Going independent

Most of us don’t have to choose between going with a major record label and going independent. Most of us are indie by default. That, it turns out, is not a bad thing.

The majors, as we keep hearing in the press, are doing terrible these days. But every time you hear a statistic about music sales being down, it’s always about the major record labels, who make up the old guard, the mainstream music industry. By contrast, independent labels are doing better than ever and the press is starting to cover us.

Here are a few interesting numbers I ran across. First, how much do you think it costs to get a song played on the radio in the U.S.? What, you didn’t realize you have to buy your way in? Better go back to the Songwriter’s Tip Jar issue #53 and read about payola.

One figure I read was $300,000 US to get one song played on the radio. Another source said it’s more like $400,000 – 500,000 per song.

Or how about paying $20,000 a month to get your CD in a listening station at a record store? No wonder major record labels are losing money so fast. And no wonder they try to recoup all that money from their artists.

From an article in the Christian Science Monitor by Lynne Margolis:

When rock critic and author Dave Marsh spoke on a panel at South By Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, he pronounced bigger-label contracts a bad deal for artists from Day 1, ‘because of unequal leverage.’

Independent labels tend to stay away from radio, music videos and the like, for obvious reasons. Instead they use live performances and the internet to spread the word and sell product. Many indie artists are able to make a living selling CDs and T-shirts at gigs. The overhead is so much lower.

I heard a story on public radio about the annual International Folk Alliance convention. They interviewed several people, including Arlo Guthrie. And the message was the same: while major labels and the mainstream music industry may be outdated and going down, independent artists and labels may be pointing the way of the future.

One thing Arlo Guthrie mentioned was that, when he was with a major label, they would sell him his own records back, so he could sell them at gigs. Needless to say, the price was quite high. Now as an indie, he can sell his CDs at gigs and make a reasonable profit.

Controlling your own destiny and making a profit – the promise of indie.


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3 Responses to “Going independent”

  1. Nathan Says:

    Everyone knows if you’re an independent the only place to go is 101d.com

  2. Jeff Says:

    Great blog! Just found it and will be subscribing to it and sharing it with my readers as well.

    Thanks for the good info!


  3. engineroominsights Says:

    Just discovered your blog….good to see you’re motivating your fellow artists, sharing everything from music to knowledge nowadays is the only way forward.

    While the record business might be suffering the music business isn’t. The power has shifted firmly to the artist. Why did people sign to majors in the first place?………..recording costs and distribution. You don’t need them for either now, and even then the money they loaned you they would try and claw back every cent and have you pay for everything.

    I spent 30 years in the music industry, mostly as a plugger, did some management and had my own radio show for 12 years. It was so very different back then ,promoting artists in the way I wanted to and being left alone to champion whatever artists I wanted.

    I’m fairly new to blogging but saw it as an opportunity to share some stories and experiences with others too, but from the other side and letting people see the lessons that can learned.

    Payola dates back to the 50’s with the great DJ Alan Freed who sadly got sucked in to it all but still was instrumental in generating fever pitch excitement for rock and roll. Radio was very different before he came along ( no I wasn’t a listener !!!)

    You’ve given me enough ideas to go away and write some more! Keep up the good work and as I work around all the buttons on here I’ll point people your way…. still a bit techo lacking but slowly getting there…

    all the best


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