Major labels used to have a vice grip on the music industry. As recent as ten years ago, artists signing to a record label were a big deal because it provided mainstream exposure, a chance for their music to be heard on a global scale and, above all, a means to make a decent living for doing something they love.
These days, the majors have slowly lost their grip to independent labels, who are seemingly springing up more and more by the hour. For an artist, going the indie route allows him or her to maintain creative control and gain financially per unit sold. Also, thanks to the power of the Internet, spreading music across the world is just as easy as making lemonade.
But don’t get it twisted. While anybody can launch a label, it doesn’t necessarily translate into success. Not only is their an oversaturation of independent record companies, but music sales have been steadily declining over the years and developing a profitable brand in the music industry is becoming more difficult to execute.
With that said, here are the rock-solid independent labels who have a strong foundation and will continue to grow in the years ahead.
Fueled By Ramen
Founded in 1996 by John Janick and Less Than Jake drummer Vinnie Fiorello, Fueled By Ramen initially released a couple of 7-inch singles from the likes of Bigwig, The Hippos and The Impossibles.
But in 1998, they dropped Jimmy Eat World’s self-titled EP -- a five-track collection that lifted both the band and the label off the ground. Years later, they would go on to release material from Cute Is What We Aim For, Fall Out Boy, Yellowcard and The Academy Is.
Janick then formed Decaydance Records with FOB bassist Pete Wentz and, through Fueled By Ramen, dropped music from Cobra Starship, Gym Class Heroes, Panic! At The Disco, Paramore, and VersaEmerge. If Ramen has indeed fueled the label, then there must be something to this noodle snack because it has earned them more mainstream exposure than any other indie label on the planet within the past five years.
The music industry could be an intimidating business, but Fearless Records ain’t ever scared, yo’. Formed in 1994 by Bob Becker, this California-based indie label became a launch pad for pop punk and rock artists like The Aquabats, At the Drive-In, Sugarcult and Plain White T’s, whose 2005 single “Hey There Delilah” topped the Billboard Hot 100.
While Fearless still keeps it real with their rock representation in bands such as Mayday Parade, Go Radio and The Maine, they have also developed a versatile roster, which includes electro rockers Breathe Carolina, post-hardcore juggernauts Blessthefall and metalcore troupe The Word Alive.
Not only have they expanded their musical repertoire, but the independent record company also releases the Punk Goes … compilation series, where artists of different genres provide their own renditions of current hits from the worlds of pop, acoustic and even crunk. It’s already been stated that Fearless Records ain’t ever scared to diversify their roster, yo’, but embracing different sub genres has been key to their success.
P.O. Boxes are usually just a physical avenue for a college student to collect junk mail, but guitarist Brett Gurewitz used this as a way to launch Epitaph Records in 1980 and his primary motive at the time was to sell records from his punk rock band Bad Religion.
By the next decade, the indie label had started signing artists and dropped music from The Vandals, Pennywise, Rancid and NOFX. But when The Offspring released Smash through Epitaph, that’s when they began receiving mainstream notoriety. Incredibly, that album was certified platinum six times over and went on to sell over 11 million units -- an amazing feat for an independent record company.
Since then, Epitaph has worked with groups like From First To Last, The Bouncing Souls, The Circle Jerks, Atmosphere and Escape The Fate and currently, they are working with some of today’s biggest bands whom decided to leave the major labels behind – bands like New Found Glory, Story Of The Year and Weezer. And just to think, it all started with a P.O. Box.
Known as being the label that helped birth the grunge movement, Sub Pop Records was launched in 1986 with its earliest releases being the Sub Pop 100 compilation LP and Soundgarden’s Screaming Life EP.
Soon thereafter, the Seattle-based record company dropped efforts from Mudhoney, The Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, whose album Bleach would turn platinum. In later years, Sub Pop released records from a variety of alternative and indie rock groups including Modest Mouse, Sonic Youth, Bright Eyes and The Shins.
Currently, they are working with the likes of Flight Of The Choncords and The Postal Service. Sub Pop helped start a legit movement nearly twenty years ago and perhaps they still have the magic to re-ignite another musical revolution.
For more from Bear Frazer follow him on Twitter: @BearFrazer