List of the Day - Archives

The Top Ten Independent Performers

List Of The Day

Ani DiFranco made herself famous not just for her music but the way she approached the entire music business. She turned down major labels. She turned down commercial endorsements. She continued to seed her own Righteous Babe record label.

Now there are plenty of independent recording artists out there. Many of them are independent because no one else wants them. I know that's why I'm not signed to Warner Brothers! There are hundreds of folk acts and blues acts who will never catch the eye of a major label. But there have been quite a few acts over the years who could've gone on to a major label but politely declined the invitation. And others who by their very design were destined to remain on their own. Here are 10 notables ones.

10) Minutemen: Yes, Mike Watt did eventually sign with Columbia Records. But the Minutemen were a band who you figure would never do a thing like that. They were too in need of releasing their stuff quickly and urgently. Even their attempts at "sell out" were laughable. Project Mersh? Yeah, that's a winning campaign. You need hooks to sell this stuff and a sexy video! Fat guys in flannel ain't gonna cut it. This was the 1980s, guys!

9) R. Stevie Moore: He's been recording mostly at home since the 1970s and at one point was issuing everything he could on cassette, garnering a cult following and remaining largely ignored by the mainstream record buying public. Thirty years later, nothing's changed. Except you can now find a lot of his stuff on CD. Don't expect Sony or Universal to be planning a boxed set anytime soon.

8) Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Will Oldham is one strange guy and one of Indie Rock's surefire "mavericks." (Don't you just love that now useless term?) He records under different names. He doesn't always shell out promotional copies of his albums to reviewers. He can't be found on iTunes. He still releases singles! The man is so uncommercial, he's practically commercial.

7) Dead Kennedys: With that name they couldn't have had many dreams of big label stardom. Then again before they formed Alternative Tentacles Records to put out their albums, they were pretty game to sign with anyone who would have them--and then the band members got in a legal fight with their singer over the usual contractual disputes--i.e. the money.

6) Billy Childish: He has recorded over a hundred albums and written 40 books of poetry and four novels. He is a cult legend who doesn't seem to care about the material things that others worship. For instance, he probably wouldn't like this chair that I'm currently sitting in.

5) Jandek: Some record company executive would surely have suggested he tune his guitar.

4) GG Allin: GG's been getting a lot of play on this blog as of late and I'm not really sure why. The man had an "independent" streak in him, if that's what we'd like to call it. Unlike all the other shock rock bands, however, GG had star potential. He could've been as big as Slayer if he'd just learn how to tone it down. But that would've ruined his essence. And the record company might have taken him off his beloved laxatives.

3) Minor Threat: Before there was Fugazi, there was Minor Threat and they operated like bad capitalists, charging very little for their records and even putting big announcements on them saying "PAY NO MORE THAN $3.50 FOR THIS RECORD," which always looked really funny next to the record store sticker that would say $5.99. I figured it was worth the stamp and bought direct! And they never sold my name to another mailing list.

2) Fugazi: I'm surprised these guys even take cash. If they could, they'd operate on the barter system. True story: I once asked them for an interview for this Yahoo! Music site and they decided not to, since it wasn't within their comfort zone. Turning down free publicity? Who does that? Fugazi does. And I respect them for it. I really do. And hard as it is to believe, they continued to succeed even without my help. Now that doesn't happen everyday.

1) Ani DiFranco: Ani remains the poster child for all those songwriters who have a dream but who do not wish to even entertain the idea of compromise. Sure, some big record label guy might swear up and down that the label has no interest in changing anything about what you do. But then a few "disappointing" sales numbers later and they're asking if maybe there could be more cleavage on the album cover, or maybe you could work with Diane Warren on a few songs, or maybe Butch Walker could stop by the studio and turn a few knobs? Have you met the Lord-Alge crew? Why, isn't that Bob Rock lounging in the hallway? Is Desmond Child still alive?

View Comments