How Indie Labels Can Beat the Majors at Their Own Game

By Bob Baker

In a recent issue of the weekly trade magazine Billboard, columnist Chris Moore expressed his bewilderment over the avalanche of new releases from independent labels during the months of October, November and December. Obviously, these record companies wanted to take advantage of the holiday buying frenzy. The only problem, argued Moore, is that the major labels choose these same months to release most of their heavy-hitting new albums.

And who do you think is going to get most of the attention at retail stores and on the radio during the fourth quarter every year? You can bet it won't be the indie labels.

Moore's suggestion: Independent labels should save their biggest moves for times when the majors are putting forth their smallest efforts. He cited January, a month when major labels are catching their breath after the big holiday push, as being the perfect month for smaller companies to act.

And he added this gem: "In guerrilla warfare, the insurgents always stand the best chance of making a successful strike when the other side is asleep."

I knew right away that I had read these sentiments expressed before. So I picked up my copy of Marketing Warfare (McGraw-Hill), one of many fine books by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

Within its pages I found more ammunition for this viewpoint: "Launch your attack on as narrow a front as possible," the authors write. "This is an area where marketing people have a lot to learn from the military. Where superiority is not attainable, you must produce a relative one at a decisive point by making skillful use of what you have. The marketing army that tries to gain as much territory as fast as possible by attacking all at once with a broad line of products will surely lose in the long run."

The philosophy here is simple: When you are not the leader in your field, you can't possibly win by playing on the same turf and using the same tactics as the leader. Instead, you use the leader's strength to your advantage by focusing your efforts on areas too insignificant for them to bother with.

Plus, you won't succeed by trying to be all things to all people. That broad-appeal, shotgun approach doesn't work for indie bands and labels 99% of the time. Your music won't connect with any one group of consumers strongly enough to matter. That's why pinpointing areas where the big players are weak is the best strategy.

Now that you're beginning to absorb this their-weakness-is-your-strength attitude, I encourage you to start coming up with ways you can use your small size to your advantage.

Where else could you be playing live? Through what alternate routes might you get media exposure? What types of new retail outlets could you approach to sell your CDs? How might you package your next release to make it different?

Stop complaining about your lack of resources, and start reframing your current situation into a position of strength!

Bob Baker is the author of the new "Guerrilla Music Marketing Power Course" - packed with hundreds of indie music marketing ideas for your band or record label. For complete details and a special 46% discount offer, send the message "Power Course Info" to