Though the premise of the panel made it sound like the indie world was a dire place, the fact is still that more and more of its high profile releases are now chart toppers and major category Grammy winners. As such, for this panel which had a number of label people, managers and band members in the audience, moderator Jason Reynolds (manager of Fairfax Recordings) noted this phenomenon and wondered what was the key to long term survival for these labels that have thrived.
Music attorney Matthew Kaplan thought that main factor was persistence: "not everything is going to work but if you have good taste and sign good acts, things come around." Pat Carr (director, Infectious Music) added that attention to detail is important too: "Don't leave any stone unturned... every little thing can help it [the label] along and maximize it." Josh Rosenfeld (Barsuk Records) also thought that the secret to good smaller labels is that what they concentrate on their uniqueness. "You have to be signing what you think is good and not just a copy of what's popular," said Rosenfeld. Chris Swanson (Dead Oceans/Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian) agreed that what sets indies apart from majors, and each other, is that they are a reflection of a few peoples' taste, so that they can explore their own niches well.
There were also some more gritty financial logistics hashed out. In terms of sheer sales, Rosenfeld and Swanson reluctantly admitted that the amount of their releases that are commercially successful isn't consistently strong, with the Swanson confessing that "we don't have the batting average we'd like." Kaplan also briefly noted that net profit deals (split evenly between bands and labels) can be advantageous when a label is smaller, but not as good when they grow. And though Kaplan was skeptical of Spotify, Carr (who claimed to be a fan of streaming music) and Rosenfeld were fans of the service, claiming that they're happy with money coming in from the service. Reynolds liked streaming too, because it stirs interest in artists and music with fans.
Kaplan also thought that A&R was important, as labels need to tell artists that their side projects aren't always top notch -- "not all artists should have artistic license!" he argued. Rosenfeld touted another type of licensing though -- film and TV licensing of their music, he explained, helped to sustain their label even in the wake of lesser releases.