Major Labels

Adam Levine On Record Labels: ‘No one knows what they’re doing.’

adam levineAdam Levine and his band Maroon 5 are clearly products of the big label, big media system. But that did stop him from having some harsh words for record labels and the machinery that made his career possible.

levine“Record labels are –  our business is the worst right now,” The Voice judge and Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine told Howard Stern this week. “No one knows what they’re doing.”

Levine saved his worst criticism for the jobs that labels were doing for recent Voice contestants. 

When the baton is passed post-‘Voice,’ there’s some problems. People take over after we do this great job of building these people up on the show. There’s some real issues there,” he said.

"The rollout of all that is still such a mess,” Levine said. “And by the way, just to clarify, this has nothing to do with what happens on NBC or with the people. In that time, we do so much great s— for these singers, and then they go to a record label that I won’t mention. But they go to a record label that f—s it up.”

 “I don’t understand why they don’t care. That’s what drives me absolutely bonkers. And then it makes me feel defeated on my end because there’s really not much I can do,” Levine continued. "…. And I’m glad I’m saying this on air so maybe the label will get angry and f— off, so we can get somebody else to do it.”


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  1. So just because someone wins a ridiculous TV show because they can sing well, a record label is supposed to turn them into a popular recording artist? Sorry Adam, it doesn’t happen like that. I would hope you’d know that by now…

  2. John—it’s not so much a “supposed to” as it is Universal has bought the right to offer ever winner a record contract—they WANT to do it. From a business perspective, TV gives the singer fame and the label capitalizes on it before they spend money. But Adam’s point is that it looks like the deck is stacked and it’s more of a fake reality show than a true talent contest. The talent is real but it is happening like that. It’s all about a new way for the label to guarantee a hit album and make a guaranteed profit. There are millions of people who don’t think it’s ridiculous and buy into it—and the winner. People love a winner. It’s about fame. And it gives the listener a higher chance of buying music from the singer—and profit for the label. If that indeed is what is going on, it’s not ethical, fair, or right.

  3. I hear you and agree 100% that it’s not right…
    My point in commenting was just that Fox, NBC and ABC can’t over-ride the actual demand for what music the general MUSIC-BUYING public is willing to embrace and consume because it’s on their programming schedule. New season, new pop star! Compare the number of winners/finalists of TV singing competitions (hundreds) to the number of new pop artists who have come out in the last 10 years through tradition routes who have sustainable, profitable careers in place.
    Labels are not breaking artists the way they used to. YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, Reddit, Blogs do that now…
    No, it’s not right that Universal bought the rights to corral all the winners of the Voice. But they’re a machine and machines don’t have hearts. When people go on a TV show competition, they need to understand what they’re getting into.
    So does it suck? Yeah. Is Adam right? Yeah in fact, he is. Universal apparently hasn’t done a good job with the Voice winners. But does America want to buy music and go see shows from every singing contest winner? Apparently not. America wants to be happy for 15 minutes because the person they liked won, turn the TV off and go to bed…

  4. People watch the Voice to hear what amateurs like themselves could do if given a stage. But when it comes to actually spending money on music that they could hear free on Spitify, they will choose an artist who has learned from paying dues in the real world.
    You can hear the difference, even in their “Voice”.

  5. I appreciate Adam’s position, and he knows much more about this experience that I do. I am no musician, and my only related industry experience was in producing a few modest music videos.
    I do feel that the problems here go way back to a time before digital music distribution. At least before legal distribution. None, not one, of the major music distributors was solving the problem. Largely run by out of touch old men, they were lost. Illegal downloading and sharing was rampant. Apple threw lots of money, lawyers and effort at the problem. Ironically, Apple would not be the leader in the “all you can eat” model, resisting it from the start. Then of course, eventually giving in.
    The big music production companies have allowed tech companies to drive this car. They did not see the train coming down the track.

