September 19, 2020

What is a Major Record Label?

major record labels

Ever heard of the word “major” and wondered what this actually means? Well in the music industry that’s short for major record label.

The music industry just like any industry has its own unique terminology and it’s important to understand the basic lingo.

In the following blog post, I will be explaining to you what a major record label is and what it does.

So without any further delays, let’s get into it.

Major Record Label Explained

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, a major record label is an industry term for a large corporate company that is in the business of selling records.

A record is another term for music products in this context. And this can be anything from compact discs, Vinyl, MP3 digital downloads and so on.

The reason why the word major is used to describe such a label is because; it is a large corporate company and not your average label.

Major record labels have a massive distribution network and infrastructure to promote and sell music anywhere in the world.  

A common major record company set up would include but not limited to the following:

  • A marketing and Promotions department
  • An A&R (Artist & Repertoire) department
  • A Human Resources Department  
  • A Music publishing division
  • A Finance Department

As you can see a major is structured like a typical publicly listed corporation with multiple divisions and departments.  A small one-man-band indie (Independent) label doesn’t have this kind of luxury or resources.

Role in the music industry

A record label is in the business of selling music, nothing more nothing less. And a major is no exception.

It is common knowledge in the music business that majors are often to slow (or too late) to discover new trends and raw talent in streets.

However Independent record labels are good at this – think Hip Hop Music and Def Jam or Kwaito Music and Kalawa Jazmee.

In most cases Independent labels (and established artists) sign joint venture agreements with major record companies in order to leverage their resources.

Because of the massive distribution clout that a major record label has, it’s far easier (and quicker) to break new artists or songs to the lucrative mainstream buying public.

The Big Three

The big three labels

The large of consumption of digital music has not made things any easier, and in recent times most labels have either had to downsize or close shop all together.

However as the saying goes “only the strongest survive”. It’s no different in the music industry.

Currently, there are three major record companies in the global music industry. And the rest are either subsidiaries or sub-subsidiaries.

For example Universal Music Group owns Def Jam Recordings, Capitol Records, Motown, Interscope, Island Records and many more. In 2011 EMI Records sold its entire music catalogue to Universal for a reported 1.2 billion Pounds.

Sony Music Entertainment owns BMG, Colombia, RCA and Epic Records amongst others.

Warner Music Group has its origins in the film industry (Warner Bros Studios) – They now own Atlantic Records, Elektra Records, and Rhino Entertainment among others.

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