What Exactly Is An Independent Label? Differing Definitions, Different Market Shares

Back in 2007 (June 30, Billboard) when I asked what is an indie, I got a multitude of answers. Today, that question evokes even more complex answers because the landscape has not only changed dramatically but is still changing.

Over the last 15 years, things have only gotten even murkier. Majors used to just buy indies; nowadays, they also invest in indies; and they even do joint ventures with indies-sometimes on an album-by-album basis. Going the other way, majors like RCA have also put artists like Ray LaMontagne through RED. In fact, there are so many permutations of indie/major collaborations and secret deals concerning those permutations that it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s still indie and what’s a major.

Even before things became as complex as they are now, SoundScan itself counted market share in two different ways. It has a label market share report, which used to tally market share by label and then add them up under each major distributor. It also had an album summary report, which in essence tracked market share by corporate ownership of distribution companies. (See figures 2 and 5 above).

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