(Unknowingly Not) Islands: Independent Artists, Record Labels, & the Colonized Mind
What happened to the American music underground? For many years, so-called independent and experimental record labels have represented a means of access to audience, exposure, legitimacy, and support for artists; as well as a community for fans, record collectors, and artists themselves. Outside of the mainstream channels of distribution, marketing, and promotion, these labels run by artists, enthusiasts, outsider entrepreneurs, and non-profit orgs- also cultivated an economic alternative: an ecosystem of shops, distributors, zines, web publications, and venues across the globe, with a shared value system of non-commercial, democratic, punk (attitudinally) DIY-ism. More recently, however, systems of music distribution have become centralized via tech meta-businesses, and the methods by which people consume music shift constantly with new technologies. Artists are confronted with a blurring of the artist, consumer, and the entrepreneur in a noisy and over-saturated market, where distribution models create value for the platforms and manufacturers of personal technologies but pay pennies to the music makers. Artists often end up working against their own interests, with a hazy understanding of their options. In this thesis I look critically at the record label model, music distribution systems and platforms, and the ubiquity of certain technologies. I will discuss the results of an artist survey I administered, and place this study in the context of my experiences as an artist- as well as recent writings by Gerald Raunig, Martha Rosier, and others. The goal of this thesis is to make visible the conditioning that frequently dictates how artists participate in the music industry, and to propose potential alternative thinking - and doing - inside the industry. Who today holds the power to build community and legitimacy? What kind of support do musicians desire or require?