The Functions Of a Record Label (As Level)

Describing the function of a Record Label: Production, Marketing and Distribution

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A&R (artists and repertoire)

Stage 1: A&R (artists and repertoire)

A&R is about discovering and developing new talent. A&R people work very hands-on with the artists that they "sign." They do everything from assisting with song selection to choosing the people that will produce the album to deciding where the album will be recorded.  For the majors A & R is a big department, scouting and often poaching artists who might be a good investment.  For the independents it is all about a small group of people with a passion for music. 

Quote from Jeanette Lee of Rough Trade

“We did the first Arcade Fire record which was a great record… They’ve moved on to Universal now. Sometimes there is a feeling that the majors look on us as a breeding ground for them.”

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Stage 2: Production.  Recording, mixing, and manufacturing

  • The label will arrange recording studio rental, mixing, session musicians, sound engineer and producer
  • Refer to the Abbey Road website you looked at
  • Mastering / mixing is a post production process that takes the final mix of the recording, edits minor flaws, adjusts volume etc.
  • Manufacturing.  Having an album pressed and packaged for physical distribution (the CD is not dead yet) is not cheap
  • Artwork and photographs
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Stage 3: Distribution

Music distributors get music to the consumer via retail outlet or download.

Labels and distributors work closely together to promote and market.

  • Distribution is a business in its own right.  They don't own copyrights, they are not a label.
  • A traditional, physical distribution company is responsible for getting the CDs into the stores.  Physical sales are still important, even if they are declining in terms of their overall market share. There are still music buyers who prefer the tangible, physical product.
  • A distributor will not carry any label or artist.  It needs some evidence that it will be successful or it will be wasting its time and resources.
  • The Big Four sometimes offer distribution to indie labels.
  • There are also independent distributors
  • Major distributor Pinacle went bust in December 2008 due to the credit crunch and the crises in the music industry due to illegal downloading. 
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Marketing & Publicity

Stage 4: Marketing and publicity

Labels identify their target audience and liaise with the media.  An established label will have relationships with the media to generate some press buzz for their releases.  It’s fairly common for even small labels to hire an independent publicist for a 90 day period to help promote a new release to press, print and online media, bloggers and anyone else who can help influence music fans. Here are some of the things they do to market an artist:


  • Getting onto radio playlists.  Radio “pluggers” usually work with specific singles going around to radio stations trying to get the singles they are representing on a playlist
  • The video.  Getting airplay on music TV, often within specialist niche channels
  • Setting up a presence in the Internet, websites for fans, social networks, MySpace, information on tours and albums, blogs etc.
  • In-store promotions, flyers, cardboard stand ups and posters for in-store display.  Listening stations.  In store packages include freebies … POP's (point of purchase) merchandise books tee shirts etc
  • Print, radio and online advertising to promote a new release
  • Newspapers and magazine coverage
  • Getting features onto TV, music programmes or chat shows etc
  • Live music, touring. Artists have traditionally sold more when they tour so record labels will often financially support a tour.  To be successful bands have to keep improving exposure and building demand. 
  • Merchandising, posters clothing etc.
  • Making the right decisions on when to release an album.  This is perhaps more important for majors, Christmas market (the Pop Idol single) staggering releases to avoid clashes etc.
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