Most record companies are huge corporations that own a variety of record labels. These corporations usually consist of a parent company that owns more than one record label. For example, Warner Brothers Records owns Reprise Records and Maverick Records. Today, most large record companies are actually huge conglomerates that own a variety of subsidiary record labels. Often, the subsidiary labels are each mini-companies operating under the umbrella of the larger corporation.
A record label is a brand and a trademark associated with the marketing of music recordings and music videos. Most commonly, a record label is the company that manages such brands and trademarks, coordinates the production, manufacture, distribution, marketing and promotion, and enforcement of copyright protection of sound recordings and music videos; conducts talent scouting and development of new artists (“artists and repertoire” or A&R); and maintains contracts with recording artists and their managers. Examples of record labels in Nigeria include “Trybe Records”, “Mo’Hits Records” and “Empire Mates Entertainment”.
Within the music industry, most recording artists have become increasingly reliant upon record labels to broaden their audience, market their albums, and be both promoted and heard on radio, television, with publicists that assist performers in positive media reports to market their merchandise, and make it available via stores and other media outlets.
The Difference between a Major label and an Independent Record label
Record labels may be small, localized, and “independent” (“indie”), or they may be part of a large international media group, or somewhere in between. The largest 4 record labels are called major labels. A sub-label is a label that is part of a larger record company, but it trades under a different name.
When a label is strictly a trademark or brand, not a company, then it is usually called an imprint, a term used for the same concept in the publishing industry. An imprint is sometimes marketed as being a project,unit, or division of a record label company, even though there is no legal business structure associated with the imprint.
Vanity labels are labels that bear an imprint that gives the impression of an artist’s ownership or control, but in fact represent a standard artist/label relationship. In such an arrangement, the artist will control nothing more than the usage of the name on the label, but may enjoy a greater say in the packaging of his or her work.
Record labels are often under the control of a corporate umbrella organization called a music group. A music group is typically owned by an international conglomerate holding company, which often has non-music divisions as well. A music group controls and consists of music publishing companies, record (sound recording) manufacturers, record distributors, and record labels. As of 2005, the “big four” music groups control about 70% of the world music market, and about 80% of the United States music market. Record companies (manufacturers, distributors, and labels) may also comprise a record group, which is, in turn, controlled by a music group. The constituent companies in a music group or record group are sometimes marketed as being divisions of the group. The big four as of 2009 are Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, EMI Group, and Universal Music Group.
Record companies and music publishers that are not under the control of the big four are generally considered to be independent (indie), even if they are large corporations with complex structures. The term indie label is sometimes used to refer to only those independent labels that adhere to an arbitrary, ill-defined criteria of corporate structure and size, and some consider an indie label to be almost any label that releases non-mainstream music, regardless of its corporate structure.
References: Wikipedia.org and Howstuffworks.com