Recording companies, commonly refered to as 'labels' play a big part in Indie Rock, or in any music business: they can make or break a band's future. Some popular Indie labels are Saddle Creek Records, Sub Pop, Merge Records, Matador, and Polydor. There are many record companies all over the world supporting and distributing albums.

An independent record label (or indie record label) is a record label operating without the funding of or outside the organizations of the major record labels. A great number of bands and musical acts begin on independent labels.


Saddle Creek Records is an American record label based in Omaha, Nebraska. Started as a college class project on entrepreneurship, the label was founded by Mike Mogis and Justin Oberst in 1993 (as Lumberjack Records). Mogis soon turned over his role in the company to Robb Nansel. The label is named after Saddle Creek Road, a street that cuts through the east side of midtown Omaha, and the beginnings of a scene whose members included Conor Oberst (then a solo artist, currently ofBright Eyes, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, and Monsters of Folk), Tim Kasher (then of Slowdown Virginia, currently of Cursive and The Good Life), and others. Collectively, they were known unofficially as the "Creekers". Saddle Creek first appeared in print on a show flyer, offering to "Spend an evening with Saddle Creek" (later to be the title of the label's DVD.) [1] Saddle Creek became an incorporated entity as a result of a class project on entrepreneurship. Distribution is handled by theAlternative Distribution Alliance, which is under the Warner Music Group umbrella.

Saddle Creek Records continues to be the flagship label of a style of music called "The Omaha Sound", characterized by a slight country twang. This is increasingly inaccurate, though, with the rise of more electronic sounds such as those favored byThe Faint and Broken Spindles. The eclectic sounds of Saddle Creek's disparate member bands is somewhat explained by their history; a number of the original members of the label attended grade school together.[2] A "brother label", of sorts, to Saddle Creek is Team Love, started by Conor Oberst in 2004.

The label opened arms to their first bands not based in Omaha in 2001 with releases by Now It's Overhead and Sorry About Dresden. Other non-Nebraskan artists followed, including Los Angeles's Rilo Kiley, Eric Bachmann (formerly leader of Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers from North Carolina), Georgie James (Washington D.C.), Two Gallants (San Francisco), and most recently Tokyo Police Club (Toronto).

In 2005, Spend An Evening with Saddle Creek, a documentary detailing the first ten years of the record label's history, was released. The DVD features extensive interviews with the Saddle Creek bands, archival footage, and rare live performances.

On 8 June 2007, the label opened their own music venue named Slowdown [3] (after the group Slowdown Virginia), located in downtown Omaha, Nebraska


Merge Records is an independent record label based in Durham, North Carolina. It was founded in 1989 by Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan. It began as a way to release music from their band Superchunk and music created by friends, and has expanded to include artists from around the world and records reaching the top of the Billboard music charts.

After releasing a number of 7" records and cassettes, the first Merge Records full-length CD release came on April 1, 1992 with MRG020 Superchunk - Tossing Seeds, the band's first collection of singles.

The label's first album to reach the USA Billboard 200 was the Arcade Fire's Funeral, a 2004 release.[1] Arcade Fire gave the label its then highest-charting release with their follow-up, 2007's Neon Bible, which debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200,[2]and, later, reaching #1 with their third album, 2010's The Suburbs.[3] Other Billboard Top Ten releases include Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Transference, along with She & Him's (actress Zooey Deschanel along with M. Ward, a popular Merge folk musician) Volume Two. Other notable Merge releases include Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, The Magnetic Fields's 69 Love Songs, Caribou's Polaris Prize-winning Andorra, M. Ward's Hold Time, Camera Obscura's Let's Get Out of This Country, and She & Him's Volume One.

In February 2009, due to adverse market conditions it was announced that Touch and Go Records would no longer manufacture and distribute records for Merge and many other independent record labels;[4] Merge had been "under the Touch and Go umbrella" ever since its 1992 release of Tossing Seeds.[5] Merge quickly reached an agreement with the Alternative Distribution Alliance to continue distribution of its releases.[6]

In September 2009, Algonquin Paperbacks released Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, a book chronicling the label's history.[7] This followed a 6-day music festival in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, NC, featuring over 40 Merge acts from around the world[8] celebrating the 20th anniversary of the label's first release. The label also released a subscription-only 17-disc box set SCORE! 20 Years of Merge Records[9] throughout the 20th anniversary year curated by pop culture tastemakers the likes of David Byrne, Amy Poehler, Zach Galifianakis, Jonathan Lethem, Peter Buck, David Chang,Mindy Kaling and more, with all proceeds going to charities.

