Shock news! The boss of a high-profile distributor that helps artists to operate outside the traditional label system reckons a big artist will soon decide to operate outside the traditional label system!
Steve Stoute offered his views on Drake during an online event hosted by his company, UnitedMasters, during a conversation with rapper Russ. And yes, his opinion isn’t shock news at all, but it’s worth thinking about nonetheless.
(You can watch the interview here: the Drake bit starts around 47 minutes in.)
“I said this before, and it’s about to come out in the next six months. Drake is about to get the biggest bag in the history of the music business by far,” said Stoute, before musing on the threat of such a move for major labels. “They don’t want that to happen, because the day that that happens, you might as well close the business down. If Drake goes independent, the music business is over!”
Russ actually set Stoute off on this topic with his views. “If Drake right now, completely independent, if Drake right now posts… a picture on the ‘gram of his new album, ‘link in bio’. F**k a link in bio! ‘New album out, fully independent’. Drake will make f**king 10 million dollars a week for f**king 60 weeks!” he said, later reflecting on the theoretical economics of spending $50k to record a track that “you’re making a million dollars a week off that song for life!”
‘Will Drake go independent?’ has the makings of an industry cliffhanger for sure, given his status as one of the artists most emblematic of the streaming era.
Note, it’s not a new cliffhanger: two years ago Variety was speculating about “what Drake could rake as a free agent on the open market” after rumours that his existing deal with Young Money/Cash Money (distributed by UMG’s Republic Records) had run its course. A major label deal; a Live Nation touring package; and a ‘direct to DSP’ exclusive with a streaming service were the three options analysed in that article.
Since then, his releases have included ‘Care Package’ (ownership: OVO, the label Drake co-founded in 2012); ‘The Best In The World Pack’ (ownership: Drake’s own Frozen Moments company, under exclusive licence to Republic Records); ‘Toosie Slide’ (ownership: Drake’s OVO, under exclusive licence to Republic Records).
The idea of ‘independent or signed’ is a false binary. Drake is one of the growing number of high-profile artists with the clout to operate independently but also harness the marketing muscle of a major through a licensing deal.
It would certainly make headlines if an artist of Drake’s popularity decided he didn’t need a major label at all. But the bigger change for the music business – the reason it isn’t “over” just yet – is that major labels have been undergoing necessary evolution.
That includes the label services / licensing partnerships already being used for stars like Drake, as well as a new-found flexibility even around masters ownership (see: Taylor Swift) in response to the changing environment.
Stoute and his company are one of the entities helping to pull the industry into these interesting new positions, and while UnitedMasters’ focus is on emerging artists, we would never rule him out of persuading huge established acts of the merits of full independence.
We certainly agree with him on one point: whatever Drake decides to do with his next album – be it a major deal; a label services agreement; the DIY route; something new involving institutional capital – he’ll be getting a very, very big bag of cash.