Music Op-Ed: Why Go Indie?

Written by Kevin Bessey
Chief Music Writer
Originally posted on IndieEntertainmentMagazine.com

As a writer for a magazine that highlights independent artists and work, I thought it would be important to distinguish why an artist would choose to go Indie and what benefits that decision has.

First, indie means independent.

This means that some portion of the process was independent of a major record label. Which sometimes can look like this: the recording process is independent or the distribution process was independent.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis record and produce their albums independent of a major label. That’s how they distributed The Heist. Even though he was a “rap entrepreneur who built his own business,” he used Warner Music Group to distribute his album.

Brand New on the other hand went “pure” indie. They independently recorded, produced, and distributed Science Fiction.

Second, ‘sounding indie’ is the same as making the decision to release an album in an independent fashion.

When the band Fun. released their hit album Some Nights they were labeled as Indie Rock on my computer. But, the album was recorded, produced, and distributed through Fueled By Ramen which is owned by Warner Music Group, who are one of the big three record labels.

So why make the decision to stay independent of a label?

Some do it because they feel that labels can be controlling and some stay independent to maintain their share of profits.

‘Signing’ with a label involves signing an actual contract. Signing a contract may entail an artist giving away certain creative rights and it always means giving away some of the money. Some artists do not like to give away money.

Jared Leto released a documentary entitled Artifact which examines how damaging the relationship between a band and its record label can be.

Being completely independent can mean a big payday. Brand New sold over 50,000 copies of Science Fiction in the first week of release.

At a price of $10 an album, that is the equivalent of $500,000 in revenue split between five members (including their producer) for just the album release. That doesn’t account for merchandise and ticket sales.

On the other hand, a signed band that receives ten percent in royalties (which is a pretty high percentage of royalties), would have to sell 500,000 records or record equivalents to have an equally independent payout and return. The project would have to be certified gold.

So one might be reading this and think, “Okay Kevin that sounds great but how does this compete and compute with popular mainstream artist like Taylor Swift?”

Brand New can’t touch Taylor Swift’s numbers.

Taylor Swift had the highest grossing North American Tour and is one of the highest paid artists of all time.

But, Taylor Swift is signed to Big Machine Records which is a truly independent record company with a major record label distribution source. . . so. . . in the end, being independent from a business decision perspective can really pay off.

Make smart business decisions!