How To

What is Indie Music?

Photograph of the blog post author, Holly Iles

Holly Iles

21.1.2019

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If you’re an indie artist wanting to make your way in the music scene, first of all, its best to understand what is indie music, then consider these three questions: 

1. What kind of artist do you want to be?

2. How far do you want to go?

3. Do you need help or can you do it yourself?

It’s worth discussing these points from the start, a clear direction and objective will focus your approach and hopefully lead to your success. The answers to each of these questions will ultimately bring you to the decision of Indie vs major commercial record labels; which is right for you?

In this article we’re going to break it down; what is indie music and what is involved in self-releasing? Here is a step-by-step guide to making it as an indie artist.

So what is indie music exactly?

Well, the term indie is just short for independent. 

Arcade Fire, used to be an indie band and now signed to … you guessed it, a major label! 

Quite simply, it’s music that’s produced by a DIY artist, or on an independent label, without the traditional resources of a major label. 

Indie music can be harder to define in terms of genre as usually, indie music artists pull inspiration from a variety of influences.

recording studio set up Inide music artists

Indie vs. Major

Majors are the old dogs of the business, they’ve been operating for over half a century and have produced some of the most successful artists of all time. They have a lot of power and influence; they often operate with their own distribution companies and can offer significant financial backing to artists. 

Majors are global companies, and generally more commercially motivated. The Warner Music Group, Sony Music Group and The Universal Music Group are widely known as the three major labels worldwide. Major labels tend to produce popular music that is radio-friendly.

Indies are the new dogs, firmly established in the music world after years of commercial success. However, they are far more savvy in terms of adapting to changing cultural climates. Indie labels can’t offer the same financial assistance or large-scale opportunities that the majors can, but the focus is on the music. 

They offer more nurturing guidance for their artists than the majors, leaving creative freedom with the artist. In the past, indie labels have been key players in the evolution of alternative music sub-cultural movements such as punk and grunge. Many indie music genres are exceedingly popular with many indie-pop artists and indie rock artists doing really well. Even in our ones to watch for 2019, there was a clear majority of indie artists over those signed to a major label. If you’re looking for fresh cool indie music or some new independent music songs, that would be a good place to start.

How to choose?

If you’re not sure which label to target, have a look at who your main influences are signed to. That’s always a great place to start.

It’s still possible to have a successful career as an artist by working with an indie label, or even without a label. There are a number of DIY artists out there who are changing their scenes and succeeding for all their hard work without outside help. Chance the Rapper is infamously known for being an independent artist, as is Lady Leshurr from Birmingham.

Each side has its pros and cons; majors take away most of the business and legal responsibilities for the artist. Indie means more work but gives you more freedom and can sometimes be more profitable for the artist. It’s worth evaluating both sides to establish which avenue is best for you.

Here is some advice for getting your music out into the world if you want to go indie.

Music Collaboration Empowering creatives music gateway

Collaborating with Indie Artists or Indie Bands

As an independent music artist, collaborations with other indie music bands or artists can be highly advantageous. Playing live shows is crucial to getting your name known within your local scene. 

Hooking up with other local indie artists, even if their sound varies from your own, can greatly increase your chances of success. Collaborating on gigs works in their favour too, each of you gains exposure from the other’s fan base and increases your ticket revenue. 

You can read more about the advantages of collaboration and how to collaborate here.

If you’re an indie artist producing your own music without the help of a professional producer, co-production can be an easy way to help elevate your sound. By bringing in an outside artist to co-produce your music, you can harness their experience and ideas. 

They can provide unbiased feedback that may give your finished tracks the polish and edge they need. Remixing with producers of a different genre can be great, as it exposes your music to a whole new demographic.

If you’re not ready to give away some of the creative power or the rights to your music, you can scale it down. Collaborative videos such as covers can be posted to social media and create a buzz that excites your combined audiences. More buzz, more exposure for you both.

Indie music band practice

Distribution as an indie artist

This can be one of the hardest elements for an indie artist, it’s not easy to do it on your own. Music distribution is the process of getting music from the artist, to the consumer via stores or streaming services. If you’re on a major label, the label will take care of this process and will pay you your royalties.

As an indie artist, it’s most likely you’ll work with a distribution company to get your music out into the public sphere. 

This isn’t an independent record label aka record companies; they will press your CDs and get them into stores, as well as uploading your music to digital platforms. You still remain an independent artist and retain the rights to your music. 

Distributors do the leg work for you and collect your royalties. You pay them for their services and they pay you when your music is purchased or streamed. If you’re just starting out in today’s music market, you might just want your music on streaming sites like Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, iTunes and more. 

In this case, you’ll want to look into an aggregator. This can be companies such as DistroKid, Tunecore or something similar.

sync Licensing your music in film, tv

Licensing your music

Here we enter into legal territory, it might not be the most exciting element of making music but it’s crucial to get it right. Licensing ensures that any contributor to a piece of music is paid for their work whenever and wherever it is used.

Licensing comes in two parts, the composition rights and master rights. The composition rights relate to the lyrics and composition, the master rights refer to the recording, the track. If you’re an independent artist, chances are you wrote your music and performed on your track by yourself. In this case, all the rights remain with you. It’s also possible that you collaborated with someone on the lyrics, recording etc.

In that case, you and the contributing party need to have a discussion on how you’re going to split the rights. If you’d like to learn and understand more about how this works, check out our guide here.

As an indie artist, there are two options; represent your music yourself, do all of the work and keep 100% of the royalties. Or you employ a music publisher who does the work for you, and you split the royalties. Music publishers are well practised in the legal side of music circulation. 

They have key contacts in their arsenal and will be able to project the reach of your music. If you want to get your music into TV or a film, a music publisher will greatly increase your chances. It will also save you a lot of time and research.

As always, you should make this decision according to your goals as an artist. It’s important to choose a publisher that can provide the service you’re looking for, then draw up a contract to split the royalties.

Indie artist playing piano

Promoting your music

The artist development and promotion team at Music Gateway offer years of experience, high profile contacts and a personalised approach to each and every artist they represent. Yes, as an indie artist you can connect with your fans via social media free of charge, but social media isn’t the be-all and end-all. Services such as:

– Radio plugging

– TV promotion

– Spotify playlist promotion

– DSP promotion

– Youtube & Vevo video promotion

– Digital press & online radio

It’s these methods that are really going to propel your music further. When releasing new music you should always have a strategy. Seek help from the experts who have proven successes in this area. 

Placements such as Spotify playlists are highly competitive and incredibly difficult to achieve on your own. Music Gateway has already established relationships with these platforms. 

Music Gateway can get your music heard by the right people, who will, in turn, get your music heard by a flock of new fans. You’ve worked hard to get your music out into the world, shout about it in the right way.

Music Promotion Artist Development

So, where does that leave you?

It’s a lot to consider, the most important part of all of this is of course you. Seriously think about who you are as an artist. Go back to those three questions at the beginning and it will help determine the best course of action for you.

Indie artists have been rising for years now, and an indie approach is commonly seen as the most empowering avenue for artists who want to retain their creative freedom. You may need help along the way, but there are plenty of options out there that don’t require you to hand over everything to a major label. One of those options is actually something slightly different: label services. Label services can help you distribute, license and promote your music without having to sign with any labels! Find out more here: Label Services.

If youre an indie artist interested in promotional assistance, get in touch with Music Gateway to discuss the possibilities.

If you’re not yet a Music Gateway member, what are you waiting for? Sign up here today and get a free 14-day trial!

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