Remember the character Tevye from the production “Fiddler on the Roof”? One of Tevye’s most famous lines is “Traditions, Traditions (sic). Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as . . . as . . . as a fiddler on the roof!” This is the motto the major record labels have committed themselves to for decades. The major record labels unwaveringly committed themselves to the tradition that profits in the music industry were derived primarily from album sales. This traditional profit model began with the signing of musical artists to recording contracts; the artist signed to the major labels would then begin to record music that could be developed into a full album. Once the album was completed, the artist and his or her album would be marketed to certain demographics in order to generate popularity and notoriety for the album. Part of that marketing campaign would be the release of a “single” or individual song from the forthcoming album to the public. The release of a single was to increase the targeted demographics appetite for the forthcoming album. The marketed album would then be delivered to retailers who would then sell the album to the consumers in the targeted demographic. This general cycle became the model and the tradition for how major records labels primarily generated revenue. This traditional profit model was followed so heavily by the major record labels because it was effective and successful; however, no matter how settled and solidified this profit model appeared, it was still only a tradition.
With respect to traditions, generally, the proven axiom of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” seems to apply. But what happens if the “it” is broken? If a tradition is no longer serving an effective purpose for its followers, should the followers continue to keep following such tradition just because it is what they have always done? Put differently, should one keep going to a well to draw water, even though that well is empty, simply because that is the well one has always gone to? Traditions should be followed only as long as they serve an effective purpose. This concept should not come as a shock because traditions have never been ineradicable fortresses immune to the forces of change. They are not everlasting practices. No rule exists stating that traditions must be followed or, more importantly, that traditions cannot be replaced or adapted with new practices.
Recent monumental changes in the music industry shook the very foundation of the traditional profit model and have left the major record labels at a pivotal crossroad. The major record labels can choose to follow a tradition that relies on album releases for profit, a format that is all but doomed in the current market, or they can focus primarily on releasing singles or an individual song in the digital music marketplace, a format and market that has recently flourished with profits and opportunities. This article explains why primarily releasing singles or individual songs should become the new profit model for major record labels. Moreover, this article describes how Barry Gordy’s Motown Model provides the major record labels with the necessary concepts needed to develop a general strategy for success using this new profit model.
The general causes for the major record labels’ decline in the recent past as well as the aftermath is discussed in Part II. The reasons singles should become the basis of a new profit model for the major record labels is considered in Part III. How Barry Gordy’s Motown Model is a guide for major record labels in developing a successful game plan for primarily selling singles is explained in Part IV. The concluding thoughts of the major record labels’ reliance on this single- based profit model are found in Part V.