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Even for the native Twitter-ites with their high tolerance for bombast, rage, and histrionics, most of @KanyeWest’s tweets are just plain extreme.
But if you’ve been following his Tweet storm over the past few months about music labels and their exploitative business deals with artists, the truth is he hasn’t gone far enough.
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— ye (@kanyewest) September 16, 2020
Kanye is drawing attention to what he (and many others) sees as injustices in the way record labels strike contracts with artists. He is calling for big changes in how these deals are structured and ultimately who has ownership of copyrights. While he makes valid points, and these are steps in the right direction, my view is that Kanye is looking at the problem from the wrong direction. And not only is he going about it the wrong way, but he is also not thinking big enough.
The system needs to change from the bottom up. The frontier of what the future of the music industry could look like for musicians, songwriters, artists and creators at large is revealing itself — and it is ripe with opportunity. This new generation of creators should be viewing themselves as founders and inventors, seeking their own paths and designing business models that fit their music and brand, rather than desperately handing over control and running the gauntlet of fame, popularity, and growth, where three-piece suits decide whether they get ‘dropped’ or not.
— ye (@kanyewest) September 16, 2020
But as a quick Google of the word ‘disruption’ will show, monumental change will not and cannot come from the ‘inside’. There is far too much at stake — labels have invested an enormous amount of capital in acquiring rights, and naturally aren’t going to just sit down and relinquish ownership any time soon. Change must therefore come from the outside, and a new industry must be built on new foundations.
In this new industry, creators who are looking to change the world with their art need to be encouraged to think of themselves as founders of movements, and to resist at all costs being treated as content creators whose role it is to simply feed assets into someone else’s system.
Now, it is easy to dump criticism on music labels, and there is plenty of it going on already. But that is not my goal here. Record labels do have a place. Their role as a bank and as a marketing agency can be incredibly powerful if used at the right time — but what is needed to establish this new industry around artists/founders is a new type of structure: one that acts as an investor and a partner, empowering and supporting creators on their journey, becoming a member of their team, and sharing in their successes, no matter how weird, wonderful or unconventional that may look.
The world needs investors who want to see an artist’s message out in the world, who believe in an artist’s vision of success, who partners with them, giving guidance, contacts, and financial support without overbearing control and a predetermined idea of business model. We need investors and supporters who trust and empower artists, not only as creators, but as founders — as founders of their own brand and businesses, to be defined and sculpted in an organic, proactive way, rather than boxed in by boiler-plate contracts.
The long-accepted wisdom that artists are a liability and shouldn’t be trusted to manage their brand and handle the business of their creativity needs to be shaken off. Sure, in some cases that rule does apply, but every day this myth is proven wrong by musicians the world over.
There is a better way — investors who take a holistic approach, treating artists like any other CEO / founder with a deep passion and drive. Then, giving them the guidance, tools, support, and connections to build a solid brand and successful strategy.
This is what Kanye should have been calling for in his rants about artist contracts on Twitter — wholesale, systemic change. And it must start with how we view artists from the beginning — as founders, not flunkies.
To see the music industry change for the better, we need to start empowering artists, not just call for them to be exploited in a slightly less awful way. Only this kind of extreme change will spark a newer, freer business life for artists.