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Thriving Indie-Label Reps: What They're Signing Now

The indie market is not only healthy--it's thriving. In fact, independent artists and labels are dominating the music scene, garnering the lion’s share of this year’s Grammy Awards and surging to a market share of almost 40 percent in sales alone. Music Connection wanted to take a closer look at this new world order, so we contacted four of the hottest indie music marketers on the planet and all of them were enthusiastic about the future. Indeed, we found that the music business is very much alive and doing well… if you view it from an indie perspective.

By Bernard Baur

FUELED BY RAMEN

John Janick • President

John Janick wanted to start a record label while in high school, but it wasn’t until he enrolled at the University of Florida and teamed with Less Than Jake drummer Vinnie Fiorello that Fueled By Ramen became a reality. In 1998, the little N.Y.-based label released an EP from an unknown act called Jimmy Eat World. It was a five-song collection that proved to be a breakthrough for both the label and the band. Today, FBR’s roster is a virtual “who’s who” of hit makers: Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Panic! at the Disco, Gym Class Heroes, Yellowcard, and the Academy is… to name a few. Recently, Janick was called on to revive Elektra Records. His first signing for the resurrected imprint was Bruno Mars.

DESCRIBE YOUR LABEL
Fueled By Ramen started out as a small independent label. We then evolved into an up-stream label, which gave our artists a chance to move up to a major. Today, we are in a joint venture with Warner Music Group. But even though we’re associated with a major label (Atlantic), we still run our operations exactly the same way we did before. It’s a very unique situation. Basically, we are an indie with major resources. It’s the best of all worlds.

WHAT TYPES OF ARTISTS DO YOU SIGN
We like to sign artists that are interesting and bring something new to the music scene. In fact, we have a reputation for signing acts that some consider to be underground. Our roster is filled with artists that were passed over by the majors because they weren’t mainstream enough. Today, however [Laughs], everyone pays attention to what we like.

WHAT’S YOUR DEAL STRUCTURE
We’re a 360 label (Note: 360 deals share in a variety of income streams––sales, publishing, merchandise and touring). We like to be partners with our artists. But, we don’t take that approach because we want to make more money off our acts; we want to help them and be connected with everything they do. At this label, we have the resources and personnel to service all the areas that could possibly lead to income. We make sure everyone in every department is involved and working towards the same goal, to make our artists successful.

YOU’RE KNOWN FOR DEVELOPING ACTS
That’s true, but it was out of necessity. When you’re a new label it can be difficult to attract totally developed and accomplished artists. So, we just went for the acts we liked and could reasonably sign. Like anyone else, we’d love to work with artists that are already developed and know exactly what they want. But we’ll take a chance on less developed acts as long as they’re talented, musically interesting, have the right work ethic and a strong vision (one that makes sense). It has to be a perfect fit, though, because it’s a big commitment for the label and a big deal for the artist.

HOW IMPORTANT IS INTERNET PRESENCE
It’s extremely important. We built this label on the internet. The net can break down the borders between acts and their fans. When you can’t get radio play, you can use it to get exposure and promote your music. With the right tools you can even make buying music an experience, like it used to be years ago. And I think creating an experience is very important today, especially if you want people to buy your music. In that regard, the internet and social media have changed the game. Indie labels, and even artists themselves, can now market and sell their music in new and innovative ways.

DO INDIES HAVE MORE OPPORTUNITIES TODAY
Yes, they do. Today, it’s harder for major labels to manage massive rosters. They’ve cut their personnel numbers down so much, they don’t have the same amount of people working their records and, as a result, have become much more selective––some say demanding––with their signings. That opens up the field and gives indie labels the opportunity to sign some very exciting artists that the majors have passed on. I think, because of that, indies can offer fans music that is both vital and relevant to their lives.

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