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The pros and cons of being independent in the music industry

Well-known musical artist Kesha parted ways with her record label Kemosabe Records and management this past December after settling multiple lawsuits with the owner of her former label, Dr. Luke, which was settled out of court this past June.

An artist doesn't necessarily need a label to become famous or to get their music heard. Several artists are widely consumed today and are independent, such as Logic, who released his first album away from Def Jam Recordings, "College Park." Chance the Rapper is widely known as an independent rapper, even mentioning it in his lyrics on "No Problem" and many more. 

With that in mind, here are some pros and cons of being an independent artist versus a signed artist on a label.

It's sometimes hard to define what it truly means to be independent. However, with bands such as Radiohead, who've been in several major label contracts but also chose to self-release "In Rainbows," or Chance the Rapper, who never signed to a major label but signed a two-week exclusive streaming deal with Apple Music in 2017, there are some constraints. Now, it's hard to tell what's independent. Is it someone who makes music independently throughout their career, or does an independent also mean once being on a label but now creating a body of work independently?

Being an independent artist, especially in today's music world, is more complicated than it seems. Yet, independent artists make up nearly 40% of the global music industry, the highest since the early 1990s. With global streaming platforms such as Spotify catering to more diverse music, it's much easier for independent artists to become discoverable. 

While that's the case, Spotify will more likely cater to playlists sponsored, promoted, and curated in the interests of major labels. Being a significant artist requires you to juggle many hats, from logistics, creating and selling records and press, to the autonomy of creative expression and flexibility. You have to meet many demands.

As an independent, you don't have to meet these demands. With music software more accessible than ever to the general public, it's easy for people to make at-home studios and start producing their music. Funding programs like Kickstarter and Patreon make it easier than ever to finance a music career.

While creating independently offers lots of freedom, being independent has many downsides. You're missing out on comprehensive visibility. Labels have the infrastructure for worldwide distribution, increasing the potential for international exposure and revenue, along with professional expertise that can guide artists through various aspects of their careers and support financially for marketing and touring internal and external connections.

Labels also have a budget, a comprehensive professional team and status and reputation. Those things can be achieved as an independent artist, but they are much more complicated than when sharing a standard label. 

While touring is funded through the label with massive budgets, if you're independent, touring is all on you. The artist's dime and ability is to book shows. You'll most likely start in your region and play at small venues, which, due to the pandemic shutdown, limit shows. That also makes independent artists bear more responsibilities than with a label or with a group.

The meaning of being an independent artist comes down to what the artist visualizes for their music. If you control the various works you put out, including all the marketing and budgeting, that artist would be independent. However, signing with a music label will sign over your rights to the music you create and a percentage of your royalties. With the growth of streaming platforms and easier access to music recording software, we're seeing more independent artists take the forefront and lead the future of music.


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