The Fourth of July might celebrate the United States' liberation from its original U.K. masters, but Independence Day today sees the unveiling of the AIM Independent Music Awards, the first-ever dedicated ceremony hailing the U.K. indies sector as a thriving autonomous business.
Organized by trade organization AIM (The Association of Independent Music), the actual event takes place in London's Floridita venue on Nov. 10.
That day, the best independent artists as well as label executives, music-festival promoters and supporters will firmly plant a celebratory flag to declare the independents' burgeoning status in a business dominated by the major labels. The event will be hosted by BBC 6 Music DJ Steve Lamacq and Huw Stephens, of BBC Radio 1.
In recent years, AIM has used the July 4 date to champion developments and achievements within the U.K. independent sector. This year, it was used as a platform to launch the awards.
Although many AIM-member labels and their artists have been lauded at other high-profile awards schemes such as the BRITS (equivalent to the Grammy Award), the MOBO (Music of Black Origin) Awards and the Mercury Prize (lauding best album of the year), this new accolade will be made by independents for independents.
"There are many other awards, but nothing that focuses solely on us," Alison Wenham, AIM's CEO, tells Billboard.biz. "Part of the rationale for the timing is AIM's own maturity. We've been approached in the past to set up something similar, but we felt it wouldn't have succeeded as we would have liked it to." She sees this inaugural year as the first of an annual event.
Among the indie artists to have excelled in the domestic market in 2011 are British hit makers Adele (XL Recordings), Radiohead (XL), Arctic Monkeys (Domino Records), New York-originated The Strokes (Rough Trade Records), dance punk band Friendly Fires (XL), and U.S. folk singer Bon Iver (4AD).
To illustrate the growing influence of the U.K. indies sector, once consigned to the role of poorer cousin of the majors, it scored a first in U.K. recorded-music history in May and June when it secured four albums in the Top 10 sales chart for four weeks in a row, a spokesperson says.
The artists were (in week 20) Friendly Fires, Dutch jazz singer Caro Emerald, Adele's two albums, (in week 21), Caro Emerald, dance punk act Prodigy, Adele's two albums, (in week 22), both Adele albums, U.S. blues musician Seasick Steve, veteran rockers Status Quo; and (in week 23), Arctic Monkeys, the two Adele albums, and Seasick Steve.
Among the 14 AIM award categories being considered are International Achievement of the Year (overseas success for U.K.-signed act); Independent Breakthrough of the Year; Best Small Label; Best Live Act; PPL Award for the Most Played Independent Act (recordings played the most in public and on radio); Independent Entrepreneur of the Year; and Best 'Difficult' Second Album.
The judges will comprise a panel of established music critics and "tastemakers." Some categories will be voted for independently of the judging panel. For example, the Indie Champion Award will be chosen by AIM members, while the Golden Welly Award for Best Independent Festival will be selected by users of the Virtual Festivals website.
Wenham adds that the albums-centric awards categories are influenced by the U.K. indie-music culture, where there is an "urgency for the fans to support acts that they really connect with," she said. "While the majors are more hits driven, indie labels go for long-term relationships with their fans and albums are the product of that."
Martin Mills, chairman of the international indie company Beggars Group, which owns or distributes several labels like XL, 4AD, and Rough Trade, explains why the awards can be justified.
"Adele's success, in particular, proves beyond a doubt that independents can compete and even do better than the majors," he says. "We also enjoy each other's success, whereas I suspect a major (label) would not celebrate if rival major does well."
Chris Goss is co-founder/managing director of drum and bass-oriented Hospital Records, which is described as a small independent. He says: "While we like to have hits, such as the success of (drum and bass DJ/producer) Danny Byrd, our principal role is to continue to build and broaden the audience for our music. And anything, such as the AIM awards, that can build on that is a good thing."