Artists freed from the fetters of labels


Art by Joanne Jun

When famous, Chicago-born Chance the Rapper won the award for Best New Artist at the 2016 Grammys, he became a hero for all artists undergoing the long, slow process of independent recognition. Artists without record labels have been on the music scene ever since the creation of the modern music industry, but recent developments have given way to a new generation of independent artists. The emergence of popular online music-sharing platforms such as SoundCloud, Spotify and Bandcamp, has given label-free artists the opportunity to present their work to a large online fanbase. Chance himself gained his current celebrity status through the viral popularity of early SoundCloud projects such as “10 Days” and “Acid Rap.”

Not every independent artist is label-free, however, as Joey Bada$$, another prominent independent hip-hop artist achieved success, not through being label-free, but by simply creating his own label. His label, Relentless Records, was created so that he could have artistic freedom with his work—something evident through his brand of old-school New York hip hop mixed with new, experimental sounds. Bada$$ has found great success through the independent track with his latest single, “Devastated”, cracking the BillBoard Top 100 and an acquired net worth of around $3,000,000.

The online networking opportunities provided by services such as SoundCloud provide many ambitious young rappers a platform to build their skills and a loyal following. Along with Chance the Rapper and Joey Bada$$, hip hop artists Childish Gambino, Danny Brown, Migos, Gucci Mane, Macklemore, Fetty Wap, Run the Jewels and Tyler, the Creator have all either not signed to a record label or have created their own.

While it may be the most prevalent genre on the independent scene, hip-hop isn’t the only music form with current celebrity artists. After his departure from the southern rock group Drive By Truckers of New West Records, Jason Isbell found himself far more success on the independent track, even going away with the 2016 Grammy for Best Americana Album. Even classical artists find themselves going independent as cellist and composer Zoe Keating earned a total of $84,000,000 in 2011 from selling her music independently online and arranging her own concerts. With such wealth, restricting oneself to a record label doesn’t seem reasonable.

Artists’ motives for going independent are obvious. To a person that has dedicated their life’s work to creating music, nothing is more essential than the freedom to make their art the way they want it to be made.

In an interview with BillBoard, Chance the Rapper said “I can play whatever shows I want, I can release when I want, talk how I want, freely about any subject”. Being left without a record label leaves artist’s with the lack of financial support to advertise their work, but this is quickly being made up for through the global reach of the Internet. Justin Bieber, the epitome of celebrity, got his start off by posting YouTube videos of him singing. All it takes for tomorrow’s celebrity to get started is a computer, an instrument and a dream.