John Doe, who gained fame with then-wife Exene Cervenka in the '80s punk band X, says majors pump artists' expectations to unrealistic levels.
"With majors, your visibility is much higher, but it's for a much shorter period of time," he explains. "I feel bad for today's bands because they're loved and then they're discarded."
Doe, now on ArtistDirect imusic imprint, also says there's no word to appropriately describe the meddling of major-label A&R people, whose job is to "hear a hit" on each album.
"I personally wouldn't like to be told what kind of album to make," Doe comments. Most indie labels pick up already-recorded albums, or give artists creative freedom to make the music they want.
Adds Doe: "You can't replace the feeling [of] making a record that you're proud of."
Many industry participants, including Michael Caplan, cofounder of just-launched Or Music in New York, go so far as to predict that the current major-label model is as doomed as the dinosaur - partly because majors are unable to read and react quickly enough to market activity. If a record stops selling, it takes weeks for them to "turn the semi around." And if an artist's sales pick up in a market, the majors can't capitalize quickly enough to maximize profits.
"The idea is to keep it lean and mean," Mr. Caplan says. "We're gonna be nimble."
Caplan, who spent 21 years as an A&R (artist & repertoire) man with Sony-owned Epic Records, says big labels also have lost sight of what music is about - the artists, not the songs.
By seeking home-run hitters at the expense of solid team members, he notes, "They're just ceding a whole big part of the marketplace that we can go after."