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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. The term ‘indie’ or ‘independent music’ can be traced back to as early as the 1920’s after it was first used to reference independent film companies but was later used as a term to classify an independent band or record producer.
DIY ethic is the ethic of self-sufficiency through completing tasks without the aid of a paid expert. The "do it yourself" (DIY) ethic promotes the idea that anyone is capable of performing a variety of tasks rather than relying on paid specialists.
Indie rock is a genre of rock music that originated in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1970s. Originally used to describe independent record labels, the term became associated with the music they produced and was initially used interchangeably with alternative rock. As grunge and punk revival bands in the US and Britpop bands in the UK broke into the mainstream in the 1990s, it came to be used to identify those acts that retained an outsider and underground perspective. In the 2000s, as a result of changes in the music industry and the growing importance of the Internet, some indie rock acts began to enjoy commercial success, leading to questions about its meaningfulness as a term.
Indie pop is a music genre and subculture that combines guitar pop with DIY ethic in opposition to the style and tone of mainstream pop music. It originated from British post-punk in the late 1970s and subsequently generated a thriving fanzine, label, and club and gig circuit. Compared to its counterpart, indie rock, the genre is more melodic, less abrasive, and relatively angst-free. In later years, the definition of indie pop has bifurcated to also mean bands from unrelated DIY scenes/movements with pop leanings. Subgenres include chamber pop and twee pop.
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.
The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.
Sun Records is an American independent record label founded by producer Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee in February 1952. Sun was the first label to record Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Prior to that, Sun had concentrated mainly on African-American musicians because Phillips loved rhythm and blues and wanted to bring it to a white audience.
Stax Records is an American record label, originally based in Memphis, Tennessee. Founded in 1957 as Satellite Records, the label changed its name to Stax Records in 1961 and shared its operations with Volt Records, a sister label created to avoid the impression of favoritism among radio stations playing their records.
In the United Kingdom during the 1950s and 1960s, the major record companies had so much power that independent labels struggled to become established, until the launch of new concepts like Virgin Records.Several British producers and artists launched independent labels as outlets for their work and artists they liked; the majority failed as commercial ventures or were bought by the major labels.
Virgin Records Ltd. is a British record label founded by entrepreneurs Richard Branson, Simon Draper, Nik Powell, and musician Tom Newman in 1972. It grew to be a worldwide phenomenon over time, with the success of platinum performers such as Aaliyah, George Michael, Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Roy Orbison, Devo, Tangerine Dream, Genesis, Keith Richards, the Human League, Culture Club, Simple Minds, Lenny Kravitz, dc Talk, the Smashing Pumpkins, Mike Oldfield, Gorillaz, Lewis Capaldi and Spice Girls, among others.
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 1950s as an organization of 25 independent record labels including Herald, Ember, and Atlantic Records. The 1970s saw the founding of the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD), which became A2IM in 2004. Smaller organizations also existed including the Independent Music Association (IMA), founded by Don Kulak in the late 1980s. At its zenith, it had 1,000 independent labels on its member rosters. The 1990s brought Affiliated Independent Record Companies (AIRCO), whose most notable member was upstart punk-thrash rock label Mystic Records, and The Independent Music Retailer's Association (IMRA), a short-lived organization founded by Mark Wilkins and Don Kulak. 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 adjudication of the case grossed $178,000,000 from the distribution arms of major labels. The proceeds were distributed amongst all plaintiffs.
The Recording Academy is an American learned academy of musicians, producers, recording engineers, and other musical professionals. It is famous for its Grammy Awards, which recognize achievements in the music industry.
Herald Records was an American record label of the 1950s and 1960s.
Ember Records was an American independent record label, run by Al Silver in New York City as the sister label to his Herald imprint. Among the artists on the label were the Five Satins, who recorded the Fred Parris song "In the Still of the Night", and New Orleans saxophonist Lee Allen who hit with "Walking With Mr. Lee". Herald and Ember closed down in the mid-1960s.
