Music Industry Prediction: Smaller Guns Do Greater Damage

small gun
small gun

I am not a gun guy.  I hear rappers talking about them all the time though.  Using the “gun talk” references from many rappers, I am going to make an analogy of sorts regarding the record industry.

If the Big 4 major labels (Universal Music Group, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group) were guns, they would be some sort of machine gun like a Tommy Gun or an assault rifle like an AK-47.  In this piece, I would like to use the Tommy Gun analogy as I feel like that is the best imagery of their current effectiveness.  Think about it – you’re watching a Prohibition-era movie with the bad guy slinging a Tommy Gun rapidly firing in the general direction of the police.  The bad guys hits a couple officers, but he rattles of 100 rounds and only 3 out of 20 die.  As this is a movie of course, the bad guys always lose eventually. It is a bit ineffective, if you ask me, much like the major labels today.
Now independent labels are handguns. The heavier the acts they carry, the higher caliber of the gun they use. They do not shoot as much, but in the hands of a marksman they can be deadly with fewer shots. Much like Eddie Murphy’s characters in the infamously hilarious scene in Harlem Nights.


Yep, much like that. Arsenio & Company are the major labels and Eddie Murphy is an indie label. In today’s music climate, the labels that will succeed are the ones that actually have a real connection with their consumer base. The major labels may have the luxury of having large amounts of capital to market their “products,” but their consumers tend of only know of the product not where it is derived. I doubt in a poll of 100 people could more than 3 people tell you what label the Black Eyed Peas were on; even though, they have the #1 single in the country. Heck, I actually care about that kind of stuff and I barely know.

You may not tend to care about labels, but you should when it comes to music. Here are a list of .22 caliber and even Glock 9mm pistols that are firing some deadly shots these days:

Rhymesayers Entertainment
Rhymesayers is the label that pays acts like Atmosphere, Blueprint (check out the blog feature I did on him) and Jake One.

Barsuk Records
Barsuk has brought us Death Cab for Cutie, Rilo Kiley and my current favorite band, Ra Ra Riot.

Stones Throw
Stones Throw is the label that pays Madlib, J Dilla and various private label funk re-releases. The recent “sonic boom” for them may be the release of the Mayer Hawthorne album though. Keep your eyes open for Stones Throw (always).

Ninja Tune
What doesn’t Ninja Tune do? With 4 sublabel imprints in tow, Ninja Tune always has something choice on deck from Spank Rock to Kid Koala.

Merge Records
This Glock 9mm has released some of my favorite indie rock records. Get familiar. They still put out good product today.

Matador Records
Just like Merge Records, killer records have come out of Matador and they continue to do so.

What are some of your favorite indie labels?

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  • contakt

    I agree with the choices above, I would even expand Matador to include their parent company Beggars Banquet (home to XL Recordings, Rough Trade, etc).

    One label sorely missing, however:

    Hyperdub Recordings
    A monumental label responsible for not just launching careers but entire genres. A pioneer in the dubstep movement and now pushing the sounds of Dubstep and UK Funky and Garage even further. Owned by innovator Kode 9, as well as Burial, Zomby, Cooly G, and Joker amongst others. Don’t sleep on this label, they will be going down in the history books.

  • contakt

    I agree with the choices above, I would even expand Matador to include their parent company Beggars Banquet (home to XL Recordings, Rough Trade, etc).

    One label sorely missing, however:

    Hyperdub Recordings
    A monumental label responsible for not just launching careers but entire genres. A pioneer in the dubstep movement and now pushing the sounds of Dubstep and UK Funky and Garage even further. Owned by innovator Kode 9, as well as Burial, Zomby, Cooly G, and Joker amongst others. Don’t sleep on this label, they will be going down in the history books.

