Brands the New Record Labels?

It’s no secret there has never been a more empowering moment for musicians. Instead of the old model where The Strokes wannabes aspired to have a major label come salivating to them with a record deal (only to sign away most of the creative control, rights, and bucks made off their music), musicians are savvily cobbling together a new model: crack the MySpace code where you can incubate your following, sell your tracks on CD Baby and iTunes, and retain total ownership of your music.

On the flip side, you also have brands clamoring to become part of pop culture. Surely the marriage of music and advertising is nothing new, but the perfect storm brewing points to a hypothesis: will brands become the new record labels?

Check it out. In the past few years, Toyota Scion launched its own hip-hop record label. Starbucks co-produced and exclusively broke the band Antigone Rising. Retailers from Old Navy to Restoration Hardware are hawking their own brand of CDs and game developers like Take2Interactive are licensing hundreds of songs for videogames, giving indie artists the opportunity to reel in some cash and insert their music directly into the ears of teenage boys everywhere.

For musicians, working directly with brands means retaining financial and creative ownership of their music, and exposure they would never get on the radio or MTV; for brands, it means a direct-ticket into pop-culture (assuming it’s done authentically).

Will brands become the new record labels?