When independent record executives gathered at the Libera Awards in New York in June to honor their label’s best releases, they had more than artistic achievement to celebrate.
Independently owned labels -- ranging from small, artist-owned imprints to multimillion-dollar organizations like BMG, Big Machine Music Group and Concord Music Group -- now claim 37 percent of the U.S. recorded-music market, according to a report released by MIDiA Research last October.
When the American Association of Independent Music, the independent-label trade group that presents the Libera Awards, was founded in 2005, that market share was 29 percent, says A2IM CEO Richard James Burgess.
The MIDiA report, which was commissioned by the Worldwide Independent Network, a trade group of the independent music business, found that the indies’ share of the global music market is even marginally higher -- 38 percent -- and that indies generated $6 billion in worldwide sales.
“It speaks volumes for the tenacity, passion and entrepreneurship of independent labels and the public’s desire for musical diversity, that even in these times of global dominance by major corporations, almost four out of every 10 dollars spent on music goes to the independent sector,” said Martin Mills, founder of Beggars Group and WIN vice president, commenting on the MIDiA report.
In addition to expanding their market share, independents are growing revenue for their artists through their collective clout as Merlin, the global digital-rights organization for indie labels, negotiates with streaming services on behalf of their artists.
Billboard’s Indie Power Players report recognizes achievement at independently owned record labels, music publishers and distributors -- but also distribution companies owned by the three major music groups that play a significant role in bringing indie-owned repertoire to market. In a volatile time for the music business, these executives assure the continued growth of indie music.
Jorge Brea, 33 ?CEO, Symphonic Distribution
Founded in 2006 by Florida music producer Brea in a spare bedroom of his parents’ house, Latino-owned Symphonic is a key conduit to Spotify, Amazon and other streaming platforms for indie acts of all genres. Last November, the equity firm Ballast Point Ventures put $4 million into the Tampa, Fla.-based firm, which also offers design, audio mastering, marketing, merchandising and licensing services. “People were wondering, ‘Why are you taking money now? Is everything all right?’” says Brea. “I told them, ‘Everything’s more than all right.’ We want to invest more aggressively and hire more people.”
Tiffany Couch, 47 Director of sales, Select-O-Hits Johnny Phillips, 70 Co-owner/VP, Select-O-Hits
The oldest independent distribution company in the United States -- 58 years and counting -- Select-O-Hits scored in 2017 with American Rebelution, from country-rap duo The Lacs, which debuted at No. 10 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. The company also had continued sales of Tina Campbell’s It’s Personal, which entered Top Gospel Albums at No. 1 in 2015. While Select-O-Hits still has a healthy physical business, digital comprises 65 percent of revenue, says Phillips, whose uncle, Sam Phillips, founded Sun Records and first recorded Elvis Presley. But for The Lacs and Campbell, adds Couch, physical sales were “quite prevalent, engaging both mass merchants and indie stores.”
Glenn Dicker, 52 Co-founder, Redeye Tor Hansen, 53 Co-founder, Redeye
Redeye turned Hillsborough, N.C. (population 6,000-plus) into a music-business hub with the opening in 2016 of its 90,000-square-foot offices, through which the distributor has had “double-digit growth” in the past year, says Dicker. (The company does not report the dollar volume of its business.) Redeye recently added the New West, Sundazed and Mom + Pop labels to its roster. Berlin-based Hansen oversees Redeye’s global operation, which includes offices in London, Toronto and Sydney. “Redeye has continued to see a surge in our international business,” says Hansen.
Amy Dietz* Executive VP/GM, INgrooves
INgrooves, the indie distributor majority-owned by Shamrock Capital and minority-owned by Universal Music Group, is mining data to help its artists boost their social media presence and drive music streams worldwide. For Norwegian artist Boy Pablo on 777 Records, for example, Ingrooves’ Nordic team in Norway “could see how and where specific [audiences] were discovering and listening to his music,” says Dietz. That information was used to gain playlist and editorial support that in turn drove 30 million streams, 50 million YouTube streams -- and a sold-out club tour across North America.
