Independent labels have been making an impact for decades, but the importance of their work is more evident than ever. While radio and television—promotional media lanes traditionally reserved for major label clients—were once the dominant means of breaking artists, the Internet now plays a large role in bringing music to the forefront, and independent labels have a platform to compete on a large scale. Today, indie labels account for about 40% of overall record sales, and while this share is split among thousands of labels worldwide, there are some that stand out among the rest. Here are our top 10 record labels that carry a strong impact within the industry.
“Money can’t buy time, and patience is probably the most underrated value in the music business.”
-Mike Caren, president of worldwide A&R at Warner Music Group
1. Spectra Music Group
Label Genre(s): Pop | Rock | Hip Hop | R&B | Jazz | Country
Artist Count: 362 current
Description: It’s no surprise why this label was chosen as the largest and most successful. The history of this label is vast and has been around the industry signing stellar acts and their success is something to take notes of. Spectra Music Group has been distributing some of the best material since the early nineties and continues to grow. Housing a staggering number of 362 artists and counting, the label also is the home of over 15 subsidiary labels as well. With artists ranging from Lou Gramm of Foreigner to R&B superstars H-Town, this label has never needed to attach themselves to anyone and that is admirable in this business.
2. Sumerian Records
Label Genre(s): Metal | Hardcore | Rock
Artist Count: 32 current
Description: Coming from both sides of the United States in LA and DC, co-founders Ash Avildsen and Shawn Keith have managed to open the independent heavy metal market not only domestically but internationally as well with their first non-US band, Fellsilent, signing back in 2008. Sumerian was created ‘by artists, for artists’ which has continued to help ship their music to the top of the metal genre, representing 32 bands with endless potential.
3. Stones Throw Records
Label Genre(s): Mostly Hip-Hop
Artist Count: 44 all-time
Description: Stones Throw was created by San Jose, CA native Chris Manak, aka DJ Peanut Butter Wolf, to originally produce and distribute music he had recorded with his best friend and fellow artist Charizma, who had been killed 3 years earlier. With that being said this label is very personal to Chris and has gained countless recognition and the overwhelming addition of 44 more artists than day one of Stones Throw Records back in ‘96. The success of the label has come primarily from the approval of Chris Manak in all music represented. As the executive producer, he picks what he likes, and that’s the final decision, and main key to their ongoing success.
4. Sub Pop Records
Label Genre(s): Indie Rock | Alternative | Punk Rock
Artist Count: 71 current
Description: Created by Bruce Pavitt in the early 80s as a fanzine (non-official fan magazine of independent musicians) called Subterranean Pop this label has undergone some pretty influential transitions throughout their long journey to the top of the independent label scene. Today Sub Pop Records is one of the leading producers and distributors for independent rock, with 2 Platinum and Gold Records from past artists such as Nirvana, The Postal Service, The Shins, and Flight Of The Conchords, it comes without question why such high interest has been carried out throughout the years. Some of today’s biggest names in indie rock still call Sub Pop their home as the fans continue to hear hit after hit.
5. Easy Star Records
Label Genre(s): Reggae | DUB
Artist Count: 13 Current
Description: These guys are an absolutely unstoppable force in the reggae scene today with an incredible talent pool in their list of artists. Music Without Labels has had the pleasure of working with a number of these artists, including Cas Haley, Easy Star All Stars, John Brown’s Body, and The Black Seeds, writing reviews and capturing live concert photos for them in our select cities. The earlier in-house productions of Easy Star All Stars brought 3 best-selling reggae albums of the decade, giving Easy Star Records the glory moment they needed to transition into that next step as an independent label. After capturing an impressive sound they knew people loved, it was at that time where they began focusing on other artists as well as themselves. Having that re-inventive reggae niche on hold in the Easy Star All Stars, bringing in progressive, classic, and modern reggae proved to be an essential decision for where they’ve come to be.
6. Partisan Records
Label Genre(s): Folk | Alternative | Country | Experimental
Artist Count: 18 current
Description: Being one of the younger independent labels in our list of longtime forces, this Brooklyn, NY label has quickly made a name for itself within it’s short 4 year life-span. Partisan Records brings a different style to the record label business, encouraging their artist to create and share their own sound and stories, indicative in the labels’ wide-range of genres. This sense of originality is the key to their fast growth in such a competitive market, harnessing some of the great indie artists of today in, Deer Tick, Dolorean, Holy Sons, Paleo, Middle Brother, and Mountain Man. Expect to see much more from this label in the near future including new artists, videos, music, merchandise, etc.
7. Hopeless Records
Labels Genre(s): Alternative | Punk | Pop | Rock | Metal
Artist Count: 20 current
Description: Spending a majority of their focus on the independent punk scene Hopeless Records has owned this sound, claiming the top spot of the punk record labels since their early 90s start. Some of the greatest artists in punk rock and metal during the mid 2000 era were represented by Hopeless. Aritsts including Avenged Sevenfold, Thrice, Yellowcard, All Time Low, and Silverstein were putting in some serious work to help take the new label to it’s forefront of being one of the great independent labels. With the recent addition of Yellowcard, it is expected to see them reach another milestone in the near future with this incredible collaboration.
8. Vicious Recordings
Genre Label(s): Dance | Electronic | HOUSE
Artist Count: 41 current
Description: With over 18 years of experience in the dance music game, this Melbourne, Australia label has perfected the industry, producing some of the top HOUSE DJs of the world in Avicii, Mind Electric, and butterBOX. Founders and Producer/DJs Andy Van and John Course have an energy that is unprecedented in the electronic dance scene, helping them gain the attention of many up and coming house DJs from all over the world including, the US, Sweden, Australia, Indonesia, and many other countries.
9. Ghostly International
Label Genre(s): Experimental | New Age | Everything
Artist Count: 52 current
Description: With 12 years in the game this Ann Arbor, Michigan label has managed to capture an entire style through the many different forms of expression art has to offer. Ghostly International isn’t just about music but the art within music and everything that comes with that art including their roles in design, clothing, technology, innovation, and publishing. They represent a plethora of genres that all seem to fit a similar expression or feeling within the overall tone or message of their art.
10. Community Records
Label Genre(s): Rock | Jam | Americana
Artist Count: 29 current
Description: Community Records is not in a the traditional form of a record label. They pride themselves on gathering music from people they are friends with and then presenting them through Community Records promoting quality music & positivity.