You may not realize it, but many world-famous artists started out as unknown indie musicians before they got discovered and hit the big time. There are so many hard-working musicians who deserve recognition for persevering in an industry that’s notoriously difficult to conquer. Here are five of the top independent artists who clawed their way to the top, despite their humble beginnings.
1. Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell
While she’s only 20 years old, as of 2022, Billie Eilish has already had a remarkable career worth celebrating. Unlike many artists who started topping charts at a young age, Billie Eilish earned her fame through her own incredible songwriting chops. She rose to fame alongside her brother, writing partner, and Grammy-winning songwriter, musician, and producer, Finneas O’Connell.
These two young indie musicians had no idea what was in store when Billie’s dance instructor asked them to write a song to be used for a choreographed dance performance. They wrote and recorded “Ocean Eyes” and uploaded it to SoundCloud (a popular streaming site that has been the catalyst for the success of quite a few indie artists). The next day, they checked the stats and learned that their song had become an overnight viral sensation.
At just 13 years old, Billie had achieved a feat that many seasoned artists could only dream of, but that was just the beginning. Since then, these former indie musicians have continued to churn out hit after hit, earning worldwide critical acclaim for being some of the top independent artists who earned their fame through raw talent.
As one of the most iconic musicians of all time, you might be surprised that Prince’s career started with performances in small local clubs and an album, For You, that he composed, arranged, performed, and produced all on his own. His indie status didn’t last long, as Warner Bros. Records released the album in 1978. However, those formative years weren’t the last time Prince was an independent artist.
Most indie musicians follow a similar upward path after getting signed, but Prince was never your typical artist. As a prolific songwriter, Prince became frustrated by the record label’s slow schedule to release albums—they weren’t keeping up with his creative output, yet they owned his name. That’s why he famously changed his name to a symbol in an act of protest.
Eventually, the Artist Formerly Known as Prince’s contracts expired, and he went back to his own name, but that’s not all. He also became one of the top independent artists of all time, releasing his music on his own terms on his own independent label, NPG Records, sealing himself as one of the most famous indie musicians of all time.
3. Post Malone
Post Malone has collaborated with Kanye West and toured with Justin Beiber, but he wasn’t always an A-lister. In fact, he might still be relatively unknown if it weren’t for the help of a friend. In 2015, Post posted a song called “White Iverson” on SoundCloud. People took notice, and he realized his potential to blow up after receiving a great deal of recognition from new fans and fellow artists alike.
In order to take his career to the next level, Post Malone decided to record a video for the viral song. Unfortunately, indie musicians don’t always have the funds for large-scale projects, and Post was no exception. Thankfully, a friend let him borrow five thousand dollars to shoot the video, and the investment proved to be a good one—the video has well over 945,000,000 views, as of early 2022.
As one of the top independent artists who eventually signed to a major label, Lizzo earned every bit of her success. She got her start at just 14 years old, rapping in a group called Cornrow Clique with her friends.
Over the years, in addition to becoming a classically trained flutist, Lizzo collaborated with a number of other indie musicians and became well-known in the underground scene. During this time, she lived in her car or rehearsal space floors while she pursued her dream.
In 2013, Lizzo released her debut album, Lizzobangers, and Virgin Records was quick to sign the talented artist for a limited release. The now up-and-coming artist continued to tour and release music until achieving mainstream, major-label success in 2016 when Atlantic Records released her EP called Coconut Oil. Today, Lizzo continues to do what she does best, and there’s no doubt that her career is only just beginning.
5. Phoebe Bridgers
Some indie musicians know their career path from a very young age, and Phoebe Bridgers is undoubtedly one of them. Growing up, she played piano and guitar along with her favorite records. While in school, she played in a number of groups with friends, as well as solo shows throughout the Los Angeles area.
After high school, Phoebe decided to skip college and instead focused full-time on her music career. She eventually met fellow singer-songwriter Ryan Adams and released her EP Killer on his indie label, PAX AM. In 2017, Phoebe received critical acclaim after performing at South by Southwest and signed to independent label Dead Oceans shortly after.
Today, Phoebe has earned her place as one of the most beloved indie musicians around, and she’s also one of the top independent artists who has achieved mainstream success while only releasing albums on independent labels. She even started her own independent label called Saddest Factory in 2020, staying true to her indie identity.
Take Your Career to the Next Level
As you can see, going from indie to the mainstream takes hard work, perseverance, and a strong foundation in songwriting, music business, artist branding, and music production, just to name a few essential skills. If you’re in the early stages of your career and ready to push yourself to new heights, we can help. Enroll in music classes at 1500 Sound Academy today.
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