During the punk rock era, the number of independent labels grew.The UK Indie Chart was first compiled in 1980, and independent distribution became better organized from the late 1970s onward. From the late 1970s into the 1980s, certain UK independent labels (such as Rough Trade, Fast Product, Cherry Red, Factory, Glass, Cheree Records and Creation) came to contribute something in terms of aesthetic identity to the acts whose records they released.
Punk rock is a rock music genre that emerged in the mid-1970s in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. Rooted in 1960s garage rock and other forms of what is now known as "proto-punk" music, punk rock bands rejected perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock. They typically produced short, fast-paced songs with hard-edged melodies and singing styles, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. Punk embraces a DIY ethic; many bands self-produce recordings and distribute them through independent record labels.
Rough Trade Records is an independent record label based in London, England. It was formed in 1978 by Geoff Travis who had opened a record store off Ladbroke Grove. Having successfully promoted and sold records by punk rock and early post-punk and indie pop bands such as the Smiths and Desperate Bicycles, Travis began to manage acts and distribute bands such as Scritti Politti and began the label, which was informed by left-wing politics and structured as a co-operative. Soon after, Rough Trade also set up a distribution arm that serviced independent retail outlets across Britain, a network that became known as the Cartel.
Fast Product was an independent record label, established in Edinburgh by Bob Last and his partner, Hilary Morrison, in December 1977. Its first release was also the first single by the Mekons, released on 20 January 1978.
In the late 1980s, Seattle-based Sub Pop Records was at the center of the grunge scene. In the late 1990s and into the 2000s as the advent of MP3 files and digital download sites such as Apple's iTunes Store changed the recording industry, an indie neo-soul scene soon emerged from the urban underground soul scenes of London, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, primarily due to commercial radio and the major labels' biased focus on the marketing, promotion & airplay of pop and hip hop music during this period. Independent labels such as Dome Record and Expansion Records in the U.K. and Burger, Wiener, and Ubiquity Records in the U.S. and a plethora of others around the world continue to release independent bands and music.
Sub Pop is a record label founded in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt. Sub Pop achieved fame in the late 1980s for signing Seattle bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney, central players in the grunge movement. They are often credited with helping popularize grunge music. The label's roster includes Fleet Foxes, Foals, Beach House, The Postal Service, Flight of the Conchords, Sleater-Kinney, Blitzen Trapper, Father John Misty, Shabazz Palaces, METZ, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and The Shins. In 1995 the owners of Sub Pop sold a 49% stake of the label to the Warner Music Group.
Grunge is a rock music genre and subculture that emerged during the mid-1980s in the Pacific Northwest U.S. state of Washington, particularly in Seattle and nearby towns. The early grunge movement revolved around Seattle's independent record label Sub Pop and the region's underground music scene. The owners of Sub Pop marketed Northwestern punk rock shrewdly and the media was encouraged to describe it as "grunge", which came to mean a punk and metal hybrid style of music. By the early 1990s its popularity had spread, with grunge bands appearing in California, then emerging in other parts of the United States and in Australia, building strong followings and signing major record deals.
MP3 is a coding format for digital audio. Originally defined as the third audio format of the MPEG-1 standard, it was retained and further extended—defining additional bit-rates and support for more audio channels—as the third audio format of the subsequent MPEG-2 standard. A third version, known as MPEG 2.5—extended to better support lower bit rates—is commonly implemented, but is not a recognized standard.
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.Some acts, however, may choose not to go to a major label if given the opportunity, as independence generally offers more freedom.
Similarly, others may become independent label acts after having already experienced recording on a major label. Bradley Joseph asked to be let go from his major label deal with Narada/Virgin Records and subsequently became an independent artist. He says, "As an independent, business is a prime concern and can take over if not controlled.A lot of musicians don't learn the business. 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. But some artists just want to be involved in the music and don't like the added problems or have the personality to work with both". 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.Some artists have recorded for independent record companies for their entire careers and have had solid careers. 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. This lack of resources can make it difficult for a band to make revenue from sales. 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 1991, there have only been twelve independent label albums that have reached the number one spot on the US Billboard 200 Album Chart. However, dozens of independent albums have reached the top 40 of the Billboard 200.
