This week former One direction band member Harry Styles released the video for his debut solo single ‘Sign of the Times’, and sold out his first solo tour “in seconds.” However, with his new material being compared to the likes of “Bowie” and “Lennon” unlike the previous mainstream pop genre of One Direction’s songs, this raises questions surrounding artists influence over their music when entering the heavily saturated music industry, and the extent to which they must conform to their label’s authority in order to get their initial break.
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This is echoed through the other members of One direction who have debuted their own solo songs, with Niall Horan, Zayn Malik and Louis Tomlinson releasing material under the genres of Folk, RnB and EDM – all far-a-field from the pop content they recorded once achieving third place on British television programme ‘The X Factor.’
So now they’ve made their mark, they visibly have more control over the content they are releasing – but surely there are other ways for artists to enter the industry doing their own ‘thing’ from the offset?
This highlights the importance of the influence of independent artists and the affect they can have upon the industry, with artists such as Skepta highlighting the potential to still become successful, without the “apparatus of the modern music industry.” After recording his debut album at his home, and winning the 2016 Mercury Prize, Skepta was able to create his own stamp on the industry, by promoting the sense of freedom he has surrounding his music, by not wanting to conform to the constraints which signing to major labels can have.
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Another key player in the field is Chance the Rapper, who in 2016 became the first ever artist to receive and win a Grammy nomination for an independently produced, and streaming-only album. Even Barack Obama has picked up on the “social commentary and meaning” derived from his self-produced album, by suggesting the star may produce his next album in his newly built studio in his Presidential center. Praise indeed for this budding artist.
The advocacy such as this of opportunities for artists to self-produce and promote their own material and to make their own choices is becoming more significant. This is becoming more frequently highlighted by publications such as Musical Connection who this week released a project celebrating this phenomena, by releasing a mosaic of Skepta, and encouraging unsigned musicians across the world to submit their pictures, to be ultimately “auctioned off to raise money for unsigned musicians in the UK.”
This brings forward the shift in the music industry, through success previously being underpinned by super-labels advertising and marketing, towards the ability of artists to establish a fan base primarily through their use of online platforms, and equally fans respect for self-produced and unmanufactured content.
Even major artists such as Ed Sheeran have branched out to independent producing, by creating his own record label Gingerbread Man Records, which although is a subsidiary of Warner Music UK LTD, allows further independent control over the content produced by both Sheeran, and his signed artists.
Ultimately, music super labels such as Sony LTD will continue to hold a proportion of oligopoly over the industry through their economic and social standing. However, as unsigned artists such as Skepta and Chance continue to promote the ability to achieve great success without these backings, the music industry seeks set to somewhat shift to support artists who don’t have to become restricted to labels, or enter a television talent contest for their ‘five minutes of fame’, but who can infiltrate the market off their own accord, and become the artist they want to be organically.
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