Music Lesson: Independent Record Labels

subpopFor last week’s music lesson I attempted to clear up the confusion behind what constitutes a record label to be considered “major”. This week we’ll delve into the independent label.

Luckily this is really simple. Any label that is not owned or funded by one of the big four (EMI, Universal, Sony and Warner) is considered Independent. There are a lot of alternative artists on labels that you might assume are independent, but check into them first, you’d be surprised by how many labels the majors secretly own.

Independent record labels are not a novel concept. One of the most famous examples from the roots of rock n’ roll history is Sun Records, the memphis based recording house which spawned such greats as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Sustaining as an independent label was never the easiest task, which is why major labels have always prevailed (or, at least they used to). Without appropriate funding, how can a label properly market an album?

Luckily for us this guy invented the Internet. With the advent of a medium where bands can share their music with fans for free and target the niche audiences they crave it suddenly became less and less important to be signed to a “major” label in order to achieve commercial success. Bands like Nirvana could release music on independent labels like SubPop and still appear on good old MTV.

So if my friend and I decided to record a track on garage band, make up a record label named “Ampersand Records” and burn the track to a CD-Rs would we technically have started an Independent Record Label? Not exactly. I guess you’ll have to stop by next week for the third part of our record label lessons.


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