In the most narrow sense, record labels provide two basic yet critical elements – funding & knowledge. These elements are essential for success yet often hard to come by for many independent artists and labels. As a general rule of thumb, record labels are comprised of various departments which carry out essential tasks necessary for bringing an album to market:
A&R (Artist & Repertoire) – discovers new talent and acts as the intermediary between artist/management and the label. They’re typically involved in assisting with song selection and choosing a producer for the album as well
Art Department – prepares all the artwork relative to album cover art, advertisements and any other necessary elements
Artist Development – plans the career of the artist and nurtures their growth over the course of time
Business Affairs – takes care of bookkeeping, payroll and other financial matters
Label Liaison – coordinates release dates and other critical processes with the distribution company
Legal Department – deals with contracts and all other legal issues
Marketing Department – creates the overarching plan for each release and coordinates the plans with the promotions, publicity and sales departments
New Media – engages in developing music videos, websites, social networking sites, etc.
Promotions – solicits music to radio for airplay, and tracks the successes and reports details to marketing, sales & distribution. Often responsible for promoting videos to relevant outlets as well
Publicity – responsible for getting the word out about each artist through editorial content (articles in newspapers, magazines & websites) as well as securing radio and television coverage for an artist.
Sales – the label typically interacts with the distribution company to ensure albums end up on retail shelves in appropriate areas by providing essential information regarding the overall marketing plan and the successes being achieved at radio and other mediums. The label can choose to participate in retail marketing programs to receive featured placement in the stores (new release wall, listening station, endcap, free-standing display, etc.)
In an indie world these activities will likely be consolidated into the hands of a few key individuals, but it is essential to understand the various elements and ensure all aspects are engaged in order to increase the likelihood for success at retail.