There once was a time when the primary concern of a record company was something other than how many units were shipped, as Mark Alger notes:
There was a reason that music overtook the consciousness of so many people in the ’60s and it didn’t have anything to do with hippie ways or political movements. It had to do with who was running the record companies and their outlook toward their “product.” In fact, I would peg the start of the decline in the industry that we see the other end of today to the period in time when use of the term “product” to describe music became current and acceptable.
This is not to say that there weren’t some blatant examples of mercenary behavior, even among the revered record men of that era. Berry Gordy, Jr. was indisputably one of the Good Guys, but he was ruthless when he thought he had to be: irked that the Funk Brothers house band was moonlighting for Eddie Wingate’s small family of Detroit labels, and unable to persuade them to stop doing so, Gordy wrote a large check to Wingate, ostensibly to acquire Edwin Starr’s contract, and bade him go away.
Still, even on the Motown assembly line, it was never “product.” Nor was it at Warner Bros., where acts like Randy Newman, whose first two albums never charted at all Harry Nilsson actually did better than Newman with Newman’s own songs, at least at first weren’t threatened with loss of contract if they didn’t shape up.
It’s disheartening, to me anyway, that so many of the great labels are now nothing more than that: labels, logos slapped on the finished product.