For years, the music industry was dominated by a pretty clear line in the sand. There were major, corporate labels on one side and artist-driven independent labels on the other. The majors would push a mix of artists for the sole purpose of selling units, while the artist-driven indie labels would attempt to introduce artists that suit a certain standard of musical integrity that they set.
The landscape today is very different. Major record labels and independent labels are no longer as disconnected or at odds as people may have once put them. The notion that there is some ongoing battle between the corporate music industry and independent labels is, admittedly, not really the issue anymore. The two are in close collaboration on a continual basis. For example, major labels now own the distribution channels that most independent labels use to sell physical records. The major labels also closely monitor and assist in developing social media platforms and other online spaces that independent labels have benefited from.
Even beyond the mixing of major labels and independent labels working together, there are even notable events that happen that create new major labels out of independent ones. For example, the merger of the Los Angeles-based Concord Bicycle Music with the Dutch-based Imagem in summer 2017 created a $1 billion label. Then, there is the recent purchase of the indie dance label Spinnin’ Records by Warner Music which happened in fall 2017.
For the independent labels that have not already been directly bought out or acquired under a corporate brand, chances are that they are closely tied in other ways to major labels. To be completely independent does not really exist in an industry that is dominated by corporate interests. Even artists who may be interpreted as ‘marching to their own drum’, at some point, they need to begin cutting deals with major labels. It’s a part of the industry and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. By negotiating independent, flexible contracts with major labels, that still allows some independents to keep on doing their thing while benefiting from the relationships and channels that a major label brings.
Keeping this in mind, as labels continue to merge and major labels continue to buy out independent labels, this is again something that should be taken as a positive. These are major corporations investing in areas of music that desperately require funding.
To anyone worried about the disappearance of independent labels need not worry. Today, in any major Canadian or American city, there are many different artist-run organizations, labels, and recording spaces that are there to cultivate the next great artists. Though they may be minimized from the bigger names in the music industry, they still exist.
It’s true that as major labels continue to absorb and invest in smaller labels, they extend their reach into the independent side of the music industry. Though independent thinking may be threatened, music is a business. Though some artists may ignore it, the entire purpose of any business is to make profit and that’s the world we live in.