Major record labels receive regular criticism for being massively for profit and less for musicians. In today’s music climate, is it better to remain an independent artist rather than sign to a major record label?
Raye has recently spoken out about her record label, claiming that they were preventing her from releasing albums. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift is re-recording her albums to secure ownership of her music. Sports Team’s Camel Crew ridicules label giant Sony, stating satirically that they “know they’ve made it only / When they sign the rights to Sony / Where the steps are swept / and the lawn is neat”.
Depending on an artist’s goals, both can have benefits
The music industry tends to be perceived as having two sides; there’s an ostensible view that independent artists are more authentic and that major record labels such as Sony are ‘sell outs’, mainstream and for profit. However, depending on an artist’s goals, both can have benefits. There are also smaller labels who offer intimate, localised benefits and bridge the gap between being an independent artist and selling their soul to bigger labels.
Some artists have taken to creating their own record labels, using their expertise to aid artists that they believe in, often fruitfully producing confident bands and musicians who wouldn’t have interest from major labels. Ex-Maccabees member Felix White founded Yala Records who now host artists such as Willie J Healey and The Magic Gang. White is able to foster bands and artists in the UK who offer an alternative sound to that fostered by major labels.
Leeds’ own Clue Records is an independent DIY record label which is the product of founder Scott Lewis
Local labels also have a big part to play in local music scenes, often the birthplaces of popular music and raging subcultures. Leeds’ own Clue Records is an independent DIY record label which is the product of founder Scott Lewis. The main ethos of the label is to promote artists and music they love; Van Houten, a dreamy indie band on the label, have said that they wouldn’t be where they are without the label. The local benefits of getting gigs to play and networking with other bands is a mass benefit to being on any label, especially a close-knit, local one.
However, due to the rise of internet accessibility and bedroom-pop, many artists have taken to uploading their music online without the burden of a label, be it major or independent. Rapper No Name, having previously collaborated with Chance the Rapper and Mick Jenkins, released their first album online in 2016 as a free music download which rapidly gained success. No Name is a critic of the state of the world, discussing gentrification, her experiences as a black woman and defunding US policing. It’s possible that No Name’s decision to release ‘Telefone’ online was a conscious push against the industry. It showed that it’s possible for artists to have autonomy and be entirely separate from any kind of record label.
Smaller labels offer a nice in-between whereby music is fostered by people who are passionate about the music and not necessarily about making profit
In light of Taylor Swift’s decision to re-record her music, being an independent artist may be feasible for artists who are uninterested in the cliche of making it big or make music for political or personal reasons. However, smaller labels offer a nice in-between whereby music is fostered by people who are passionate about the music and not necessarily about making profit. When Raye came out to say that she had been prevented from releasing previous versions of albums she wished to release, it’s hard to see any benefit to major record labels. However, they do have connections that smaller record labels and individual artists simply don’t have. Nevertheless, No Name’s free online release shows that an artist can still be massively successful without such restrictive management.
The music industry is built on various record labels, producers and forms of making music from the bottom to the top. With so many publishing options today, what is the best route to success for upcoming artists? It depends on how each artist defines their success, be it musical endeavours, fame, or playing a certain size venue.
Being an independent artist or being signed to a smaller label may be more rewarding musically
The options available from being an independent artist or signed to an independent or major record label are varied and artists really can pick and choose. Whilst being signed to a major record label holds a certain gravitas and a specific parameter of success, being an independent artist or being signed to a smaller label may be more rewarding musically – whether or not an artist defines their success by those parameters is more questionable.
In-article image 1 courtesy of @raye via instagram.com. No changes were made to this image.
In-article image 2 courtesy of @cluerecords via instagram.com. No changes were made to this image.
In-article image 3 courtesy of @taylorswift via instagram.com. No changes were made to this image.
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