  • Robo-Robb

    I agree with most of what you said. Indie labels have recieved little recognition from rappers, I still hear “I need to get signed”. Fool! You do not need to get signed. Most rappers are not aware of hip-hops role in the creation of the indie label. Most of your favorite hip-hop pioneers come from indie labels (public enemy, NWA, tupac, biggie, scarface), aftermath is an indie label that was gobbled up by interscope. When I tell people I’m an indie artist they automatically conclude I’m a rocker…. Why? Because rockers have been very sucessfull in the indie format. Which brings me to a point, do not start off your music career with the notion you will get signed… It doesn’t work this way anymore. Rockers know this, you all should too!

    The one thing i agree on majorly is indies can take greater care of their recordings than majors and leave artists greater control. Which in turn creates a great product that can compete with and even surpass most major recordings.

    The one thing I don’t agree with is that majors are useless…I found many indie artists using major distribution to their advantage. Some things are not possible on a budget that most indies work with (retail stores, international tours, etc.). Look at cash money records they have the best distro deal in the game they only share 1% of all profit with universal… Baby might be wack to you but he’s a damn good business man.

    Finally, your analogy is correct mostly because an artist knows their fans better than any asshole in a suit at Sony. Making song placements in skate videos, album displays in boutiques and in stores at burn rubber, that much more effective than the era of plastering flyers in manhattan on all the construction sites and appearances on TRL. Nicely done Hubert… If you ever wanna chop it up about my research on the indie artists I’ve been interviewing I’d love to!

  • Robo-Robb

    I agree with most of what you said. Indie labels have recieved little recognition from rappers, I still hear “I need to get signed”. Fool! You do not need to get signed. Most rappers are not aware of hip-hops role in the creation of the indie label. Most of your favorite hip-hop pioneers come from indie labels (public enemy, NWA, tupac, biggie, scarface), aftermath is an indie label that was gobbled up by interscope. When I tell people I’m an indie artist they automatically conclude I’m a rocker…. Why? Because rockers have been very sucessfull in the indie format. Which brings me to a point, do not start off your music career with the notion you will get signed… It doesn’t work this way anymore. Rockers know this, you all should too!

    The one thing i agree on majorly is indies can take greater care of their recordings than majors and leave artists greater control. Which in turn creates a great product that can compete with and even surpass most major recordings.

    The one thing I don’t agree with is that majors are useless…I found many indie artists using major distribution to their advantage. Some things are not possible on a budget that most indies work with (retail stores, international tours, etc.). Look at cash money records they have the best distro deal in the game they only share 1% of all profit with universal… Baby might be wack to you but he’s a damn good business man.

    Finally, your analogy is correct mostly because an artist knows their fans better than any asshole in a suit at Sony. Making song placements in skate videos, album displays in boutiques and in stores at burn rubber, that much more effective than the era of plastering flyers in manhattan on all the construction sites and appearances on TRL. Nicely done Hubert… If you ever wanna chop it up about my research on the indie artists I’ve been interviewing I’d love to!

  • http://www.leonfitzpatrick.com Leon

    Nicely written, awesome analogy!

    Gotta stand up for the southern hemisphere here and say without a doubt Elefant Traks is hands down my favorite independent label. Founded and based in Sydney, recording artists include Urthboy, Hermitude, The Herd – all of which have a uniquely different sound than a lot of other Hip-Hop and instrumental stuff out there.

    Deadly with fewer shots for sure.

  • http://www.leonfitzpatrick.com Leon

    Nicely written, awesome analogy!

    Gotta stand up for the southern hemisphere here and say without a doubt Elefant Traks is hands down my favorite independent label. Founded and based in Sydney, recording artists include Urthboy, Hermitude, The Herd – all of which have a uniquely different sound than a lot of other Hip-Hop and instrumental stuff out there.

    Deadly with fewer shots for sure.

  • http://hubertsawyers.com Hubert Sawyers III

    @contakt – thanks for the comment and suggestion. I am aware of dubstep, but I hadn’t researched where a lot of it was being released. Quality information, thanks! Consider Hyperdub officially on my radar.

