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the vanity label

November 25, 2007

What’s a vanity label? The vanity label was a cog in the recording industry that reached its peak in the ’90s. Basically, it was a record label created by an artist, but falling under the umbrella of the parent record company of the artist. This would allow for an artist to sign and promote artists that they felt passionate about, thus ideally giving the vanity label artists a built in audience. Many of the vanity labels have met their demise with the recording industry shake up, were reabsorbed by their parent labels, or are still profitable.

Sinatra, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin all had them, with Sinatra’s Reprise now being a major label and The Beatles Apple Records being the main ones still existing today.

The Cure’s Fiction Records still exists without The Cure as the record label for Snow Patrol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Madonna’s Maverick Records was dissolved after a lawsuit that ended up in Madonna being bought out, and it in essence becoming Warner Bros., but until then was the label for Alanis Morisette, Deftones, Michelle Branch, The Prodigy, and Candlebox. Quite a lineup.

Of course, of most interest to me was Trent Reznor’s label, Nothing Records, which was used up until With Teeth’s release in 2005. The most famous thing besides NIN to come from Nothing was Marilyn Manson. Even after Reznor and Manson had their falling out, Manson’s records through 2004 were released on Nothing.

Some of the vanity labels that are still alive and well are Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records, Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy has Decaydance (how emo…), and some of the Linkin Park guys have Machine Shop Records. Notice that the last two are some of the only mass market bands still in existence.

Fortunately, the benefits that we received from vanity labels are somewhat migrating to indie labels, where the financial backing that the vanity labels had received is now replaced with virtual word of mouth driven by things like MySpace.

Here’s an old NYT article on the subject, from 1992.


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