December 14, 2019

“The Real”: A candid conversation about the differences between Major and Independent Labels

Roosevelt AllenThis issue of Notes is addressing the age-old battle: Independent vs. Major Label. 2013 was the year of the “Independent Artist” with the likes of Chance the Rapper and new Grammy winners, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, paving the way. With their overwhelming success, it beckons the question: Does an artist need a major label to be successful? I sat down with Roosevelt Allen, CEO of Zuma Records, for an exclusive interview to discuss his viewpoint on the issue.

Music Garage: First, thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I researched your label and I was drawn to a line in the mission statement that says, “While many wonder about the days of music’s past when artists were created, developed, and packaged into stars, Zuma Entertainment is the future.” It reminds me of the days of Berry Gordy at Motown. Do you believe artist development is gone?

Roosevelt Allen: Most labels will tell you that they do not develop artists anymore. Labels are looking for already-packaged artists who they can provide fuel (money) to.

MG: Why is that? Aren’t labels looking for fresh faced bands and vocalists to turn into stars?

RA: It costs around 1.5 million dollars to give an artist a fighting chance on the competitive market. That includes promotion, wardrobe, studio time, appearances and touring. Those costs are separate from artist development. Talent is not enough in today’s markey; people must like you. That’s why major labels are looking for artists with a following. They want the total package.

MG: What happened to the time when artists were discovered in coffee shops and live venues?

RA: That era is long gone. It was difficult to find talent during those times. In the current market, there are free avenues for artists to release and push their music, i.e. YouTube, Vevo, Spotify, etc. Talent is everywhere, which makes it difficult for music labels to capitalize off artists.

MG: What are the benefits of a major label?

RA: Majors introduce artists to a broader audience of consumers both nationally and internationally; however, majors are scary. Majors are very traditional in their approach to releasing and promoting music. That’s why Top 40 songs are so similar. Indie Labels are the risk takers. We are creative forces. Indies promote individuality in their artists.

MG: For those who are unaware, what are the distinct differences between a Major Label and an Indie Label?

RA: There are many distinguishing factors between Indie labels and Major labels. First, Indie labels focus on cultivating artists. For example, if a person is vocally talented but has not found their individual sound, image or brand, Indie labels mold the artist. Since “Indies” are smaller, they can focus and cater to the artist; thus, making them ready for a partnership with a Major Label. Indie Labels want major labels to recognize their artists. Second, Indie labels have their hands on the pulse of the live and underground scene. Indies are in touch with the new sounds and styles in music. Third, Independent Labels are relatable and unique.

MG: That point leads me to the ultimate question: is it conceivable for an artist to become commercially successful without a Major Label?

RA: Without a label? Yes, but it’s all relative. It’s how you, the artist, measure success. A good example of this is Chance the Rapper. He has the backing of a team that mirrors and acts like an Indie label yet he is an independent artist. There are different avenues to success. I recommend every artist find someone to invest in them. Whether it’s an Indie label, a manager, sponsor or company, you want someone who has the right intentions to help guide your career. Most importantly, I encourage every artist to network and position themselves for opportunities.

MG: What tips would you give to an artist who wants to gain more success or even get signed?

RA: You have to be creative and have “star power” to get signed. The tendency for new artists is to emulate those who are already “on”/signed and follow the crowd. There is only one Drake; we don’t need another. There is one Jay Z. There is one Nas and so on. You need to have a distinct sound. If I can automatically associate your voice with another, you need to go back to work. Set yourself apart. That’s why Chance the Rapper has received succes, we know his sound. Creativity and uniqueness is what we look for at Zuma Records.

MG: What final advice would you give to an independent artist?

RA: 1) Be fearless. Since you chose to do this alone, go all out. 2) Know yourself and your sound. Set yourself apart to be different from other artists. 3) Know the market.

MG: Thanks for your time and insight.

RA: No problem.


Though there is no right or wrong answer to this baffling question, Mr. Allen’s knowledge shines a light on the hidden yet crucial factor in the matter, the artist’s definition of success. There is no doubt that success is possible in both avenues of releasing music. However, it requires the artist to self-evalutate and have clear aims for his/her music. Whether it’s becoming a local 90s cover band or the nex “big thing”, defining the goal for your career now will set you on the road to making your dream a reality.

