What a difference a year makes! The year 2011 can be considered as the “Rise of the Independent Artist” coupled with the growth of independent record label releases. In 2011, we saw major R&B artists jump on the “Indie is the New Major” bandwagon and take risks in an ever-changing and volatile music industry. Tyrese, Kelly Price, Syleena Johnson, Joe and countless others took music to a new level by promoting and releasing their projects independently. This took guts in an industry where the “little guy” (the indie) gets drowned out by the “big guy” (the major). In the Independent world, sales don’t matter. Marketing, the live performance, exposure and branding are what matters most. In the 1960’s, most R&B artists were considered “Independent Acts” and the music was considered outside of the mainstream. Well, over the last 5 years, the independent movement has grown as major labels have downsized and reduced the number of artists signed. On an independent label, the artist has more flexibility, creativity and ownership of their project. What we are witnessing is the rise of the Indie and decline of importance of the Major. Indie is definitely the new major. Let’s take a look at the Top 10 R&B artists in 2011 that did the indie thing in style.
At number 10, I put Olivia. Although Olivia didn’t release an album in 2011, her appearance on the hit reality show Love & Hip Hop made a huge impact on the indie scene. The show depicts her desperately searching for that major label deal. Eventually, I feel Olivia will go 100% Independent and release a new project in 2012. I gave Goapele the number 9 spot. The release of her video “Play” marked the end of her 6 year hiatus. She has a strong Twitter and Facebook following which makes marketing quite easy for indie artists. The number 8 spot belongs to Keke Wyatt and her third album ‘Unbelievable’ via Shanachie. Known for her duet with Avant on “My First Love” and “Nothing In This World,” Wyatt continued her collaborative success formula by working with American Idol winner Ruben Studdard on a remake of “Saturday Love.”
At the number 7 spot, we have Keith Sweat. Keith Sweat is a legend in the R&B game who really doesn’t need a major label at this point. He released Til the Morning in November of 2011 on the biggest independent label in the US, EOne. Kindred the Family Soul released their indie project on Shanachie Entertainment in 2011. Their album Love Has No Recession gave their fans 16 tracks of good music. Kindred came in at the number 6 spot.
Mr. Independent, Eric Roberson, falls at the number 5 spot. Eric Roberson released his Mister Nice Guy in 2011 and he consistently shows he is the epitome of the independent movement. With a consistent fan base and following, Eric Roberson manages to perform all year with very limited radio or T.V support.
The number 4 spot belongs to Syleena Johnson. What artists do you know has a baby in February 2011, gets signed to Shanachie Entertainment in April 2011, shoots her first video A Boss with Chad Ochocinco in June 2011 and releases her album, Chapter V: Underrated in September 2011. The answer: No one! Syleena Johnson was everywhere online, in print and on TV. She did a media tour in early October which increased her Google web hits by 1 million views in less than two months. Syleena Johnson was everywhere with the help of her 17 person marketing team called TeamUnderrated. They took Twitter, Facebook and the internet over. For Syleena, leaving Jive Records after 8 years and 3 albums, and going 100% independent requires bravery and courage.
Joe Thomas released his album, The Good, The Bad, The Sexy in October of 2011. He takes the number 3 spot. This marks Joe’s second big release as an indie artist. Joe is one of the most consistent R&B artists of the last 10 years. Vocally, Joe can hold his own with some of the greatest. His tone, style and delivery keep his fans wanting more. In November, Joe performed on the Soul Train Music awards.
Kelly Price had a huge year with the release of her self-titled album Kelly. Her second single, Not My Daddy featuring Stokley of Mint Condition, earned her a few Grammy nods and gave her many accolades throughout the year. Kelly Price made the indie transition count in a major way with Grammy nominations, radio play and television appearances. Kelly still has one of best voices in R&B and deserves all of the recognition garnered from this release. Kelly Price takes the number 2 spot.
Tyrese earned the number 1 position. It took passion and a high level of tolerance for failure to release his album 100% independent especially as a big movie star but he did it. Tyrese released Open Invitation in November of 2011. His single, Stay, has been doing incredible at radio and his album sold over 70,000 the first week. His movie stardom helped tremendously and made his indie transition smooth but he still deserves credit for taking the leap. He could have released his project on a major label in a heartbeat but he didn’t. He deserves the top indie spot for that reason alone!
It takes guts to go from a major label to an independent label because there are so many risks involved. However, Indie is the New Major, especially for R&B. R&B still remains that boutique genre that gives us timeless and classic music. R&B is music that we can listen to in ten years, or even 20 years. The focus is not sales-driven but purely about the music, message and product. Independent artists can reach their fans faster with the use of social networks and internet sites such as Jango and Stageit. Therefore, to keep R&B thriving it is vital that we purchase independent music, go to the concerts and shows of independent artists and truly support this movement.
I started and trademarked the slogan “Indie is the New Major” almost three years ago and I would have never imagined that it would really ring true today. To get your exclusive “Indie is the New Major” T-shirt, go to www.dygmanagement.spreadshirt.com. Also, all of the artists who I mentioned in this article have new albums out so go purchase them now because Indie is the New Major!
Top 10 Independent R&B Artists of 2011
2. Kelly Price
4. Syleena Johnson
5. Eric Roberson
6. Kindred the Family Soul
7. Keith Sweat
8. Keke Wyatt
Indies to lookout for in 2012: SWV, Tweet, Lil Mo, Ashanti, J.Hollins, Kimberly Nichole, Sean Black, Remedy, Teresa Griffin, Avery Sunshine and Malone.