Ladies, gentlemen: today (July 4) is the first-ever Independents Day, where one and all can celebrate all that independent record labels have done to enrich the lives of all who consider music as vital to their ongoing existence as the heartbeat that drives the blood about their bodies.
Released to mark the occasion is a double-disc album, featuring a wealth of popular groups covering songs by artists that have inspired them – British Sea Power doing Galaxie 500, The Cribs doing The Replacements, Maximo Park doing The Go-Betweens – and a selection of new artists, with new voices, as picked by disc one’s movers and shakers. Among the crop: Oceansize as picked by Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Thomas Tantrum as picked by The Futureheads, and Electricity In Our Homes as picked by The Charlatans.
Find out more about the album here, at the event’s official website.
DiS has always supported independent labels and musicians – every month we host special free-entry DiScover shows in London and Sheffield, and cover the very best emerging acts around, from home and abroad. With this in mind, we invited three of our favourite indies to comment on the notion of Independents Day, and on how they have continued to succeed in a marketplace dominated by The Big Four that make up the world’s major labels.
From Southern Records (website)
Having successfully operated on an independent level for 30 years (our first release, by CRASS, was in 1978!), Independents Day has a particular resonance for Southern.
I often joke with friends that I ‘fought the Punk Wars’ for all the kids who, in 2008, are able to record and release records from their bedroom. (Though I wasn't around when CRASS released their first records, personally I was really active in the early 1980s in America - when labels like Dischord, Alternative Tentacles, and Touch and Go were putting out their first releases.) It wasn't easy - getting the money together to go into a recording studio (no home computers back then!), finding a pressing plant that would work with you, and then finding a distributor who would sell your records and pay you. When stores started only accepting records with bar codes, that was a HUGE issue for a lot of small labels, getting registered and having access to bar code numbers when you're just running a label spare-time from your garage. All the little, everyday battles that had to be won to keep releasing records. This was only 25 years ago. I think people forget what the world was like before the internet and digital recording.
So, on Independents Day, I'd like it if people could spend some time considering what battles were fought and won in order to get us to 2008, where it's possible for pretty much any individual to record, release, distribute, and promote a record. The process has been democratised through technology, but also because there were labels that fought for the right to compete in the marketplace as an independent. In the UK it was labels like 4AD, Mute, Beggars Banquet, Rough Trade, Cooking Vinyl, and Southern who fought for independent charts and who financed independent distributors, because it was important to have the ability to trade without the interference or the patronage of major labels. I think the lines have become blurred between majors and indies, which on one hand is a good thing because it should be invisible - if bands on majors and indies have an equal chance of success, that is definitely a triumph. However I am concerned when I talk to bands and they don't seem to care if they are signed to a major or an indie - they don't necessarily appreciate the difference between being signed to EMI, which answers to its public shareholders, or Domino, which answers only to Lawrence Bell. I think it's a critical difference and one that a band would be foolish to underestimate. Everyone needs to understand what a huge difference, and a privilege, it is to be truly independent.
For Southern, I hope that we are as fiercely independent today as we were 30 years ago. New labels that we work with, like Upset The Rhythm, really give us a great hope for a bright independent future. It may be easier to run a label than it was in 1978, but for us it's still a struggle to maintain independent integrity in the global market. We're not giving up yet!
Words: Allison Schnackenberg
From FatCat (website)
We feel incredibly blessed to still be running FatCat records after 18 years in the business. Running the label is a real challenge, not only financially but also creatively. Particularly with results of technological changes and the state of the industry in the past couple of years, it's been a constant struggle to stay afloat and on top of things. We are on a constant learning curve - hopefully each year we work out ways to do things a little bit better and to stay ahead with changes.
Whilst we've grown considerably from where we started out with just two or three people doing everything ourselves from an office the size of a cupboard, and come to a point where we have to cover sizeable overheads, our focus remains on trying to keep that sense of excitement we first had and putting out music that we love and believe in, not in following some lame scene dreamt up by a music paper or in trying to only release things that we know will sell in large numbers. It's a balancing act between covering your bases financially and trying to push through new music that you believe should be heard; between working with artists who you feel are able to sell a decent amount of records and others that you know will not, but whom you love no less.
For us, being an independent also means standing up for yourself and staying true to your core beliefs and having some frame of ethics in the way you behave as a business, deal with people and represent your artists. It is a labour of love beyond any kind of financial reward. We're not in a position to get involved in bidding wars over signing an artist, and that's something we've never wanted to be involved with. We still listen and respond to every demo we get sent, and that's been where majority of our artists have been discovered. We are proud of our back catalogue and the nurturing, close bonds we've developed with most of our artists. We try and work with artists with a great sense of integrity and creativity and attempt to develop our label in the same way - running an independent label is a creative act of guardianship that you want to stand up in retrospect as a really strong body of work.
From Wichita (website)
Independence for me equates with passion, innovation and belligerence. The joys of not having a boss are often offset by the stress of having to pay the bills and knowing that your whole business stands or falls on your own personal taste in music…
For me though, ultimately I think the fact that 99.9 per cent of the universally acknowledged greatest artists of the last 30 years began life on independent labels provides the best proof that they are the lifeblood of the music business.
Words: Mark Bowen
DiScuss: What indie labels out there are genuinely taking the fight to the majors, and releasing records that light up your days like massive-sellers like Coldplay and their ilk can’t, quite? Is there that much of a difference in the way you personally perceive an indie label to operate compared to a major? Are you more a fan of an individual putting his or her reputation on the line to present an artist to the masses, or would you prefer to hide behind a marketing team? Beans, spill yours as Independents Day ticks by…