Indie Label vs Major Label: which is best for you?

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For an independent band or musician, the recording industry can look like a daunting and unforgiving place. Caught between a lifelong dream of creating music and the harsh realities of finding the means, it can be difficult as a budding artist to decide on the best path to follow. The choices facing you are further complicated by the increasing influence that the Internet has over the music industry. For better or for worse,  the online market has redrawn traditional routes into music and revolutionised power structures within the industry.

But do not fear, for while the fleshy surface of the music industry may have changed, it still grows upon the same sturdy bones that is has done for decades. Ultimately, aspiring artists are faced with the same choices today that they were faced with at the dawn of modern music, namely – should I sign with an Indie or Major label? In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of signing with both types of label to help you make the best decision.
 

Indie Label

A record label is defined as Indie (or Independent) if it operates without the huge funding of major recording labels. Unlike major international labels who are big and rich enough to operate their own publishing, distributing and marketing companies, indie labels collaborate with other smaller companies to produce and sell music.
 

Pros:

  • Shared love of music – indie labels are smaller companies who pretty much have the freedom to sign whomever they like. “Like” is a key term here as in most cases an indie label will sign you because they like and believe in your music and your brand. A board of market research influenced directors is not pressuring them to find the next singing cash cow, so you’re more likely to retain creative control of your music.
     
  • More personal relationship – again, the smaller size of indie labels allows recording artists to gain more face-to-face time with their labels. Smaller roster sizes also means more time and effort is dedicated to their relatively small number of artists.
     
  • Friendlier deals – although this is not the case in all instances, artists singing contracts with independent labels tend to have more bargaining power, and therefore tend to sign more artist-friendly contracts.
     

Cons:

  • Money is tighter – while the smaller size of indie labels has its benefits (as mentioned above) it also has its drawbacks. The biggest of these, unsurprisingly, being its lack of funds. Indie labels can’t provide the financial support that major labels can. Although limiting, it doesn’t inhibit an artist’s success and often inspires promotional ingenuity and musical creativity.
     
  • Lesser influence – the intimacy of a small company is great for nurturing relationships within the label but can be problematic when looking outward. Small, indie labels have fewer strings to pull with press and industry influencers and therefore yield less power than well-connected major labels.
     
  • Can be messier – smaller companies, in any industry, typically consist of a more limited skill set. This increases the chances of mistakes, disorganisation and, things generally falling through the cracks. These all have greater ramifications in smaller companies, and also include personal disagreements and fallings out.
     

Major Label

A major record label is defined as a label that commands a high percentage of annual record sales, and can publish, distribute and market its own content. The current “Big 4” record labels are Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, EMI and Warner Music Group.
 

Pros:

  • Funding isn’t a problem – without question, the biggest advantage of signing with a major label is the support you can expect from their big budgets. From elaborate music videos to lavish tours, extravagant merchandise to massive distribution, major labels have the coffers to pick up the tab.
     
  • Greater influence – with a big company comes a big name and a big reputation. Major labels have been going for years and have a great deal of experience. You will have access to a greater network of industry connections and press contacts, which is advantageous for marketing and promotional purposes.
     
  • Quicker way to success – as mentioned above, major labels have greater access to resources, both financial and industrial. Their scale of operations generally means that a lot of their contracted artists experience a speedier rise to success. After all, the titans of major record labels have nurtured the vast majority of music sold today.
     

Cons:

  • More competitive – big labels have huge rosters of artists and are not afraid to overlook of even drop any who are underperforming. You will be competing for the attention of a label representative, which may leave you less time to focus on your music.
     
  • Less control – the profit-incentive will be a lot stronger in major labels, which is likely to be reflected in their contracts and level of control. Big record label contract tend to offer artists less royalties, rights and even creative control.
     
  • Money over music – as with the previous point, it’s important to remember that major labels are big money-making businesses, beholden to their shareholders and directors. The pressure to maximise profits is incessant. Artists signing to major labels quickly realise that not everyone in the music industry is there for the love of music.
     

In summary

Although the choice between an indie or major label is still the most common one facing aspiring artist today, new options are constantly emerging. Technology continues to level the playing field in the music industry. The knowledge, support and exposure that were once only accessible through major record labels are now only a few online clicks away. Artists can communicate, collaborate and learn from an ever-growing network of online resources. Whatever your decision, make sure it is the right one for you.
 

At Kore, we offer aspiring artists access to a modern and professional recording studio, equipped with a mixture of high-end and vintage gear. Our team of music production and mixing experts are on hand to share their knowledge and provide the friendliest service in town. Get in touch to arrange your tailored studio session.