At the beginning of the 1950s, the record companies in the USA were called "major labels", which in addition to record production also had the pressing facilities and controlled the distribution of the records themselves. All other record companies were referred to as "independent labels". Since the 1960s, the meaning of major labels has changed and denotes the record companies with the greatest sales success. The less profitable labels that are not owned by the major labels are referred to as "independent". The term gained popularity through the independent charts published weekly in Great Britain since January 19, 1980 .
The term "independent label" (= independent record company) is misleading, since the small and medium-sized record companies usually do not have their own distribution networks, so that they are often dependent on cooperation with the major labels. Independence refers solely to the legal and largely also economic independence from the large media groups.
The 1930s and 1940s
Independent labels have been around since record production began. According to expert estimates, around 400 independent labels were founded in the USA in the 1940s, of which almost 100 survived by 1952. A number of independent record labels, which were founded in the second half of the 1940s, went before the rise of rock ' n 'Roll broke. A well-known example is Bullet Records , founded in 1946 by Jim Bulleit in Nashville . The company put the focus of its production to the pop sector and had with Near You by Francis Craig 1947 a number-one hit, the next single from Craig Beg Your Pardon early 1948 reached a top ten ranking.
The second area in which Bullet Records was active was the "Race" market, as it was officially called at the time and was later renamed R&B . A total of fifty R&B singles have been released by the company, including recordings by Wynonie Harris and BB King , but apart from these two performers, there were no other successes in the R&B market. Many of the later successful country singers and musicians started their careers with Bullet Records, such as Chet Atkins , Bradley Kincaid , Pee Wee King , Smiley Burnette , Leon Payne , Ken Curtis and The York Brothers . After the initial success in the pop music market, Bullet tried to stabilize the success by signing well-known pop singers, but no single played the guaranteed amount promised to the singers. Only the single Rag Mop by Johnnie Lee Wills made it into the top ten again in 1950. In 1953 Bullet Records went bankrupt.
The pre-rock 'n' roll era 1950 to 1955
By 1950 there were six major labels in the United States: Columbia Records , RCA Records , Decca Records , Capitol Records , MGM Records, and Mercury Records . These companies dominated the record market: of the 105 top 20 hits of 1951, these companies accounted for 103. In contrast, there were around a hundred independent labels that had specialized in submarkets because they could not compete with the majors nationwide due to a lack of sales networks. Around 1950 it became clear that large quantities of records could also be sold in these sub-markets, for example in the R&B sector. B. Savoy Records 500,000 copies of the single The Hucklebuck and Atlantic Records about 250,000 records from Stick McGhees Drinkin 'Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee . Sales in the country area were lower, but showed that this area could also be financially attractive for indenpendent labels, for example King Records sold 250,000 copies of Wayne Raney's Why Don't You Haul off and Love Me and of the single Blues Stay Away from Me by the Delmore Brothers 120,000 copies in six weeks.
The situation of the independent labels at the beginning of the 1950s can be characterized as follows: Their promotion possibilities were very limited, as were the possibilities of record sales, usually the catchment area of a label was limited to a certain region. The labels had relatively few artists under contract, often only for a short time, sometimes only for one or two singles. The production of singles was - for cost reasons - the focus of company policy, the companies were usually specialized in a sub-market and largely left the pop market to the major labels.
New York City was a regional focus of the independent labels . The crisis during and shortly after the Second World War had survived National Records and the labels Savoy Records and Apollo Records , founded in 1942 . In 1948 Jubilee Records and Atlantic Records were founded with the later sub-labels Atco and Cat. Atlantic became one of the most important labels for R&B and later for soul . In the early to mid-1950s, numerous new record companies were launched in New York, but they hardly achieved any national importance: 1953 Robin Records , 1955 Old Town Records , Baton Records and Melba Records , and in 1956 Winley Records was added. In Cincinnati / Ohio there was the King Records label, founded in 1945 by Sydney Nathan , which mainly specialized in R&B and country.
The Chicago- based label Chess Records , founded in 1947 by the brothers Leonard and Phil Chess, initially specialized in R&B, but became significant for popularization from the mid-1950s along with its sub-labels Checker Records and Argo Records of rock 'n' roll - with artists such as Dale Hawkins , Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry , among others . - With Vee-Jay Records , which was founded in 1953 by Vivian Carter and James Bracken, Chicago had a second label relevant to the development of R&B and rock music , on which artists such as Jimmy Reed , John Lee Hooker , Jerry Butler , Dee Clark and The Spaniels released.
