Dependent on Independence

Dependent on Independence

How Independent Filmmakers & Musicians Shape the Industry

Major Recording labels

For musicians there’s really only three big record labels, aptly named The Big Three. Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group make up between 60-80% of the music market, leaving barely a third for independent artists and labels. Likewise, the American film industry is ruled by its Big Six — 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Walt Disney Pictures. Also like their musical counterparts, these media giants rule 80-85% of American and Canadian box office.

With such a minuscule slice of the pie left for start-ups, independent labels, and production companies, it seems a given that the indie industries would be falling being. Only, they’re not.

If anything, independent filmmakers and musicians have gone from novelties to something vital in the world of creative media.

What is ‘Indie’?

Traditionally speaking, the term ‘indie’ refers to any kind of independent art; be it film, music, literature or painting that has been created outside of the mainstream and without corporate financing. For music and film, it means anything produced outside of the Big Three and the Big Six.

In the beginning, indie artists were very DIY, self-publishing and self-releasing books, tapes, films, anything and everything, and things haven’t changed much over the years. The focus of many of these indie businesses wasn’t and isn’t to make money or something hugely commercially successful. Rather the focus is on creativity and control over your own materials.

Creatives in Corporate

With indie focused on creating something new and corporations more focused on making a profit, it seems unlikely that the two should ever meet, let alone benefit one another.

However, people liked new.

The Big Three finally caught on when Nirvana exploded out of the indie scene in the mid-90s. The Big Six caught on when films like Pulp Fiction reached unprecedented popularity. From there the line just… blurred.

Smaller music and film companies started using the same business practices as their competitors, trying to garner more financial success. Major labels and studios started producing more original and offbeat works and tagging them as ‘indie’ to attract this new demographic. And, while it could be seen as ‘selling your soul to the devil’, many artists and filmmakers who sign with a major label still manage to retain their authenticity and voices, think of Sonic Youth or Wes Anderson. Today more independent music labels and smaller studios will sign distribution deals with these larger corporations.

Independence on the Internet

With the 21st century came the dawn of the Internet Age. How we did everything, cooking, studying, writing, listening to music, and watching movies has completely changed from the way it was only 20 years ago. Anybody can post anything online for anyone to see.

Think of SoundCloud and Vimeo, of iTunes and YouTube. Think of how many artists you know who made their name through a computer screen. These open file sharing systems have allowed for unprecedented distribution numbers, especially those who would never have succeeded otherwise.

And the Winner Is…

This love of independence and the uniqueness of non-corporate works has spread to the critics and to the awards. Back in 2015, the only big studio film with a shot at winning Best Picture at the Oscars was American Sniper. The other nominees were all indie or partially independent — Boyhood, Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and Selma.

Were people upset by this upset? Not particularly. The president of IFC Films and financier of Boyhood said, “[he] had a former studio executive say to me, ‘we all love Boyhood because it’s the kind of movie we wished we could make and can’t.”

The takeaway?

Big studios and labels will probably never be gone. They’re too profitable, have solid distribution, and reliable financing. But independent artists aren’t going anywhere either. It’s too easy for corporations to settle into a financially safe rut. Independent artists bring authenticity, creativity, and newness to industries constantly needing a refresher in what art can really be.

Hope Wager ~ Fusionbuzz



Andrews, Catherine. “If it’s cool, creative and different, it’s indie”. Cable News Network. 13 Oct 2006. Web. 12 Jan 2018.

McDonald, Heather. “The Big Three Record Labels”. the balance. The balance. 13 Nov 2017.

N.a. “Big Six”. MAAC. Aptech Ltd. 22 Dec 2014. Web. 12 Jan 2018.

Shone, Tom. “The big studios have largely been shut out from the Best Picture race at the Oscars”. Financial Times. The Financial Times LTD. 20 Feb 2015. Web. 13 Jan 2018.