The Independent Record Companies

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Click on the above records to hear their stories. Scroll down to read about other independents
An independent record label are record companies that produce and distribute records without the funding of major record labels; they are a type of small to medium-sized enterprise.
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The distinction between major and independent labels is not always clear. The traditional definition of a major label is a label that owns its distribution channel. Some independent labels, particularly those with successful artists, sign dual-release, or distribution only agreements with major labels. They may also rely on international licensing deals and other arrangements with major labels. Major labels sometimes fully or partially acquire independent labels.

Independent labels have historically anticipated developments in popular music, beginning with the post-war period in the United States. Disputes with major labels led to a proliferation of smaller labels specializing in country, jazz, and blues. Sun Records played an important part in the development of rock 'n' roll and country music, working with artists such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Charlie Rich. These independent labels usually aimed their releases at a small but loyal audience. They relied less on mass sales and were able to provide artists much more opportunity for experimentation and artistic freedom.

In the late 1940s and into the 1950s, the American music business changed as people began to more quickly learn the industry. Several companies set up their own recording studios, and the number of label owners began to increase. Many of these owners realized that whichever label first publishes a song is legally entitled to receive compensation for every record sold.

The majors were made up of executives, producers, A&R men and recorded with large orchestras and backup singers, indies relied on their owners ingenuity, recording simply. The indies advantage was low ovehead  with often one person, the owner, filling the role of A&R producer, promotion and distributor. Their only costs were rent, record preassing and gifts (what would become called payola, to disc jockeys to play their records. Musicians were usually non-union and only a small number were used. Often the artists recorded for a flat flee so no royalties had to be paid.

The sale of a few thousand records generally covered all the expenses. Most independents were strictly regional. so could cater to that market. Often records were sold out of the car trunk selling to record store, radio stations and wholesalers. They sold the areas where the majors ignored usually R&B,  rockabilly and r&b rock and roll.

The small independent record companies that dominated the rhythm and blues market in the late 1940s and early 1950s relied on payola, which wasn't a Federal crime, in order to compete and get their records on the radio.With the coming of rock and roll the number of small recorded companies increased increasing competition in getting their records heard and payola  simply became a necessary evil.

Other Independents

Companies A - D

Companies G - M

Companies R - S


Year Founded















By Area of Country

East Coast Mid-America Southern West Coast


Start Date, Executives, Artists etc

East Coast Midwestern Southern West Coast

Small independent companies quickly filled the void that was created when the Majors decided to abandon the black record market. These companies were usually one or two person operations who handled the talent, production and business ends.

The owners were ambitious, hardworking and had more then an economic interest in the music in that they generally loved the music they produced. Many owners were woman (e.g., Vivian Bracken of Vee-Jay Jay and Bess Berman of Apollo) and Jews (George Goldner of Gee and Phil and Leonard Chess of Chess)

They enjoyed the advantages of no high salaries or overheads which allowed them independence and freedom of movement. Their offices were often located in poorer neighborhoods where the talent was.This allowed them to develop personal relationships in the black community.

The necessity of  feeding family and studio costs put enormous pressures for hits. Major hits could put poorly capitalized companies out of business before the profits began rolling in. because

Monetary pressures and/or poor judgements often forced them to sell:

They also had problems with their artist movement,  personal changes, record company buyouts or bankruptcies. Many companies only had themselves to blame for this problem because they often stole writing credits, overcharged for production costs and sent groups on tours that paid little. 

Independent Labels of the Early Rock Era

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