In August 2010, Merge Records released Arcade Fire's The Suburbs to critical acclaim, preceding the band's headlining appearance at Lollapalooza. The album went straight to number one on the US and UK charts. Famed director and Monty Python member Terry Gilliam also directed a live online broadcast of the bands's concert from the historic Madison Square Garden in New York following the album's release, which was streamed live by an estimated 1.8 million unique viewers. The Suburbs won the Grammy for Album of the Year in February, 2011.


Matador Records is an independent record label, with a roster of indie rock artists and bands.

Matador was started by Chris Lombardi in 1989 in his New York City apartment. The following year, Lombardi was joined by former Homestead Records manager Gerard Cosloy, and the two of them have run it together since. In 1993, the label began a partnership with Atlantic Records which lasted for a couple of years. Then in 1996, Capitol Records purchased a 49 percent stake in Matador, but Lombardi and Cosloy bought it back in 1999. It has been co-owned by the Beggars Group since 2002 and now operates in both New York and London.

Patrick Amory, Matador's longtime label manager, is currently label President and a partner of Lombardi and Cosloy.

In the early 2000s, Matador has had to sidestep unwanted involvement in the current Recording Industry Association of America dispute over Peer-to-peer file sharing networks. Matador's Patrick Amory contacted the RIAA multiple times in order to ensure that an erroneous listing on the group's website of Matador as an RIAA member was removed. After several attempts, the name of the independent label was removed from the membership list.[citation needed]

Matador acquired True Panther Sounds as an imprint in 2009.[1]

In October of 2010, Matador celebrated the label's 21st anniversary with a series of concerts at the The Palms Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Pavement, Yo La Tengo, The New Pornographers, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Guided By Voices, Kurt Vile, Cold Cave, Fucked Up, Liz Phair, Shearwater, Superchunk, Come, Times New Viking, Belle & Sebastian, Cat Power, Perfume Genius, Harlem and Guitar Wolf were amongst the participants.


Team Love is a New York City-based independent record label founded by Conor Oberst and Nate Krenkel in 2003. It has released albums by musicians including Tilly and the Wall, Jenny Lewis, David Dondero, Craig Wedren, Capgun Coup, Gruff Rhys, The Shortbus Movie Soundtrack,McCarthy Trenching, El Madmo, Bright Eyes, and Willy Mason. A distinguishing marketing tactic of Team Love has been complete albums for download in unprotected mp3 format at no cost on their website in addition to traditional record and CD sales.

Team Love's first release was Tilly and the Wall's Wild Like Children on June 22, 2004. In 2006, Team Love released Jenny Lewis' solo debut with The Watson Twins and later the Tilly and the Wall follow-up Bottom of the Barrels. The year before, it put out records by David Dondero and Craig Wedren as well as the Bright Eyes live album Motion Sickness (though the band's studio albums are still released through the Saddle Creek imprint). Team Love reissued Park Ave.'s When Jamie Went to London... We Broke Up in late 2005. The album was produced on Urinine Records in 1999, but in 2005 Urinine closed, making the album out of print.

The label was founded in part due to Oberst's frustration at not being able to sign and showcase talent quick enough through the record label his own Bright Eyes albums are released with, Saddle Creek Records. Saddle Creek was a label his brother helped co-found but was operated and managed by various individuals. Team Love, while once distributed through Saddle Creek is now distributed directly through Alternative Distribution Alliance.

Also notably, Krenkel was a former A&R representative for 8 years with major labels like EMI and Sony Publishing before leaving for Team Love. He was responsible for signing singer/songwriter Jesse Harris to Sony ATV Music Publishing, who was the main songwriter for Norah Jones' debut album Come Away With Me, winning a Grammy for Song Of The Year for her first hit Don't Know Why.


