Re: Is getting signed to a Major really worth it anymore?
The concept of what's 'good music' is indeed extremely subjective. For the most part, labels aren't selling much jazz,. fusion, prog rock (or other genres that most musicians refer to when they differentiate 'good' music from what sells to the masses.) And that's another dicussion altogether from whether a band is signed, going independent, or even what style they play.
Apart from selling what people buy - hey, what concept! - the labels cannot be faulted for the state of music these days. It's been a long time since labels 'developed' artists, so the possibility for success is truly in the hands of the bands. Is there anything really new? The last artist I can think of that's truly original - and succesful - is Beck. And he appeared almost 15 years ago.*
While it's true that selling music on CDBaby or through digital services will have a more advantageous payoff for the artist, the numbers are also considerably smaller. So a band that can sell 50,000 albums might be on par with a label having sold a million, how many bands sold 50,000 CDs through completely independent channels? Is their music on Amazon.com, iTunes, etc.? And don't forget, if they're on iTunes (etc) the majority of people buy a track or two or three, NOT an entire album from a given artist. Labels aren't in the business of selling singles. well, not yet anyway. It's just not profitable. And I think it's a good thing for labels to make profits.
A lot of independent artists/bands are demonstrating a backlash against labels, and I suspect that a few signed artists have deliberately gone independent. I can't think of any right now, because they've also essentially disappeared. But is any artist truly prepared to work within the online system, on their own? And what happens when the online systems get bigger... and start promoting... and become known for certain genres... aren't they becoming 'labels' too?
Oh yeah, this is something that artists and bands seem to overlook - tour support, promotion, video budgets, and distribution to radio and online services (and the remaining handful of brick & mortar CD outlets.) Is an independent band prepared to spend at least $100,000 on a video? Can a band puit themselves on the road from scratch, play a bunch of college pubs, and expect to break even (let alone make any money?) Can a band get themselves on the radio?
Personally, I'd rather have 10% from a label selling a million CDs, than 100% of my band selling only 50,000... if we're lucky.
And no, I don't view playing/making music as strictly a financial arrangement, but it's how I make my living. As such, the labels have provided - and continue to provide - the kind of exposure that nobody gets as an independent.
I know a lot of musicians and bands, and while it's popular to try and buck the system, I can't think of any who wouldn't prefer to get a record deal.
* And to Beck's credit, he started as an independent. But, nobody would have heard of him if Geffen hadn't signed and promoted him.