Let’s look at some stats: Jack White’s Blunderbuss, number one debut on the Billboard 200, Third Man Records. Taylor Swift, worth $165 million, Big Machine Records. Adele, 21, more than 26 million records sold, XL Recordings. Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know”, Grammy for Record of the Year, Eleven. Macklemore, a number one single on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, no label.
With financial success stories like these, many music industry pundits have been quick to celebrate the new “reality” for independent musicians. A quick glance at some media outlets might lead you to believe that all the old gatekeepers have fallen away, or that independent musicians have the same shot at stardom as major-label backed artists. However, these narratives can be misleading.
Take, for example, the artists listed above. Jack White’s Blunderbuss was released on his own imprint… in association with XL Recordings (a large British independent label), and Columbia Records (owned by Sony Music Entertainment.) Taylor Swift has been with Big Machine Records (a Nashville-based independent label) since her debut… but Big Machine is distributed byRepublic Records under the Universal Music Group umbrella.
Both of Adele’s records were released on XL Recordings in England, but she depends on Columbia for distribution and promotion in the United States. Gotye is on Eleven, an Australian independent label, but his music is distributed in the United States by Universal Republic. And Macklemore may not have a label, but as NPR recently pointed out he and Ryan Lewis chose (as many notable indie labels do) to work with Warner-owned Alternative Distribution Alliance for physical distribution, and partnered with Warner Music Group to help promote “Thrift Shop” to radio.
The point of acknowledging these arrangements isn’t to call these artists’ integrity, authenticity or accomplishments into question. A distribution deal or marketing partnership hardly invalidates the time, creativity and ingenuity required to succeed in today’s marketplace. Rather, the point is to acknowledge that contrary to what some pundits are saying, mainstream chart success still usually requires the resources and reach of certain industry powerhouses at some stage.
An artist may be able to build a successful career through extensive touring, online platforms or other means. But when it comes to clawing your way onto commercial radio or onto the shrinking shelves at big-box retail outlets, a major label partnership can make all the difference.
While each artist’s business model is their own, we should be realistic about what these arrangements mean in terms of the average musicians’ ability to reach audiences. Commercial radio airplay remains the number one outlet for discovery, and big-boxes account for far more music sales than dwindling record shops. Which is to say: we’re still dealing with a deck that seems stacked against smaller players; that hasn’t fundamentally changed in the digital era.
FMC’s own research backs this up to a considerable extent. Our artist revenue streams study found that significant commercial radio airplay remains out of reach for all but a tiny handful of artists. And our earlier radio-centric research demonstrates that commercial playlists tend to be repetitive and narrowly focused on major-label artists. (This, incidentally, is one of the reasons why it’s important to support Low Power FM and non-commercial radio, as these formats offer indies a better shot at airplay. It’s also a reason to oppose further ownership concentration in commercial broadcasting which is likely to worsen this problem.)
Still, there are many gray areas. Where does a “spec deal” – where you remain unsigned, but the label pays for you to record a few tracks – fit in to today’s picture? And how about distribution deals, where the artist pays to record their own music, but a label handles many of the other chores, including promotion? Or distribution and manufacturing deals, where the label is *only* responsible for getting your record pressed and on shelves, but not marketed? What if an artist has no label, but has a major publishing deal? In many instances, independence is clearly not a binary phenomenon.
Hypebot’s Clyde Smith says he’s no longer going to use the term “indie” at all, for a whole host of reasons. We would argue that, at a time when marketplace concentration is becoming more pronounced, it’s good to have some differentiators, even if they are based in business approach rather than sonic aesthetic. The merger of EMI and UMG means that just three companies will control 75 percent of the domestic recorded music industry – how can anyone accurately describe unfair marketplace conditions without a blanket term to describe the competing 25 percent of the industry (which actually translates to a much larger percentage of the overall pool of artists and releases)?
Perhaps the best way to deal with these grey areas is simply to talk about themmore, and with a little more precision. Instead of simply saying “an indie artist,” try saying “an artist on an independent label with a major distribution deal,” or “a self-released artist with a publishing deal,” as the case may be. This may be a tall order at a time when many fans still confuse “indie” with a set of aesthetics rather than a business model. That said, the more consumers understand the intricacies of the artist experience, the closer we are to creating a future where more artists have a fair shot at success, whatever path they choose to get there.
Source: Future of Music Coalition (by Kevin Erickson & Olivia Brown)
There are two notable statistics in today’s Nielsen Company & Billboard’s 2011 Music Industry Report. One is that digital music sales accounted for an eyelash over half (50.3 percent) of all sales, marking the first time digital overtook physical. The other is that vinyl album sales grew 36 percent compared to 2010, selling more than any other year in the past two decades.
Taken together, those numbers lend some support to the belief that consumers are losing interest in physical product, but when they do purchase they’re increasingly likely to choose something that they connect with on a personal level.
Total music purchases also reached a new high at $1.6 billion for the year. Digital sales were up 8.4 from the previous year while physical album sales declined 5 percent.
Music executives, meanwhile, should thank their bookshelf stereo systems for Adele (pictured). It has been seven years since an album sold more than 5 million copies in a year, and the soulful British artist’s smash hit 21 sold over 5.8 million units and became the best selling digital album of all time (1.8 million). Adele also became the first to top best-selling artist, album and digital song sales charts in a single year.
