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Christian Jung

i've got a better one. Although she doesn't do anything 2.0, Regina Spektor should be top on your list:

Her album "Songs", a 2002 self release, available on CDBaby only, has 173,891 listeners on last.fm.

Compare it with the No. 1 selling album 2008 in the US, Lil’ Waynes’ Tha Carter III: 144,865 listeners.

Jonathan Coulton only reaches 78,989 listeners in total, for all his albums.


Suzanne Lainson

Spektor has been signed to Sire, which is a Warner Bros label, so she has had a major label push.


I think it's important to have artists that were never promoted to radio via affiliation with a major or an imprint.. If they were, this needs to be disclosed.

Also, numbers give credibility to the list. Can you further define a criteria for success (earning a living wage does not fit my criteria for success for example).

Thanks (!) for making this list. Can you continue (over the next year) to keep asking for input and drawing attention to the list.


Good idea! But I'm not sure you will find many big selling artists with doing this list, since the self-promotion & marketing of music is more like a "long tail" phenomenon.

The thing is that selling music by yourself is now only slightly more difficult than having a blog or a podcast. There are millions of artists doing it, generating millions of sells, but one single artist seldom sells 1 million copies of the same track.

This is of course profitable for the online music stores, but I have no idea of how the labels e consequence is a shift in power from the label to the mp3 store.

BTW, there may be another list to do: the list of the artists who refuse to share their revenue with the online store and sell directly on their website. After the record label, the next middleman to have its business model menaced might be the online store.

Charlie Dahan

disco biscuits

Bruce Houghton

Thanks for the feedback so far. Disco Biscuits is a great example Charlie of what I'm looking for though I'm hoping we can also add some non-jam band world acts.

No major label push ever is a top requirement here, but beyond that I want to keep it loose at least for now - unless the community disagrees?

For me success is sustaining a career over a few years or more garnering 100% of your "above the level of living like a bohemian/student" income playing your own music.

Blaine Kaplan

Slightly Stoopid - Sold upwards of 500,000 total albums, headlining Sheds this summer with Snoop Dogg

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - We all know their blog heavy story

Joe Purdy - 10 self-released albums in 7 years. 100% self distributed. Goes direct to Itunes and Best Buy. Lots of syncs, Kia commercial, etc.

Grant Heinrich

An idea of who these artists are would be useful for non-Americans as well. I've only heard of Ani.

In an ideal world it would be useful to also have rough sales figures. I work with a lot of acts who would be happy to join the legendary musical middle class. But so far no-one has proved this group exists in serious numbers outside the standard label infrastrcture.

Lucas Gonze

Little Boots' success is usually attributed to her YouTube presence.

Heath Vercher

I think David Nevue (www.davidnevue.com) needs to be on this list. David writes solo piano music and built a career out of his music strictly via the Internet. He's a great guy and has helped build a great solo piano community around the genre.

A complete success story and fully independent with no major label affiliation EVER.

David Nevue

Thanks Heath, for the mention in your post.

Not sure what you define as "making it" but I've been doing "just music" for eight years now. Built my career on the Internet, starting in '95 and was able to quit my day job and go full time by '01. Do all my own concert tour booking, promoting, publicity... everything, and I do it all over the Internet.

You can read a bit about it at http://bit.ly/vYGP3
My web site is at http://www.davidnevue.com

Sam Bhattacharya

I agree, David Nevue is the perfect example of this. He also makes over $100,000 a year just doing music.

Kaika Kale

Martin Sexton is a great example. He is amazing.


amy gail

Maya Azucena!

Ace Thomas

What about The Cool Kids? they've gotten some big endorsement deals with companies like Mountain Dew (Pepsi-cola), nike, gap. and have also placed music in video games like NBA2K and their music was even featured in an NBA2K commercial with Kevin Garnett.

Spencer Crandall

Martin Sexton had a major label push at one point in his career.

Spencer Crandall

I think this is a great project, but you need to define for submissions what defines success - # of audience, # of sales, # total revenue, # media coverage, ????. It's pretty hard to nail down in this wild west. Are there case studies out there?



The Clintons grossed right at $200k in '08 without really leaving our home state of Montana. We've got 6 self produced CDs out. Only $36k of the total is from merchandise sales (mostly online sales), the rest is performance income. We've used the internet to build our audience and promote shows. It's allowed us to all stay close to home and make a living with music.

