how to decide: major or indie?

September 22, 2008


i want to add something that i may not have made 100% clear with my statement at blogworld about signing (or not) with major labels. i knew that this statement would resonate…don’t worry, i’m not backing down from what i said at all 🙂

by no means do i know everything about how this works. i’ve made mistakes, and i don’t know all the inner workings of the varied, complicated agreements that musicians are making with various entities. as you read on, i simply want to remind you that there are other opinions on the subject. this is mine.

at blogworld, i said that if you want to make a living making music, and you don’t need the “fame” aspect (you don’t need to “blow up”), then you don’t need to go with a major. it’s more complex than “avoiding majors” though. AND, to be perfectly clear, i’m also not saying the ONLY other option is an indie label (you could distribute it and promote it yourself, for example). i’m saying that there are many ways to be a self-sustaining musician these days. recording is easier and cheaper than ever, distribution can be nearly as simple as setting up a paypal account, and online fanbases are out there for you to find and connect with.

the key still is, and will always be: is your music good? do i, as a fan, like it? to what degree am i interested in being a part of what you have to offer through your recordings, shows, or merchandise?

on a side note: if fame is the focus part of the equation today, then what about linkin park? the answer: times were different back in the late 1990s when we signed with a major. they weren’t asking for ownership of your touring, merchandise, fan club, and domain name back then. they are now.

to put it in perspective: tom whalley, the president of warner brothers, would love to see you succeed and build a strong following of 10,000 fans by yourself, with no one else’s help. at that point, he knows that if you decide to work with warner bros., although he will have to offer you more in order for you to be interested in working with WB, your work has given you (and them) a head start, plus they know they’re working with someone who understands what it takes to build momentum from the ground up. it’s a win-win.

anyway, the bottom line is that the power is now in your hands more than ever. my advice to you is to throw the old rulebook out, be thoughtful about your decisions, and do what works for you.




  1. xXxTheBrokenWingxXx on May 30, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Since I’m home alone and haven’t much to do, I had time to check out all the entries on And this is really my favorite one. I totally agree with what you were saying, so, no opinions added. The idea is, I didn’t know having the idols can get you such good advice in making your own success. Thanks to this post, I’m feeling more confident of my dream career. Thanks Mike, for being such a good artist

  2. YoungVito on October 2, 2008 at 10:13 am

    Nothing but truth being spoken there Mike.
    Who wouldn’t want to be well recognised and well paid? But there’s a very thin line between cashng in and selling out.
    Alot of up-and-comers are too caught up trying to be the ‘next best thing’ and lose integrity along the way, but thats their perogative.
    And obviously it’s alot harder to make a name for yourself as an unsigned artist, but teach a man to fish…
    All I know is, I’m sticking to being independant.
    Success just tastes so much sweeter.

  3. Joanie_LP on September 29, 2008 at 4:20 am

    I agree, if the music is good, fame will come instantly. But making good music today is hard though.

    In my opinion, today’s songs are “covered up” from the hits in previous years. Dissapointing part of today’s music is that everything is drained now and there’s nothing new to bring. That’s why I say there’s nothing better that coud top up the previous works (of Linkin Park for instance). But no one knows 🙂 Hope…

    P.S.: thanks for the tips and great words 🙂 one day I would like to be the Bulgarian Kelly Clarkson, only with harder music but in some other life perhaps 😀

  4. nillp on September 28, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    “throw the old rulebook out, be thoughtful about your decisions, and do what works for you.”

    thoughtful words!

  5. axrinekey on September 26, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    You know..
    What you said was quite deep..
    I need time to digest xD

    Feel speechless for no reason 😦
    Nothing comes out my mind now. >_<

  6. Kronah on September 25, 2008 at 1:03 am

    Understanding. You have to understand who you’re dealing with. It doesn’t really matter where these people are from. You have to know who your face to face, phone to phone or screen to screen with and who they represent. If you need help with that, never be afraid to ask a trustworthy source. Always agree only to your terms, if you haven’t thought about it you should start. Chances are they’ve already done all this, major or indie, when money is on the line this is how it works.