Other top honors Adele achieved in 2011 include having the best-selling physical album, digital album, Internet album, digital song (“Rolling in the Deep”), and most played song on the radio with the same sensational recording. She also tops Big Champagne’s Ultimate Chart, which factors in music fans enjoy regardless of whether it was enjoyed via legitimate channels.
Lady Gaga took the number one place when it comes to streaming music, which is appropriate given her embrace of the ephemeral in art, although the most-streamed individual song was Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass.”
Article originally appeared on Digital Media Wire (http://www.dmwmedia.com).
Adele, Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver are among the acts vying for the inaugural AIM Independent Music Awards.
British guitar bands The xx, Friendly Fires and The Horrors - all of whom are signed to London-based XL Recordings, label home to Adele - have also been nominated ahead of the November 10 prize-giving ceremony, which will be held in central London.
AIM, the U.K.’s Trade Association for the Independent Music Industry, first announced that it was to establish its own awards earlier this summer. According to a statement released by AIM, “The AIM Independent Music Awards is about recognizing the success of all levels of act, genre and label and commending the real heroes of a music sector that continues to challenge the main stream, nurture talent and thrive.”
As previously announced, Icelandic singer Bjork will receive the outstanding contribution to music award in recognition of her continual “embracing and exploring new technology, supporting and mentoring new talent and a dedication to realizing artistic visions without compromise or concession.”
Laurence Bell, the founder of London-based independent Domino Records - which counts Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys and Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks among its roster - is to be the inaugural recipient of the Pioneer Award.
Leading the individual nominations, which were announced today (Oct. 13), is Adele, who’s “21” (XL Recordings) is nominated in the Best Difficult Second Album category alongside Bon Iver’s “Bon Iver” (4AD), Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues” (Bella Union), Friendly Fires’ “Pala” (XL) and Toddla T’s “Watch Me Dance” (Ninja Tune). Adele also received a nod in the PPL Award For Most Played Independent Act. Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend and The xx were the other nominees.
XL Recordings acts SBTRKT and The Horrors compete with Bring Me The Horizon (Visible Noise) and Caro Emerald (Dramatico) for the Independent Breakthrough of the Year award. Frank Turner (Xtra Mile), Enter Shikari (Ambush Reality) and Warpaint (Rough Trade) are among the acts up for the Best Live Act title. According to AIM, nominations were decided by an independent judging panel and public voting, with over 14,000 registering their votes. BBC 6 Music radio DJ Steve Lamacq and BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens will co-host the awards.
FULL NOMINEES LIST:
BEST SMALL LABEL
Naim Edge Records
In association with Sound Performance
BEST ‘DIFFICULT’ SECOND ALBUM
Adele - 21 (XL Recordings)
Bon Iver - Bon Iver (4AD)
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (Bella Union)
Friendly Fires - Pala (XL Recordings)
Toddla T - Watch Me Dance (Ninja Tune)
HARDEST WORKING BAND OR ARTIST
Beardyman (Sunday Best)
Bring Me The Horizon (Visible Noise)
Frank Turner (Xtra Mile)
Randomhand (Bomber Music)
In association with Live Nation
CATALOGUE RELEASE OF THE YEAR
Coals to Newcastle - Orange Juice (Domino)
The Wonderful And Frightening World of The Fall / This Nation’s Saving Grace
The Fall (Beggars Group)
Matador at 21 - Various Artists (Matador)
Ninja Tune XX - Various Artists (Ninja Tune)
In association with Rovi Europe
GOLDEN WELLY AWARD FOR BEST INDEPENDENT FESTIVAL
End of the Road Festival
In association with AIF, voted for by readers of Virtual Festivals
INDEPENDENT BREAKTHROUGH OF THE YEAR
Bring Me The Horizon (Visible Noise)
Caro Emerald (Dramatico / Grandmono)
The Horrors (XL Recordings)
SBTRKT (XL Recordings)
INNOVATIVE MARKETING CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR
Ninja Tune campaign for Amon Tobin ‘Isam’
Ninja Tune for campaign for ‘Ninja Tune XX’
Radar Maker campaign for Frankie & The Heartstrings ‘Hunger’
Warp campaign for Flying Lotus ‘Cosmogramma, Pattern+Grid World, Cosmogramma Alt Takes’
INDIE CHAMPION AWARD
Tom Robinson, BBC 6Music
Nathan Clark, Brudenell Social Club
John Robb, Louder Than War
John Doran & Luke Turner, The Quietus
INDEPENDENT ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR
Julie Weir (Visible Noise / Wiseblood Management)
Martin Goldschidt (Cooking Vinyl)
Rob da Bank (Bestival / Camp Bestival / AIF / Radio 1 / Sunday Best)
Ruth Daniel (Fat Northener / unConvention)
In association with The Orchard
BEST LIVE ACT
Bring Me The Horizon (Visible Noise)
Enter Shikari (Ambush Reality)
Frank Turner (Xtra Mile)
Warpaint (Rough Trade)
In association with Sailor Jerry, voted for by readers of The Fly
PPL AWARD FOR MOST PLAYED INDEPENDENT ACT
Adele (XL Recordings)
Arctic Monkeys (Domino Recording Company)
Vampire Weekend (XL Recordings)
The xx (XL Recordings)
In association with PPL
OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO MUSIC 2011:
WINNER - BJÖRK
PIONEER AWARD 2011:
WINNER - LAURENCE BELL, THE DOMINO RECORDING COMPANY
Article originally appeared on Billboard (http://www.billboard.biz) and was written by Richard Smirke.