In a previous post, it was pointed out that Bertelsmann, a.k.a., BMG, is going to end up controlling Zomba Music Group, a so-called “independent” outfit. This whole notion of “independence” in music is somewhat undercut—no, let’s call it what it is: castrated—by the creation of conglomerations of labels under a few corporations. Let’s take another example, this time Universal Music Group. It, incidentally, is part of Vivendi Universal, a still-larger whole: Vivendi Universal is the set; Universal Music is the subset. And contained within that subset are a group of labels that, I suspect, many people would imagine are somehow “authentic,” if not “independent.” To wit: A&M Records (it’s a long way from Herb Alpert), Decca Record Company (the label that brought many of the Brit bands of the ’60s to the awareness of others), Deutsche Grammophon (OK: there is something to be said for classical), Geffen Records (which once really helped define “indie” in a larger sphere), Motown Records (Berry Gordy must have really gotten rich), Interscope Records (as in Eminem and Dr. Dre), Island Def Jam Music Group (purveyors of Ashanti, Ja Rule, Jay Z, and Foxy Brown). . . Lost Highway Records, MCA Nashville, MCA Records, Mercury Nashville, Philips, Polydor, Universal Records, and Verve Music Group.
Back in the 1960s, when Rolling Stone was knocking down the notions of what music coverage was all about, CBS Records would run an ad with a headline that was something along the lines of “The Man Can’t Bust Our Music.” Which, of course, was somewhat absurd (back then, CBS, NBC and ABC were the giants of broadcasting, period). But now it is abundantly clear that no matter how rebellious the sound or the lyrics, The Man Is the Music. At least the Music Industry.