Remember when Metro Boomin went off on Atlantic’s APG branch? He claimed that industry bullshit drove him to start his own label, Boominati Records. And, used the occasion to shed some light on the issue of major labels taking advantage of young artists, songwriters, and producers.
In the current landscape of music, when internet and the fans have the real control, the backing of a major label is becoming less and less necessary for artists.
For a lot of artists, being completely independent, or signing to intimate, independent labels is just as useful for both their music and their business.
Indie labels provide a hands on approach for their artists, offering the perfect environment for young artists to thrive.
Here are 10 of the dopest indie labels in the game, all employing different strategies on how to maneuver in the music industry today.
Notable artists: FKA Twigs, The xx, Jamie XX, Sampha, Kamasi Washington, SBTRKT
With one of the best rosters of musical talent pushing the envelope out of the UK and beyond, Young Turks has positioned itself at the forefront of indie labels.
Fostering a specific sound coming out of London, genre-defying music exemplified by FKA Twigs, Jamie XX, and Sampha, Young Turks is synonymous with this experimental sound and genre.
Founded in 2006, it was the release of The xx’s debut album xx in 2009, which won the Mercury Prize for best album out of the UK and Ireland, that saw Young Turks reach a new level of exposure.
Now, they’re influencing a massive portion of UK music, signing some of the most interesting talents out of London and beyond (they pulled a major coup with recent signing Kamasi Washington).
With Sampha winning this year’s Mercury Prize, it’s clear that Young Turks knows how to find ’em.
Notable artists: Toro Y Moi, Beach House, Cloud Nothings, Speedy Ortiz
Carpark Records, the Washington D.C.-based label, doesn’t have the most expansive roster, but they’ve hit indie gold multiple times. With Toro Y Moi, aka Chaz Bear, on deckington, Carpark has a legitimate star on their books.
The two-piece dream pop band Beach House isn’t too far behind Chaz in terms of stature. Cloud Nothings are on the up and Speedy Ortiz’s 2015 album Foil Deer was one of the best releases of the year.
Carpark is the perfect example that it’s not about quantity when it comes to indie labels, you just need to find the right artists.
Notable artists: Adele, Radiohead, M.I.A., The White Sripes, Beck, Gil Scott-Heron, The Prodigy, King Krule, Ibeyi, Vampire Weekend
The London-based XL Recordings, originally formed as a subset of the larger label Beggars Group back in 1989, may be the most successful indie label in history.
I mean, Radiohead, Adele, M.I.A., The White Stripes, The Prodigy, King Krule, and Vampire Weekend are all acts that any major label would want to get their hands on.
Luckily, XL has grabbed them up, giving young artists the perfect environment to foster their creativity. And while they can rely on a catalog featuring decades old hits, recent releases like King Krule’s The OOZ and Ibeyi’s Ash are some of the most engrossing indie records in a very long time.
XL has been on the cutting edge of indie music for decades, and showing no signs of slowing down.
Notable artists: Mac DeMarco, DIIV, Wild Nothing, (past Beach Fossils and Perfect Pussy)
Brooklyn-based Captured Tracks has found success by identifying a specific sound and working with artists that naturally go together.
With indie darlings Mac DeMarco, DIIV, and Wild Nothing (and ex-members Beach Fossils, Dum Dum Girls, and Perfect Pussy) Captured Tracks basically just markets any new project to an already established fan base.
Captured Tracks is also very out here in the Brooklyn music community, with a brick and mortar store in Greenpoint. At the store you can trade used cassettes and records and just generally geek out on a wild collection of music.
Notable artists: The Strokes, Arcade Fire, Violent Femmes, The Libertines, The Smiths
Rough Trade began as founder Geoff Travis’ local London record store. As Travis promoted and distributed punk and shoegaze bands around London, slowly he got into management and to the top of the indie label world in the the 1980s.
Issues with distribution and music industry politics led to bankruptcy and the label folded. But in the 1990s, Rough Trade was resurrected and propelled to success once again off the back of acts like Butthole Surfers, The Libertines, and eventually The Strokes and Arcade Fire.
Rough Trade has seen it all over the years, which probably explains their knack for continuing to find talent at the cutting edge.
Boy Better Know
Notable artists: Skepta, JME, Wiley, J Hus, Mabel, Drake (?)
Started by by the Adenuga brothers (better known as JME and Skepta) the North London Boy Better Know label has been at the forefront of the grime movement since the label’s inception in 2005.
Similar to Captured Tracks, in that the BBK label has an established fan base that will fuck with any and all artist on the label, BBK has a truly cohesive sound.
With Skepta and JME heading the label, they’ve found numerous young emcees in grime, including well-established veterans like Wiley and the budding star J Hus. They’ve also signed the young artist Mabel, who is blowing up on the UK R&B scene.
Drake claimed that he was signed to BBK back in 2016, it’s unclear if that’s actually the case.
Domino Recording Company
Notable artists: Blood Orange, Arctic Monkey, The Kills, Buzzcocks, Dirty Projectors, Panda Bear, (Sandy) Alex G
Domino Records has trafficked in English post-punk circles since their founding in 1993, recruiting Buzzcocks, The Kills, Franz Ferdinand, and Arctic Monkeys over the years, but they’ve also shown an impressive recognition to find other artists at the cutting edge.
Blood Orange, Dirty Projectors, Panda Bear, and (Sandy) Alex G are some of the best active American indie artists and Domino has shown that genre and geography are no barrier when it comes to signing new artists.
Notable artists: Shlomo, RL Grime, Groundislava Ryan Hemsworth
WEDIDIT specializes in experimental electronic music, exemplified by artists Shlomo and RL Grime. WEDIDIT is especially notable in the way they use their small but fire roster of producers to release dope projects.
Tory Lanez released his Cruel Intentions mixtape in February 2015 in collaboration with WEDIDIT featuring production exclusively from the label’s roster. And in the same year, Shlomo and R&B artist Jeremih released a collaborative EP No More, it’s lit.
WEDIDIT is sort of the quintessential 2017 indie record label, using their roster of producers making experimental electronic music to reach into other buckets, both in terms of genre and revenue streams.
Notable artists: Ta-Ku, Goldlink, Esta, Sango
Started by Joe Kay and Andre Power in 2011, Soulection, which functions both as an indie record label and radio station, is grounded in alternative dance music and alternative soul, but shines on a light on all good music coming from the underground.
Soulection is more of a collective than a record label, establishing a community of music and art lovers on the West Coast who can come together and listen to dope ass music at the innumerable events that Soulection curates.
Joe Kay and co. are doing some of the coolest shit of any indie label in the game, with great playlists and mixes, a roster of singular artists, and constant worldwide tours and events focused around the Soulection community.
Notable artists: Wavves, So Stressed, Cloud Nothings
Wavves frontman Nathan Williams started his own label Ghost Ramp after years of getting worked over by his major record label Warner Bros. Williams said during the rollout for this year’s Wavves album You’re Welcome that his experience at Warner Bros. was horrifyingly bad,
“I’d never come in contact with such a poorly run company in my life. It was anarchy. Nobody knew what they were doing. Turnover rate was like an American Apparel. It was really all cons—unless you’re a cash cow. For everyone else, major labels can’t help you. Maybe at one time they could, but that time is dead.”
Ghost Ramp has a cool and expanding roster of artists, releasing collaborative projects with Cloud Nothings and Best Coast along with Williams. They’re also doing video game soundtracks.
In 2017, as the music industry continues to evolve, indie labels have to think outside the box to get the bread.