The Limits of Being an Independent Artist

You can look at the limits of being an independent artist from one of two perspectives.

The first perspective is all about being fierce with your independence and not accepting any collaboration with a record label (who will split the revenue with you) or even a PR agency. These are usually underground artists who take an oppositional stance towards the industry and spend little time looking for a distribution deal or record label for their music.  

The second perspective is much more pragmatic. It takes looking at the industry from a much broader perspective to realize that you need a team to help you get anywhere. Manager, booking agent, electronic music marketing agencies, perhaps an independent label – all these positions are a necessity to monetizing your music, and they all involve giving up some independence.

So which perspective is right for you? It’s all comes down to how you define ‘independence.’

The Myth of Independence

It appears that many excellent artists are held back because of their resistance to collaborate with managers and independent labels. The myth of independence usually runs something like this:

  • The internet has made it easy for me to reach fans, all I have to do is find them
  • Since I made the music, no one else should have legal ownership over it
  • All I need to do is keep posting to Soundcloud and Spotify and eventually the masses will find me

Part of this fierce independence comes from the bad reputation of the music industry. It only takes a few horror stories to turn artists against it: that one awful record label contract your friend signed, or a greedy manager offering to make you big for 50% of your catalogue are just two of many examples that paint the industry in poor light from an artistic standpoint. But hey, just because someone as smart as Leonard Cohen had a bad manager does not mean it will happen to you!

The problem with the myth of independence is that it is not sustainable. Nor is it even really that true. Tons of artists have signed contracts with record labels and retained their creative independence in the process. It might be the case that a band signing on to a five record album deal is compromising their creative freedom, but such offerings are few and far between these days. Finding trust in people with something as personal as your own music is undoubtedly difficult, but always worth it.

Get the Best of Both Worlds

Having a healthy dose of independence in your craft is important. But so is collaboration! The only route to success is through honest collaboration between you (the artist) and the various outlets open to you in the industry. Even an electronic music DJ who appears to be doing it all themselves has a management team to take care of PR and marketing relationships. The longer you spend in the industry the more you realize that fiercely independent artists are missing out on tons of great opportunities because they are worried about creative compromise. It’s worth remembering too that the music industry is tremendously innovative and there may already be record labels of the future for the fiercely-independent among us.

The Final Word

At the end of the day, working with a manager who you trust and a record label pushing your music in stores and on the radio is not compromising your creative work. In fact, it’s doing the opposite – it is augmenting your work and making it possible for you to continue creating!

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