Richard James Burgess, Former Smithsonian Folkways Head, Named New CEO of A2IM

Carol Weinberg/A2IM
A2IM CEO Richard James Burgess

Richard James Burgess, an indie executive with a diverse background who most recently ran the label operation of Smithsonian Folkways, has become the fourth executive to lead A2IM, the U.S. independent label trade group. Burgess replaces interim president Molly Neuman, who recently announced her departure for Kickstarter's, where she will take the newly created position of head of music.

Burgess has a background ideally suited for his new gig, according to the organization's board members. In addition to heading the Smithsonian Folkways label with the title of associate director for business strategies, Burgess has been an artist manager for such artists as Jimmie's Chicken Shack; a college professor who taught the science of recording music; a record producer who worked on two Spandau Ballet albums and the author of The Art of Music Production.

"This search called for a unique, diverse set of skills: experience generating business in the indie space, first-hand understanding of indie labels' needs, a strong command of current rights debates, and comfort with both digital partners and the artist community," Beggars Group chairman Martin Mills said in a statement. "Burgess's wide range of credentials made him stand out."

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In assuming his new position, Burgess will move to New York, and expects to "continue A2IM's advocacy for independent labels" which includes, but certainly isn't limited to, legislative initiatives, rate-setting forums and fighting for terrestrial rights, which he says is important to all labels and artists.

"A2IM is the vital voice for Independent labels -- the small- and medium-sized businesses that have grown to command more than a third of domestic market share for recorded music," Burgess said in a statement. "We will continue to grow; we will spotlight the impact our members have on jobs and revenue; and we are determined to build greater accord within the music industry. We will persist in our quest for equitable conditions for artists, musicians, songwriters, publishers, and labels big and small."

Burgess, who has previously served as chairman of the A2IM board, foresees the group working closely with artists whose interests are more closely aligned, he says, with indie labels than major labels. "That is why we endorsed the Fair Digital Deals Declaration," he says.

In addition to its advocacy, Burgess says his goal it to spur A2IM's growth and prepare it for the future by putting together the right organization and structure.

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Moreover, Burgess notes the success of A2IM's Indie Week and says the plan is to grow the event, as well as its annual Libby Awards, which recognizes indie albums, labels and marketing initiatives. There are plans to move the event to a bigger location with more performances. "There is phenomenal and diverse music on indie labels and if there is a way to bring that music to a bigger audience, we are all about that," Burgess says.

In addition to the many roles that Burgess has played during his career, Tommy Boy founder and A2IM board member Tom Silverman says he likes that Burgess comes from Smithsonian Folkways, which he describes as "probably the most diverse label in the world. That's a good match, with the broad span of music issued by indie labels," Silverman says.

Since A2IM's inception, the organization has been "fighting for equality, now we need to begin taking a leadership role in the industry," Silverman says.

Still, Burgess notes that the indies can also work well with the major labels. For example, a number of indie labels are distributed by majors and are thriving. Moreover, he notes that eventually the indie owners got old and sell, usually to the majors. "It's part of the ecosystem and it doesn't feel like a bad thing," says Burgess.

Replacing Burgess as chairman of A2IM's board is Secretly Group co-founder Darius Van Arman, who was already serving on the board. Hopeless Records owner Louis Posen joins the board to fill Burgess's seat.