The History of Indie Music

The History of Indie Music.

The indie music industry has been fairly static for a long time, but today, it faces its largest challenges to date, in the United States. Seems like a drastic change was long overdue for the sector, and is going to take place in the 21st century. I have written about this in my blog  Indie Music and the Internet.

Original Structure

Six major record labels essentially controlled promotion and distribution of recorded music for nearly sixty years. The music industry infrastructure stood as a dominant oligopoly while the system continued to support these companies, and revenues continued to be distributed unevenly, leaving artists disproportionately disadvantaged. Several musicians, including some well-known acts faded away or died because of not being given due benefit for the distribution and sale of their work, while only some were able to reach financial success through recordings. As I have written in my blog The Evolution of Indie Music, historically (in the 1960s), Indie music used to be defined as something that was not published by the big four players in music publishing, namely Universal, Sony, Warner, and EMI. However, growing and being noticed without the support of a label, in times when there was no internet, was difficult and therefore, most Indie bands of those days went unnoticed. Sometimes, local bands would come together to form a group of performers, each one different from the other. They even managed to become quite famous locally and are still remembered for the ‘different’ sound of their music and beats; but that’s as much as they could achieve without being associated with the major labels. As a result, majority of the artists’ income at that time used to come from concert ticket sales, while labels reaped benefit from the sale of recorded music.

To make matters worse, those looking to benefit from music, created complexities by tying down the economically inefficient distribution system. Recording a song meant spending months at a studio because studios were always pre-booked and seldom available at the artist’s convenience. The price of recording a song at a professional recording studio, with all the instruments and gear was so high that it was difficult for most indie artists to afford it. With the cost of promotion and distribution being so high, the indie artists and musicians were left with little choice but to sign on with labels. If this wasn’t enough, production, promotion and distribution costs were mostly paid for partially by the artists. When the money for their records was received by labels, this recording cost was paid back to the artist in the already small percentage of proceeds they received from the labels. For what seemed like a never-ending extended period, record labels have used their exclusive access to means of marketing, distribution and production, and their oligopoly position to control the industry and to reap the majority of benefits.

indie_music 9 Aug 16

Live Music

The original source of an indie musician and artist’s income in ancient times was through live performances. This significantly smaller segment of the industry has traditionally been lacking the stringent structure of recording, however, for a comprehensive understanding of the landscape, there are several common features of this segment that are worth discussing. Additionally, general trends in this structure better equip us to capture welfare effects for indie artists, since the majority of their revenue comes from concerts.

As we are already aware, the performer, talent agent, venue operator, personal manager and promoter are five major players profiting from the live music process. Performers work closest with their personal managers in developing an all-encompassing career strategy for themselves. Some managers are actually a part of a larger firm, while others support a local band independently, hoping to help them find mainstream success. In the early stages of an artist’s career, a personal manager offers constructive criticism on the artist or musician’s live performance and composition to help them obtain publishing agreements or record deals. A manager is generally believed to have a plan and vision for their band and he is consulted in most major decisions to maintain the vision throughout. The manager becomes an important person with expanded duties including public relations, if the artist or band becomes successful. He also becomes an important figure in deciding location, timing and venue-size for a concert, a tour or around the time of release of a new project. It is noteworthy that the personal managers receive 15-20% of the total gross earnings of the artist or band for their efforts.

I am going to write more about the role of Promoters in the career of indie artists and bands in my next blog. Please share your experiences in the comments section and I will add them to my future blogs.

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