According to National Public Radio (NPR), independent artists make up roughly 40% of the music industry, globally. The highest share of the market since the early 90s. There are several definitions, concepts and misconceptions about who an independent artist is, however, one underlying constant is, independent artists are not signed to major record labels.
Popularized in the early 80s where a group or artist recorded a two-sided single and distributed them through small record shops or sold them at the entrance hall or waiting room of gigs and events. Independent artists are free spirits, go-getters, rebels, innovators, entrepreneurs, daring and very hands-on. They churn out a considerable amount of their personal money as investments into their career.
Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) such as FL Studio, Cubase and Logic Pro have birthed several independent artists – giving them the opportunity to create beats and make hits without having to leave the comfort of their bedroom or break the bank to purchase studio equipment worth millions of Naira.
Digital Streaming Platforms (DSPs) like Apple Music, Spotify, Audiomack and Boomplay have encouraged independence amongst musicians by reducing the barrier of entry and increasing the mediums to getting heard. With DIY provisions made on streaming platforms, artists can upload new music themselves, pitch for good placements and if the music is that good, it makes it to the active playlists and possibly gets banners, carousels and features that improve chances of the record being exposed to an interested audience.
Social media is another powerful instrument independent artists use to amplify their voice so they get heard by a record label and a deal put on the table, or to simply build a fan base and possibly a cult following over time.
In the past, physical music stores placed more priority on big artists signed to major labels and little shelf space was given to independent artists, as there is a space limit on what the shelves can accommodate. However still, the benefits and disadvantages of being an independent artist can be spotted, especially when placed side by side with a singed act, backed by a major label. Whether an artist chooses to remain independent or to sign to a record company, there is a price to pay;
For the unsigned/independent artist, a large chunk if not all of the profits made from shows, licensing, streams, music sales, merch sales and other revenue sources belongs to the artist. This profit can only exist after the independent artist must have had to personally raise the required funds for production, mastering, distribution, marketing, merchandise, touring, and other costly expenses which most independent artists cannot afford, but a record label can, and in return takes a sizable percentage cut of the profits made.
Ownership and Control
Independent artists own their masters and have creative control over their music. They have the freedom to negotiate music licensing and publishing deals without worrying much about confusing contracts, expensive lawyers, and signing over their music rights. They also have full control over distribution, marketing, artwork, messaging, deadlines, and more. The freedom to execute their creative vision at their own pace sometimes leads independent artists to make good yet uncommercial music.
In terms of network, reputation and overall influence, independent artists are often caught playing catch up to their signed counterparts who are backed by major labels. Many record labels, especially major labels have well-established influence and connections in the music industry. They are better positioned to secure licensing and publishing deals, shows at larger venues and festivals, media coverage, radio plays, and other opportunities.
To conclude there is no good or bad, just what the artist seeks to achieve. Based on that knowledge, the artists’ approach can be tailored towards independence or collaboration with a record label.