This is something I wrote over on /r/trance over on Reddit, in response to the following question:
Do you feel that the labels should be dictating what kinds of music their producers make?
Obviously, labels should never tell a producer what to create. Labels are a distribution medium (and used to be a good barrier to entry for upcoming producers, but not so much anymore). They market and distribute the releases of artists. They seek talented artists that they think will sell well so they get a cut of the sales. It’s a win-win for both parties when used properly. If you’re lucky, it’s a 50/50 split and everyone is happy.
It’s when labels get too big that it starts being an issue for the artist. Rather than it being an even benefit for both label and artist, the label gains more power than the producer because they’re now the ones doing the producer a favour by signing them to their popular label.
For the producers that naturally shift with the direction of the label, this is perfect. For the others that might have been signed earlier when the label represented a different sound, this can be a terrible thing. This is when they’re pressured to change what they’re producing to coincide with the label’s new direction, which is usually trending towards what is popular. After all, a label is a business.
This is what I imagine a lot of artists that have slipped out of the limelight have felt. I’m sure any of you reading this can think of a few artists that you used to love that haven’t produced in a while. Though there’s a million reasons why this could be, but it’s not entirely unreasonable to think that maybe they had become disenfranchised with what was happening with the direction of the music they enjoyed producing. This is not necessarily a label thing, but also a scene issue (but is propagated through the big labels).
Though there aren’t always exclusivity contracts between labels and artists, I’m sure that there becomes some loyalty between the two, allowing the label to get first dibs on an artist’s new EP. If the label doesn’t want it because they’re changing style or vice versa, the artist is free to shop around and see if other labels want to release it. On the other hand, if you do sign an exclusivity agreement (usually with the bigger labels) and the label doesn’t like what you’ve produced, then you’re fucked. You’ll have to take their feedback on board and modify it to their liking so it can be released on the label.
That’s the sort of thing I have issue with, because it stifles creativity. The artist might have created some wacky new concept track, but because it doesn’t fit with the label’s vision, then that’s too bad.
If an artist wants true creativity and freedom, then they need to pick the right label to partner with. It’s dumb to aspire to be released on Anjunabeats if you’re making 140bpm tech trance stormers. If an artist wants to get famous, make what’s popular and try get signed to one of the big labels that will probably usher you in that direction anyway.