Navigating the music industry as an independent artist can be a daunting challenge. Without the resources and music distribution services from major record labels, independent musicians often have to wear many hats and take on multiple roles to succeed.
Despite these challenges, several independent artists have significantly impacted the music industry, proving that it is possible to make it big without the backing of a label. In this article, we’ll explore the journeys of seven such artists.
1. Chance The Rapper
Hailing from Chicago, Chance the Rapper is a perfect example of how talent, hard work, and ingenuity can overcome the lack of major-label backing. Chance began his career in 2012 by releasing his debut mixtape, “10 Day,” for free online. His breakout mixtape “Acid Rap” came a year later, leading to widespread recognition and acclaim.
However, Chance’s most significant achievement came in 2016 with the release of “Coloring Book.” This mixtape was streamed exclusively on Apple Music, making Chance one of the first artists to take full advantage of the streaming era.
Seattle-based hip-hop artist Macklemore, alongside his producer Ryan Lewis, shook the music industry in 2012 by releasing their debut album, The Heist. The album, which was released independently, reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart, and the hit single “Thrift Shop” became a global sensation.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis succeeded through innovative digital marketing and a strong social media presence. They engaged their fanbase, built hype around their album, and leveraged YouTube to reach a global audience.
3. Tech N9ne
Tech N9ne, whose real name is Aaron Dontez Yates, is one of the most successful independent hip-hop artists of all time. He co-founded the record label Strange Music in 1999, which allowed him to release his music independently and maintain control over his career.
Known for his rapid-fire chopper style of rapping, Tech N9ne has released over 20 albums and sold millions of records worldwide. His commitment to touring has been a critical factor in his success; he is known for his relentless schedule and energetic performances, building a dedicated fanbase that supports his music and shows.
4. Ani DiFranco
Ani DiFranco is a singer-songwriter who set a precedent for independent music success in the early ’90s. She founded her own record label, Righteous Babe Records, in 1990 and used it as a platform to release her music on her own terms.
Over her career, DiFranco has released more than 20 albums, won several awards, and earned a dedicated fanbase, all without the backing of a major label. Her music blends folk, rock, and punk, often addressing social and political issues. This reflects her commitment to maintaining creative control and integrity in her work.
5. Nipsey Hussle
Nipsey Hussle was a Grammy-nominated rapper from Los Angeles who championed independent music. He was well-known for his mixtapes that were released free of charge, earning him a dedicated fanbase.
His most notable move was selling his “Crenshaw” mixtape for $100 per copy, a strategy that proved successful and highlighted the value he placed on his music. Before his untimely death in 2019, Nipsey established his record label, All Money In No Money Out, which he used to release his music.
6. Arctic Monkeys
British rock band Arctic Monkeys achieved success at first as independent artists. Initially gaining popularity online, the band’s early sound blended indie rock and post-punk revival. Alex Turner’s detailed lyrics were steeped in British culture and quickly caught listeners’ attention.
Their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, was heavily promoted on the internet before its release, and it became the fastest-selling debut album in British music history in 2006. The band leveraged the power of social media and internet forums to engage with fans directly, bypassing traditional industry gatekeepers.
7. Frank Ocean
After his initial stint with the group Odd Future and a contract with Def Jam Recordings that left him feeling stifled, Frank Ocean released his critically acclaimed album Channel Orange in 2012.
However, his true independent success came when he fulfilled his contract with Def Jam by releasing a visual album, Endless. With his contract finished, he released his masterpiece, Blonde, independently just days after. Blonde debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 and was highly regarded by critics, cementing Ocean’s status as a revolutionary independent artist.
Embracing Independence As An Artist
Each of these artists took bold steps, often uncharted routes, to bring their music to the world, undiluted by major label influence.
They’ve shown that unwavering determination and a genuine connection with fans can craft a unique, sustainable path to success in music.