By Diane Rapaport

Virtually every town in America and Canada has at least one artist or band that puts out their own CDs. Artists with local and regional followings can sell as many as 5000 recordings a year at performances;; artists with followings in several states can sell many more recordings.

Record labels that focus on particular genres of music can have gross incomes of up to several million dollars a year. According to SoundScan, sales of indie recordings in the United States accounts for over a billion dollars annually or approximately 15% of the sales of all recorded product.

The actual income generated by sales of indie recordings may be much higher. Many indies do not bar code their recordings because they sell them at performances, by mail order to fans and on the Internet. And, SoundScan statistics do not include sales generated in many nonrecord retail stores.

If you add consumer purchases of concert tickets for indie performances and sales of promotional merchandise, it is easy to realize why independent recording is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Other benefits for indie artists and labels:

Indies Under Siege

For all its successes, the indie record industry is increasingly under siege.

The Internet: A New Ally

The Internet is an ideal medium for serving niche interests. Accessibility to hundreds of genres feeds a public that is increasingly interested in music that is not available on popular, large entertainment mediums. Although there is a great deal of hope that the Internet will compensate for the increasing consolidation of retail stores and radio stations and help indies expose and sell their music, there are some potential pitfalls.

The proliferation of Web sites means that indie artists and labels must find methods for getting people to them and returning. The competition for audience share and the increasing presence and dominance of large Web sites by entertainment conglomerates does not make this an easy task for indies. Their sites can easily get lost in cyberspace.

Indie labels have spurred a music renaissance and revitalized music by enriching and widening the spectrum that is available to the public. The advantages that indies have are their decentralization, flexibility and small scales of operation. While the major label industry continues to homogenize and narrow its focus to only a few musical genres, the independent label industry has diversity, passion, vitality and creativity.

Nevertheless, new strategies must be adopted to maintain and increase the gains indies have made. By taking steps to counter the new challenges that confront them, independent bands and artists can continue to prosper.

Excerpted from Diane Rapaports book, A Music Business Primer, published by Prentice Hall. © 2003 by Diane Rapaport. The book is available on and at major book stores.