Major labels are big, corporate, and money-hungry. Indie record labels have grassroots passion and prioritize the music. They’re as much partners as they are opposites.
For years, the music industry was dominated by a pretty clear line in the sand. There were the 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 and using music as a means of achieving revenues. Comparatively, artist-driven indie record labels would attempt to introduce new, exciting artists that suit a certain standard of musical integrity that they set.
That’s sort of a very 1990s-esque way of looking at the division between the majors and indie record labels. Here’s why.
Major Music Labels Are Partners With Indie Labels: Distribution & Artistry Aligned
The landscape today of the near-$41 billion music business 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.
Major labels now own the distribution channels that most independent labels use to sell physical records. This is their main function. The major labels also closely monitor and assist in developing social media platforms and other online spaces that independent labels have benefited from.
Almost every indie record label eventually has to find a partner in the corporate space to keep going. That’s just the reality of modern music economics.
Major labels, to an extent, also have many relationships that can help break artists such as with music on TV. To get an artist’s song into the next big Netflix series or featured prominently in a hit show internationally, a major label is more often than not required to get that done.
The Illusion That Indie Record Labels Are Not Trying For The Same Success
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.
Perhaps, in the 1970s, this would have been seen as ‘selling out’ but today, it’s much more a sign of a healthy business than anything and a record label that has properly monetized their assets to build a long-term viable music company.
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 was the purchase of the indie dance label Spinnin’ Records by Warner Music which happened in fall 2017.
Every year, big corporations are funding or buying out their smaller competition, graduating indie record labels into becoming at least a part of the majors. Labels of all sizes, regardless of how they may be perceived, are chasing after strong revenues and profits. More profits and financial success means a label can effectively support more artists.
Can An Indie Record Label Be Truly Independent When The World Is Corporate?
For independent record 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 cannot 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.
Taylor Swift is a fine example. She has a very indie-esque vibe and grassroots-like perception around her brand yet she has a massive corporation backing her every decision and willing to invest in her music, performances, and brand.
This is a part of the music industry and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. By negotiating independent, flexible contracts with major labels, this still allows some independents to keep on doing their thing while benefiting from the relationships and channels that a major label brings.
For artists and labels alike, these are some of the advantages of an indie record label.
Are Indie Record Labels Disappearing – No, They’re Growing Their Numbers!
As record labels of all sizes 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.
While it may not fall all the way down to the artists, it does put money into music in a very positive way, creating pathways for new artists to find audiences and assembling new systems for music to be consumed.
To anyone worried about the disappearance of independent labels, arguably, they 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.
Furthermore, indie record labels are experiencing a lot of economic growth right now. With the help of corporations and major labels, indie labels are growing. That’s a very, very good thing for musical artists of every genre.
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, at least as an interpretation by some, music is a business. Though some artists may ignore it, the entire purpose of any business is to make profit. The relationships that exist between independent labels and major labels are largely positive.