If we could get our merchandise numbers closer to our performance income numbers, we'd be really happy.

We just picked up Jim Beam as a paying sponsor for 2009.



Trout Fishing In America http://www.troutmusic.com/


...and Listener http://listenerproject.com/


Does it matter. Why the indie vs. major mentality?


•Umphrey's McGee = Sony
•Ani Defranco = Koch
•Doctor Dog = Warner Bros.
•Metric = Universal
•Gaelic Storm - Sony

Sean K

One local Austin band I feel has been pretty successful in the last few years and that has never signed to a major label is Ghostland Observatory. Not sure on their numbers, but they put on an incredible show that sells out around 2-3000 capacity venues. Check'em out at http://www.ghostlandobservatory.net/
Great topic.

fact check a bit please

It's COREY not Cory Smith.

Jacob Magers

Bon Iver?

Christopher L

Bon Iver's last album was released by 4AD in the UK, i.e. not exactly a DIY effort.

Jon Coulton seems to be doing very well indeed, but surely having his material distributed through a widely-circulated magazine played a part in helping him get off the ground. Not exactly an internet fairy tale ending, more of a lucky foot-in-door moment.

I'd like to see how many non-Christians buy David Nevue's CDs, out of interest. Christian music seems to exist in its own lucrative little bubble.

I think this serves to illustrate how important it is to know your audience and cater to it -- both Jon and David clearly know who their customers are, and cater to their respective niches very well.

Seth Herman

John Brown's Body released 2 records in the last 9 months on indie label Easy Star Records. The first debuted #1 on The Billboard Reggae Charts and the second an ep #6.
They also played to 1800 paying fans and grossed over $44,000 at Boston's House of Blues in April 2009.

Easy Star All-Stars, also signed to Easy Star Records recently debuted #117 on the Billboard Chart and #1 on the Billboard Reggae Chart over.

Ryan Imhof

Hell Yes

A lot of bands that I listen to have been on indie labels for a while, get big, and then move up to the major labels. If they get bigger on a major seems to be the question, on some bands it really has backfired (Thursday and Thrice are good examples of this).

Some good examples of bands that have been smaller, but gotten bigger when signed to a major:

Flaming Lips
Taking Back Sunday
Blink 182
Fall Out Boy
Kings of Leon
My Chemical Romance
Modest Mouse

..I know the band Grizzly Bear is on an indie still and they are gaining a lot of hype. If you have not checked them out yet I highly reccomend them. It's like kings of leon had sex with animal collective.

Blaise Alleyne

A music 1.0 (Napster-era) success story: Dispatch


I think playing three sold out nights at Madison Square Gardens 5 years after the band broke up, and without even having major label support counts for something!

Also, Adam Singer and Brad Sucks are two Creative Commons licensed success stories:




John Butler: johnbutlertrio.com
He's the best example you can find.



lisa kribs

Lykke Li - Sweden
New Young Pony Club -Britain, Indie label Tirk Recordings along with:
Cut Copy and The Presets
ALL of the DFA records label. That's not a major label, with great talent (lcd soundsystem, the juan maclean, hotchip etc)
Peaches - XL label (indie)
Friendly Fires XL label
ahh this is fun! there are SO many...

Someone mentioned measurement of these bands. A couple technics could be:
Though myspace is on its decline, I think for the music industry it is still a gauge as to the success of an artist (eg. # friends).
Also, # of downloaded mp3's in and outside the itunes store.
blog portal, hypem.com can quickly show the buzz of any particular artist.


24 Years and Counting:

The Hampton (Rock) String Quartet (www.HamptonStringQuartet.com). The original rock string quartet, Juilliard trained and Grammy nominated, HSQ has been around since 1985, first on RCA Red Seal (1985-89) and then independently distributed since 1992 after a trademark dispute with the label.

Zeppelin, Stones, Beatles, Hendrix, Queen and more, all for string quartet. HSQ has a loyal following and just this past January released their eighth and ninth new CDs - "HSQ: All Zeppelin" and "The Off White Album" (all Beatles).


Anyone paying their bills.


How about Fugazi? Or Subway Sect or Minutemen? Ooops, wrong decades.

