The Artist vs The Audience: How Record Labels are Prioritizing Popularity over Artistry


Back in the 1980s, getting discovered as a musician usually involved getting your demo tape into the hands of a major label A&R or playing a killer live show. But times have certainly changed. Today, social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram have become the primary way that new artists are discovered, signed, and developed. While this change was inevitable, it has led to a major issue for independent artists: record labels are now more interested in an artist’s fanbase than their actual musical talent.

This shift in focus towards an artist’s online following is largely due to the rise of platforms like Tunecore and Distrokid, which allow anyone to upload their music to streaming services without the need for a distribution deal. While this has opened up opportunities for many aspiring musicians, it has also led to an oversaturated market, making it harder for record labels to identify truly talented artists who will make an impact in the industry.

As a result, record labels are now turning to social media to gauge an artist’s potential. They’re looking at how many followers an artist has, how engaged their fanbase is, and how marketable they are. While this approach can help labels identify profitable artists, it also raises concerns that the music industry is becoming more of a popularity contest than a showcase of true musical talent.

In the corniest way possible, Drake predicted this in 2015 in his song, 6PM in New York, off of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.

“I know rappers that call paparazzi to come and get ’em. To show they outfits off, guess they need the attention. I remember when it used to be music that did it.”

Note: Quoting Drake in an article wasn’t on my 2023 bucket list.

I believe that the music industry needs to find a balance between marketing and musical artistry. While having a large online following can certainly help an artist get noticed, it’s not a guarantee of success.

Ultimately, it’s the music itself that should speak for the artist’s talent, not just their number of followers. It’s important for record labels to remember that there are still many talented artists out there who may not have a massive online presence but have the potential to make a real impact on the industry.



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