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Tracking the Evolution of the Recording Industry

Updated: Jul 9, 2022

The record industry consisted of sheet music publishers in the early 20th century. House concerts were part of middle-class entertainment and pianos were the centerpiece at home. The invention of phonographs and later gramophones created the first record label producers: Columbia, Victor, and Edison. They found their place in the industry as record-makers through financing, production, manufacturing, and distribution. We track the evolution of the recording industry in this post.

The advent of the radio

The birth of the radio after the Great Depression provided a music medium that sounded much better than the old records and is also free. By the 1930s, the major recording companies were acquired by radio corporations. RCA bought Victor to form RCA records and CBS purchased Columbia Records.

The platform for music production evolved along with technology ranging from vinyl, CDs to downloads, and now streaming music. These changes have caused shifts in the recording industry as new mediums and hardware took a stake in the recording business.

Changes in music distribution

The recording industry worked in a straightforward manner in the age of physical distribution. Major labels produced records through recording the marketing. Manufacturers made the physical media while distributors took care of the logistics and consumers bought their records at the store.

In the digital age, customers get their music through digital service providers from YouTube to Spotify and Apple Music. Record artists signed with labels and labels worked with distributors. With digital music, this whole process can be bypassed altogether.

Music Distribution in the digital age

In today’s recording industry, artists can release their music directly on platforms like Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and even Spotify. Or else they can sign a “distribution only” deal to put their music on all digital platforms and keep most of the revenues for themselves. What about the record labels? They are still at the heart of the industry and can keep that position by continuously adapting to the evolving realities of the market.

The reason record labels are still around is that artists still require a form of a “music bank” to finance the release promotion, even if they can release their music on digital platforms at next to no cost. Record label pays the artist in advance and finances the entire release cycle to own lifetime copyrights of a final recording. Licensing deals are signed when the artist licenses an existing record, contracting copyrights to the label for a specific period and sometimes a specified geographical market.

The role of the recording industry today

It may seem superfluous for recording labels to continue their existence. We break down their key roles in the recording industry today.

The focus of a recording industry concentrates on three areas: finding new talents, producing records by funding the recording process, and helping to develop the artist’s sound and image. Lastly, to promote artists and releases across all channels. Some labels continue to manufacture and distribute the record. Despite music going online, there are still fans who keep vinyl sales increasing.

Interested in someday becoming a recording artist? Meet like-minded people and learn your favorite instruments by getting in touch with us at Ritmo Music Studio.

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