  6. I understand your pain.
    Unfortunately the development formula for the majors has resorted to being “Data Driven” as they now believe they have the necessary data to program a hit. SFX and others are responsible for this carrying way too much power for their own good. The volatility of an A&R position is well known however in todays market it’s a lost art. We’ve completely lost the human element of developing music when created in this manner. Seeking out great music through live venue or retail was always a way for A&R and tastemakers to stay on top, but not today. Now you deliver great talent to them and they’re clueless also in part due to a “Follow the leader self-gratification instant stardum” mentality which most talent seems to have these days. Great music takes hard work, emotional & monetary investment and of course solid writing and production elements that do not get nurtured with this mentality. This has helped destroy a vibrant scene which took so much to create by so many.
    Musicologists wholeheartedly agree there’s been almost no progression of music as an art form since 2007. It’s been a plague of the some of the worst over/under produced music in 60 yrs. Even the best label folk never get through the large percentage of promos they receive and material is known to sit on their floors for months because most great songs were never found this way. So much incredible talent is out there but many other key elements must be present for a great music. This is the missing process. Since so much less money is made through recorded music, it is not pumped back into development. We are in this mess together because when you get “MUSIC FOR FREE” you could NEVER have the same personal relationship to it as spending your hard earned money. We must shift the attitude of the consumer in a big way or we will never nurture great new writers and producers.
    Regarding breaking music and the deep malaise of quality. There’s not too many major labels left, and the ones standing have even more power. Most indie labels still rely on them to deliver our hits and fork up the monies when we deliver the goods. In their survivalist struggle to control market share, legal Digital portals will take on just about any music. Since they are as clueless as most labels regarding market, they offer every Tom, Dick & Harry a deal. This “lets throw it out and see what sticks” mentality has also contributed to the deepest malaise of quality music felt in my lifetime. It used to be an honor having a major distribution deal, but now they’re a dime a dozen.
    Here is a very interesting article pertaining to this:

  7. It’s to just about the TV shows Adam is feeling. It’s about Quality, the industry as a whole and why we are here in this mess.
    Great talent is just one small part of the process. Please read my post below and perhaps it may break it down a bit deeper. The global phenomenon of poorly produced recorded music certainly does not help the consumer wish to pay for music. Just look at the self gratification instant stardom mentality that exists and realize this is a huge reason we are here. Great productions (in any genre) take hard work and time…even a great track. An awesome voice has never been hard for me to find. 700+ singles and 80+ Lp projects over 30yrs of Quality. If a song was not ready it was shelved or never released. I chose to remain indie because it gave the ability to put my stamp of soulful QUALITY on it…not to mention working with some of the best producers, engineers and studios without having to lay out major label dough.
    Pop programmers need to take a serious hard look at Soulful Dance once again to help generate hits and reclaim what has been lost…the Quality. We’ve got a bevy of incredible talent but treated like the plague Stateside when it comes to Terrestrial radio. I’ve been to “Top of The Pops” UK several times with artists that stood no chance of breaking here. Signed hundreds of recording over to the majors to break and release worldwide. How quickly they forgot all the huge Pop stars that broke from Dance. When we create a song and it’s produced well, it’s still one of the few honest pure genres left. Michael Jackson, Madonna, Chic, Prince, The Cure, Donna Summer, Depeche Mode, Shannon, Tears For Fears, Diana Ross, Enigma, Culture Club, Janet Jackson, ABC, Whitney Houston, Yazz, Samantha Fox, Rick Astley, Kylie Minogue, Donna Summer, Taylor Dayne, New Order, Spandau Ballet, Vanessa Williams, etc…you get what I’m saying. The list is endless.

  8. Cream will most always rise to the top, as many of Voice’s artists have succeeded in.
    No such thing as fast-tracking quality music in great part because of the “follow the leader-self-gratification-instant stardom mentality” which most talent seems to subscribe to these days. Great music takes hard work, emotional/monetary investment and of course solid writing and production elements that don’t get nurtured with this mentality. With the “music is free mentality” how could anyone want to invest in the the recorded music industry, including the labels/wall street. It’s been a dead horse for close to 8 years now.
    These are but a few reasons for the destruction of such a vibrant scene that took so long to create by so many.

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