Maybe it’s just my view from the extreme edges of the indie fringe, but to me a label is a vehicle for a particular real life community, aka a scene. The indie labels that have had real and long lasting artistic and commercial success, from SubPop and Touch and Go at the high end to Kill Rock Stars and Dischord at the low, have been built around groups of people who actually know and like each other. They play in each others’ bands, they tour together, etc. Even when the bands on the labels play different styles of music, there’s some kind of shared vocabulary there that creates a commonality.

It’s these kind of relationships that give labels meaning for fans, as well. If you’re into Fugazi, you know what it means to be on Dischord. In fact, you might buy a Q and Not U record, or some other release, simply because it’s on the label. How’s this for a definition of a label: a collection of artists under a common banner where, if you like one, you’re likely to like more. That’s why labels (in the sense of companies) had labels (in the sense of logos) in the first place: as differentiators for the customer to know something about a new record before getting to listen to it.

The majors certainly don’t contribute positively in this regard (i.e. what does mean aesthetically to be on Warners?) and, increasingly, their impact is actively negative: their bad press from root kits and suing grannies bleeding over to hurt the records that carry their labels.