An independent label (indie) is just one option to a major label. Indies come in all shapes and sizes and can offer a less stressful, more personalized fit for wider creative palettes. Indie labels range from established genre leaders to garage operations. Financial support, promotional and marketing support, and distribution capabilities vary from indie to indie.
Independent labels also have closer, more casual relationships with their artists and are generally more approachable. Bands are encouraged to call and develop relationships with label personnel. The criteria for indie labels are as mandated as that of major labels, but use a different priority system based on similar musical tastes or kindred lifestyles. Because there is less monetary investment, the stakes are not as high and often the reward is more immediately tangible. Independent labels that cater to a specific audience can be successful, money-making operations with proportionally higher payoffs to the artist than a major label.
Conversely, the staffs and resources are smaller, so more of the work is dependent on the effort you are willing to make on your own behalf. As an indie artist, you are competing with better-funded, better-staffed companies for the same newspaper review space, the same record store bins, the same radio time, the same Internet audience, and the same live fan base.
DIY (Do It Yourself ) projects are another alternative to a major label. Rising in popularity, these are CDs released by the artists themselves, or tours promoted by the artists themselves. The artist is responsible for recording, manufacturing, artwork, distribution, sales, promotion, publicity, and marketing costs in their entirety. The return is immediate. Middlemen are kept to a minimum or eliminated. You have total control in defining the scope and possibilities of the project. By nature, DIY projects have smaller prerequisites for success. If you manufacture 1,000 CDs and sell those, you’ve sold out! If you sell 1,000 tickets, you’ve sold out! There is no obligation to succeed on someone else terms.
The disadvantages with DIY are that you are competing not only with major label resources but also with indie label credibility for that same newspaper review space, same record store bins, same radio time, same Internet audience, and same live fan base. However, certain niche genres of music makers, like touring jam bands, alternative college bands, punk bands, explicitly ### or lesbian groups, and electronica/dance acts, are busting the business open with their “take charge” business attitudes. Unwilling to give their business away to major labels, they are creating innovative Web sites that foster online communities of fan(atics), provide instant chat opportunities and insider band information, sell tickets, sell merchandise, and offer immediate concert downloads.
Without big mark-ups and huge promotional costs, these bands are finding they can service their fans respectfully and make a good living by touring six months out of the year. Bands like String Cheese Incident, STS9, Ani DiFranco, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters come to mind as good examples of DIY.
DIY is also an excellent way to get started, to learn the business from the ground up and get your feet wet in the actual business of the music business. It’s valuable for helping you discern your personal, evolving definition of career success. Then, when you have established yourself enough to have major labels become interested in you, your business model will be so well formed that you can negotiate with a businessperson’s mind instead of an artist’s mind.