The most famous independent record company next to Atlantic was Sun Records . The company was founded in 1953 by Sam Phillips in Memphis and its interpreters have included Elvis Presley , Jerry Lee Lewis , Carl Perkins , Johnny Cash , Roy Orbison , Little Junior Parker , Little Milton and Rufus Thomas . Her sub-label Phillips International has released records by Charlie Rich , Bill Justis and Carl Mann and others. The style of music produced by Sun, a hybrid of country and R&B, was called rockabilly , which - as some music historians believe - the purest form of rock 'n' roll. In 1954, the independent labels largely dominated the R&B market: 23 of the 30 R&B top hits of the year came from the independent labels, with Atlantic contributing 11 of the top hits.
The independent labels in the rock 'n' roll era 1956–1963
With the advent of rock 'n' roll, the share of independent labels in record sales grew rapidly. This was due, on the one hand, to the fact that the labels specializing in the R&B market had the performers under contract whose music was now in demand, e.g. Fats Domino from Imperial or Chuck Berry from Chess, but on the other hand, it was also because the major labels hardly played in were able to react quickly to changing musical tastes; RCA's contract with Elvis Presley is one of the exceptions.
The phase of the mergers 1964–1973
While it has been common practice since the end of the 1950s for larger and more financially strong independent labels to buy up weaker competitors, from 1964 onwards the more important independent labels came under the merger pressure of the major labels, which had the financial means due to their group structure to expand their market share by buying up independent labels.
The 1970s and 1980s
The term is often associated with the labels that emerged from an anarchist punk idea and that emerged in the late 1970s . They were a conscious rejection of the politics and aesthetics of the big record companies and were also directly related to the DIY attitude in the punk scene. In Germany, the EfA sales organization was founded in 1982 to coordinate the activities of these labels. One of the most famous labels in Germany from this time was Zick Zack . From this rejection, a global trend grew in the punk-oriented rock scene.
A typical example of this process is the British label Rough Trade Records , which developed from a record store to the leading European indie label of the 1980s. On the US side , the label SST , founded by members of the hardcore band Black Flag , whose greatest success from today's perspective is that it was one of the first labels to sign grunge pioneers such as Soundgarden , is comparable . One of the better known German independent labels is L'age d'or .
The 1990s and 2000s
At the beginning of the 1990s, the major labels had managed to adapt to the new musical developments - the highlight of this development is the success of Nirvanas Nevermind , originally published by the then independent Sub Pop label and later taken over by the major sub-label Geffen Records . Alternative became a trademark. Smaller, more flexible sub-labels of the majors were founded and independent labels like Sub Pop were bought up. Many independent labels entered into various forms of cooperation with the majors, mainly for economic reasons. Many also lost their political motivation over time. 1994 appeared with The Offspring Smash in Epitaph Records , the recordings sold around 16 million, previously best-selling independent album.
In the 2000s and in the wake of the crisis in the music industry , independent labels were able to occupy more economic niches again as the majors concentrated more on their core competence, the production of mainstream stars. A far more pragmatic reason for an artist's decision to sign with an independent label is not to be signed to a major label because it does not appear to be selling enough. In addition, the small labels have always been able to react more flexibly to new trends and developments in the music scene such as techno . Particularly with the emergence of new musical styles, a rapidly increasing number of independent labels has always been observed.
Label policy from the 1980s
Independent labels are mostly smaller companies that try to occupy niches that are economically uninteresting for major labels. Independent labels, for example, often concentrate on a few specific music genres outside the so-called mainstream. Especially in the late 1970s and 1980s, these independent labels saw themselves as an alternative to the oligopoly of the major labels EMI , Sony BMG , Universal Music Group , Warner Music Group and their subsidiaries. These major labels have a reputation for being purely profit-oriented and working against the interests of both musicians and fans.
In contrast, it is typical for independent labels that they build artists over a certain period of time and are also personally convinced of them. In return, they make lower sales that are not comparable to those of the majors and are exposed to greater economic uncertainty. For example, it can put an end to an independent company if an artist that it has built and with whom one hopes to make money switches to a major or a sales company goes bankrupt. Jazz musicians in particular, such as Charles Mingus , who founded the Debut Records label together with Max Roach in 1952 , have tried since the 1950s to determine the means of production themselves (cf.for Europe, e.g. Instant Composers Pool (since 1967) and Free Music Production (since 1969)).
- Götz Alsmann: Nothing but noise. The Independent Record Companies and the Development of American Popular Music 1943–1963 . Huba, Drensteinfurt 1985, ISBN 3-9800414-9-2 .