Tracy Maddux, 48 ?CEO, CD Baby
With a two-decade history of selling indie digital and physical product (including vinyl) worldwide, CD Baby under Maddux in the past year paid out $80 million to independent artists -- up 33 percent over 2016 thanks to streaming -- while its publishing division, launched in 2013, expanded its international reach. The company now administers 1 million songs for 160,000 writers in 33 countries. “We are seeing explosive growth,” says Maddux, “and not just in the U.S.” In June, CD Baby opened a new London office to boost its European business.
Brad Navin, 47 CEO, The Orchard Colleen Theis, 49 COO, The Orchard
As the world’s largest indie distributor, servicing over 30 markets worldwide, The Orchard has had growth across multiple genres -- including hip-hop, country, K-pop, rock and Latin, says Navin. That diversity also spans formats: The Nio Garcia-led “Te Boté (Remix)” is one of the company’s top streaming tracks, with 227 million on-demand U.S. streams since its release, and David Lee Murphy’s country single (with Kenny Chesney), “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” stands among The Orchard’s top downloads. On Theis’ watch, the distributor has opened seven new offices (with new teams in Nashville and Toronto, plus a second location in Spain), increased its Australian presence and absorbed fellow Sony-owned distributors Red Essential and RED -- all within the last year. Industrywide, says Navin, “we’re shifting away from managing 15 years of decline to experiencing growth. And now we’re actually seeing that growth start to accelerate.”
Jacqueline Saturn* GM, Caroline
“Our biggest accomplishment is market share,” says Saturn of Caroline, the independent label services and distribution division of Capitol Music Group. That share “nearly doubled” in recent months, rising from 1.77 percent earlier in 2018 to 3 percent, says Saturn. As a distribution and marketing force, Caroline has played a role in the recent No. 1 albums by Migos, XXXTentacion, Halsey and NF, and “10 top 20 hits this year on the Billboard Hot 100,” she adds. “It’s a combination of our label partners having some incredible repertoire and our ability to come up with unique, aggressive plans.”
Eliah Seton, 36 President, Alternative Distribution Alliance
As ADA celebrates its 25th anniversary, the indie-music distributor owned by Warner Music Group “is working on 25 percent year-over-year growth,” says Seton. New deals with former Sony Music chairman Doug Morris’ 12 Tones (Anderson .Paak, 88rising), Broken Bow (Jason Aldean) and BIG (Aaron Watson) and continuing dividends from the distribution of BMG releases feed those gains. “Having boots on the ground in key markets across the globe is creating an ADA skin across Warner Music’s global footprint,” says Seton. He draws on a family history of music business success; his grandmother, opera singer/vocal coach Sue Seton, trained Audrey Hepburn for the role of Eliza Doolittle in the 1964 film My Fair Lady.
Dean Tabaac* Managing Director, AMPED
AMPED typically adds 20 to 25 labels a year to its repertoire roster, but in the past 12 months the indie distributor gained 47, says Tabaac. Reach, speed to market and insights from AMPED’s data resources enhance the company’s appeal to its label partners. Tabaac takes particular pride in bucking industry trends by maximizing revenue from physical product. “We’ve increased physical sales for many artists over their prior releases at a time when people said that’s not doable anymore,” he says. Five Finger Death Punch, Major Lazer, Todd Rundgren and Stephen Stills are among those whose sales of their AMPED-distributed CDs beat those of their prior albums.
Darius Van Arman, 46 Co-CEO/Chief Strategy Officer, Secretly Group/Secretly Distribution
Van Arman proudly notes that Secretly became “the very first distribution company to fully share its Spotify equity with its past and present distributed labels” after the streaming service went public. “We paid out millions to our distributed labels at the beginning of July, which was over 80 percent of the Spotify equity value we received,” he says. When its partnership with Warner Music Group for distribution to Amazon and big-box store accounts in the United States ends in 2019, Secretly will “achieve a fully independent route to market, domestically and internationally,” says Van Arman.
