Economics may be against them, but record labels – those of the independent variety, at any rate – are more vital than ever.
With so much music being made, and with so many channels through which it can be pumped out and imbibed, labels play a vital role not just in getting important music to the right ears, but also in conferring value on that music – by giving it a physical life as a record, by presenting that record in a visually appealing fashion, by placing that record alongside others of similar or sympathetic orientation.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a white label grime 10″ or a lavish 5xLP box set – in the era of the mp3, pressing any kind of record is a serious act of devotion, and of sheer of bloody-mindedness. All of the labels we’ve selected as our favourites of 2011 sell their music digitally – not do so would be rather blinkered – but far more crucial, and telling, is that every one of them invests primarily in physical products. Some have been at it for decades, some a mere matter of months; some are large, multi-staffed companies, others are solitary bedroom operations. What bonds them all is their love of the record as an artifact, a fetish item, the ultimate expression of a musical idea.