Self- Reliant: What Does it Mean to be an Independent Artist?

By: Willem Kline

To be self reliant in the music business would usually be considered reputational suicide. As of recently, however, a certain collective of artists have reclaimed their musical personas in the hopes of abandoning the chains of a label. Nine Inch Nails and Chance the Rapper are two of the biggest artists that come to mind that have abandoned the idea of the music label in recent history.

But why, all of a sudden, this need for independence? What makes the label seem like such a paramount of horror in the music industry? Artists like Prince have spoken “how record labels turn artists into “indentured servitude,” since the artists have little control or insight over how labels take their music and profit off it online,” (Rolling Stone). This comes from the article, “Prince Warns Young Artists: Record Contracts Are ‘Slavery’” which was published by the Rolling Stone on August 9th of 2015. It was around this time that music services such as TIDAL and the virtual mixtapes started to make a rise. TIDAL: a controversial streaming service at first announcement, but now a widely accepted and highly praised music streaming service, acts as a  high fidelity streaming service that sends its profits directly to the musicians responsible for maintaining it.

But perhaps there is something more to being an independent artist than just uploading your music and profiting from it. Perhaps there is a sense of freedom in providing your art to those who can’t afford it; or better yet providing your art simply to anyone and everyone who would ever wish to take a gander. Artists like Death Grips and Chance the Rapper have been doing this successfully for the last 5 years of their career. With uploads that almost exclusively either show up in .zip files or Soundcloud playlists, the artists have been able to make their money based on either concert revenue or solid donations. And perhaps not complete and total independence isn’t the way to go, sometimes the independent label can be a wonderful thing. Artists like Childish Gambino, Sufjan Stevens, Frank Ocean, Mac Demarco, Run the Jewels, and countless others have been making their living on labels like: Mass Appeal, STN MTN, Captured Tracks, Asthmatic Kitty, and many more.

The independent artist shows that there is much more to the development of music than signing your way of life away to a big budget company like Capitol or SONY. And that doesn’t mean that every big budget artist is incapable of making good music, or is throwing away the soul and essence of their music. Daft Punk and Kendrick Lamar have been signed on major labels for a few years now and they’ve both been nominated for Album of the Year. “Random Access Memories” ended up taking it home just a few years ago. Either way, there’s more to music than simply becoming apart of a big label. Take some time in your decision, get involved with websites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, MixtapeMonkey, or even YouTube to get your music out in some way or form. At this point I’ll even accept a MySpace music upload. Do whatever it takes to let your spirit shine, just make sure you make the correct choice in the process. As always, I’m your campus music nerd, Willem Kline. Need a recommendation? Follow me on Spotify where I hold my great music library. Or follow me on instagram where I post my song of the day. Stay jammin, Illinois College!

Willem Kline, from Belvidere, Illinois is a first year student here at Illinois College, pursuing a double major in English and Theatre with an undecided minor. Willem is a newbie to The Rambler roster, a member of the IC Wind Ensemble, and avid pursuer and connoisseur of anything artsy-fartsy.

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