Perhaps we should reframe the question: when did an artist ever 'need' a major label?

Answer: never. Although lots of good ones did/still do.

I think the words you're looking for are "horses" "for" "courses".

For the record, how many artists are 'pure' Web 2.0 successes (ie untainted by the big bad music industry?)

Answer? Not many. If any.

Cling onto your Jonathan Coultons by all means - and please do - but these guys are the exceptions not the rule.

Sorry to pop your digital utopia, but this feature was written by an ideologue.

As the man Wayne Coyne says:

"You think you're radical, but in fact you're fanatical"

You don't actually like music, do you?

And you can't spell Ani DiFranco either.


Don Bartlett

Joe Pug is a great, if early example, of this. He has only self-released a 7 song EP but has built a pretty impressive fanbase primarily by sending out stacks of free-sampler CD's for his fans to pass out to their friends. He has backed this with near non-stop touring which has included runs with M. Ward, Steve Earle, and Rhett Miller as well as slots at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Newport Folk Festival. He is far from rich, but easily will financial indicators mentioned above, and considering this is his first year it is pretty impressive.

The moral of the story, when you look at the artists who have done it successfully, is that yes you can do it without a label....but only if you create an infrastructure that replaces the benefits that labels offered. You need to set up marketing, promotion, and distribution most importantly....which is obviously achievable, but involves a lot of know how and a LOT of hard work. Those who think music 2.0 means you can put your music up on myspace and wait to be discovered are going to be awfully disappointed.

Dick Wingate

Aimee Mann


I've got 3 artists for you guys...

All of them work with the progressive thinking, Nashville based artist development called Sorted Noise. I won't get into all the details of the company, as that's not what this post is about. But, you can find out more about them and their practice of "Artist Positioning" at... http://www.sortednoise.com

On to the artists!!!

1. Ellis Paul - Independent folk icon just raised $90,000 for his latest album. This was completely fan funded. (http://www.ellispaul.com)

2. Secrets in Stereo (in full disclosure... this is me) - Mainstream sounding, but completely independent, pop artist has landed over 30 major TV/Film/Advertising placements in shows like Grey's Anatomy, The Hills, and Young and The Restless, and brought in over $60,000 in licensing fees in the last 2 years. (http://www.secretsinstereo.com)

3. Kal Hourd - Although this Canadian country artist was JUST signed to a distribution deal with a major Canadian label, he independently won the 2009 Saskatchewan Country Music Award for Video of the Year. And, on July 11th 2009, he will join the ranks of music legends The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Sarah McLachlin, Taylor Swift and Beethoven, as the select few to have their music blasted into space. (http://www.kalhourd.com)


Corey Smith is/was signed to Razor & Tie, which of course is distributed through Sony Music. So this artist should also be taken off this list.

Jill Sobule, though once on a major label, has taken everything into her own hands. I think she is a great example of using the web. Check out this site she made to fund her record http://www.jillsnextrecord.com/



I think the only one mentioned that holds water, really, is Joe Purdy.


Fugazi is the ultimate example. It's dated, but it exemplifies what you're talking about.


Bonnie Baxter is having small success in brooklyn NY. Along with Apes and Androids, Dirty Projectors. Rising up from the underground scene.



Chris Pureka

Joe Purdy

Ingrid Michaelson

Charlie Dahan

Ani DiFranco (there is no e in her name) is only distributed by Koch, she owns and runs her own label (and always has - Righteous Babe) - she is the poster child for DIY success.

You can add to that all the classic indie bands that started labels for example:

Superchunk (Merge)
Fugazi (Dischord)
Bad Religion (Epitaph)
DJ Peanut Butter Wolf (Domino)

I know it is 2.0, but you know these bands would have done just as well if they started today.

How about Josh Freese - talk about viral marketing.

If 50K is the standard - I could list 100 artists that probably net 50K a year, but is the question more about what artists have used the internet to help grow and develop their careers with / without a label?

