Independent music often referred to as indie music or indie is music produced independently from commercial record labels or their subsidiaries, a process that may include an autonomous, do-it-yourself approach to recording and publishing.
The term indie is sometimes used to describe a genre such as indie rock and indie pop , and as a genre term, "indie" may include music that is not independently produced, and many independent music artists do not fall into a single, defined musical style or genre and create self-published music that can be categorized into diverse genres. Independent labels have a long history of promoting developments in popular music, stretching back to the post-war period in the United States, with labels such as Sun Records , King Records , and Stax.
In the United Kingdom during the s and s, the major record companies had so much power that independent labels struggled to become established, until the launch of new concepts like Virgin Records. In the United States, independent labels and distributors often banded together to form organizations to promote trade and parity within the industry. The Recording Academy , famous as the organization behind the Grammy Awards , began in the s as an organization of 25 independent record labels including Herald , Ember , and Atlantic Records.
At its zenith, it had 1, independent labels on its member rosters. The latter is most notable for a lawsuit involving co-op money it filed on behalf of its member Digital Distributors in conjunction with Warehouse Record Stores. The proceeds were distributed amongst all plaintiffs. During the punk rock era, the number of independent labels grew. In the late s, Seattle-based Sub Pop Records was at the center of the grunge scene. Many acts choose to go from an independent label to a major label if given the opportunity, as major labels have considerably more power and financial means to promote and distribute product, sometimes increasing the chances of greater success.
Similarly, others may become independent label acts after having already experienced recording on a major label. He says, "As an independent, business is a prime concern and can take over if not controlled. You just have to be well-rounded in both areas. You have to understand publishing. You have to understand how you make money, what's in demand, and what helps you make the most out of your talent.
Joseph suggests newer artists read and study both courses and pick one that best suits their own needs and wants. A successful independent label with a strong musical reputation can be very appealing to a major label. Major labels look at independent labels to stay current with the ever-changing music scene.
If an act moves to a major label from an independent, they are awarded greater opportunity for success, but it does not guarantee success. About one in ten albums released by major labels make a profit for the label. Independent labels tend to be more open creatively, however, an independent label that is creatively productive is not necessarily financially lucrative. Independent labels are often operations of one, two, or only half a dozen people, with almost no outside assistance and run out of tiny offices. It can also be more difficult for the indie label to get its artists' music played on radio stations around the country when compared to the pull of a major label.
A testament to this fact could be that since , there have only been twelve independent label albums that have reached the number one spot on the US Billboard Album Chart.
However, dozens of independent albums have reached the top 40 of the Billboard Many current artists use their own resources to produce, record, market and release music through Spotify , SoundCloud , and other streaming platforms with social media in a direct, do-it-yourself manner allowing creative distribution. Independent label that signs and distributes its own acts: These independent labels find and sign their own acts; then the label manufactures, distributes, and promotes its own product. Independent label distributed by a major label: These independent labels are similar to the type mentioned above in that they find and sign their own acts, but they have a separate contract with a major label to handle manufacturing, distribution, or promotion.
The major label has no control over the independent label, simply an agreement to distribute its product. Either the independent or the major can terminate the pact at the end of the contractual agreement if they so choose.
The independent provides for its own financial stability, and has no outside monetary assistance from a major label. This is because the act's contract is actually with the independent label, which may offer more creative control, yet the act is having its album distributed by a major label, which also has an interest in seeing the album become successful.
Independent label owned by a major label: Some major labels have started independent labels or purchased an existing independent label outright, and have these labels use, or continue to use, independent distribution for their product. The reason for this is because independents usually are on the cutting edge of new sounds and potential hit artists, and signs acts and releases albums for less money than would have otherwise been spent if the acts were signed directly to the major label.
One benefit of this scenario is that if the act eventually proves successful enough on this type of independent , and is seeking a major label deal, it may see its subsequent albums released directly on the major-label owner of its independent label.
The moniker "independent" is sometimes associated with these major-label owned independent labels because they use independent distributors to distribute their albums instead of their affiliated major-label distribution system. However, these labels are not true independents, the differences being: a these independent labels can seek the financial backing of their major-label owner should they ever fall on hard financial times.
None of these are circumstances that pertain to true independent labels like those in the first two examples. A record label needs more than independent distribution to qualify as an independent label, otherwise it is an arm of a major label. It can be very difficult for independent bands to sign to a record label that may not be familiar with their specific style. It can take years of dedicated effort, self-promotion, and rejections before landing a contract with either an independent or major record label.
Bands that are ready to go this route need to be sure they are prepared both in terms of the music they offer as well as their realistic expectations for success. These expenses arise from the cost of such things as album packaging and artwork, tour support, and video production. An additional part of the recoupable expenses are the artist's advance. An advance is like a loan. It allows the artist to have money to live and record with until their record is released.
