The Rise of Independent Music

Indie labels maximize control

which sold 10,000 copies.

“It was great to crack into the business and get the product out and not go through the label,” Bosko says. He sold those CDs at shows and to local record stores that supported indie artists. Jus Family also used the Northwest Alliance of Independent Labels, a Portland-based company known today as Pampelmoose, which provides services to indies such as online store development, Web design, and event planning.

Starting out, Bosko says he and Cool Nutz looked for the least expensive services—the studio was in his dorm room, and a friend at Kinko’s who knew his way around a computer designed the fliers. Bosko says with advances in technology, all an independent producer needs today is a decent laptop, which could run $700; start-up audio software; a decent mic; and speakers, which each cost about $500. “That would be powerful enough to record an entire album,” he says.

But now that Bosko is an in-demand producer, his monthly expenses, which include an assistant’s salary, the mortgage on his home—where his studio is located—studio upkeep, and travel, average about $20,000, he says. His annual salary, which depends on how well the records sell, ranges between $200,000 and $500,000. “I feel like I do pretty well. It’s competitive, and most producers aren’t doing as well as I am,” he says.

Bosko is also a singer-songwriter looking for a major record deal to promote his next CD, The Good Life Movement. He feels that his success as a producer will make it easier for him to sign with a record label. “It takes too much money to compete with the major artists. It makes more sense to let someone else invest in me,” he says.

Digital Ownership
Tamia, who owns the masters to her latest album, says she likes the freedom of making deals without the middle man. She’s worked with companies in Canada, South Africa, and Japan to sell her album. In addition to striking their own deals, indie artists also have a greater chance of success today because of the Internet.

eMusic.com is the world’s largest retailer of indie music and the second largest seller of digital music, after iTunes.com, according to Michael Azerrad, the site’s editor-in-chief. The company has relationships with nearly 20,000 indie record labels, Azerrad says. “We’re doing something right. We’re the foremost booster of independent music on the Web,” he says. “We support the labels, and the labels support the artists.” With limited shelf space in stores and the recent closing of Tower Records, independent artists rely on the Internet to sell their music, Azerrad says.

Tower Records was the company that really fostered independent music. But the problem with selling independent music at major retailers is that it is very niche. Few stores out there, except smaller mom-and-pop-stores, distribute hard-core independent music.

Azerrad says sites like his are picking up the slack. “We’re exposing artists who don’t have the financial backing to put out music. It levels the playing field [for] everybody.”

Don’t Get Burned
A bad production deal starts with a

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