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Decoding Independent labels

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Artists, musicians in centuries gone by survived off the generosity and patronage of the rich and the noble. We are talking about independent labels or indie labels as they are called, where the folks are small on funds but big on art and heart. In the last few years, quite a few indie labels have emerged in India to build and widen the alternative music space. In the past, we did an article on 10 independent labels that are game-changers in the music industry and this one is to get an idea about how an indie label operates, how they manage the business side in terms of profits, distribution and more.

Get the gist 

In many ways, the internet has been invaluable for musicians around the world, but record labels do much more than releasing and distributing. Music Plus caught up with Juicebox Music (Bengaluru-based label) honcho Praveen Achary who started the label in 2012. Simplifying the process Praveen told us that essentially, the label’s primary role is to represent the artist’s music (as a whole) and make sure it is distributed to all the necessary digital or physical outlets. But, in this day and age, anyone with access to the internet can actually do everything on their own (even without a record label) to ‘release’ their music. However, the expectation of a label comes in for their expertise, direction as well as ‘reach’ that the artist themselves may not have. “With years of data for analysis as well as good contacts in the respective ‘sound’, the label can have an influence over the positioning of the artist’s music in the industry, thus giving it a bigger boost from the get-go,” declared Praveen.

At the same time, Madhav Shorey who runs Qilla Records (A Delhi-based label, started in 2012) almost said the same thing that the internet has made a lot of things simpler and more efficient over the years. “It’s quite convenient to be able to run the label sitting in any corner of the world. We’re primarily an underground dance music imprint; so we release music that works for our sound and vision and put out timely releases in the format of EP’s, compilations and remixes. We also manage a few artists from our own roster, host production workshops and program for clubs and music festivals,” told us Madhav.

It’s also naive to say that major labels are corrupt while Indies are good, however, the two models are completely different and the reasons for running these two types of labels are also worlds apart. They all have different methodologies of how they handle their business, some are quite basic while others may have a 360 degree deal with the artist in which the label invests into the artist’s product and career then gets their return through the sales/shows and utilising the artist’s profile. It could work for some artists but could be monumentally disastrous as well. Indie-labels tend to have fewer collaterals though.

Talking about the reach of an artist, we asked both a pertinent question, how important is it to have a fan base before approaching a label or being approached by one? Responding to that Qilla chief Madhav told, “We’re not concerned with an artists’ previous releases, social media following or any of those things. If the music sounds good and we like it, we’ll put it out.” Likewise, Juicebox’s Praveen told us, having an existing fan-base could tilt the label’s decision to sign your music towards a more positive result because they don’t have to start from scratch, in terms of promotions.“The A&R’s of labels is to scout for new talent and music, which is the most important part. Having a fan-base is not necessary, but it definitely does help. Leaving the fan-base aside, to be relevant & be on a label that ‘gets you’ means that the artist & label have to be on the same vision,” continued he.

Money talks

Asking, on how challenging it is to maintain the balance between wanting to do/release music it identifies with and maximising profits, we got to know that there isn’t a great margin with underground music labels like them since it is such a niche, not just in India but even globally. Also, taking risks is a part of the process and there aren’t any real shortcuts to success. “I do feel like labels shouldn’t compromise the overall vision/identity in order to make sales happen, instead try to work within the sound and find the right artists (from time-to-time) to invest in that may bring bigger returns,” Achary put in plain words.

Varun Gupta of Amplify Times (Started in 2016 March) gave us the clear picture of revenues saying that there are hardly any profits in non-film music as of now. It is an investment indie label owners are making for a better era in music. “I am happy we are not a part of commercial music or remixes or recreations and still are working on Original content, folk and Sufi content, to keep the quality of music alive. The idea is to bring back the era of 90’s so that our country music i.e Folk and Sufi get global recognition like other worldwide languages,” stated Varun.

Distribution made easy

Agreeing to the fact that nowadays, YouTube, SoundCloud, and other platforms have helped in reinventing the distribution business,  it has also reduced the demand for physical copies, Madhav said he doesn’t see that as a threat because physical music is also often not made via sustainable practices and can lead to large amounts of dead stock which is a far bigger loss than digital sales. “On the other hand vinyl has made a very big revival so I’m glad that side of physical music is alive and kicking, added he.

Similarly, according to Praveen, streaming is definitely the future and will be the primary form of music consumption for the general masses. As for DJ’s, they’re still looking to have copies (physical or digital) that they could hold on to so they could play it out without the need of an internet connection. “Physical copies are still sought after by music connoisseurs, hence the rise of vinyl sales in general,” stated he.

Amplify Times still focuses more on audio streaming distribution than YouTube or video platforms in this era. “Every single artist is presenting millions of views, running fake campaigns and buying out YouTube views. We are happy that we are growing slowly and our music is getting recognition. If you have a good audio content, we at Amplify will take it to right places for maximum reach. Like other labels, we do not charge anything for release to the artist unless and until an artist is looking for a specific plan and a big campaign. In just a short period of time, we have released 1200+ artists with more than 500+ releases worldwide,” Varun signed off.

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