Independent labels have a long history of promoting developments in popular music, stretching back to the post-war period in the United States, with labels such as Sun Records, King Records, and Stax.
In the United Kingdom during the 1950s and 1960s, the major record companies had so much power that independent labels struggled to become established, until the launch of new concepts like Virgin Records. Several British producers and artists launched independent labels as outlets for their work and artists they liked; the majority failed as commercial ventures or were bought by the major labels.
In the United States, independent labels and distributors often banded together to form organizations to promote trade and parity within the industry. The Recording Academy, famous as the organization behind the Grammy Awards, began in the 1950s as an organization of 25 independent record labels including Herald, Ember, and Atlantic Records. The 1970s saw the founding of the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD), which became A2IM in 2004. Smaller organizations also existed including the Independent Music Association (IMA), founded by Don Kulak in the late 1980s. At its zenith, it had 1,000 independent labels on its member rosters. The 1990s brought Affiliated Independent Record Companies (AIRCO), whose most notable member was upstart punk-thrash rock label Mystic Records, and The Independent Music Retailer's Association (IMRA), a short-lived organization founded by Mark Wilkins and Don Kulak. The latter is most notable for a lawsuit involving co-op money it filed on behalf of its member Digital Distributors in conjunction with Warehouse Record Stores. The adjudication of the case grossed $178,000,000 from the distribution arms of major labels. The proceeds were distributed amongst all plaintiffs.
During the punk rock era, the number of independent labels grew. The UK Indie Chart was first compiled in 1980, and independent distribution became better organized from the late 1970s onward. From the late 1970s into the 1980s, certain UK independent labels (such as Rough Trade, Fast Product, Cherry Red, Factory, Glass, Cheree Records and Creation) came to contribute something in terms of aesthetic identity to the acts whose records they released.
In the late 1980s, Seattle-based Sub Pop Records was at the center of the grunge scene. In the late 1990s and into the 2000s as the advent of MP3 files and digital download sites such as Apple's iTunes Store changed the recording industry, an indie neo-soul scene soon emerged from the urban underground soul scenes of London, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles, primarily due to commercial radio and the major labels' biased focus on the marketing, promotion & airplay of pop and hip hop music during this period. Independent labels such as Dome Record and Expansion Records in the U.K. and Burger, Wiener, and Ubiquity Records in the U.S. and a plethora of others around the world continue to release independent bands and music.