Many current artists use their own resources to produce, record, market and release music through Spotify, 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. -If signing to an independent label, this type of venture probably affords the better benefit. 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. b) the major-label owner can sign acts itself, and then place acts on its independent label if it chooses, even though the independent label signs acts itself. c) the major-label owner can potentially steal away any act from its independent label at any time and bring that act directly to the major-label owner, regardless of if the act is still under contract to the independent label. d) the major-label owner could completely shut down the independent label entirely or sale it off for financial reasons or for restructuring of the overall conglomerate. 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.
Most major label artists earn a 10–16% royalty rate.However, before a band is able to receive any of their royalties, they must clear their label for all of their debts, known as recoupable expenses. 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. If an independent label is able to offer an advance, it will likely fall in the $5,000–$100,000 range. [ citation needed ] On the other hand, major labels are able to offer artists advances in the range of $150,000–$500,000. 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. [ citation needed ]An example: if an act's first or second album is successful, but there are no more options left, the label will re-sign the act all over again anyway. 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 lots of 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.
Although not common,there have been instances of profit-sharing deals with independent labels in which an act can get as much as 40–50% of the net profits. 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., are also taken into account. 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.Independent labels tend to avoid high budget marketing tactics, which usually does not fall in the budget of an independent label. 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 2010 independent retailer CD Baby claimed to have sold over 5 million CDs during its lifetime.CD Baby no longer reports its number of CDs sold, but in 2010 claimed to have paid a total of $107 million to artists over its lifetime and currently claims that this figure is now over $200 million.
Apple has announced that they have sold over 16 billion songs through their iTunes service.Most of this is “mainstream” music, and doesn't reflect access by new content producers to the market, but it does indicate significant competition with traditional CD sales.
Whether the sales from non-traditional sources come mostly from tapping into an expanding market or from siphoning sales away from traditional CD distribution is difficult to assess in the face of the RIAA's claim that music piracy causes 12.5 billion dollars' damage to the US economy annually.
A record label, or record company, is a brand or trademark associated with the marketing of music recordings and music videos. Sometimes, a record label is also a publishing company that manages such brands and trademarks, coordinates the production, manufacture, distribution, marketing, promotion, and enforcement of copyright for sound recordings and music videos, while also conducting talent scouting and development of new artists, and maintaining contracts with recording artists and their managers. The term "record label" derives from the circular label in the center of a vinyl record which prominently displays the manufacturer's name, along with other information. Within the mainstream music industry, recording artists have traditionally been reliant upon record labels to broaden their consumer base, market their albums, and be both promoted and heard on music streaming services, radio, and television. Record labels also provide publicists, who assist performers in gaining positive media coverage, and arrange for their merchandise to be available via stores and other media outlets.
Mushroom Records was an Australian flagship record label, founded in 1972 in Melbourne. It published and distributed many successful Australian artists and expanded internationally, until it was merged with Festival Records in 1998. Festival Mushroom Records was later acquired by Warner Bros. Records, which operated the label from 2005 to 2010 until it folded to Warner Bros. Records. Founder Michael Gudinski is now the leader of the Mushroom Group, the largest independent music and entertainment company in Australia.
Elektra Records is an American major record label owned by Warner Music Group, founded in 1950 by Jac Holzman and Paul Rickolt. It played an important role in the development of contemporary folk music and rock music between the 1950s and 1970s. In 2004, it was consolidated into WMG's Atlantic Records Group. After five years of dormancy, the label was revived as an imprint of Atlantic in 2009. As of October 2018, Elektra was detached from the Atlantic Records umbrella and reorganized into Elektra Music Group, once again operating as an independently managed frontline label of Warner Music.
Polydor Records Ltd. is a British record label and company that operates as part of Universal Music Group. It has a close relationship with Universal's Interscope Geffen A&M Records label, which distributes Polydor's releases in the United States. In turn, Polydor distributes Interscope releases in the United Kingdom. Polydor Records Ltd. was established in London in 1954 as a British subsidiary of German company Deutsche Grammophon GmbH. It was renamed Polydor Ltd. in 1972.
