Indies Come in All Shapes and Sizes

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.

Much has been said about the Independent record business over the last couple of years, though few really understand it.

Almost no one wants to be affiliated with a major label anymore, unless the artist is competing at commercial radio for a hit. Then, they all want to be on a major label. Artists like Beyonce, Akon, and Shakira need the major-label muscle to insure their songs get a shot on the top of the charts. Maybe some day that will change and Indies will rule the airwaves, but definitely not today.

Everyone else wants to be on an independent label instead. But all Indies are not created equal. In fact, the truly independent record label moniker still means different things to different people.

Starting from grass-roots beginnings, there are the bedroom record labels. They're called bedroom labels because they were literally started in someone's bedroom or personal living space. There are hundreds--if not thousands--of these kinds of Indy labels in America. Don't let their size fool you. Though rare, a critically acclaimed hit from a bedroom label can generate a lot of money and, with it, the chance to affiliate with a larger label if the Indy wants.

Then, there are hipster Indies like Dangerbird in Hollywood, who represents bands like Silversun Pickups and Darker My Love. Or Ace Fu Records in New York City. Ace Fu represents one of the hottest new bands, The Annuals, along with Illinois and Man Man. Each of these labels is Independently owned and operated. Sometimes money is tight, other times flush. That's the way of a true small Indy.

There is actually giant Indies as well. Every year Wind-up Records in New York City seems to hit one out of the park, generating millions. For the last few years, Evanescence was the main attraction, and before that, it was Creed. These hits make up for all the other "not so" successful records, giving Wind-up the resources to invest in many bands.

Meanwhile, across town, another privately owned and financed Indy giant, TVT Records, has quietly built an enormous 20-year catalog, with plenty of hits in the hard rock and hip hop worlds.

And some Indy giants are not quite so hip.

Razor & Tie built their label on the backs of compilation records in the early 90's. The two owners, who met at New York University Law School, simultaneously began a complementary business in direct response marketing. The one-two punch was very successful.

Then in 2001, the duo hit on another winning idea. Taking popular, well-known songs, and adding the choruses of singing children, they created a block-buster brand. The Kidz Bop series was born. Kidz Bop 11 was just released this month, and like its predecessors, it's another monster hit. The Kids Bop series has already sold over 9,000,000 copies in the America.

Strange, since this is the same label that releases music from Dar Williams, Angelique Kidjo and the Latin Funk collective, Yerba Buena.

Indie labels come in all shapes and all sizes.

As the record industry heads to Austin Texas for the annual South By Southwest musical extravaganza, you can be sure all these labels and hundreds more will be there. I will too, and the story will continue next week.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.