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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 1920s 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.
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 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.
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.
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, Industrial, Cheree Records and Creation) came to contribute something in terms of aesthetic identity to the acts whose records they released.
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.
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 products, 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, 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. -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 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 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.
Atlantic Recording Corporation is an American record label founded in October 1947 by Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson. Over its first 20 years of operation, Atlantic earned a reputation as one of the most important American labels, specializing in jazz, R&B, and soul by Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Ruth Brown and Otis Redding. Its position was greatly improved by its distribution deal with Stax. In 1967, Atlantic became a wholly owned subsidiary of Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, now the Warner Music Group, and expanded into rock and pop music with releases by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Led Zeppelin and Yes.
Island Records is a British-Jamaican record label owned by Universal Music Group. It was founded in 1959 by Chris Blackwell, Graeme Goodall, and Leslie Kong in Jamaica, and was eventually sold to PolyGram in 1989. Island and A&M Records, another label recently acquired by PolyGram, were both at the time the largest independent record labels in history, with Island in particular having exerted a major influence on the progressive music scene in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s.
A record label, or record company, is a brand or trademark of music recordings and music videos, or the company that owns it. 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 promote their singles on 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.
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 to another that owns a particular asset, 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.
Warner Music Group Corp. (WMG) is an American multinational entertainment and record label conglomerate headquartered in New York City. It is one of the "big three" recording companies and the third largest in the global music industry, after Universal Music Group (UMG) and Sony Music Entertainment (SME). Formerly part of Time Warner, WMG was publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange from 2005 until 2011, when it announced its privatization and sale to Access Industries. It later had its second IPO on Nasdaq in 2020, once again becoming a public company. With a multibillion-dollar annual turnover, WMG employs more than 3,500 people and has operations in more than 50 countries throughout the world.
TVT Records is an American record label founded by Steve Gottlieb. Over the course of its 30-year history, the label released some 25 Gold, Platinum and Multi-Platinum releases. Its roster included Nine Inch Nails, Ja Rule, Lil Jon, Underworld, KMFDM, Gravity Kills, The KLF, The Baldwin Brothers, Sevendust, Nothingface, the Wellwater Conspiracy, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Holloways, The Cinematics, Buck-O-Nine, DJ Hurricane, Speech and Pitbull. Its biggest commercial successes were the triple platinum Nine Inch Nails's Pretty Hate Machine, two double platinum releases by Lil Jon, and platinum releases by Snoop Dogg and Tha Eastsidaz, Dashboard Confessional, Default and Ying Yang Twins as well as gold releases by Sevendust, Gravity Kills and The Black Crowes and Jimmy Page. Additionally, TVT also had success overseas, achieving a gold release in Germany and Sweden with The Connells and scored platinum and gold records in Canada with Default.
Asylum Records is an American record label, founded in 1971 by David Geffen and partner Elliot Roberts. It was taken over by Warner Communications in 1972, and later merged with Elektra Records to become Elektra/Asylum Records.
Priority Records is an American distribution company and record label known for artists including N.W.A, Ice-T, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Silkk the Shocker and Westside Connection. It also distributed hip hop record labels including Death Row Records, Hoo-Bangin' Records, No Limit Records, Posthuman Records, Rap-A-Lot Records, Rawkus Records, Roc-A-Fella Records, Ruthless Records and Wu-Tang Records. According to Billboard, "few record labels were as important to the rise of West Coast hip hop as Priority Records."
T-Neck Records was a record label founded by members of the R&B/soul group The Isley Brothers in 1964, which became notable for distributing the first nationally-released recordings of Jimi Hendrix, their guitarist, and which later became a successful label after the Isleys began releasing their own works after years of recording for other labels, scoring hits such as "It's Your Thing" (1969) and "That Lady" (1973).
Victory Records is a Chicago-based independent record label founded by Tony Brummel. It is a private company which 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.
The music industry consists of the companies and independent artists that earn money by creating new songs and pieces and organising live concerts and shows, audio and video recordings, compositions and sheet music, and the organizations and associations that aid and represent music creators. Among the many individuals and organizations that operate in the industry are: the songwriters and composers who create new songs and musical pieces; the singers, musicians, conductors and bandleaders who perform the music; the companies and professionals who create and sell recorded music and/or sheet music ; and those that help organize and present live music performances.
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.
Panayiotou and others v. Sony Music Entertainment (UK) Ltd. was a contract and entertainment law case before the High Court of Justice's Chancery Division. The plaintiff, entertainer George Michael, argued that his recording contract constituted an unreasonable restraint of trade. Michael alleged that the defendant had failed to promote his album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 with due vigour as punishment when the artist decided to downplay his status as a sex symbol. Michael described his situation as "professional slavery" because his contract required that he produce music and cede the copyright to Sony for many years, leaving him no control over how the music would be marketed nor placing a reciprocal requirement that the label invest in promotion. Had the case succeeded, it might have curtailed the practice of signing artists to multi-album contracts. The court wholly rejected the claims.
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.