The Rise of Independent Music

The Rise of Independent Music

For the first 12 years of her career, six-time Grammy Award-nominated R&B singer Tamia enjoyed the success of three chart-topping albums. Her 2001 solo hit, “Stranger in My House,” and “Into You,” her 2003 duet with rapper Fabolous, were both produced under Atlantic/Elektra Records. Despite that success, she says she had little control over the direction of her music, the money she earned, or the release dates of her albums.
Now, Tamia is in control of everything that’s generally beyond reach for artists signed with major record labels. In November 2005, she started Plus 1 Music Group, and a year later recorded her first independent CD, Between Friends, which has sold 160,000 copies in the U.S. and about 375,000 worldwide to date.
“It was important to me that I start taking control of my own life. Whenever you get into a position when you can’t own your life, it’s important” to re-evaluate, she says. “It was a natural progression as a woman to want to take control.”
Tamia is one of an increasing number of artists who have gone the way of the indie–either partially or completely–to take charge of their own music careers. She’s in good company. Other artists who have left major record labels include rapper Lil Jon, who started BME Records; R&B singer Usher, who has US Records; rapper Talib Kweli, who started Blacksmith Records; and rapper Kanye West, founder of GOOD Music; as well as many lesser-known artists. In the United States, the world’s largest music market, album sales are down 14% this year, while sales of digitally downloaded tracks are up 14%, according to the industry market research firm Nielsen SoundScan. But digital music sales of independents surged 61% according to Nielsen SoundScan. Independents saw sales reach $26.2 million this year, up from $16.2 million in 2006.

In running her own label, Tamia controls the purse strings. Since she transitioned from Atlantic, Tamia maintained relationships with people in the music business, which helped her keep costs down.

Although Tamia wouldn’t divulge exactly how much money she spent to get Between Friends made, she says it cost only a fraction of the $400,000 it could normally cost to make such an album, including studio time, producers fees, travel, hotel rooms, rental cars, photo shoots, packaging, videos, tour support, retail programs, and marketing and promotion.

Tamia, who is married to Phoenix Sun’s forward Grant Hill, with whom she has two daughters, says she doesn’t have an in-home studio, so she rented studio time. She says an artist can spend between $10,000 and $100,000 per track for a producer; moreover, renting time in a studio can run $1,000 a day.

Out of Pocket
Indeed, the costs for producing a purely independent album can soar from a few hundred thousand dollars to a seven figure sum, says Lisa E. Davis, a partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC, a leading New York-based media, entertainment, and advertising law firm. “Much of it is done electronically; most people are not bringing live musicians into the studio. But,