Are Independent Artists Taking Over the Mainstream Scene?

“If one more label try and stop me, it’s gon be some dreadhead niggas in yo lobby.”

Recognize this quote? In 2016, Chance the Rapper released the song “No Problems”, dishing out a full warning to all record labels trying to “stop him” and stifle his success. This song quickly became the theme song of many artists who were and still are, trying to make it big.

If I had a dollar for every time an artist told me they were trying to get signed to a major label I’d be rich. It makes me cringe when that’s the first goal on their list even though they can’t say why they want to be signed in the first place. So I started asking people what they think happens after signing a label contract, and they still don’t know. Well, I have the answer.

Story | Akila Clark

Once you’re involved with a major label, your life could end, unless you get out! PERIOD. Don’t argue with me.

There’s so much hard work and gratification in being an independent artist, but I’m starting to think people only see, and want, the glamour that’s promoted by mainstream media. The fact of the matter is, being part of a major record label does not guarantee that you’ll become a household name, make money or even have fans. They don’t promise you a Grammy or top charted albums.

If you’re an older millennial, you may remember the hype around listening to underground artists. During the early to mid-2000’s, underground artists were mostly known to be undiscovered hip hop artists who weren’t played on mainstream media. Over the past few years, being called an ‘underground artist’ in the music industry is irrelevant because of the way the industry has grown.

Today, an ‘underground artist’ is more closely related to what we know to be an independent (indie) artist, mostly unknown, but never signed to a major label. Terms in the music industry have evolved to match the growth of how we hear music (such as streaming platforms) and understand the creators behind it.

To have music played around the world, through television, movies or radio, without signing one distribution deal is at the top of every indie artists’ goal list. With the creation of platforms such as Soundcloud, Spotify and Tidal, there are millions of artists who can do their own producing, promotions, and distribution by themselves or with a few team members. Jorja Smith, Migos and Grammy-winner Childish Gambino are a few indie artists that hit top chart numbers on these platforms.

Upcoming and current music artists may make it a goal to be successful without a major label micro-managing their every move. It’s no secret that many mainstream artists are censored and have no real say in their creativity, promotions, and payout. These setbacks are the exact ones that motivate new artists to pave their own way and do things by their own rules.

“I don’t want this shit for myself, and I don’t ever want niggas to try to pull me into that. ‘Cause I’ve been told a couple times like, ’Hey, do this shit man, do that…’ And I’m like man, I don’t want that for me man.” – 6LACK

This same wave of ambition has turned the music industry into a full-fledged digital world. A world where buying physical albums has become valuable collectibles. Sure, we used to have Limewire, bootlegs, and cassette mixtapes; but now the artists and the fans are bigger than ever! We no longer need these outlets to fuel our musical thirst now that we have access to several musical platforms at the tip of our fingers. Bootlegs are a thing of the past unless you’re a DJ leaking out albums *side eye*. Thanks to, we can keep up with who’s who and what’s what with just a click of a button.

There are several artists, legends in fact, who have admitted to what the industry and its pressures have done to them. From one extreme of changing your body type to censoring what you say to the public is all a money-making scheme. Do they genuinely care about you, your creativity, and what makes you happy? As long as the money is flowing, that’s all that matters. All those plans you have for songs and videos, that’s on hold until further notice because of the budget, timing, or just because it doesn’t fit the image they’ve built for you.

Artists such as Mick Jenkins, Childish Gambino, Jorja Smith, and Migos have not only released various singles and albums, but have created songs with major artists around the world. You don’t need a major label to achieve professional success. Back in the day, artists used to have to hit the streets and rely on word of mouth to build their fan base. No wonder there wasn’t much success lined up for them. With more resources and the expansion of technology, upcoming artists can hit thousands of plays on Soundcloud in just a matter of hours.

We no longer need to sell burned CD’s out the trunk of your uncle’s hooptie to get the streets talking about you and your music. More producers, songwriters and artists create quality music, some of which sounds better than most mainstream music.

Think twice before putting a record label at the top of your goal list. Unless you want to be a walking joke exhausted from compromising who you genuinely are, reconsider what your real desire is and stay true to yourself. Indie artists are rapidly making a come up around the world and continuously proving that who they are and their dreams are enough to achieve their goals without corporate vultures maximizing profit off on their passion.

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