Should You Sign To An Independent Record Label?

Indie labels

In today’s Web-enabled music distribution environment, there are thousands of independent record companies under the sun – from garage based enthusiasts to profitable music businesses. Should you choose to sign up to an indie record label upon embarking on a journey into music?

Most electronic dance music DJs either sign to indie labels or start their own record labels. Carl Cox, Tiesto, Pete Tong, Danny Tenaglia, to name but a few, all started their own music businesses at a certain point.

On the other hand, big name electronic bands such as Orbital, The Future Sound of London, Kraftwerk and many other artists have grown so popular that major labels such as EMI, Virgin Records and Sony Music could not deny them representation.

But which would suit your career best?

Indie Is About A Personal Approach

Indie record labels are more focused on specific, sometimes minor, genres and underground music, so if that’s your sound rather than a more commercial genre, you’re more suited to an indie label.

As indie label managers are usually passionate fans of the music they publish and treat the music of the artists who cross their threshold with great dedication and personal interest, you are much more likely to receive personalised attitude in such a place.

In this sense, the personal approach is truly important when addressing an indie record label.

Demonstrating knowledge of the company’s track record, appeals and successes is a must. Do this and you are going to receive the attention and adamant enthusiasm you need for a convincing start.

Guerilla Marketing Strategies Are On The Rise

In the post-label, post-studio environment, when artists are able to distribute their tracks on the web, being creative is key. Lacking the financial muscle of big companies, independent record labels need to find fresh horizons to promote and gauge interest in your music, at the same time keeping an eye on the bottom line.

Surviving without the financial, marketing and organisational resources of the major companies, many artists on the independent music scene generate buzz by letting fans into their organisation, putting them in control, making them part of their musical life and business.

For example, your indie label (together with you) might decide to establish closer relations with your fans to leverage your existing fan base on the Internet.

Also, you can let fans decide on your next gig, get them involved in the making of tracks through contests on social media, thus turning them into ambassadors of your products. At the end of the day, from ardent listeners, your fans become devoted boosters of your brand and enjoying it, they promote it.

It’s Not All Roses

On the downside, smaller labels incur potential risks related to low sales, poor media connections, inability to get your tracks on playlists, failure to promote your projects to the best target audience and so on. You also have to be aware of legal, managerial, organisational, marketing and other details, and not just music making.

Truth be said, with indie labels when you profit, you profit, due to the lower initial investment, looser contracts and royalties terms, and so on, but you also be taking a greater risk because you might never get to become popular due to insufficient funding.

Also, despite the limitless options the Web provides, you might never achieve anything but local success as a result of the fewer opportunities to influence people via marketing.

Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts…” [Don Quixote]

It is true, if major record labels see their future in you, they can and will build hype for your music.

Unless they spot a super talented and very promising star, major companies will hardly give a chance to emerging artists experimenting in avant-garde genres who want to preserve their independence.

With big labels you also give up a lot on your freedom and profit. You enter into 360-deals and as your publisher needs to recoup their investment they get to cut a slice of your every sale. Small wonder, when it is their connections, promotion, know-how and hard work that provide the initial impetus for your success.

So, on the one hand, working with a major record label, you receive a full package of service. As a result, you get a professional team with hands-on in promoting music, media connections, and anything it takes to draw attention to your music.

On the other hand, you bind yourself to observe strict company rules, meet requirements and recommendations, and follow terms unfailingly. This being said, don’t forget that big labels have also seen hard times. Signing up to a major record label doesn’t guarantee success and constant financial flows.

Draw The Line

If you prefer passion and freedom instead, then signing to an independent record label could be your choice. In any case, when deciding whether to sign up to an independent record label, consider where you see your music career in ten years.

Ask yourself these questions, “Am I ready to sway to somebody’s influence? Am I ready to enter big business and sacrifice my creative urge to satisfy the taste of the audiences? Am I ready to face challenges and risks but keep doing what I love to do, no matter what?” When you know the answers, you are ready to kick off.

Tanya Stankeva

Tanya’s interest in electronic music grew back in 1997 out of her fascination with rap and hip-hop music. She was slightly influenced by the German electro DJs Westbam and Sven Väth but developed a much greater passion for the enigmatic ambient music of FSOL, Orbital and Aphex Twin. Enjoying street parades and house clubs as much as she does, Tanya equally relishes the pleasure of listening to Vivaldi, Mozart and Ravel.