One of the biggest decisions emerging artists will have to make is whether to remain independent or sign a deal with a record label. On the one hand, doing things on your own gives you full control over your creative projects, your schedule, your artwork, and so on, while also ensuring that you don’t have to share royalties with anyone else for the use of your work. On the other hand, building a successful music career can be incredibly stressful without support from a manager, a publisher, or a label, and it requires a lot of time, effort, and last but not least, capital.
Signing a deal with an independent record label could strike a comfortable balance for emerging musicians. You get to benefit from the label’s financial marketing resources, their network of industry connections, while still retaining control over your creative vision. Compared to major labels, indie record labels might not offer a hefty advance upfront, but they’ll help you kickstart your music career without giving up your creative freedom.
If that sounds like a good plan for you and your career, we want to make life easier for you and save you some research time, by recommending 10 indie record labels that we think are worth partnering with. These labels will help you expand your skills as a musician, find your target audience, nurture connections with other musicians and professionals in the industry, and unlock plenty of career opportunities and paths that might not be available to you as a fully independent artist going at it alone.
An independent record label based in Los Angeles, 10k Projects was founded in 2016 by Elliot Grainge. They describe themselves as ‘a community of artists, music enthusiasts, and purveyors of culture bound by an unflinching conviction that commercial success need not come at the cost of artistic integrity.’ They represent artists like Aitch, Between Friends, Coin, Noah Guy, and Natalie Jane, among many others, and they also run 10k Together, a division of the label that supports social justice causes and empowers diverse artists. As of late 2019, artists signed with 10k Projects had received 18 gold and 8 platinum or multi-platinum singles.
A modern and independent record and publishing group for artists and songwriters, APG is spearheaded by CEO and Founder Mike Caren and represents artists like Odetari and Lay Bankz. They also represent and manage producers like Connor McDonough, Danny Wolf, or Go Grizzly, as well as songwriters like ARIZONA, Ava Max, or Ben Johnson. If you’re interested in joining the APG family, Izzy Elefant, Head of Streaming at the label, can offer valuable guidance and advice right on the Xposure Music platform.
A full-service indie record label, publishing and creative agency, and A&R service partnering with Maverick and Live Nation, Jarjour is another excellent destination for independent artists looking to kickstart their music careers. Founded by Nick Jarjour, the label represents artists like Starrah, a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who’s worked with the likes of Drake and Rihanna, and emerging talent Trinidad, among others. Their focus is mainly on pop, dance/electronic, rock, and hip-hop/rap, so if your genre fits in there, you might feel right at home at Jarjour.
Ghostly International was created by San Valenti IV in 1998 and has since signed artists like Matthew Dear, Tobacco, Emeralds, Brijean, Com Truise, and more. Based in Detroit, Michigan, the label has grown from focusing on experimental and electronic music to representing visual artists, designers, and musicians, and gradually expanding their catalog of artists and genres. Over the years, Ghostly has also collaborated with various global brands on different creative and artistic projects, including Warby Parker, Vans, and Carhartt.
Founded in 2006, Young (previously Young Turks) is best known for representing FKA Twigs, The xx, Sampha, Jessie Ware, Jamie xx, and SBTRKT. Launched in London as a subsidiary of XL Recordings, Young has expanded into a separate, successful independent label that has a stellar reputation in the music industry. Their focus isn’t only on music, they also host radio shows and industry events. In fact, each release by the label is a major event in itself, as they are usually more spread-out to give each artist their rightful time in the spotlight.
Originally established in 1999 in New York City, Carpark Records is now headquartered in Washington, D.C., and is one of the most well-regarded indie labels in the country at the moment. Their main focus is on experimental, electronic, and psychedelic artists, as well as alternative rock and indie, having signed artists such as Young Magic, Sonic Boom, Chelsea Jade, and Safety Scissors, among many others. They also have two subsidiary labels that they manage, Paw Tracks and Acute Records.
Founded in 2007, Glassnote is a relatively ‘young’ record label, but they’ve managed to launch some major artists like Childish Gambino and Mumford & Sons since their inception. They’re mainly focused on representing alternative, hip-hop, and indie rock artists, and they’ve stayed true to these roots. Rolling Stone Magazine dubbed Glassnote the Best Indie Label, while Billboard placed them on their list of Independent Labels at #1.
Fat Possum has a long-standing reputation in the independent music business, best known for signing and promoting local blues artists in Mississippi since 1992. Over the years, the label has expanded its area of expertise to include diverse artists in other genres, eventually helping launch big names like The Black Keys, Hoops, The Districts, Spiritualized, and Youth Lagoon, among others.
A veteran indie label founded in 1976, Rough Trade has signed some major artists, like The Strokes, Warpaint, Arcade Fire, Belle & Sebastian, and Mazzy Star, among many others. Before the label took shape, Rough Trade was a popular record store located in West London, focusing on reggae and rock music and spearheaded by Geoff Travis. They soon began to help artists record and promote their music, finally expanding into a fully-fledged indie record label. Decades later, Rough Trade is still one of the most sought-after labels by independent and emerging artists.
Launched as an offshoot of Universal Music Group in 1959, Island Records remains one of the most sought-after and highly regarded independent record labels. Years down the line, Island Records eventually merged with Def Jam Records, while continuing to cater to their Jamaican roots. However, the label has expanded their focus over the years to represent and promote diverse talents, from Bob Marley, Annie Lennox, Bon Jovi, and The Killers, to Demi Lovato, Florence + The Machine, and Shawn Mendes, to name just a few.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are indie labels better?
The question of whether indie labels are "better" is subjective and depends on individual perspectives and goals. Indie labels often offer artists more creative freedom and personalized attention, fostering a closer artist-label relationship. They can be a platform for diverse and experimental music that might not fit within the mainstream. However, major labels provide significant resources, wider distribution, and extensive marketing capabilities that can propel artists to global recognition. Ultimately, what's "better" depends on the artist's priorities—whether it's artistic autonomy and niche appeal or broad visibility and commercial success.
How do indie labels work?
Indie labels, short for independent labels, operate independently of major record label conglomerates. They typically focus on niche markets, diverse genres, and emerging artists. Indie labels work by discovering, signing, and supporting artists throughout the music production and distribution process. They often offer artists more creative control and flexibility in exchange for a smaller scale of resources compared to major labels. Indie labels handle tasks like recording, marketing, and distribution, aiming to nurture unique voices and musical styles. While they may not have the financial might of major labels, indie labels thrive on cultivating a close-knit relationship with their artists and tapping into more specialized audiences.
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If you’re looking to kickstart your music career but have limited resources, we can help you get funding for your next project while staying in control of your own work and career trajectory. You keep 100% ownership of your masters and get an advance ranging from $1,000 to $3 million to get your career off the ground. Get an estimate now and start turning your dream into reality.