Jon Cole

The Format finally got dropped from Atlantic in late '05 (after being shuffled over from Elektra, having gotten no promotion whatsoever from either label) & put out their '06 release, Dog Problems, themselves via Nettwerk & sold 70,000 copies in the first year through a lot of fantastic use of web 2.0 & tons of touring. They were the very first band to use the SnoCap store on MySpace, which speaks to not just the openness they had to new models, but their willingness to align themselves with & even promote these models. Eventually they put the album up for free download for a month & got 30,000 downloads, which spiked their touring numbers. The band broke up, but I'm sure Nate's new band, Fun, will approach marketing the same way & will eventually be even more successful. The new record is incredible.


Killola - Moved over 50,000 albums in the past year as downloads, USB wristbands and CDs. All DIY, no label, no manager. Http://www.killola.com


I think you may need to reconsider whether DiFranco, Gurewitz (Bad Religion) et. al could do the same thing in today's market. What made them different at the time is they could overcome the barriers to entry in the business. Merge, Epitaph and Righteous Babe started in an analog world. Now? The proliferation of digital technology not only made promotion easier, but also made it easier to get into the business so there is a huge oversupply of music.

Speaking from personal experience, on my little indie label in the early 90's, I could sell 5k-10k of a regional hardcore band on three fanzine ads and mailing a few hundred postcards to kids on my mailing list. Why? There wasn't a global pandemic of ADD. Social Media is a huge game changer and the fruitfly attention spans make this a brand new ballgame.

"Make a living" is a very grey, qualitative way to determine sucess. So- what is the new metric? Total net revenue (post expenses) by artist? 360 style with merch sales, units / subscriptions sold, tickets, game and tv licensing?

Let's see some of those P&L's...


Martin did have the Atlantic push at one point, but the majority of his success came after those two records with his Live Wide Open album on his own Kitchen Table Records (with a BIG hand from Redeye Distribution)

Chase Wentz

A band I follow is electro dance group "Fans of Jimmy Century." They have been written up by the Oakland Tribune as a group who has adapted like fish to water to the brave new recording world - sans major labels. They've had many TV placements including The L Word and Ugly Betty and I know they make much of their living off of their publishing. They also have a live show that more than likely brings in some serious cash since they use video monitors with the singer choregraphed to herself and they pull off a huge production as a threesome so their overhead is probably low =). I know from speaking to them many times that they have grown most of their fans on the internet, via Itunes, music discovery sites, social networking. http://www.fansofjimmycentury.com
Thanks for the great discussion. I find these independent bands to be much more exciting than your standard major label fare.

Tom Pajinski

I know for a fact that Rubber Clown Car (an indie act out of Chicago) is doing just fine without a major label deal. I've been following them for the past few years. I'm not even sure if they are doing gigs! But a friend of mine who is affiliated with the band tells me that the're doing great based on sales of CDs and downloads from CD Baby, iTunes and other smaller outlets.


Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers tour North America to packed venues, sell an absolute s-load of merch, and have never been affiliated with any label but their own.


Charlie - that's clear 50K for each band member and after expenses.. Please list away. The more the better. Maybe we can get an intern to quickly interview everyone on the composite list. There's no good information out there on who's really making it. There are a lot of people that would like to be able to point to a true list of success stories.



And then she signed to Atlantic...


The Cool Kids are a good example.


Her 1st two solo albums were on Geffen. Great example since 1999, it does help to have Hollywood directors as friends, though.

Bruce Houghton

We're off to e great start!

Thanks again to everyone who is adding to the list. My plan is to eventually put it all together in a cleaner list, do some research on each act (any summer interns out there?) and present the list to the community to revise.

I the meantime, please help make the list better by adding to it an encouraging others to do the same.


Great examples from Hip Hop are:

Kid Cudi
(In both cases, despite their industry friends and pending or recently acquired major label distribution arrangements.)

The Cool Kids
Mickey Factz
(Both still very independent and highly self-sufficient. Utilizing brand affiliation, licensing, touring, and social media at a high level.)

Suzanne Lainson

As I am reading this, I'm realizing that naming names doesn't really help us much. What we need, as someone mentioned, are some financial figures to help us understand how it is done.

A few years ago I worked with a Denver-based artist and we put together a business plan. She played around the country some, but found that it was much less exhausting and far more lucrative to stick with a local/regional market. The last year I looked at her financial figures she grossed $120,000. That was a few years ago. The following year she was on target to gross at least $150,000. I am not sure what she is making now. Once her son was born two years ago she cut back on the number of shows she did and also took a part-time office job because it came with health insurance. (She had been buying insurance for herself, but switching to a family policy was so expensive that going on a corporate plan was really the only way to do it.)