Sub Pop is a record label founded by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman in Seattle, Washington in 1986. Sub Pop achieved fame in the late 1980s for first signing Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and many other bands from the Seattle music scene.[1] They are often credited with taking the first steps toward popularizing grunge music, and have continued to achieve critical and commercial success in the new millennium, with popular bands such as Fleet Foxes, The Postal Service, Flight of the Conchords, No Age, Wolf Parade and The Shins on their roster. In 1995 Poneman sold a 49% stake of the label to Warner Bros. Records.[2]

Formation[edit | edit source]

Sub Pop began not as a record label but as a fanzine created by Bruce Pavitt in the early 1980s called Subterranean Pop. Pavitt worked on the fanzine, which focused exclusively on American independent record labels, to earn course credit while attending Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. By the fourth issue, Pavitt shortened the name to Sub Pop and began alternating issues with compilation tapes of underground rock bands. The Sub Pop #5 cassette, released in 1982, sold two thousand copies.[3] In 1983, Pavitt moved to Seattle, Washington and released the ninth and final issue of Sub Pop. While in Seattle, he wrote a column for local newspaper The Rocket titled "Sub Pop U.S.A.", a column he ended in 1988.[4][5]

In 1986, Pavitt released the first Sub Pop LP, the compilation Sub Pop 100, which featured material by artists including Sonic Youth, Naked Raygun, Wipers, and Scratch Acid. Seattle group Green River chose to record their Dry as a Bone EP for Pavitt's new label in June 1986; Pavitt couldn't afford to release it until the following year. When finally released, Dry as a Bone was promoted by Sub Pop as "ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation".[6] Also in 1987, Jonathan Poneman provided $20,000 in funding for Sub Pop to release the debut Soundgarden single "Hunted Down"/"Nothing to Say" in July 1987, followed by the band's first EP Screaming Life that October.[7] Poneman soon became a full partner in the label. Pavitt focused on the label's A&R aspects, while Poneman dealt with the business and legal issues.[8] Both men decided they wanted the label to focus on "this primal rock stuff that was coming out," according to Pavitt.[9]

[edit]The "Seattle sound"[edit | edit source]

In early 1988 Pavitt and Poneman quit their jobs to devote their full attention to Sub Pop. Raising $43,000, they incorporated that April. "Of course that was spent in, like, thirty days", Pavitt recalled. "We almost went bankrupt after a month".[10] That August Sub Pop released the first single byMudhoney, a band featuring former members of Green River. Sub Pop released the Mudhoney single "Touch Me I'm Sick" in an intentionally limited first pressing of 800 copies to create demand. The strategy was later adopted by other independent labels.[11]

Pavitt and Poneman studied earlier independent labels ranging from Motown to SST Records and decided that virtually every successful movement in rock music had a regional basis. The pair sought to create a cohesive brand identity for Sub Pop. The label's ads promoted the label itself more than any particular band. The label also sought to market a "Seattle sound", which was accomplished with the help of producer Jack Endino, who produced 75 singles, albums, and EPs for Sub Pop between 1987 and 1989. Endino recorded cheaply and quickly; in order to operate this way, he utilized some consistent studio techniques, which gave the records a similar sound.[12]

In November 1988 Sub Pop released "Love Buzz", the debut single by Aberdeen, Washington band Nirvana, as the first entry in the Sub Pop Singles Club, a subscription service that would allow subscribers to receive singles by the label on a monthly basis by mail. At its peak in 1990, the club had two thousand subscribers.[13] The club made Sub Pop a powerful force in the Seattle scene, and effectively made the label's name synonymous with the music of the Seattle area—much in the same way Motown Records was to Detroit—and helped to secure the label's cash flow.[14] The original series was discontinued in 1993, followed by Singles Club V.2, launched in 1998 and discontinued in 2002.[15]

Mindful that garnering the attention of the American mainstream music press was difficult for all but the largest indie label, Pavitt and Ponemen took inspiration from alternative bands like Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, and Dinosaur Jr. and sought to publicize the label via the British music press. In March 1989, Pavitt and Poneman flew Melody Maker journalist Everett True to Seattle to write an article on the local music scene. As Pavitt had anticipated, the British press became enamoured with Sub Pop and the grunge sound. Pavitt said, "I really felt that the Brits and the Europeans wanted to see something that was unruly and that was more of an American archetype -- something that was really primal and really drew from the roots of rock & roll, which was very American."[16] Poneman explained the label's success: "It could have happened anywhere, but there was a lucky set of coincidences. Charles Peterson was here to document the scene, Jack Endino was here to record the scene. Bruce and I were here to exploit the scene."[14]

When Nirvana moved to Geffen Records, Sub Pop received royalties from sales of Nevermind that kept the label going for years afterwards.[14] A stipulation was also implemented where selected future Nirvana studio LPs were required to carry the Sub Pop logo alongside Geffen's. After the mainstream success of Nirvana, many successful grunge bands had left Sub Pop for major record labels. Soon afterwards, a joint venture was formed with Warner Bros. Records (which had distributed Geffen since that label was founded in 1980; after 10 years under Warner, Geffen was sold toMCA Music Entertainment Group), thereby ending Sub Pop's status as an entirely independent label.

