Electronic Working Paper 20

From vinyl to one/zero and back to scratch:
Independent Belgian Micro labels in search of an ever more elusive fan base

Bart Cammaerts
Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political science, UK

Abstract

In this article, the consequences for independently run micro-labels of new patterns of music consumption and -use, as well as the changes in the value being attributed to music by audiences are assessed. First, the emergence and diversity of independent labels is historically contextualised to then address the impact of technological change on the music industries, with a particular focus on independent labels. Second, the audience perspective is introduced by differentiating between the identities of the fan, the consumer and the (copy-right) user. Regarding the identity of the user, the gift economy is juxtaposed with the intellectual property regime and debates regarding the benefits as well as destructive nature of file-sharing and the use of internet platforms for the promotion as well as distribution of music. Interviews with three Belgian micro labels, active respectively in the industrial/experimental and alternative dance scenes, feeds into this analysis and will also provide the basis for assessing ways in which Belgian micro-labels are coping with these changing audience behaviours. A mixed picture emerges. Some independent artists, even from obscure genres, align themselves with the discourse of the mainstream music industry when it comes to file-sharing. Small-scale micro-labels in Belgium are also clearly struggling to invest in new productions, to break even, leading some to cease their activities reducing the diversity of music publishing, certainly in more obscure genres. Dance-oriented labels are more flexible and able to take advantage of the benefits the internet and digitalisation offers. Overall, the identity of the fan and building a dedicated fan-base, accumulating social and cultural capital, emerges as ever more important for small labels' survival.

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