The very fact that you've made it to this website - that you're reading this article - almost certainly means that you'll have been emotionally invested, at some point or other, in music that you never otherwise would have heard had it not been for an independent record label. These labels serve as the lifeblood of any music than can creditably be described as 'indie', and to run one requires a delicate balance of a keen sense of which artists deserve to be signed - of what does and doesn't signify creative excellence - and the genuine business acumen and understanding of the current musical zeitgeist required to stay afloat in an ever more challenging financial climate.

Between the long-standing but consistently pressing issue of illegal downloading, the ever-dwindling sales figures for physical releases and the dubious nature of the business models behind streaming platforms like Spotify, indie labels are increasingly finding their work cut out for them merely just to break even in the pursuit of providing a platform for artists based purely on artistic merit, rather than financial potential. We spoke with key figures from a number of prominent indies on the struggle to stay relevant - or even just solvent - in a far-from-ideal environment.

Since 2010, Cascine - conceived in Florence and Stockholm, birthed in California and now based in New York and London - have been hand-picking the most exciting alternative pop from both sides of the Atlantic. The label's publicist, Sandra Croft, insists that finance is the most pressing issue for labels on Cascine's scale. "I think the biggest problem is money, or rather, having dreams that are bigger than the money available to make them come true. You try to be smart and operate in a lean manner, but there are still these big dreams - embossed vinyl, champagne release parties, helicopter flights to rain down boat club promos on the masses. I kid, of course, but money is such a serious consideration every step of the way when you are not a bigger independent who can afford to promo their records in wild ways, or even just place prominent ads on Pitchfork, you know? That kind of thing."

"I'd say the most difficult aspect is just not having the financial means to make your big dreams come true, and settling on how much, and to what degree, 'reality' can afford your dreams. That, and the work. We work constantly - it's way, way beyond your typical nine to five. I don't know if I would necessarily consider that 'difficult'; I know I could get away with working way less, but I don't because I really love our bands, and I want to see them do as well as they can. I'm basically that parent at school that thinks my kid is better than everyone else's kid."

Ben Wileman, from Wichita, concurs with that judgement, and the fact that a label of that size face similar issues is a striking reminder of the almost ubiquitous nature of financial difficulty within independent music - Wichita can count The Cribs, Best Coast and First Aid Kit amongst their current roster, with Bright Eyes, My Morning Jacket and Bloc Party acting as prized alumni. "Folk always think it must be fantastic working at a record label, or in music in general. You know, it's always, 'You're working with what you love!' Well, yes, that is true, I am, and we are - but sometimes I wish I didn't. I mention this mainly because talking about 'the difficulties of running a record label' is hard to do without feeling like most people would read it and say anything other than 'stop whining'."

"Obviously, the most difficult aspect of running a label are the ever-decreasing sales. That should go without saying. Given the changes over the last ten or fifteen years, so much of how the industry is set up is hugely outdated. I am constantly frustrated by how everyone still expects the label to pay for everything a new band needs to kick-start their career and then recoup those costs from ever decreasing record sales. I mean, how can that still be right? Should promoters, managers and booking agents not also contribute to tour support given how they will benefit from those future rewards too?"

"Unfortunately, this system still suits the managers and agents," Wileman continues, "allowing many of them to avoid having to invest a penny in the future of people from whom they will reap the greatest rewards, and from whom they could just as easily recoup such costs. I do hear about some labels roughly equivalent to ours cutting way back on their tour support these days. We probably should do the same. You can't deny the importance of bands touring but spreading the costs a bit more fairly and evenly would lighten the burden of epic, un-recouped tour supports bills that blight royalty statements for all concerned."

The constant need to multi-task - usually arising from insufficient manpower - is another major difficulty for indie labels. Nigel Adams' appropriately-named Full Time Hobby have released records by The Hold Steady, Timber Timbre and White Denim, and he elaborated on the struggle that having just the one pair of hands can pose. "As an indie, one of the really tricky things about running a label is the continual plate spinning. It's a blessing and a curse, really, as you have to wear all the hats, and not just focus on one aspect. It's great in the respect that you get a real feel for every aspect of what is happening, but sometimes you'd rather completely immerse yourself in the music, rather than have to deal with the business side of things constantly rearing its ugly head."

It's an issue than Glenn Goetze, of Modular Recordings, can relate to. The Australian label has proved a something of a stable for the country's indie scene, with many of its most prominent acts - Tame Impala, Cut Copy and The Avalanches among them - calling Modular home at some point in their careers. "I think the fact that you're running an indie label, and not a terribly rich one, often means that you have people multi-multi-tasking and juggling more acts than one should probably handle on their own, working flat out all the time to keep all the balls up in the air. I know I personally have a bunch of to-do lists and alerts going off all day every day to remind me to get things done, because it's often all a bit more than my feeble mind can keep tabs on. "

Another consideration, of course, is the maelstrom of emotions that working with something you care so dearly about - often, in trying circumstances - can represent. Rich Thane, who founded The Line of Best Fit as well as its label offshoot, Best Fit Recordings, elucidates. "It's genuinely the most rewarding experience you could ask for. Like, for years and years, I did A&R and product management for (labels) Service and Force Majeure, so I worked with artists like did Korallreven, Museum of Bellas Artes and Lake Heartbeat. I loved it, but the problem with that - after a while - is that you don't have any ownership on the finished product. You know, you're just providing a label with a service, and as rewarding as it is to see the record come out, there's a distance there that I felt a little uncomfortable about."

"You absolutely need to have thick skin," says Thane, "which I just don't. I am an emo. I mean, I work with the bands so, so closely. One of our artists, Faye, has become like a sister to me. Will she stay with me? Probably not. Major labels are calling, and it's heartbreaking. It's the same with NONONO too, they literally just left the label to sign with Warner. That's ace, because they deserve that break, but it's hard to let them go. That emotional attachment is definitely the hardest thing. Like, I genuinely love everybody I work with. And sometimes they hurt you - like in any relationship. And it burns like hell."

The difficulties that can arise from the inevitable emotional involvement with the music is not lost on Jack Clothier, either; the Alcopop! Records head honcho has overseen the development of Johnny Foreigner, Fight Like Apes and Stagecoach. "It's a vastly exciting and wonderful thing to be doing, but I think the hardest part about it is the difficulty of people not sharing the emotional bond you have with records. I totally understand why it happens, but it's continually hard - no matter how many friends you make, or how big a name you build, or how impressive a reputation you generate - when you have this record that you think is the best thing you've ever fucking heard, and you just get ignored by certain people you're sure will love it. It's completely countered by all the brilliant things that happen on a daily basis - but the constant little knockbacks can be crushing if you take them in the wrong context."

From the outside looking in, indie music at the kind of niche level that many of the above labels represent does appear to be in rude health, in terms of the steady stream of new music made available every day through sites like this one. Behind the scenes, though, it's a constant balancing act. There's no easy answers as to what the future holds for these vital gateways to the music we love, but you have to admire the forthright simplicity we were met with when talking to Saddle Creek co-founder Robb Nansel. "You just have to cut through the noise. There's a lot of media out there. Too much media, you might say."