Many students come to Musitechnic to study without necessarily wanting to work as sound engineers after they get their degree. Some students consider starting their own record label as an option when they finish school. Among them we have Louis-Armand Bombardier, who was interested in acquiring technical knowledge before starting and becoming president of L-abe records in 2001. I sat down with him to discuss what it means to have a record label in 2016. During this discussion we talked about the changes that have taken place in the industry since 2001, the challenges that a record label faces, the advent of streaming and the resurgence of vinyl. I’m happy to share these topics with you today and in the next blog we will be discussing the survival of a record label, grants, publishing and distribution.
The role of a record label in 2016
With the drop of record sales and the turmoil that the industry has gone through in recent years, one can wonder what a record company does in 2016? “We don’t call it a record label anymore” Louis-Armand tells me, who now presents L-abe as a cultural development company. “It is a branding tool. What the artist doesn’t do, the company handles. We make the artists shine and we promote them. We are a service company in a global market. We manage events or a brands’ packaging, the “brand” being the artist”.
Changes since 2001
For Louis-Armand the role of the record label has not changed since he started out: the artist has a work of art to present and he/she needs money to promote it. The musicians’ salary hasn’t changed either but the competition is getting fiercer and is growing. Louis-Armand explains that what has in fact changed is the market. Technology has made production more affordable and so more accessible. The commercial cycle of these works of art has shortened: “There are so many projects, the time in the spotlight is short” he says. The market shares are very fragmented. As a consequence this has lead to a lot of protectionism in each territory. According to Louis-Armand, the general awareness of the public, the consumer, has not changed: the musical culture is still very “top 40” oriented.
Streaming, CD and vinyl
With streaming, a two-tier system has appeared: one that sells plastic (CD’s) and “one which pays you pennies per play”. The CD has not disappeared yet at L-abe. Even if Louis-Armand is looking forward to being done with that medium, they still produce them because some of their artists sell a lot of them and some others sell very few. If the fans of a particular artist request vinyl they will make them but Louis-Armand says that vinyl won’t replace CDs. “People buy vinyl. It’s a beautiful object but it’s nostalgic. People listen to music on the go so it doesn’t work. It won’t save the industry. Vinyl sales may well go up but they still only make up 3% of market shares”. What’s more, the logistics are complicated seeing as L-abe orders their vinyl records from India and an order can take up to four months.
The L-abe team
The L-abe team is comprised of seven employees that help the artist become a brand. When necessary they call upon “outside suppliers” to handle press relations for one-off projects or for radio tracking for example. At L-abe two people handle communications and marketing. One is in charge of show production (managing budgets, managing teams, booking venues, etc) and the other is responsible for the digital identity (the online presence of the label and of the artist) which is a must in the digital age. Two accountants are required in order to maximize sales revenue and an administrative assistant is also part of the team led by Louis-Armand.
In the next blog we will see how L-abe manages to play their cards right in this new and changing market. With Louis-Armand Bombardier, its president and creator, we will touch on the subject of grants, Europe, publishing, promotion as well as the distribution of the artists signed with L-abe.