  7. Tarna on September 24, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    If you aren’t Twittering yet, you’re missing out on one of the
    biggest publicity tools on the planet.

  8. Madlen on September 24, 2008 at 11:11 am

    I totally agree with your point…This guy i know got a deal with this label that is behind the whole Music Space thing that we have here-it’s a website that you can put your music on and have other people listen to it…so anyway he was kind of promoting his music by himself for a while and then he put some of his stuff on that website and they called him like…two or three week after that.So like you said they really appreciate people who know what it takes…

  9. lucky_cat on September 24, 2008 at 5:25 am

    I´m a little late now … anyway, many good things were said. I try a view from another perspective. music – industry … I don´t like the combination of these 2 words. industry means to focus on the product aspects. is music (only) a product? is water a product? (the president of Nestle thinks so) the industry had made nearly everything to a product and had alienated us. the original sense of music is to find it and to share it with people. I prefer to combine music with culture. the industrial age is going to its end and leaves a lot of problems behind. the age of information is coming up now… there are great chances involved, I guess (and other risks too) … have a nice day.

  10. keineAhnung on September 24, 2008 at 2:31 am

    @ShadowerLiltani: yeah, I know what you mean, I’ve searched for a snag too…but I haven’t read through the whole artist contract stuff yet, but at least that’s what they say in the ‘how does it work section’ @free of charge…but I think it’s because sellaband does not really spent much money on the artist…the promo is done by the band themselves and the believers and all the money they need for recording is raised by the believers alone…for my understanding, sellaband is more like a middleman who makes sure the bands get their album recorded professionally (and of course they earn about one third of the downloads profit plus some share of the ‘normal’ album distribution)

  11. faiintx on September 23, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    hey mike, i just wanted to say that you really are an inspiration to me =)
    not just through your career, but as a person too

    this entry was very very inspiring…and you absolutely have a point.
    i’ve always (ever since i was 4) wanted to be a music artist when i grow up, but i thought i’d never know how i’d get started…
    im a 13 year old girl living in dallas and have a very big dream, and it’s people like you and the rest of the band who inspire me.

    by the way, thanks for the amazing concert on august 23 in dallas =)

    i’m always gonna look up to you

    — Pallavi ❤

  12. Meryl on September 23, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    You should have talked about nine inch nails and the facts that production is clearly different in indie label than major, controlling tools of the artist can’t be compared.

  13. Foreword09 on September 23, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    Part 4….

    His Music:

    His Art:

    Oh and on a side note…..when are you going to anounce when your art show is going to be??? It might help to have some sort of idea….you know….for those of us who might need to get a plane ticket to fly out there to Cali to see the awesomness that you create…..wink Just curious! Thanks for all you do……you ROCK!

  14. Foreword09 on September 23, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    Part 3…..

    2 Live Crew, Ajax, Bed I Am, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Critical Bill, Defekt Haystak, III Bill, Insane Clown Posse, King Gordy, The Koffin Kats, Mack 10, Mars, Marz, Mindless Self Indulgence, Menacide, Mushroomhead, Necro,The Outlawz, Project: Deadman, The R.O.C., Tech N9ne, Ying Yang Twins, Zug Izland and more (at least thats what his flyers says anyways, haha)Anywho, I’m just curious to hear what you think not only about his music but his artwork……check him out and let me know what you think (if you want to) I don’t like much rap or hip hop (i’m REALLY picky about it) but I was actually impressed by this guy….he’s different!

