When I was in original bands, and we were trying to make it, there was only one goal: getting signed to a major label. When that didn't happen, the band broke up and everyone went their separate ways.
Today, there is a much smaller chance that an artist will ever be signed to a major label. On the other hand, there is absolutely no need now to ever be signed to a major label. A band or artist can have an extremely rewarding career and make a good living without ever setting foot in the halls of Sony or Universal.
This is an exciting time to be a creative person! You no longer have to be preyed upon by record industry sharks, greedy entertainment lawyers, or big-money "managers." You can have more control over your own career, and make your own money, rather than make money for some giant multi-national conglomerate!
If you have the business chops, of course you can start your own record label, or you can sign with one of the many excellent indie labels out there. You have to be a bit careful, but there are indie labels out there who give their acts complete artistic freedom, and share profits in a much more equitable fashion. Sure, they don't have the huge marketing machines the majors have, but you can't really get that marketing machine unless you're a huge star anyway. That just means the artist has to work a little bit harder to promote themselves, which is the way the record industry used to work anyway!
Many indies have returned to some of the old ideas that drove the best record labels in the '60's and early '70's: Long-term artist development, the label as a "family" rather than just a big business, releasing a quality album rather than two hits and 8 filler songs, etc.
It's probably too late for me to take advantage of this emerging new system as an artist. However, I can help other young artists reach their full potential in this artist-friendly environment. In fact, that is exactly what I plan to devote the next phase of my life to! More on that later....