When we did the plan she had a email list of 3000 fans, played about 200 shows a year (a combination of solo gigs and band gigs, everything from coffee houses, to outdoor festivals, to private events), and sold an average of 3000 CDs a year at $15 each.

So she made about $45,000 a year from CD sales and the rest from performance income. She operates as a contractor and pays everyone she works with an agreed upon per-show fee rather than trying to divide up CD and performance income. Her expenses included paying the band about $45,000. (An average of $15,000 per player.) They all had other jobs, so they weren't solely dependent on her for their livelihood. And what she paid them was more per gig than musicians in other bands were getting, so it was very good money for them relative to the market.

She connects with her fans to such an extent that she sells more CDs per show than anyone else I have observed. Her worst case scenario when I was monitoring the numbers was about 10% sell-though (i.e., 10 CDs per 100 people in the audience). But it sometimes went as high as 40% sell-through. (I was at her show last night where I saw that happen. More than 40 CDs sold to an audience of about 100 people. That's pretty amazing in a time when fans are buying fewer CDs.)

She's put out 8 CDs and continues to sell all the titles: at shows, on CD Baby, on iTunes. She has always served as her own manager, producer, label, and booking agent.

She would be grossing $1 million a year had she taken her music to a national level. But she chose not to.

She's never done a lot online, but here is her website:


Jason Parker

I hope it's OK to nominate myself for this list! I'm one of the rarest of breeds...a JAZZ musician who's made it on my own. I have built my business from scratch since 2001 and now make a living playing music. I satisfy your criteria and would love to be included on your list.

I blog about my life as a working musician at http://www.oneworkingmusician.com and my main site is http://www.jasonparkermusic.com.

Thanks for putting this together. It's a great inspiration!

Dave Allen

I'm not sure that Ben Taylor is label free but he certainly managed to sell more CDs on the road by taking my advice about not pricing them. See the story here - http://www.pampelmoose.com/2009/02/ben-taylor-on-tour-says-pay-what-you-want-for-my-cds-sells-more

Terry Hart

Does Hollywood Undead count? I don't know much about them, only what is on their wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_Undead

dj reynaldo

Patrick Wolf charted Top 50 UK, in part from units sold d2c: http://mi2n.com/press.php3?press_nb=120531

Blaine Kaplan

Dr. Dog is not Warner. Their label, Park the Van is distributed by ADA, but if we eliminate all labels that are distributed by ADA, Fontana, Caroline and RED, the pool will be even smaller.

Mary Sack

DADDY (Will Kimbrough & Tommy Womack) - Each founder has an established solo career and history playing together in other bands.....mostly on indie labels or self-imprints. (Will Kimbrough was signed to SBK for one record over a decade ago with no significant mass.) So, this started out as a side-project that became our main focus out of fan demand.

Our investor lost $$ in the market and could no longer underwrite the new "For A Second Time" project released last week - in time for Father's Day. We came up with a fan-driven funding concept fueled by releasing exclusive content and a pre-order sale, which consisted of a "Name Your Own Price" campaign and tiered-fan-exclusive bundled offerings. We officially began operating in the black - having paid all recording, manufacturing, marketing expenses, band/travel expenses - three weeks before the new record even came out.

And our fans - our tribe - are very happy.

Jeremy Carlos

I would like to put forward an artist I have been following for a few years by the name of Tom Cosm. He has taken on the free model, giving all his music away for free to anyone, but monetized his business by offering a Pro service to those who wish to learn the techniques he has developed in order to write his music, through video tutorials and project file downloads.

He has a massive online presence, and his website is interactive with buzzing forums of budding producers swapping hints and techniques.

What makes him stand out for me, is he has done this from the ground up, he hasn't needed the industry at all. Living walking proof that you don't need a label to make it big in today's 2.0 world.

Judging by the amount of Pro Members he has, I have no doubt he is making a very healthy living as a full time musician.

Myself and many others from the electronic music community are proud to call ourselves part of his project.


Tim Price

Ellington - http://www.myspace.com/ellingtonrock

Before getting a publishing deal with Sony, they had already pushed themselves using web 2.0, primarily MySpace. Everything they now have was a result of web 2.0 success.

