Whether you’re a signed artist already wondering what else is out there, or an up-and-coming musician speculating about how to secure your big break, it’s worth learning about how independent record labels are not only a viable option, but a vital part of the music industry. Whoever you are and whatever your circumstances right now, signing with an indie label could be the right move for you. Even some of the biggest names in the business, like Rough Trade, Sub Pop, XL and Creation, are actually independent labels with successful artists and lots of clout on the music scene.
A Special Relationship
Immediately one of the plus points of going with an indie label is that you will be able to work more closely with the team. A smaller organisation means less staff, less offices, less artists… This might sound like a negative, but it’s actually a massive positive for you as the musician. It allows people from the label to form intimate and caring professional relationships with artists, gives them more time to dedicate to you and your work, and means that neither you nor they are reliant upon decisions being made by faceless business people higher up in the corporation.
This approach means that the process of making music can take a more organic path, with musicians able to fully convey their vision to the label and label employees able to help them realise this with due time and care. Working with an independent label means that the entire process of producing a piece of work will remain creative and informed the whole way through, rather than primarily focusing on the generation of a successful product. This leads nicely onto our next point, creative control.
For an artist, there is perhaps nothing worse than the idea that they either won’t receive recognition for their work, or that they will but in a form so twisted beyond their control that it misrepresents their vision. Retaining creative control over a record or a piece of music is of paramount importance to any musician creating music for themselves. Music is an artform and therefore a type of self-expression; it would be painful to see your experiences and ideas being falsely marketed in a way that doesn’t ring true to you.
An indie label has the room to take a chance on something different and therefore helps musicians to retain artistic and creative control of their work. They are more likely to offer you a flexible deal, allowing you the room to grow and develop rather than tying you into a multi-album, multi-year contract. Very importantly, you can retain the rights to your own music if you sign with an independent label. You need only look at Prince’s early 90s protest against Warner Bros. to see how difficult retaining control can be when you sign with a major commercial label.
Thank You for the Music
One of the biggest motivations for independent record labels is their love of the music. Rather than being in the game purely for money and success, it’s more likely that an indie label is in it for the art. This means that, when they sign you, they are making a genuine investment in you as an artist and in your work. They will be pushing to get your music heard, honour your intentions with the work and keep you involved with the process, all because, well… they care! Even if you don’t want to stay with them forever, they’re certainly a step in the right direction and firm base from which to launch your career.
In a world where anything can now be available at the click of a button, self-releasing music is an even more direct method than going to an indie label. Online platforms have enabled a massive amount of services to become more accessible over recent years, including sites as diverse as JustEat for local takeaway food, PokerStarsCasino for casino games, and Kindle for direct self-published writing. Well, you can also easily self-release music online.
Fed up after their experiences with mainstream labels, UK super-band Radiohead released their 2007 album In Rainbows themselves as a downloadable file via BitTorrent streaming sites, and let people pay what they wanted for it. It was a number 1 album. Rapper Princess Nokia released her first song “Destiny” and her subsequent mixtape 1992 on SoundCloud to an eager audience. She then successfully signed to indie label Rough Trade Records. Self-releasing online can act as the perfect stepping stone before you sign to a label and helps you to cement your own skills, confidence and vision before inviting other people onto your creative journey with you.