  15. Foreword09 on September 23, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Part Two…..

    Anyways, I heard this guy (Cellar Mannequin) rapping/performing at the show and (I could have sworn) I heard him mention you in one of this songs…..turns out he didn’t, i’m just delusional….but it got us talking…..and I have to say this Kid is really smart….and pretty talented too (one of the more talented performers at the show) So…I checked out his Myspace and was even more impressed when i saw some of his artwork too……then I just KNEW I had to share it with you Mike……You MIGHT like it?!?? I don’t know….but the kid has played with such artists like:

  16. Foreword09 on September 23, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Part One…….

    So this doesn’t have to do with your Blog adventures…..but it does have something to do with art and music!! I was at a show this past Saturday which I almost didn’t go at first cause i’m not big into rap music but i went to support my cousins (OS7) and I’m glad I did because I discovered something new I just had to share with you…..why you Mike, so you ask??? Actually it’s cause of you (LP) I actually met this guy… thanks….haha. 🙂

  17. ShadowerLiltani on September 23, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    To the comment below mine, sounds like a too good to be true sort of thing… It seems worth looking into, but what does the band give for being part of this website? People never just hand out help, it usually comes with a price, whether that price is money or, in the case of this site because the band is free of charge, possible losing some of their rights to their music. Anyways, I came over here because Mike, I asked his of my friends today at random and got some very unique and creative and hilarious reactions. (All you Mike/LP fans are welcome to answer too) What do you think is the most disgusting thing in the whole world?

  18. keineAhnung on September 23, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    A few days ago I read an article about …they give unsigned bands a chance to bring out their music on and there raise money to professionally record their album…everybody who believes in the band can buy a ‘part’ (10$ each) to sponsor them, if they got about 5000 ‘believers’ (or 50.000$) they’ll get a professional producer, a&r and studio to record the album…the profit and advertising revenues are evenly split between the artist, sellaband and the ‘believers’…after that, the band is free to go, free of charge and do whatever they want to do…I think that’s pretty cool, because only bands who really make good music will have a chance

  19. outlawserenade on September 23, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Curiosa brought in excellent points. So my only comment is: Bob Lefsetz.

    And lulz to the identical, folded left-leg stances in the previous entry. Y’alls are as defensive as the others.

  20. rockermeg on September 23, 2008 at 11:50 am

    By the way,,that was all from my point of view.

    For all we know you could be whipping Holly B and SOB and not letting them out of the studio and EMI could be very supportive and welcoming and the Chili Peppers weren’t doing their best(not by my standards but…)

    So its just from one perspective,I’m sure you hava a very different one Mike

  21. rockermeg on September 23, 2008 at 11:46 am

    I totally agree

    But not all major labels are the same. For instance EMI are really unsupportive of their bands who don’t acheive a sound that EMI want. And Warner Bros(even though you probably know more than me)are seen as a supportive and family label.

    And the same can be said for Indie labels. You guys at Machine Shop accept a wide range of artists and you’re very fan-orientated but Funeral for a Friend just set up their own label,”Join Us”,and put their newest album on it and their not doing well at all. Their music has changed but I guess if they like it then more pwer to them.

    But a very insightful post Mike,I’ll bare it all in mind


  22. Shinodabestfriend on September 23, 2008 at 11:39 am

    oh, thank you, Michael….

  23. Curiosa on September 23, 2008 at 10:44 am

    CONT: If the way labels run their business doesn’t change then w/technology growing & the ability 2 produce music becoming easier plus the unrest of the treatment of new artists those big labels may end up becoming non-existent. Look at where they are right now thanks to the internet. I do however agree w/u about the hard work. Sorry for the essay but I’m sure u saw it coming. :)~

  24. Curiosa on September 23, 2008 at 10:43 am

    CONT: I agree w/Kathyxx. If you’ve earned 10,000 fans by yourself then you’ve basically done the work so why bother signing to someone who just wants to attach their name 2 u? In my experience if an employee is happy w/their work place &/or job they will stay but if they’re unhappy they won’t feel any loyalty to the co. & will quit. I believe it’s the same thing w/record labels & artists. I’ve heard stories about artists signing their life away 2 a big label only 2 find themselves playing in small bars scraping by.