Charles Alexander

Zee Avi from my homeland Malaysia. Check out her story:



Darren Hayes was one-half of Savage Garden, which were signed to Sony/Columbia Records and did really well in pop/Adult Contemporary. Then SG split, and he did two solo albums with Sony before splitting. The first solo was very poppy and directed by Sony; the second solo was a lot more personal and his style (pop-electronic-dark) but Sony didn't support him.

From about 2005 onwards he left Sony, started his own label (Powdered Sugar), married his husband, came out of the closet, performed at the Sydney Opera House, created and released a conceptual double-album (These Delicate Things We've Made), did small and big tours internationally based on that album, made a DVD of music videos based on songs from the album, released a one-off album project with his collaborator Robert Conley under the name We Are Smug online for free (http://wearesmug.com), and is currently writing songs for himself and for others.

He uses Web 2.0 a LOT to keep in touch with fans and promote his work. He's friendly with quite a few bloggers (Arjun Writes is a name I remember) but even since Savage Garden days they were quite open to online street teams and online fandom. He's mainly on Myspace and Twitter, though he also utilises YouTube and iLike a good deal (there is also an official Facebook fan page but he's not a big fan).

What's interesting about his case (besides the MASSIVE creativity and originality that came out once he decided 'screw Sony') was that when he was in Savage Garden, they were HUGE in the US but couldn't really get anywhere in the UK. Around the time of the second album (The Tension and the Spark) onwards, he became a darling of the UK music scene, and has even relocated from San Francisco to London. (He's from Australia originally.) His audience has changed and so has his style, and his use of Web 2.0 to promote gigs, share his story, and release secret tracks (like random covers of songs) is notable.


Oh goodness. That's me; I didn't realise Typepad would garble my Google credentials.

Also Lily Allen may count; she got famous from putting on tracks on MySpace. Seconding Zee Avi.

What about Susan Boyle? It was her video getting sent all around YouTube that got her famous. Also Charlotte Church and Peter Potts.


Hey Bruce!

Here is a success story for you: AMANDA PALMER


She has been trying to get off of her label, Warner Music's Roadrunner for quite some time now. Tech Dirt reports today that she has made $19,000 in 10 HOURS w/o label support, simply by connecting with her fans on TWITTER.

Read the full story here: http://tinyurl.com/lzcc34

She should definitely be on this list!


As an artist who has been signed to many deals (publishing/development)in my career (although I've walked away from all record deal offers) I would have to say that if/when I encounter an artist who's making just an ok living, say $30k a year, selling their own music full time, I'm totally impressed. As someone who has made a good living from music since I was 6 years old, as well as having made a good living from computers and advertising at various departures, making money from recording and touring is an incredible achievement that deserves respect.

I've had the great pleasure of working with Jonathan Coulton multiple times. The guy works his ass off and has great ideas and the courage to see them through. Is he Radiohead? no. Is he trying to be? No. He's being himself and he's found his audience. Kudos to all artists courageous enough to throw all caution to the wind and believe in themselves enough to give it everything.

We talk about all this and more on my show The Highway Girl http://www.thehighwaygirl.com

Suzanne Lainson

I've been following Palmer's career for some time now. I doubt that many artists can duplicate it because the reason it works is that she's extremely creative, uses more than just music to express herself, and very geared toward involving her fans.

But what is even more useful is that she shares some financial info. Putting together a list of artists making a living with label support doesn't really tell us much. How much are they making and how?

Here are a couple of links to give you more info about the business side of Palmer's efforts. The first one is about life as part of the Dresden Dolls and the second is a recent one about life as a touring musician.



Suzanne Lainson

That npr link got cut off.



How have you all not mentioned Drake & Kid Cudi?

Kid Cudi recently signed to Universal but only after his single was made it to the top 10.

Drake is currently the biggest thing in rap. Top 3 single. Doesn't need a label at all. The rumor is that he's going to sell out for more than a few million.


Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for the background info on Amanda Palmer! I had never heard of her before this week.

I think most artist won't disclose financial info because they are embarrassed by what they actually take home.

Her creativity and frankness is an example all musicians, signed or unsigned should follow.

Thanks Again,



Find all the best indie music on The Bumpskey Show www.Bumpskey.com or www.bumpskey.podomatic.com.

