Independent record label
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The boundaries between major and independent labels, and the definitions of each, differ from commentator to commentator. In practice, however, the traditional definition of a 'major' record label is one that owns its own distribution channel. Some independent record labels, in particular those with successful performing artists, sign dual-release agreements (and make other deals) with major labels and may rely to some extent on international licensing deals, distribution agreements, and other arrangements with major record labels. Major labels may also wholly or partially acquire independent labels.
According to Association of Independent Music (AIM) "(...) A "major" is defined in AIM's constitution as a multinational company which (together with the companies in its group) has more than 5% of the world market(s) for the sale of records and/or music videos. The majors are (currently) Sony BMG, Warner, EMI, and the Universal Music Group (which incorporates Polygram).(...) If a major owns 50% or less of the total shares in your company, you would not (usually) be owned or controlled by that major. In that case, you can join AIM."
Independent labels have a long history of signalling developments in popular music, stretching back to the post-war period in the United States. Disputes with major labels about publishing led to a proliferation of labels specializing in country, jazz, and blues. Sun Records played an important part in the development of Rock 'n' roll as well as country, with artists such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Charlie Rich. The independent labels usually aimed their releases at a small but devoted audience, not relying on mass sales for success, giving artists much more scope for experimentation and artistic freedom.
In the United Kingdom during the 1950s and 1960s, the major record companies EMI, Philips, and Decca had so much power that independent labels struggled to become established. Several British producers launched independent labels as outlets for their work including Joe Meek (Triumph), Andrew Oldham (Immediate), and Larry Page (Page One). Chrysalis Records, launched by Chris Wright and Terry Ellis, was perhaps the most successful from that era, and continued to expand. Several major rock stars set up their own independent labels - The Beatles with Apple Records, The Rolling Stones with Rolling Stones Records, and Elton John with Rocket, but they generally failed as commercial ventures or were swallowed up by the majors.
The punk rock era brought about a turning point for independent labels, the do-it-yourself ethos of the time seeing the emergence of a plethora of independent labels. In the US, independent labels such as Beserkely also found success with artists such as The Modern Lovers. Many of the UK labels ended up signing distribution deals with major labels to remain viable, but others retained their independence, and the factor that came to define independent labels was distrubution, which had to be independent of the majors for records to be included in the UK Indie Chart, which was first compiled in 1980. The term 'indie' and the chart itself was unrelated to a specific genre of music, and the chart featured a diverse range of music, from punk to reggae, to MOR and mainstream pop, including several hits from the likes of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan on the PWL label. The late 1970s had seen the establishment of independent distribution companies such as Pinnacle and Spartan, giving independent labels an effective means of distribution without involving the majors. The situation improved further with the establishment of 'The Cartel', as association of companies such as Rough Trade Records, Backs Records, and Red Rhino, who helped to take releases from small labels and get them into the shops nationwide. The 'Indie Chart' became a major source of exposure for artists on indie labels, with the top ten singles regularly aired on the national television show The Chart Show. By the late 1980s, the major labels had identified an opportunity to break new acts via the indie chart, and began setting up subsidiary labels that were financed by the majors but distributed via the independent network, thereby being eligible for the chart. With the major labels effectively pushing the genuine indie labels out of the market, the independent chart became less significant in the early 1990s, with 'alternative' increasingly being used to describe artists, and 'indie' often used to describe a broad range of guitar-based rock and pop.
Independent labels and the RIAA
Starting with the widespread piracy lawsuits of the early-2000s, non-membership in the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) or its non-American counterparts is increasingly seen as a prerequisite for a label to be truly independent, although this view is not universal. Given the number of RIAA labels, this can be difficult unless one checks a database such as the RIAA Radar. In the US, independent record labels are represented by A2IM American Association of Independent Music, in the UK, by the Association of Independent Music, whilst in Australia they are represented by the.
Many independent labels have been wrongly listed as members of the RIAA on the RIAA's own website, and have fought for many years to have them removed from the site, most notably Fat Wreck Chords, Matador Records, and, to a lesser extent, Lookout! Records.