Rainbow Children," released in November with independent
distribution from Best Buy-affiliated Redline Entertainment, earned
scant radio play and has sold about 130,000, according to
Nielsens/SoundScan. Prince's spokesperson would not say how many
copies were sold online."

Prince Is Back In Business

"Prince also announced a wacky plan to return to the world of the
major labels - and not just one of them. He's recorded a new album
called Musicology and has been in talks with the majors to secure a
distribution and promotion deal for the record's release. He's
proposing that all five majors have a hand in the album's release,
saying that the music industry is a "pie" and that it "should be
shared by all." He also added that if his plan fails, he?d be willing
to work with whichever label is the most enthusiastic about his

Prince/NPG Music Club


David Bowie is another artist who has had an on-and-off relationship
with the major labels. After the divorce from Virgin and formation of
ISO to produce and distribute his new albums, he signed a multi-album
distribution deal with Columbia (Sony).

Bowie quits record company


Perhaps the most interesting case is that of the Grateful Dead, who
have taken to selling CDs of their live concerts that can be ordered
on-site while the concert is in progress, and then mailed to the
purchasers within weeks, all produced without a major label.

Reviving 'The Dead'

"Just about everything they did defied conventional wisdom. Instead of
record sales, they focused on touring. And in the early days, they
played for free as often as they did for a paycheck. And in that same
spirit, they helped their fans steal their music - not only did the
band let their fans tape their concerts, they even gave them their own
section to stand in."
"The irony is that the Dead's greatest legacy - in a time where record
sales are plummeting and fans are downloading music for free - may be
the business model they accidentally created. It's a model that
focuses on the music and the fans, not the profits. And they're still
improving on it.

"This year, fans can order a CD of the very show they?re attending.
And the band believes the music industry should follow its example -
to embrace new technology instead of running away from it."

Grateful Dead Begins Burning, Selling Own Concert CDs

"This year, they've added an attraction for the faithful. Lead singer
and guitarist Bob Weir calls it an "experiment." Every concert is
recorded and digitally transferred to compact discs that can be
ordered at the concert venue and shipped within a week and a half."
"A simple laptop computer with not-so-simple software is the key.
Dennis Leonard, The Dead's audio mixer, who is nicknamed "Wizard,"
sits in a tiny room or even in the back of the band's bus, mastering
the recorded tracks and storing them in digital files. He can "burn" a
CD from his computer or collect the digitalized tracks and send them
off to Chicago for duplication. It's that easy.

"They're much better than the free downloads from the Internet," said
Leonard. "Online MP3 files are compressed and don't provide nearly the
range as a CD."

Someday, he believes the recordings will be digitally downloaded from
a machine at the concert site only moments after the last song has
been played. Fans will actually be able to listen to the concert they
just attended on their car audio system, driving home.

The faithful seem to like the idea. So far, about 25,000 CDs have been
sold. That's about 2,000 for each performance during The Dead's summer
tour. Do the arithmetic, and the band pockets a quarter-million

The Official Home Page of Grateful Dead




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