- John Broven: Record Makers And Breakers. Voices Of The Independent Rock 'n' Roll Pioneers . University Of Illinois Press, Chicago / Illinois 2010, ISBN 978-0-252-07727-2 .
- Steve Chapple, Reebee Garofalo: Who Owns Rock Music ? History and Politics of the Music Industry . German translation by Teja Schwaner, Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek near Hamburg 1980, ISBN 3-499-17313-1 .
- Charlie Gillett: The Sound Of The City. The history of rock music . German by Teja Schwaner, Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt / Main 1979, pp. 95–149.
Sources and Notes
- Tibor Kneif: Sachlexikon Rockmusik. Instruments, styles, techniques, industry and society . Reinbek near Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1978, p. 99
- Steve Chapple / Reebee Garofalo: Who Owns Rock Music ? History and Politics of the Music Industry . German by Teja Schwaner. Reinbek near Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag, 1980, p. 21.
- Wicke / Ziegenrücker / Ziegenrücker: Handbook of popular music . Mainz: Schott, 2007, p. 338.
- Steve Chapple / Reebee Garofalo: Who Owns Rock Music ? History and Politics of the Music Industry . German by Teja Schwaner. Reinbek near Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag, 1980, p. 37.
- When the company was founded, the year 1945 is often given, the order number Bullet 1001 for the single Near You suggests a later founding date: The single was first listed on the Billboard charts on August 30, 1947; see. Joel Whitburn: Top Pop Records 1940–1955 . Menomonee Falls / Wisconsin: Record Research Inc., 1973, p. 16.
- Götz Alsmann: Nothing but noise. The Independent Record Companies and the Development of American Popular Music 1943–1963 . Drensteinfurt: Huba, 1985, p. 74.
- Joel Whitburn: Top Pop Records 1940–1955 . Menomonee Falls / Wisconsin: Record Research Inc., 1973, p. 48.
- Steve Chapple / Reebee Garofalo: Who Owns Rock Music ? History and Politics of the Music Industry . German by Teja Schwaner. Reinbek near Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag, 1980, pp. 21–24
- Own count based on Joel Whitburn: Top Pop Records 1940–1955 . Menomonee Falls / Wisconsin: Record Research, 1973
- Ed Ward: Declaration Of Independence . In: Ed Ward / Geoffrey Stokes / Ken Tucker: Rock Of Ages. The "Rolling Stone" History Of Rock & Roll . Introduction by Jann S. Wenner. Englewood Cliffs / New Jersey: Rolling Stone Press / Prentice-Hall Inc., 1986, p. 51
- Carl Belz: The Story Of Rock . New York / Evanston / San Francisco / London: Harper Colophon Books, Harper & Row, 1971, p. 21
- Charlie Gillett: The Sound Of The City. The history of rock music . German by Teja Schwaner. Frankfurt am Main, Verlag Zweiausendeins, 1979, pp. 96-108
- Charlie Gillett: The Sound Of The City. The history of rock music . German by Teja Schwaner. Frankfurt am Main, Verlag Zweiausendeins, 1979, pp. 109–111
- Charlie Gillett: The Sound Of The City. The history of rock music . German by Teja Schwaner. Frankfurt am Main, 1979, pp. 111-117
- Charlie Gillett: The Sound Of The City. The history of rock music . German by Teja Schwaner. Frankfurt am Main, 1979, pp. 117f
- on the early history of the label cf. Ed Ward: Sunrise In The South . In: Ed Ward / Geoffrey Stokes / Ken Tucker: Rock Of Ages. The "Rolling Stone" History Of Rock & Roll . Introduction by Jann S. Wenner. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Rolling Stone Press / Prentice-Hall Inc., 1986, pp. 72-82
- Charlie Gillett: The Sound Of The City. The history of rock music . German by Teja Schwaner. Frankfurt am Main, 1979, pp. 126-131
- Peter Guralnick: Rockabilly . In: Jim Miller (ed.): The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock & Roll . New York: Random House, 1976, p. 64, calls Rockabilly "the purest of all rock 'n' roll genres"
- Steve Chapple / Reebee Garofalo: Who Owns Rock Music ? History and Politics of the Music Industry . German by Teja Schwaner. Reinbek near Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag, 1980, p. 44
- Whenever I talk to a band who are about to sign with a major label, I always end up thinking of them in a particular context. I imagine a trench, about four feet wide and five feet deep, maybe sixty yards long, filled with runny, decaying shit. (Steve Albini)