Alan Khalfin

Great post, Bruce. It will be interesting to see what kind of list emerges from this, as yes, success stories from ex-major label artists aren't particularly convincing to folks-- they've already developed their fan base!

The artists you mentioned are great examples of folks who seek to build meaningful and deep connections with their fans through various online and offline initiatives. In an era where most fans can get ANYTHING for free, it is often hard for these bands to make money, even if they do a good job getting "discovered." Without this meaningful connection, casual fans aren't converted in band evangelists and paying customers. This seems to be a problem for not only developing artists, but ex-major ones as well.

Today, meaningful connections are the only connections that are monetizable. Bands like Radiohead/NIN have, however, shown how to use technology to build deeper connections with fans (pay what you want models, remix promotions, iPhone apps), which have helped guide they way for developing artists.

I think it's important to differentiate a bit the several steps of actually monetizing your music:

First, you have to get your music discovered. The ex-major label bands of the world don't have to deal with this problem, which is why their success isn't particularly convincing. For developing artists, they must play a ton of shows and use the various music-tech tools that are around to achieve this. I think theSixtyone.com and Grooveshark are particularly great for this.

After you've been discovered by a fan, you still will be hard-pressed to monetize the relationship. The only way this happens is if you engage and interact with them in a way to converts them from casual fans into paying customers. There are variety of things bands can do, but the most important thing is to be creative. Obviously, constant contact (twitter!) and deep interaction are key, as the goal is to make fans feel like they are a part of something special, not just some random fan. Then, they will care enough to spend money on whatever you're selling.


Here is someone that is flying so below the radar that you can't even google him and he does very well. 75 songs featured in movies and TV and about every month he his announcing a new song on a tv show or movie.

Moniker and band name

He makes well over 6 figures a year (my cousin works for his manager) but he is largely unknown. All of the sites out there mess up his profile and it is my cousins job to contact sites like yahoo and others to get them right.

This guy is doing amazing music and his real fans know it and that is about it. (not in the music bus myself)


Kelly Richey (The Kelly Richey Band) has sustained a band and has released 11 albums since 1990. She has worked full time as a touring musician and as I understand it, largely has managed all aspects of the operation. Booking, road management, band leader, publicity coordination, show advancement and all aspects of coordinating the release of her cd's.

Jonas Westin

Swedish artist Sofia Talvik sucessfully runs her own label and are a true D.I.Y artist. She played the Lollapalooza festival 2008 and landed a partner deal with an U.S label at SxSW 2009. Her albums will be released in September in the U.S



Best Buy is another one. He is VP of an Indie label called viper records, but anywhere he performs he always sells out shows. He is the definition of Independent Success.



Hold on I said Best Buy because I was online shopping. I meant Immortal Technique LOL. Man I'm losing it.

Guillaume Déziel

Misteur Valaire (MV) is an Electro band from Montreal, Canada.

In order to reach as many fans as possible, MV believes that music should be distributed freely. Since September 5th, 2007, the band's last album Friterday Night can be downloaded for free at http://www.misteurvalaire.com. Till then, more than 33,500 people have downloaded the album. Music lovers should not feel guilty about downloading its music because by doing so, all they're doing is helping in quickly promoting the band worldwide!

To make a living of music, Misteur Valaire relies on the sale of merchandise and, of course, tickets for its amazing shows. You really have to see them live (http://www.misteurvalaire.tv).

Last April 11th 2009, the band filed up the Club Soda in Montreal, with over 900 fans that paid between 19$ and 23$ for a ticket. Result: 15 000$ of revenues in one evening. 0$ advertising expense, cause the don't really give their music... They exchange it for the user's email address and are now experiencing what we call «Direct Marketing».

Yannick, the GeneralEclectic

You say "they want proof". I oppose this sentiment. As you've stated, "they" are in fact "industry peers" with a "skeptical" attitude towards indie artists. They don't want proof, they want market share. And given the fact that it used to be common practise for A&R guys to have acts sign a pre-contract that binds them to a label even if the label turns out to not want to record them later, these industry peers have a track record of using dubious methods in large scales to make space on the market for the product by those few artists they eventually decide to release an album of.
So they have an agenda: Regaining market share from the indies. And them "being skeptical" doesn't mean that indie doesn't work for artists, to the contrary it only means it doesn't work for the majors because it eats up their market share.
I don't really see the point in creating such a list because it could be used as a black list by these "industry peers" in that it adds a tag to the names saying "don't sign, they ruined your business model". Labels also have a track record of doing that. Just look at those studio musicians having started their own groups and gone solo and/or indie in the 80s and 90s, who didn't get studio jobs anymore for the fear that they would talk to the signed artists that doing it in another way than the labels' does work.

