February 4, 2014


Indie Labels in a Major Label World

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Mike Sniper remembers when he first decided to start his own label. "I had a band that was releasing records through various labels, and I decided I could just do this myself."  In 2008, he founded Captured Tracks in Brooklyn.  "And over the course of the last five years, it's just grown to the point where I could say we're probably the lowest of the big indies and the biggest of the small indies."

And Sniper's not alone.  Halfway across the country, Travis O'Guin runs an indie label called Strange Music, which he started with Tech N9ne in Kansas City.  "It came from an idea back in 2000. Our goal was to sell 50 to 100,000 records and then go get that big check like Cash Money and No Limit did," O'Guin says.  Instead, they built, "the biggest independent hip hop label in the world."

Indies currently have a 35% market share, which is larger than any of the three majors.

There are currently hundreds of independent labels in the United States, ranging from iconic companies like Seattle's Sub Pop to Matador in New York City.  Over the last decade, the influence of indie labels has only grown, with the success of artists like Macklemore & Ryan LewisPhoenix, andArmin van Buuren.  Indies currently have a 35% market share, which is larger than what any of the three majors (Sony, Warner, and Universal Music Group) can claim.

For people inside the indie world, it's easy to see the appeal.  "The benefits of having an indie is having control and you have a closeness with the bands that major labels don't necessarily have. I honestly do consider every band on the label a friend," says Katie Garcia, the label manager at Captured Tracks.  "We do Mac DeMarco.  We do Beach Fossils, who's my fiancée, coincidentally."

Jerod Harris/WireImage
Jerod Harris/WireImage

At Captured Tracks, they keep everything in the family.  Mac DeMarco says that Sniper has been known to give him massages, and Mac will be playing at Katie's wedding.  And the spirit of camaraderie certainly runs deep. "My goals for our artists is hopefully live off and just be able to create, and play," says Sniper.  "I have this small team here.  They're just trying to sell your records for you, and they like it."

For some indie labels, staying small is a matter of pride.  O'Guin says, "In the entire 13 years that Strange Music has existed, we've only signed a total of 12 acts. So we're not out there trying to sign everybody and throw it against the wall and see if it'll stick."

Still, there are drawbacks of not being on a major.  Those companies have deep pockets, which give them more ways to market their artists.  But bigger isn't necessarily better, says Garcia.  "I think that indie labels are really good at knowing who to talk to, and knowing who their target audiences are, and how to reach those audiences.  I think that social media, as cheesy as that sounds, has played a huge part in that.  I think that our label specifically has a really strong voice in social media, and I think that people respond well to that."

And according to Garcia, the future looks promising for indies. "We're going to rule the world," she says.

- Segment produced by Matt Paco
- Article written by Alan Noah