  25. Curiosa on September 23, 2008 at 10:42 am

    CONT: Perfect example: SOB last yr in PR. It’s great that they got to join u guys but putting an unknown hip-hop act w/a rock audience wasn’t going to help them get their name out there. (yes, it was just a rock concert even though MCR isn’t really considered rock) Had it been this yr’s PR when u guys added Busta, SOB would have had a bigger chance of getting their name out there more because of the mixed audience. (It’s understandable though that Busta was a last minute edition but this made a good example.)

  26. Curiosa on September 23, 2008 at 10:42 am

    CONT: Being a part of a big label, the label should be responsible for many of those expenses, especially marketing. I emphasize marketing because that is such a key factor after all why do you think so many hip-hop artists w/little talent are making it big? Why do you think many manufactured bands become so famous? It’s all about marketing 2 the right people & getting your name out there. You need to know who your targeted audience is & look to them w/o losing yourself. Just like when you’re creating brands, you have to know who your audience is.

  27. Curiosa on September 23, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Fist off, I also don’t know everything about the music biz but bcause of the crap Holly went through, I’ve learned a few things. Now I disagree w/u Mike about needing a big label for fame. Look at OK GO, they’re famous thanks to YouTube & they weren’t signed to a big label & there are other people out there who are famous thanks to the internet. IMO a big label should be there to help finance the artist especially with marketing. If you’re part of an indie label u end up paying for some of the expenses like marketing (small price 4 ur freedom imo). CONT

  28. skindesbous on September 23, 2008 at 10:26 am

    I need to work hard. That’s all I know.

  29. DianneMaeS on September 23, 2008 at 10:03 am

    By the way, since I had the impression that I needed to be an exclusive member to attend your keynote, I came one hour too late to see you in time. That was ONLY because I was discouraged about the said fees and I thought I had a very little chance. It was such a movie moment. In a change of heart, I rushed to the expo, asked if anyone knew where you were, and when they said, “YOU JUST MISSED HIM! HE JUST LEFT!” I was so distraught!

  30. DianneMaeS on September 23, 2008 at 10:01 am

    So since you’re coming back to Vegas in a few weeks, I figured I’m going to give you a letter here when I see you, letting you know everything I wanted to tell you at the Expo, which I missed because I was mislead by the website as well! See you in a few weeks. Here’s what I look like so you know where to find me : … LOL. Kapeesh?

  31. LaKennyLP on September 23, 2008 at 9:36 am

    yeh Mike, you’re totally right. all depends of the energy you put to make your own work. you’re so right 🙂

    now please… look at this video i found for you, i LOVE it!!!!!! :)))!! : h tt p://

    thanks for your advices mikey, always here.
    -mary (spain)

  32. Coach_K on September 23, 2008 at 9:22 am

    Ok, it sounds ridiculous but I didn’t understand the 100% of the text (I’m not Enghish), so just saying that Serj Tankian’s Elect The Dead is one of my favourite albums, is personal and have a lot of energy. He produced the album, of course.


    In MTM you guys don’t sound as good as I could imagine. Try different options, make it free and bring us another good album.

  33. miKer0cks on September 23, 2008 at 8:38 am

    wow mike!!! i’m actually crying now!!!! u are totally right!!! i belive that too!!! if u put a lot of pressure and energy in ur work it will sometime give it back to u a great result no matter what!!!! that’s awesome!!! i’m glad that u are sharing ur thoughts with us mike, thx!!!!
    that’s all i have!!! 🙂 hope u like them….anyway…cya and take care!!! lots of hugs and kisses<3 have a great day!!!!