Arista Records, Inc. is an American record label owned by Sony Music Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, the North American division of the Japanese conglomerate Sony. The label was previously handled by Bertelsmann Music Group. The label was founded in 1974 by Clive Davis, who formerly worked for Columbia Records. Until its demise in 2011, it was a major distributor and promoter of albums throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. Along with Columbia, RCA, and Epic, Arista is one of Sony Music Entertainment's four flagship record labels.
K Records is an independent record label in Olympia, Washington founded in 1982. Artists on the label included early releases by Beck, Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. The record label has been called "key to the development of independent music" since the 1980s.
A royalty is a payment made by one party, the licensee or franchisee to another that owns a particular asset, the licensor or franchisor for the right to ongoing use of that asset. Royalties are typically agreed upon as a percentage of gross or net revenues derived from the use of an asset or a fixed price per unit sold of an item of such, but there are also other modes and metrics of compensation. A royalty interest is the right to collect a stream of future royalty payments.
Sire Records is an American record label that is owned by Warner Music Group and distributed by Warner Records.
eMusic is an online music and audiobook store that operates by subscription. In exchange for a monthly subscription eMusic users can download a fixed number of tracks to their MP3 players per month. eMusic was established in 1998, is headquartered in New York City with an office in London, and is owned by TriPlay.
Zunior.com is a Canadian online independent record label and music store founded in 2004 by Dave Ullrich, formerly of The Inbreds.
Victory Records is a Chicago-based record label founded by Tony Brummel. It is a privately held corporation. It also operates a music publishing company called "Another Victory, Inc." and is the distributor of several smaller independent record labels. It has featured many prominent post-hardcore and metalcore artists, and such bands as Thursday, Hawthorne Heights, Silverstein, Taking Back Sunday, Bayside, Streetlight Manifesto, and A Day to Remember.
A recording contract is a legal agreement between a record label and a recording artist, where the artist makes a record for the label to sell and promote. Artists under contract are normally only allowed to record for that label exclusively; guest appearances on other artists' records will carry a notice "By courtesy of ", and that label may receive a percentage of sales.
A publishing contract is a legal contract between a publisher and a writer or author, to publish original content by the writer(s) or author(s). This may involve a single written work, or a series of works.
An unsigned artist, unsigned band or independent artist is a musician or musical group not under a contract with a record label. The terms are used in the music industry as a marketing technique. Bands that release their own material on self-published CDs can also be considered unsigned bands. Often unsigned bands primarily exist to perform at concerts.
Propeller Records was an independent record label formed in Auckland, New Zealand, by Simon Grigg in 1980.
Superball Music is a German independent record label, launched on 1 October 2007. Superball Myspace page states that
The label’s focus will be on keen, young rock acts with a stylistic range that is centred on independent and alternative music, as well as acts that transcend genres and include a variety of contemporary directions. Superball Music aims to provide a platform and a "home" for these artists by specifically focusing on innovative music with commercial ambitions.
Hell, etc. is an American record label founded by Marilyn Manson in 2010. It is a vanity label operating under the larger parent publisher Cooking Vinyl. Hell, etc. is the second vanity label Manson has operated, the first being Posthuman Records, which functioned within Priority Records between 2000 and 2002.
MapleCore Ltd. is a music company founded in 1999 and located in Toronto, Canada. MapleCore has multiple divisions including the e-commerce site MapleMusic.com, three record labels MapleMusic Recordings, Open Road Recordings, and Pheromone Recordings, distribution arm Fontana North, and live ticket services TicketBreak and Fan Experience.
An independent record label is a record label that operates without the funding of major record labels; they are a type of small to medium-sized enterprise, or SME. The labels and artists are often represented by trade associations in their country or region, which in turn are represented by the international trade body, the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN).
An art release is the premiere of an artistic production and its presentation and marketing to the public.