Internet helps the rise of independent artists


Story by Snera Riley, NewsNetNebraska

It used to be musicians “made it” when they signed their first major record deal.

Getting into the studio and working with the “it” producer.
Selling thousands of albums. Grammy Awards.
World Tour. Screaming fans.


In 2012, major record labels are on a decline in global shares and, according to Music & Copyright, they’re only going to continue to go down. Independent artists and independent labels are on the rise.

Before going any further, it’s important to understand what an independent artist is in comparison to a “signed” artist. As defined by, an independent artist is a “self-governing, self-reliant, has no dependence or loyalty to a particular organization, and does not rely on others for support, care, or funds.” These artists are not fronted money to assist in their music release, which is the opposite of “signed” artists, who are fronted money and support to produce their albums.

In the 1990s, Universal, Warner Brothers, Columbia Records, and Sony were a few of the monster label powerhouses pumping out artists and groups like Public Enemy, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Backstreet Boys, and Britney Spears. It was the collaboration of record labels, big-name producers, radio and television that shot artists to world fame.

Now with the accessibility of the Internet and the popularity of streaming music, fans can obtain music faster and, in most cases, have access to music for free.

John W. Richmond, Ph.D., professor and director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Music , said “(Social media) is enabling them (the musicians) to make different choices, because before there was social media there really wasn’t another option.”

Youtube opened the door for teen icon Justin Bieber. Before he signed with Usher, he was just another unknown, Youtube singer uploading videos so his family could see him perform. Although Bieber originated as an independent artist, he did sign with a label opting for the backing of an organization to help support him in his music.

But even with the success of Bieber, Richmond said it’s difficult for independent musicians to be heard over the thousands who are out in the world.

“It’s not clear how one becomes the next Justin Bieber,” Richmond said. “Figuring that out is a big challenge not only for our (student musicians), but for everybody.”

What does all of this mean to the regular music consumer?

For the consumer it doesn’t mean much. They will still be able to purchase and listen to music in more ways, whether it’s on CD, mp3, or video. It’s the artist that is being affected particularly in how to get their music to their listeners and how they will afford to get it to them.

“(Artists)could print LPs or CDs and sell them out of the trunk of (their) car,” Richmond said. “But today most consumers of music are not interested in CDs. They’re really interested in direct downloads.”

In 2011, independent artists that were streaming on Spotify grew to .001 cent in revenue paid in the United States, which in years prior did not have earnings high enough to create readable statistics. Compare that to a “signed” artist on Spotify for a No. 1 album the revenue paid was .005 cent (royalties not included in these statistics). Yes, artists who sign with major record labels still have an advantage, but not for long.

Independent artists who stream their music are, for the most part, cutting out the middle man, which means they are keeping more of the money. But only the future will tell if bypassing labels for success is profitable.