– George Ellzey



On the Record…Or Off? An Interview with Nicholas Gunn and Dana Kemmerle of (We Are) Nexus by: Stefanie Safahi

We Are NexusIf you were to paint a picture of what you believe the music industry will look like in ten years, chances are record labels wouldn’t be your painting’s focal point. In fact, for many, record labels would be but a smudge of oil on their canvas—if they were to even include them at all.

As it turns out, many people are weary of major recor

d labels’ influence in the music industry. With buzzing success stories like Chicago-native Chance the Rapper, who achieved massive success by utilizing social media and still remains unsigned, people have begun to debate whether it’s necessary to even have a record label.

When I sat down with Nicholas Gunn and Dana Kemmerle, an EDM outfit known as (We Are) Nexus, it became clear what it’s currently like for upcoming artists and how realistic it is to hope that the industry will do away with major labels all together.

Gunn is a classically-trained musician with over 20 years of experience in both the creative and business sides of the industry, and Kemmerle, known by her stage name Carmen Rainier, manages the duo’s online presence and their own Shotgunn Productions.

Since their entrance onto the EDM scene in August 2013, (We Are) Nexus have gained great traction on the charts. Their debut single, “It Feels So Good,” holds peak positions as #1 Breakout Billboard Hot Dance/Club Play, #14 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Play, #40 on the Billboard Top Dance Electronic Singles, plus iTunes Top 100 Dance and Canada’s iTunes Top 100 overall.

What’s more, (We Are) Nexus recently released a new single, “World Around Me,” which holds the 110th position on the Top 40 chart for Mediabase, a radio station monitoring service. The single is also expected break out in the #1 position on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Club Play.

(We Are) Nexus appear to be well on their way to securing a deal with a major record label and therefore offered great insight. They spoke freely about the perks and pitfalls of signing, but both believe a record deal with a major label is every artist’s aim.

“If you’re looking to make money, everyone ultimately wants to land a major deal,” Gunn said.

Both Gunn and Kemmerle agree that it’s certainly much easier for aspiring musicians to gather a fan base and achieve some level of success on their own today, due in large part to the Internet.

Yet, they urge artists not to necessarily equate signing at a major label with “selling out”.

“I think a lot of people who have that opinion don’t actually understand how the industry works, especially in terms of revenue stream,” Kemmerle said.

Because big labels do in fact retain much control over the industry, signing with one is a logical step on the road to permeating the market with your music.

But, there are some necessary steps to take in order to land said major deal.  Gunn and Kemmerle believe that unsigned artists can get a lot of traction themselves by laying the groundwork for their development before possibly landing a deal with an indie label.

What exactly does “groundwork” entail?

“Getting a dog,” they joked, as their adorable puppy Na’la affectionately greeted each of us with a lick to the face.

No, but on a serious note, groundwork means determining what you can do on your own, such as developing a personal image, creating content and distributing it, crowd sourcing, gathering a fan base, setting up your own gigs and more.

Once you get some of this started on your own, it’s easily possible to sign with an Indie label and further move towards scoring a major label deal.  Overall, the process is fairly simple. Strenuous, but nothing any determined talent couldn’t overcome.

“The industry’s always been very simple,” said Gunn. “It’s the people in the industry who make it difficult.”

Surely, the complex topic of record labels will continue to occupy the music industry’s most central discussions for quite some time. It’s apparent that as of right now labels hold a steady grasp on the industry and dominate most streams to commercial success.

Could the industry drastically change and eliminate the need for artists to sign with any label? Most definitely.  Does this mean this is going to happen soon? Not necessarily. Change, especially one of this scale, takes time.



Music Garage’s Artist Checklist

How serious are you about music? Do you want to be known nationally? Internationally? Are you just starting out or are you an expert? Fill out this checklist (click to download pdf) to pinpoint where you are in your career:

    •       Do you have a manager or someone who is guiding your efforts?
    •        Do you have strong presence on social media (Twitter, Facebook & Instagram)?
    •        Do you own your own equipment (PA,guitar, bass, piano, drum set, microphones, lights, etc.)?
    •        Do you rehearse at least 3 times a week?
    •        Is your music available to the public (Bandcamp, CDBaby, SoundCloud, YouTube)?
    •        Are you in rotation on your local radio station?
    •        Have you performed outside of your home state (tour)?
    •        Do you own the rights to your music (BMI, ASCAP, Songtrust, SESAC, SoundExchange)?
    •        Did you trademark your logo and name yet?
    •        Do you have a strong presence in your music community?
    •        Do you perform frequently at venues?
    •        Do you have an established image and brand?