    Also, I must admit, I never realized Matador had a parent company. Thanks for that info as well. Come back with knowledge like that any time!

    @Robo-Robb – I know I come down hard on the Big 4, but please remember like the marksmen with the small guns, bigger guns in the hands of the right people can be even deadlier.

    Right now, I do not think the right people are running the labels, because if they were the industry would be behaving a lot differently. I know folks in the industry have lost jobs, but not as many artists have lost deals. A full-on scaling of “products” should be taking place. Only the artists that truly make you money should keep their gigs. Have everyone go back to the drawing boards. Those that can show that they are worthy of major funding can get their gigs back.

    Thanks for your comments, Robb!

    @Leon – Thanks for chiming in! I will definitely check out the label as I am not familiar. I have checked out eMCee battles that have taken place down under, but that’s it.

  • http://hubertsawyers.com Hubert Sawyers III

    @contakt – thanks for the comment and suggestion. I am aware of dubstep, but I hadn’t researched where a lot of it was being released. Quality information, thanks! Consider Hyperdub officially on my radar.

    Also, I must admit, I never realized Matador had a parent company. Thanks for that info as well. Come back with knowledge like that any time!

    @Robo-Robb – I know I come down hard on the Big 4, but please remember like the marksmen with the small guns, bigger guns in the hands of the right people can be even deadlier.

    Right now, I do not think the right people are running the labels, because if they were the industry would be behaving a lot differently. I know folks in the industry have lost jobs, but not as many artists have lost deals. A full-on scaling of “products” should be taking place. Only the artists that truly make you money should keep their gigs. Have everyone go back to the drawing boards. Those that can show that they are worthy of major funding can get their gigs back.

    Thanks for your comments, Robb!

    @Leon – Thanks for chiming in! I will definitely check out the label as I am not familiar. I have checked out eMCee battles that have taken place down under, but that’s it.

  • http://hubertsawyers.com Hubert Sawyers III

    I left out a couple labels that are worth mentioning in my whimsical fervor:

    Weightless Recordings
    Blueprint’s label, where most of his tour CDs, instrumental records and side projects are released. Along with those, he commissions work by some of Columbus’ finest rappers in Envelope, Zerostar and Illogic.

    Ghostly International
    Being from the home state of this building empire, I would have to say that Ghostly is an omniscient figure in the music scene. I cannot assume that though, but my hesistance has been sun-dried by the recent traffic to this post by one tweet. If Ghostly can send 100 new people to my site, then I am sold on their brand and their ability to market their music. Artists include none other than Matthew Dear and Dabrye, along with funky newcomers Michna and Choir of New Believers. But I’m sure you already know that if you’re reading this.

  • http://hubertsawyers.com Hubert Sawyers III

    I left out a couple labels that are worth mentioning in my whimsical fervor:

    Weightless Recordings
    Blueprint’s label, where most of his tour CDs, instrumental records and side projects are released. Along with those, he commissions work by some of Columbus’ finest rappers in Envelope, Zerostar and Illogic.

    Ghostly International
    Being from the home state of this building empire, I would have to say that Ghostly is an omniscient figure in the music scene. I cannot assume that though, but my hesistance has been sun-dried by the recent traffic to this post by one tweet. If Ghostly can send 100 new people to my site, then I am sold on their brand and their ability to market their music. Artists include none other than Matthew Dear and Dabrye, along with funky newcomers Michna and Choir of New Believers. But I’m sure you already know that if you’re reading this.

  • Alex

    Interesting angle here, young bert… though if you’re going to start listing quality indie rock labels, its hard to narrow it down to just a few.

  • Alex

    Interesting angle here, young bert… though if you’re going to start listing quality indie rock labels, its hard to narrow it down to just a few.

  • http://hubertsawyers.com Hubert Sawyers III

    @Alex – I agree, but I have to go with the bigger name brand for a short(er) blog post. There are other labels in other genres that I miss completely.

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