  34. Xenith on September 23, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Sorry Mike I’m at work so dont have time to read up what I have missed… however I just stopped by to show you this : Banksy a British street artist has paid you all a visit 🙂

  35. Raspberry on September 23, 2008 at 7:07 am

    That was great info, not that i will ever need it unless school cooks will get labels in the future 🙂 I’ll stick to cooking as my singing sucks, hehe (smurf on crack comes to mind)

  36. Senzaikyuu on September 23, 2008 at 6:17 am

    Mike u r like…100% right about that.everything depends on how much effort and blood sweat and tears u put on ur work.@ some point ur work is going to give u a good result no matter what u r doing.Just keep up good work.

  37. Gabry94LinkinParkfan23 on September 23, 2008 at 6:16 am

    hey mike… well thats very interesting .. nd u’re right!!!!! luv u, kiss 🙂

  38. maria on September 23, 2008 at 4:53 am

    Hi Mike) Well, firstly, I’d like to say that your post in general is very interesting to read) And you’re right about “late 1990s”
    Because nobody cared about fresh phylosophy, people just wanted to find something that their morality and life exprerience could be based on). And to my mind Linkin Park gave people and the world food for thought))) that’s very important and what is more important Linkin Park’s phylosophy made people change their life perception, and made us all overcome the crisis of perception) thanks to you for that))))) LINKIN PARK)

  39. Kalini on September 23, 2008 at 4:46 am

    Ha-ha! Starting with a handshake with Mr. Angel Djambazov, Mike, you’ve met very interesting people at the conference! Well, I agree with what you and Mr. Tim Ferris have said there. Be yourself! “stay true to your own uniqueness”. “Being nice to unimportant people can be incredibly important”. “Who reads your blog is often more important than how many”. “You need to build your brand in a real way. Put up what you think is authentic and interesting”. It’s all true! Thanks for the links! Who is the red baron? Krassie K.

  40. Chemist999 on September 23, 2008 at 2:39 am

    “times were different back in the late 1990s when we signed with a major. they weren’t asking for ownership of your touring, merchandise, fan club, and domain name back then. they are now.” And what was your answer, when they’d started asking for all these things?

  41. Anstice on September 22, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    This is completely unrelated to record labels and whatnot, but since we’re on the topic of music…Mike, you should mention something about Chris Cornell’s song, “Scream.” It’s freaking amazing.

  42. KATHYxx on September 22, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    If you earned 10,000 fans, by yourself, in this day and age, I don’t see the point in stopping and signing a major. The only thing i see the labels have to offer is exposure (with the internet, distribution is free), and I don’t think exposure is worth signing your entire life, fan club, domain, etc away for it if you got that many fans already, run with it

    I don’t think I’m exactly a fame type I-need-a-police-escort-everywhere-I-go person either.

  43. shinoda_me on September 22, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    i got nothing to do with the music industry… i probably will never have anything to do either… but somehow, i cant help keep thinking about this post… inspires me in some strange way.. you always do that… thanks =)

  44. Mark86 on September 22, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    I’m sorry, I wanted to write something more “intelligent”, but i’m really tired so… Creative Commons rocks!

  45. durg on September 22, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    oh & that car you posted about a few days ago,
    apparently my aunts dad made one, thought that was pretty sweet.
    they were talking about it at dinner while i was there right after i read about it here & i asked about it, he makes tons of cars that run off of shet like that. :p

  46. durg on September 22, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    mot a ta mere. 😀

  47. murry on September 22, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    It’s a shame the book publishing world isn’t quite so advanced. I’m sort of inspired to try to apply this to my field, though. I may as well just write the novel I want to write and then attempt to sell digital copies, before I try shopping it to major publishing houses. I wonder if it could work in a similar fashion. Hmm…

  48. Doomguy13 on September 22, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Mike, thank you for this post. I am starting up a band I was thinking “We will record a demo then send it off to a record company RIGHT AWAY!” but after reading this, I still might do this. but how you described being an “indie” artist, I might just do that. BUT, the record company I want to get signed to eventually is Machine Shop Records. Heard you run stuff very well there.