However, before they can gain any royalties, the advance must be paid back in full to the record label. Since only the most successful artists recoup production and marketing costs, an unsuccessful artist's debt may carry over to their next album, meaning that they see little to no royalties. Major label advances are generally much larger than independent labels can offer.
Some smaller independent labels offer no advance at all; just recording cost, album packaging, and artwork, which is also recoupable. If an artist gets no advance at all, they owe their record company less money, thus allowing them to start receiving royalty checks earlier; that is, if sales warrant any royalty checks at all. However, since the record label typically recoups so many different costs, it is actually to the artist's advantage to get the largest advance possible because they may not see any royalties checks for quite some time; again, that is, if sales warrant any royalties checks at all.
Another advantage of getting an advance; the advance money the artist owes the label is only recoupable through the artist's royalties, not through a return of the advance itself. In a record contract, options are agreed upon between the record company and the act. Options allow the label to request additional albums from the act if they so choose. Major labels tend to ask for more options in a contract than independents.
For instance, a contract may state "one album, with an option for four". This would mean a total of five possible albums. This means that if the first album was recorded and released by the label and was profitable, the label is going to pick up its option for a second album.
The act, therefore, must deliver a second album to the label. If that album is successful, the label will pick up its option for a third album; and so on and so on, depending on how many options are stated in the contract. Picking up the option for another album lies strictly with the label, not the act.
The label can pick up as many options as it wants, up to the amount stated in the contract, it does not have to pick up all the options. That means, although a contract may state it has an option for four albums, the label does not have to pick up all four of these options.
The reason for this is, say the act's first album is successful and the label picks up an option for a second album, but that second album fails miserably. The label could decide it is not about to spend more money on another album, and not pick up any more options and drop the act from its roster. Another ploy the label could utilize is to pick up an option for another album, even after a failed album had been released. If the label doesn't like the finished product of the new album the act has recorded, the label may not release that album, and then pick up its option for yet another album!
The label then may not release that album as well! But the money spent for recording these unreleased albums may still be recoupable from the albums that have already been released.
Because the act is under contract with the label, it cannot record music for another record label without permission. This scenario could potentially tie an act down to a label for years, even though the label has no intentions of releasing any more product from this act, in a career that guarantees no success, and if so, typically only sees a few prime years of prosperity. Some acts consider this unfair because the label has the right to not distribute an artist's work, yet legally keep them bound and prevent them from recording elsewhere.
In effect, the label could continue to demand more albums through the options clause until it deems one commercially or artistically acceptable. Record labels also effectively own the product recorded released or not by an act during the duration of their contract with the label. Options are only beneficial to the record label.
The fewer options allowed in the contract, the better for the act. This time it will most likely be with a much better royalty rate and more creative freedom than the previous contract stated. Or, the act can decide to move to another label altogether, one that is offering a better royalty rate or creative freedom. However, when the label holds a clause for many options for additional albums, it has the advantage. Besides the scenario in the above paragraph of the label requesting albums it may not release and preventing the act from recording elsewhere, the exact opposite could happen instead.
The act could release a blockbuster album on their very first release. The label will surely pick up its options for future albums and distribute them, but the act will continue to see all its royalty checks and recoupable expenses calculated under the same contract it signed many years ago.
When its contract is finally up with all those options , the act may have declined considerably in music popularity and may not have the same bargaining position that it had so many years ago when it released that blockbuster album. Had there been fewer options on the initial contract, the act could have negotiated a new and better contract while in its prime. Independent label contracts typically resemble contracts offered by major labels because they have similar legal liabilities to define before representing an artist.
There are differences, however, usually with regards to less advances, lower studio costs, lower royalties, but fewer album options. Due to financial constraints, independents typically spend much less on marketing and promotion than major labels.
But with lower royalties rates typically paid to artists and lower production and promotion costs, independent labels generally can turn a profit off lower volumes of sales than a major label can. In this type of contract, the net gain after all expenses have been taken out are divided between the label and artist by a negotiated percentage.
However, deals in this form can take longer for an artist to gain any profits, if at all, since all expenses — such as recording, manufacturing, publicity and marketing, music videos, etc.
Only if an independent artist becomes vastly popular are deals of this type more advantageous. Independent labels rely heavily on personal networking, or "word of mouth", to expose their acts. This of course contributes to the overall lower production cost, and may help the artist to receive royalties sooner, if warranted. Major labels tend to watch indie label artists and gauge their success, and may offer to sign acts from independents when their contract is up.
The major may also request to buy the contract of the act from the independent label before the contract is up, giving the independent label a hefty financial payment if they choose to sell the contract. Independent music sales volume is difficult to track, but in independent retailer CD Baby claimed to have sold over 5 million CDs during its lifetime.