Working in independent music distribution has always been a question of musical taste and artistic freedom for me, of more enthusiasm and creativity in music releases, mainstream autonomy and the support of a blossoming cultural underground. I started my professional ventures before I entered my twenties within Germany’s main music distributor at the time, a liberal conglomerate that had started out in the 80s by selling Dead Kennedy records out of the boot of a car – a spirit hard to beat.
Despite my personal reminiscence of a time that has shaped my personal path, even today there is still a certain romance associated with being “indie” in the music industry. It has not been stained with the replaceability of mainstream or general homogenisation. It has edges and corners, and this is exactly what makes is so irreplaceable.
There are many pros and cons of going “indie” or “major”, and I suppose it really comes down to your own ideals, preferences and goals you have in mind. Being signed with an Indie has the great advantage that you don’t ‘sell your soul’ by keeping the rights to your music – as cheesy at it sounds, this is a definite plus for the ones who like preserving their artform. You decide what happens with your music and what you would like to use it for, if availabilities are given. Don’t like it being used for a TV commercial that sucks – nobody can force you to do otherwise! Keeping the rights to your music is something you should never compromise on, unless you’re okay of doing so consciously for a specific reason, which might still remain incomprehensible to many.
Contracts that are artist-friendly and where you actually see a fair share of the profit coming in, larger royalty percentages, less complexity and generally more transparency of a deal that suits both, giving you the feeling of an equal relationship. That’s definitely another one going to the Indie camp.
Then there is the factor of motivation and driving force, and this is where the degree of idealism comes in: Indies often are filled with mad music aficionados, who are not in it for the money (as there simply is no money). In saying this there are numerous music enthusiasts proven to be working for major labels, but the whole dynamic of the ship is entirely different.
Indies aren’t really measured by the charts, rules and expectations of the masses, but more by their passion for music and the faith they put into it. Diversity and individualism are welcome and they most likely signed you because they love and believe in your music, and will hence make sure to promote and sell the whole story and not just the packaging. Leaving monetary values and the harnessing of exorbitant egos healthily positioned: secondary.
‘Fans aren’t necessarily good business people’ you might think, true by example, but nowadays nobody working in the music industry can afford anything less than professionalism anymore. People working for an Indie can pretty much claim experience in just about any job within the industry, as they have no other choice than doing it all in the first place. And doing it well in order to stay afloat.
Another thing I have enjoyed witnessing in these years was the way personal relationships were formed, which generally made a collaboration so much more enjoyable. At least in most cases. Although I cannot speak for all Indies out there, the ones I came across in my lifetime (and there were a few) cared for their artists and made sure to give it 150%. Due to the smaller size of an Indie you generally work one-to-one with your label or artist manager/rep and form a much better relationship than with somebody who pushes through several artists per day, often having to involve different departments along the way.
Certainly there are drawbacks of working with an Indie as well, two of the major ones being a lack of funds and power within the media circus. Smaller budgets don’t allow extravagant video shoots (or video shoots in general), cover stories in the Rolling Stone or visiting world stages. You might have to work the marketing machine a little yourself and even organise your touring schedule and artwork.
In exchange for artistic freedom and being treated fairly, this is most likely a small price to pay and something to consider when making your choice – unless you are happy to sell your artistic ventures for materialistic pleasures. Which is okay as well, if that’s your goal… live and let live.
What would you prefer?