[edit]Pavitt's departure[edit | edit source]

Poneman and Pavitt had a disagreement about the direction the label should take, with Poneman wanting the label to become larger and make more money.[14] In 1996, unable to take the new corporate culture following the Warner partnership, Bruce Pavitt left the label and was able to spend more time with his family.[2] The split between Pavitt and Poneman was not amicable, and they did not speak for seven years.[2]

The label opened offices worldwide and began major investment in new artists, but without achieving great commercial success, prompting a scaling down and a return to Seattle.[14]

In 2006, Sub Pop Records became the first Green-e certified record label. Through work with the Green-e program and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Sub Pop "greened" their label by purchasing enough renewable energy certificates to offset 100 percent of the electricity they use in their office, showing their commitment to putting renewable energy in the mainstream as a way consumers can take action to do something about global warming.[17]

In early 2007, Sub Pop started a sister label by the name of Hardly Art.[18][19] This label is also partially owned by Warner Music. In August 2008, Sub Pop relaunched the singles club for one year to celebrate its twentieth anniversary.[20

Sub Pop has two platinum records, Nirvana's Bleach; and Flight of the Conchords's Flight of the Conchords, as well as two gold records, The Postal Service's Give Up and The Shins' Wincing the Night Away. The Shins' "New Slang" has gone gold, and The Postal Service's digital single for "Such Great Heights" has gone platinum. On January 31, 2007, Sub Pop announced that The Shins' third full-length for Sub Pop, Wincing the Night Away, debuted at number two on the Billboard charts, reporting first week sales of 117,991 (35K in digital sales). This is the first time any album in Sub Pop history has ever charted in the top ten or broken 100,000 in the first week of sales.

Alternative Tentacles is an independent record label based in San Francisco, California and was established in 1979. It was originally used as the label name by the Dead Kennedys for the self-produced single "California Über Alles", and after realizing the potential for an independent label, they released records for other bands as well. Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray and vocalist Jello Biafra formed the original Alternative Tentacles partnership, but the label is now run by Biafra, who became the sole owner in the mid-1980s.[1]

Alternative Tentacles went on to launch some of the most original bands of the alternative/punk scene including releasing records (which were later released by other labels) by bands including The Dicks, 7 Seconds, and the Butthole Surfers. The early compilation titled Let Them Eat Jellybeans! served to introduce American punk to the rest of the world.[2]

Some of the best known bands that have come through Alternative Tentacles are Dead Kennedys, NoMeansNo, D.O.A. and Alice Donut.[3]

In addition to musical acts, Alternative Tentacles also publishes spoken word albums, many by Jello Biafra himself. Another common theme of Alternative Tentacles records over the years has been the long-standing artwork of Winston Smith, which has graced many of their records, catalogs, posters, and shirts. Smith also designed the Alternative Tentacles logo.[4]

In 1984, Los Angeles prosecutors charged Biafra with "distributing harmful matter to minors" for artwork contained in the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. The artwork was a poster reproduction of the painting "Work 219: Landscape XX", also known as "Penis Landscape" by Swiss painter H.R. Giger. The case ended in a hung jury; charges were not re-filed. A detailed account of the trial is presented by Biafra on his second spoken word album, High Priest of Harmful Matter − Tales from the Trial.

In early 2000, the label and Biafra were named in a lawsuit brought by his former Dead Kennedys bandmates. The suit claimed that Biafra had failed to pay the band royalties on Dead Kennedys albums. The end result of the case saw the rights to the albums turned over to the other band members, who licensed them to Manifesto Records in the United States (and to other labels in the rest of the world). The taking away of the Dead Kennedys album meant that the label struggled to get back on its feet, since the biggest sales it had were DK albums.

In October 2002, the label moved to Emeryville, California.

Manifesto Records is the name of an independent record label based in Los Angeles, California that has released records by The Wedding Present, Dead Kennedys, Tom Waits, Tim Buckley, Lilys, Concrete Blonde, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and others. Manifesto released the entire catalogue ofDead Kennedys in 2001 after the band obtained the rights from Alternative Tentacles. Manifesto is also the home of an imprint of Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of The Turtles, called FloEdCo; this imprint has released albums by The Turtles and Flo & Eddie.

Manifesto Records, an independent label, is completely unaffiliated with the Manifesto Records in the United Kingdom, which is the name of an inactive dance imprint of Mercury Records.

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