The concept of an independent record label is a record label operating without the funding of one of the 'major' record labels, which are generally defined to be the handful of media corporations which have recently dominated the recorded music industry in the West. The boundaries between major and independent are quite blurred in practice. Some independent record labels, in particular labels with successful performing artists, receive funding from major labels. Independent labels often rely in part on international licensing deals, distribution agreements, and other deals with major record labels. In some cases, major labels have wholly acquired independent labels.
Independent labels have been in existence for almost as long as there has been a market for recorded music. Even as the music industry has become more centralized, independent labels have continued to be a significant, if small part of the overall market. In a number of cases, independent labels have assembled rosters of recording artists that rival those of the majors. In particular, the '60s and '80s are regarded as particularly fruitful periods for independent labels.
In the new century and the rise of popularity of open content formats, independent record labels are changing into a new form with the emergence of Open source record labels.