The Record Industry

Resources about the record industry


The record industry is the strand of the wider music industry that works with frontline artists on creating, releasing, distributing and marketing recorded music, and managing and monetising the sound recording copyright.

The artist’s primary business partner when it comes to recorded music is traditionally the record label. It’s the label that organises the recording sessions, gets the recorded music to market and runs the marketing around each new record release. The label then controls – and often owns – the recording copyrights that are created, monetises those rights, and shares any resulting monies with the artist by paying them royalties.

Although the label is focused on the artist’s recorded music, the work of the label actually has a wider impact, especially for newer artists. By running marketing campaigns around each release, the label also raises the profile of and grows the fanbase for the artist. This in turn boosts all the artist’s other revenue streams, like publishing, merch, touring, brand deals and so on.

Labels didn’t traditionally get involved in those other revenue streams, even though they often helped to boost them. Instead the label secured its investment by taking control of the recording rights and often taking a majority share of recording revenues.

That said, in the 2000s, when the value of recorded music slumped as the industry shifted for discs to digital, some labels also sought a cut of or involvement in some of their artist’s other revenue streams too. And some labels still sign deals of that kind, especially with new talent.

Although labels usually take responsiblity for the recording, distribution and marketing of each new release, they might actually outsource some or all of that work to other companies within the record industry, like recording studios, music distributors and marketing agencies.

The role of the music distributor in particular has changed over the years – with many distributors expanding the services they offer to include things like marketing, analytics, royalty processing and sync pitching. So much so they might refer to themselves as label services or artist services companies.

Some distributors have also expanded their client bases so that they work directly with artists as well as labels. As a result, artists now have a choice – they can either work with a traditional label, or basically set up their own single-artist label and hire the services of a distributor.

Most artists now begin with the latter option, working with a DIY distributor, which will provide basic digital distribution services to any artist, often in return for a nominal upfront fee and/or a modest commission.

As the artist’s career progresses they may choose to work with a higher level distributor that offers more services or to sign a more conventional record deal with a label. Many labels also now work with artists on a distribution basis, sometimes via specific distribution or services divisions.

The other key players in the record industry are those collecting societies focused on recording rights. There are societies representing both labels – in those scenarios where collective licensing applies – and performers – who, under law, have a statutory right to payment at industry standard rates when recorded music is broadcast or played in public. In the UK the collecting society PPL represents both labels and performers.

A common distinction is made in the record industry between the major labels – which are those owned by the major music rights groups Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music – and the independents. The indie sector is very diverse, with both big and small independent labels, as well as millions of DIY artists running their own single-artist labels.

Today the record industry makes most money by licensing free, premium and user-generated content streaming services, though monies are also generated through: the sale of discs and downloads; when recordings are synchronised into movies, games and ads; and from the broadcast and public performance royalties that come in via the collective licensing system.

You will find coverage of key developments in and announcements from the record industry in the Labels & Publishers section of CMU.


Guides and lectures from the CMU:DIY education programme…

The CMU:DIY Guide Record Deals Explained looks at the role of music distributors and record labels, and the different kinds of deals artists can now do around their recorded music.


Guides, reports and briefings from the CMU Insights consultancy unit…

The Music Copyright Explained guide from CMU Insights and the UK’s Intellectual Property Office provides a comprehensive beginner’s guide to how music copyright works – including the recording rights.

The Digital Dollar Deals Guide from CMU Insights and the UK’s Music Managers Forum provides a beginner’s guide to how record deals work, and looks at the various options now available to an artist when picking a business partner to work with on their recorded music.

The Distribution Revolution report from CMU Insights and the UK’s Association Of Independent Music looks at the evolution of digital music distribution over the last two decades, and offers advice on how both artists and labels should go about picking a distribution partner.


BPI is the trade body for the UK record industry.

AIM is the trade body for the UK independent sector.

FAC is the organisation for frontline artists in the UK.

Musicians Union is the trade union for musicians in the UK.

ISM is an organisation for musicians in the UK.

MPG is the organisation for studio producers in the UK.

MMF is the trade body for artist, writer and producer managers in the UK.

PPL is the collecting society for the UK record industry.

IFPI is the global trade group for the record industry.

WIN is the global trade group for the independent sector.

IMPALA is the pan-European trade group for the independent sector.

SCAPR is a global grouping of performer collecting societies.

AEPO-ARTIS is a pan-European grouping of performer collecting societies.