Dave King

Although your story on Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls was interesting, and surely an inspiration for many, it begs the question as to whether she could have achieved what she did had she not had been signed to Roadrunner Records.

If you truly want to test the efficacy of these Web 2.0 tools, let's start with an artist that does not yet have 30,000 followers on Twitter.

Then we will see if these online tools truly work. Or if it is all hype.


I have a success story of my own using video to lead interested viewers back to my website for a free download. I started using http://www.Adwido.com to upload free video. Traffic increased significantly because of the targeted keyword campaign they helped me setup. The accounts are Free...

Bruce Houghton

Jim - I can tell you that you are incorrect about several of the bands above unless you include that they have sometimes had records distributed via the indie arms (like Red or Fontana or ADA) of major labels. They or the small labels they were associated with still retained all ownership and did the promotion.

EVERYONE - I'm looking for ways to keep this list alive and make it more useful. Ideas????


I agree with Spencer on figuring out where to draw the line.

That said, here are some suggestions:

Sound Tribe Sector 9
Yonder Mtn String Band
Keller Williams (and pretty much all the larger band son SCI fidelity)

these may be a bit too jammy per Bruce's note, but I don't see why they wouldn't still be included. the point of this is really the dependence on label support, not the actual music or the types of fans that they attract, right?


Animal Collective
Holy F_ck

how about DFA label bands?
LCD Soundsystem
(disqualified bc of EMI distribution?)


Koch doesn't count...they just distribute whomever pays them.


There are thousands of bands on the internet but there are two artist that are outstanding.First checkout T.M.Stevens on U-tube then there is an artist which I feel will be the biggest find in 2009 with there 2nd album/CD called Zkunk.I heard a sample on a copilation cd.Off the Wall!!The Buzz is that you can hear two of there songs on Fame Games and Jango.com in mid July.Talk about an internet Star!! Watch how this one shines.Better than Prince and can really write songs.


I would highly recommend Australia's Damien Cripps Band as a case study for you. I'm so completely bowled over by DCB(Australia's Hot Rock as per new review released recently)... the lyrics are awesome, meaningful and so easy on the ear.. I drown in the music... seriously.. and I LOVE music...I know my music..

In a few short months they have gained a respectable following in Twitter, where their followers quickly become devoted fans, and tweet and RT their links to music downloads, posts, press releases...

Recently they have started a blog at http://damiencrippsband.wordpress.com which is kept updated daily with current events, new reviews, interviews, Blog alerts, Google Stats
as well as a Squidoo Lens at http://www.squidoo.com/damiencripps which in 2 days was climbing the Squidoo rankings at #6929 overall and #221 in Squidoo Music overall.

The high traffic results from the Band's dedication to their music, their fans and getting their message across.

More info at http://www.myspace.com/damiencrippsband

Soon to be aired a radio interview with Blog Talk Radio Celebrity Harry Shade and Damien Cripps, namesake member of the band..

This group of dedicated musicians is going places.. and they're doing it on their own steam..

This is absolutely a Five Star Recommendation for a five star Rock Band.

Charlie Dahan

Oh crap Bruce, I totally forgot about one of the most successful completely DIY artists, who is on a label that helps the artist raise money from fans and investors:

Maria Schneider on Artist Share Records, in fact the whole Artist Share records story, they were way ahead of Jill Sobule, Ellis Paul, etc

Charlie Dahan

About Artist Share:

ArtistShare simplified: Since 2003, ArtistShare has been allowing fans to show appreciation for their favorite artists by funding their recording projects in exchange for access to the creative process, LTD Edition recordings, VIP access to recording sessions and even credit listing on the CD. Unlike other companies we build the model around the artist while providing the best fan support in the industry. Preview a live ArtistShare fan-funded project here and see how the fans are making it happen.

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