The newest record label in the music business is an operation called W Records — run not by moguls or artists, but the Marriott-owned, millennial-focused luxury hotel chain W Hotels.
W debuted its label on Tuesday, noting that the company will sign four rising artists over the next year and provide them with recording space, video shoot locations, mixing/mastering support and distribution of their music via live performances, streaming services and limited-edition vinyl production. W Records’ first signed artist is New York-based R&B singer-songwriter Amber Mark, who recorded two songs earlier this summer in the W Sound Suite at W Hollywood and is releasing them this fall.
Odd as the idea may seem, the hotel chain sees the record label as a crystallization of its existing “longstanding relationships with music industry partners, promoters, media and influencers.” The company already has on-site recording studios for artists in several cities, as well as its own music festival (the bluntly-named “WAKE UP CALL”). “W Records is undoubtedly a natural next step for W and music,” W’s global brand leader Anthony Ingham said in a press release. “It represents a complete 360-degree approach to our innovative music programming — one in which we support emerging talent, provide them a place to record, distribute their music and act as a live venue.”
Artists who sign with W Records will get “direct exposure” to the 110 million members of Marriott’s global rewards programs as well as a way to stand out from the mainstream, the chain claims. The slightly gimmicky nature of the venture doesn’t mean the results won’t be significant.
More broadly, the hotel-run record label is also a good illustration of how the music industry’s traditional production and distribution models are breaking down in the overcrowded streaming age. While record labels still stand behind the majority of chart-topping big names, an increasing number of younger emerging musicians are pursuing alternative routes to putting out music — and a new set of label-like entities is sprouting up to meet their needs.
There are venues like New York’s Smalls Jazz Club, which produces records from live performances and gives them back to artists with full copyright ownership. There are online distribution startups like UnitedMasters, which is backed by a significant amount of venture capital and has the motto “Your future has no labels.” There’s Spotify, which recently rolled out a feature allowing independent artists to directly upload their music to the platform — exciting and terrifying the industry at the same time.