They entered this year’s ceremony with nominations in almost all of the big categories, and although the independents came out on top in only a minority of those contests, they managed to walk away with the evening’s most coveted trophy. Mumford & Sons’ victory for Album of the Year for Babel marks the fifth consecutive win in that category by an artist signed to an independent record label.
“I am proud of us as an indie label,” Daniel Glass, founder and CEO of Mumford & Sons’ label Glassnote Records said of the win a post-Grammy interview  with Billboard. “I have to give credit to our team at the label for helping to make Mumford & Sons happen in [North America].”
Prior to Mumford’s Album of the Year win, the other artists to win the award in the past five years are Adele (signed to XL/Beggars but licensed to and marketed by Columbia in the U.S.), Arcade Fire (Merge Records), Taylor Swift (Big Machine Records) and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (Rounder Rounder).
The major label system  can take some credit for those efforts, including Adele, which were marketed or distributed by major-owned entities. Swift’s Fearless, which won top honors in 2010, is distributed by Universal Music Group Distribution, as is the joint Plant/Krauss album; Big Machine, Swift's label, handles all Nashville-based radio promotion and works in tandem with Republic Records for Top 40, Hot AC and AC. Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, which won in 2011, is distributed by Warner-owned Alternative Distribution Alliance and Mumford’s Babel is distributed by Sony’s RED.
The British indie folk quartet also took home an award for Best Longform Music Video for the Babel track “Big Easy Express” and was nominated for Best Americana Album, Best Rock Song, Best Rock Performance and Best Song Written for Visual Media.
Babel was a Billboard 200 number one debut in September and has since sold over 1.4 million copies in the U.S. The album’s two Grammy wins mark the band’s first, having been nominated for various awards and coming home empty-handed in the two previous years.
“I can tell you when we first signed them and put them out, the first three months weren't pretty,” Glass said of Mumford’s journey so far. “Radio and retail didn't get into them in the very beginning. It wasn't an easy sell. But the band and their managers kept working on it and we did too. It was all about trust. In addition to our team, I have to give credit to [Grammy Producer] Ken Ehrlich. He had the guts to let them play with Bob Dylan [in 2011] and then this year he let them be a part of the Levon Helm tribute and also play by themselves. That is a sign of confidence.”
Last night’s other big winner on behalf of the independent music industry was Concord Music Group, whose various imprints walked away with a grand total of eight statues, including Best Pop Vocal Album for Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom (Hear Music).
“I'm so happy that I want to give everyone Kisses On The Bottom...along with all our other Grammy winning and nominated albums,” Concord President Glen Barros said in a cheeky statement. “I'm so grateful to work with such amazing artists and one of the best teams in the business.”
Naxos USA, the classical music heavyweight, also cleaned up with awards in six categories, including Best Contemporary Classical Composition and Best Choral Performance.
“I would like to congratulate all of the artists, engineers and producers who helped create these wonderful recordings,” Naxos USA CEO Jim Shelby said in a statement. “Their dedication, excellence and imagination allows all of us to enjoy this amazing music. All of these projects were created by vibrant independent classical labels, proving yet again how important the ‘indie’ labels and classical music are to each other.“
Independent labels and artists won 34-36 (depending on whether you count by ownership or distribution) of the 79 non-producer categories this year, their largest share of the Grammy pie since 2009. Indies received 50 percent of non-producer nominations overall, as calculated by the American Association of Independent Music. In addition to the nod for Album of the Year, indie success stories The Lumineers and Alabama Shakes were both nominated in the Best New Artist category, although that award eventually went to the pop-rock trio fun. of Warner-owned Fueld By Ramen. Other nominations came for Record of the Year, Country Album of the Year, Best Dance/Electronica Album and Best Alternative Music Album.
“We are thrilled by the Grammy successes of the independent music label community, including the fifth consecutive year of Album of the Year honors,” said Rich Bengloff, president of A2IM, the independent label trade group, in an email to Billboard. “The overall win total reflects the excellence and diversity of the music our community supports both creatively and financially.”
Additional reporting by Ed Christman