  49. cuz on September 22, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    i was always too afraid of that “fame” aspect. always loved to be a musician / artist but that thing kept me away. good that now there’s more ways. thanks for clearing it up. having a good advice is really helpful 🙂 btw it made me thing how much the world has changed…

  50. caleb_bozeman on September 22, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    What about Machine Shop? are you guys strict when it comes to picking out bands?

  51. ShadowerLiltani on September 22, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    This is why, a month or so ago, I decided I should self publish my book. It’s easier to self promote than hope to get published by a huge publishing company. I like the feeling of knowing that I don’t have to watch what I say, because I am representing myself and my art, and not some other company, who’s number one priority is and always will be, MONEY. Anyways, when I can finally put my book in my web store, I will be making several autographed copies, so if you or anyone else who happens by this site wants one, you should keep an eye on my website:

  52. NataliaForgotten on September 22, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Interesting, very interesting. I want to live as a musician someday, thanks about the advice and the explanations. (and, again, thanks for care so much about the fans)

  53. Hybr1d_7h3ory on September 22, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Amen Mike!!!

    All these great bands that make it big, then the Label takes all the bands money, and then they are stuck in a bread-line in LA somewhere. It is really great to see bands like LP under Machine Shop, knowing that you guys do own the rights to your music. And Radiohead, how they recently just put out a cd that they own the music rights 100 %.

    As Mike said, the power is in our hands now. DOWN WITH THE MAN/WOMAN!!! Remember we have to stay politically correct.


  54. spraypaintNinkpens on September 22, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Mike the 3 year fm anniversary is coming up. Any plans for a new fort minor project?

  55. hereforyoux on September 22, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    I agree with you completely. This is great advice and I think it’s very true. I always though fame was something that came with being a part of a band but now I guess not. There’s a lot more to it. Thanks for posting your opinion up.

  56. Carla on September 22, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    I think these are really wise words, not only limited to the music scene, but making “it” in general. Really grateful you gave some insight and advice. Though I’m not going into the music scene myself, I’m sure it will come in handy in the future. Also, I really loved the adivce segment about “Being a category of one” (referring to the other entry) 🙂

  57. Hawaii_LP_fan on September 22, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    The old adage, “Knowledge is power” comes to mind after reading your blog. Change is necessary in life and it has certainly turn the tide at almost a blink of an eye or actually a keystroke! It sounds like you were educated & fulfilled in all the little facets of what blogworld has to offer. I think it’s really cool that you took time out of your busy schedule to educate yourself & establish a foundation/goal for what you have in mind to perfect your site! Thanks for the info Mr. Shinoda! ~ Aloha ~

  58. Anstice on September 22, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    That’s actually some amazing advice to people who are trying to make it into the music scene. I know I’ve tried my hand at many things, and nothing worked before because it didn’t seem like I had the right “connections.”

  59. soyuneik on September 22, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Beyond that, things may be different but they still retain there same core elements. You arrived at at time where the internet’s social aspects were in there infancy, Compared to sites like myspace, facebook, etc… I wonder just how many people there were using the internet as you did? That said, There is an overabundance now. Everyone has a music page, everyone wants to be signed. In my mind, it seems like it breaks even.

  60. pepper on September 22, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing your opinion mike, that helps a lot in understanding the busiess. I’m going to college soon and this kinda stuff helps me see into the music industry and if I’d like to enter it, as a PR or something, just anything to be apart of the music.

  61. soyuneik on September 22, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    I’ve always looked at the “fame” aspect as something that was inevitable but depended on what stage you wanted to take. (e.g. Do you want to take on the underground? Do you want to take on the world.?) As in making a goal based on your own set limits or confidence in your abilities. Of course, there will be those who have yet to decide, or mistook there abilities for something greater and/or for something less…. and found themselves walking an entirely different path. I would be comfortable living on what I love to do without fame, however, I don’t think that’s possible, since my aim is for ‘one of the best’..

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