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Record Label Analysis: Indies v Majors

The question of which path to follow when you're looking for a record deal-- to go with an independent label or pursue a major-- is not so much a matter of direction, but one of identity. Forget about checking out the roadmap for a minute and take a good look at yourself in the rearview mirror. This is all about who you are, what you want to be, and where you want to go. The map comes later. To continue the driving metaphor, the label you choose is like a highway service station: it will help you get to your destination, but you've got to select the brand, decide how long you're willing to wait for service, and what you're willing to pay-- in time and talent, not money.
History And Background
Overview Before we hit the highway together, let your engine idle while we review a little pop culture history. Independent labels are not a recent phenomenon in the music biz. The evolution of pop, rock and roll, and R&B depended upon independent thinkers, passionate music fans, and madmen with limited cash flow who had stumbled upon something they found utterly compelling and that had the indefinable magic to reach millions. Among the legendary indies of half a century ago were Sun in Memphis, Chess in Chicago, Specialty in L.A., Atlantic in New York City, and King in Cincinnati. Major labels were often subsidiaries of manufacturers who wanted to control both the hardware (phonographs/record players) and the software (vinyl records) of the music business. The majors shadowed the indie innovators -- snapping up labels, signing (or poaching) artists, and putting their own acts into the studio to create more polished (or diluted) versions of indie hits. In many cases, a great R&B tune performed by an African-American artist was turned into smooth pop fodder for a white teen sensation. It was Elvis, bless his hips, who borrowed liberally from R&B but left in all the grit and sex. More recently, however, "indie" has come to define an alternative culture, sensibility, and sound. Indie indicated something left of center, conspicuously lacking the sheen of high-priced production, definitely raw and hopefully honest. Punk was the progenitor of indie rock, new wave was punk's more lighthearted companion, and they both led to the '90s indie-to-major success stories of grunge and alternative rock.
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