Add your check marks up and see where you stand below:

1 – 3: You’re still in the newbie stage.  Don’t be discouraged: every musician has been in this exact position at some point in his or her career. With hard work, relentless dedication and gallons of coffee, you’ll be well on your way to sold-out gigs and obsessive groupies. In the meantime, more rehearsals at Music Garage, right?

4 – 7: Eh, so you’ve got some work to do, but not bad. You’re probably pretty comfortable as a musician and know what you’re capable of doing. That being said,“Push yourself.” Keep crossing off items on this checklist and cultivating your personal brand. It’s easier to get people to pay attention to you if you have a concise sound and image.

8 – 10: Congrats! You’re basically on your way to becoming legends. Our best advice to you is to keep working hard but never lose your passion. If you’ve been thinking about approaching a label, now is the time to do it!


Williamsburg Music Garage LLC
177 S. 4th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 218-9127


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Private Drum Lessons

Music Garage, in combination with Vic’s Drum Shop, is proud to offer their newest service: Private drum lessons in our state-of-the-art teaching studios!
Our instructors are degreed professionals with diverse backgrounds, and have the ability to teach all levels and styles. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned player, our instructors can help you achieve your goals.
Lessons are $25/half hour without any long term contractual obligations.   We are offering lessons six days a week; weekdays 12pm – 8pm and Saturdays 11am – 5pm.

Check out our Instructor Bios!

Please contact Vic’s to sign up: or call 312.770.1200.

Vic’s Drum Shop Grand Opening Oct 29

Victor Salazar and The Music Garage are proud to announce Vic’s Drum Shop! We’ve been working diligently over the past few months to bring Chicago the most extensive drum and percussion shop, supplying the best in drum equipment and service. The grand opening is set to take place on October 29th, with the event being nothing less than monumental. Vic will be bringing some of the biggest names in the drum world through our doors on the 29th, with the likes of Terry Bozzio, Will Calhoun, Jimmy Chamberlin, Gavin Harrison, Mike Portnoy, Todd Sucherman, and many more. We are honored to have Vic and his team a part of our community. He’s a legend in the industry with extensive knowledge and a knack for making every musician feel at home; delivering our same message of service and convenience. To see progress on the drum shop, including photos and updates on the grand opening, visit Vic’s Drum Shop on Facebook and Twitter.

New Service: Drum Repair

With the addition of Victor Salazar to our team, we are now offering drum repair.  If you have a drum that needs some work, we can fix it for you on site at the Music Garage.  Send an email to drumrepair [at] musicgarage [dot] com or call 312.997.1972 to set up an appointment.

Adrenaline Mob at the Bottom Lounge!

Victor Salazar in conjunction with Music Garage are proud to present ADRENALINE MOB featuring Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater/Avenged Sevenfold), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Mike Orlando (Sonic Stomp), Paul DiLeo, and Rich Ward (Stuck Mojo/Fozzy) live at the Bottom Lounge on Monday August 22nd! You won’t want to miss this show!

Doors open at 6:30p.m. Show starts at 7:30p.m. All ages are welcome. Tickets are limited and going fast. Get yours here!

Be sure to check out Adrenaline Mob’s Facebook page!

SALE: 20% Off!

Are you looking for high quality gear but can’t seem to afford it?  You’re in luck!  For a limited time, we are having a 20% off sale on virtually all in-store items at the Music Garage!  Guitars, pedals, mics, cables, straps, and much more are all available and going fast so stop by ASAP.

FREE BOTTOM LOUNGE TICKETS with any purchase of $50 or more.

FREE GUITAR STRAP with purchase of any guitar.


Discount applied at register.  20% applies to in-store price tags only.  Cannot be combined with any other offer.  Excludes accessories under $30 and DNA Amplifiers