Record Label Provides Inspiring Middling-Success Story

Feb 27th, 2007 // 4 Comments

Styles.jpgToday’s New York Times takes a look at the recent ascent of Koch Records, the record label that was once best known (if at all) for third-tier hip-hop CDs and William Hung compilations. But thanks to ever-decreasing sales expectations, Koch has become a home to rappers who might have gotten lost within the major-label system:

As record sales keep sliding, the rise of Koch coincides with the lowering of rappers’ expectations. Five years ago, no self-respecting rapper — certainly no self-respecting New York rapper — would ever have bragged about selling 400,000 records. But if you’re not going to sell a million CDs with a major label, you may well be better off at Koch, accepting a lower recording and promotional budget in exchange for a higher royalty rate. That’s why rappers are so ambivalent about Koch: signing there means giving up the dream of pop stardom, or, at any rate, deferring it.

Discussing a possible move to Koch (during 50 Cent’s recent Hot 97 interview with Ms. Martinez), the streetwise Yonkers veteran Styles P said he knew he couldn’t expect to sell 5 or 10 million CDs. “So long as I’m decent and I’m making a little something,” he said, “I don’t need to have the six cars in my lot.”

Styles P has a point: After passing the five-cars-per-lot mark, even we started to feel a little tacky. But he’s also inadvertently proving what we’ve been saying about the music industry for years, which is that everybody–from the executives down to the marketing-side interns–is going to have to get used to making less money. Once the label heads accept that, they can stop punishing mixtape producers and college-campus downloaders, and instead turn their attention to endeavors that can actually make them a a profit, like video-game placements and energy-drink endorsement deals.

Rappers Find That a Small Label Can Have Its Uses [NY Times]

  1. NickEddy

    Or signing decent acts that will be content touring and making music with SOME label support, but not concerned about buying solid gold porkpie hats and/or hanging with that Brent Onions* dude from Fuel.

    I remember a 1985-era RS article on REM where Mike Mills said “I’ll probably clear $24,000 or so this year,” and he sounded quite content. I think many, many musicians would be quite content making 24K in 2007 dollars if it meant not having to sling as many lattes. Granted, Mike M didn’t need the big money for Nudie suits with the Story of the South flannel-graphed in sequins on them in 1985.

    * I know

  2. Hyman Decent

    Disappointingly, the article does not advise us what the proper pronunciation of Koch is.

    (What’s this about “Brent Onions”?)

  3. Halfwit

    It’s gotta be frustrating, though, to know that your sales don’t measure your actual impact. When Mike Mills was happy about clearing $24k, he knew that was an accurate representation of his fanbase. They were buying the CD’s, they were going to the show. Maybe a dubbed tape here or there, but REM fans have always been (were?) fairly loyal completionists. Styles P may sell 400,000 CDs (or fewer) and cover his mortgage, but in the back of his mind he knows that more than 400,000 households “own” his album.

    Some of those people will go to his shosw, but we’ve seen the articles on the state of live music that suggests that many won’t. So we, as a nation, aren’t buying their CD’s, and we aren’t going to their shows… how are we supporting these artists again?

  4. 30f

    Oh,Halfwit: We are supporting the artists by giving them our attention. If you REALLY like an artist, ask to be friended on their myspace page. But only if they are one of your all time faves.

    In all seriousness, you are correct. The new model for the music industry is slowly taking shape – but it probably doesn’t involve home-ownership for any of the musicians. Styles is smart enough to sort of get it, but not smart enough to understand that if he gets past one car, he’s probably over-extended.

    Putting all your eggs into the “rock star” basket is a big gamble, and if the winning payday turns out to be the same as you get managing a “TGI Fridays” – word will get around. This kind of lowered expectations has already come to the world of music videos.

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