Emmanuel Zunz, 45 Founder/CEO, ONErpm
The multilingual Zunz (who was born in Paris and raised in Charlottesville, Va.) launched ONErpm in 2010 as a digital music distributor that has since grown to include a video network helping to promote and monetize the work of independent YouTube content creators. “We invest in [their] channels, cross-promote the channels and use [our] network to promote others,” says Zunz. “On YouTube, we have over 350 million subscribers. Our network generates 6 billion plays a month.” For makers of music and video whose work is used on YouTube, ONErpm can streamline payments from the Google-owned service.
Glen Barros, 52 COO, Concord Music Scott Pascucci, 59 CEO, Concord Music Tom Whalley* Chief label officer, Concord Music Jake Wisely, 48 Chief publishing executive, Concord Music
“I believe no one in the business knows our financial scale,” says Concord CEO Pascucci. “By year-end, our annual revenue will exceed $400 million.” The projection takes into account Concord’s purchase in July of famed Latin music company Fania Records & Publishing and the United Kingdom’s Independiente Records. Those deals are part of a run of acquisitions that has made Concord the world’s fifth-largest integrated music company behind the three majors and BMG. That revenue is important, says Pascucci, “because our scale and stability allow us to put even more resources behind our artists, to stay with projects for the long term, with artists like Nathaniel Rateliff [& The Night Sweats], Ghost, The Revivalists, St. Vincent and others.” Whalley lauds the achievements of these Concord acts and others such as TajMo (the collaboration of Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’), Denzel Curry, Seether and The Record Company. Barros has led the integration of disparate recording and publishing units “into one cohesive music company under the banner of Concord Music,” he says. That effort on the publishing side, says Wisely, has involved “not just A&R and administration, but theatrical, licensing and synergizing with our label imprints, new releases and catalog. [The company now has] 170 dedicated publishing staffers across pop, theatrical and classical. That feels good.”
Peter Berard, 36 North American label manager, Domino Recording Co. Susan Busch, 39 Head of A&R, Domino Records/Domino Publishing North America Kris Gillespie, 46 Managing director, Domino Records/Domino Publishing North America
In a year that marked the 25th anniversary of Domino Recording’s launch in London, the company’s U.S. team under Gillespie celebrated Arctic Monkeys debuting at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 with Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino and Franz Ferdinand hitting No. 5 on Top Rock Albums with Always Ascending. Berard is working new releases from Cat Power, Animal Collective, Bob Moses, Dirty Projectors and Porches, among others. Busch has worked with electronica duo Bob Moses from “warehouse shows in Brooklyn” to its 2017 Grammy Award (with DJ RAC) for the remix of “Tearing Me Up.” The pair will release a new album, Battle Lines, in September.
Ken Bunt, 48 President, Disney Music Group
Bunt’s musical playground is certainly bigger than that of most indies, as part of a multimedia empire that includes a broadcast network, digital radio station and legendary film studio. In 2018, Bunt capitalized on the return of American Idol to sister network ABC with key TV placements for winner Maddie Poppe, who’s also recording songs that could appear in upcoming movie soundtracks. Disney Music’s concert division presented over 550 shows this year -- including Star Wars in Concert and Beauty and the Beast -- a tenfold increase over 2012. Beyond family fare, Disney-signed Sabrina Carpenter was in the spotlight at this summer’s iHeart Wango Tango concert, and Bunt placed a Joywave song in the trailer to the second iteration of blockbuster video game Fortnite, which generated 10 million views in its first few days of release. It’s all part of an evolving access to Disney music fans. “We’ve moved from a transactional business to a business that is access-based,” says Bunt. “The economics are different. Now, as opposed to getting someone to buy an album, we want them to spend four, eight, 16 minutes of their time listening to the music.”
Tomas Cookman, 57 President/CEO, Nacional Records/Industria Works
Latin alternative artists like Alex Anwandter, La Vida Boheme and Tomasa del Real are still flourishing under the umbrella of Cookman’s Nacional Records and Industria Works, which includes his management, booking, events and publishing interests. Overall, Cookman reports that revenue rose by 85 percent in the past 12 months, with international revenue growing by 500 percent and booking and management income by 400 percent. (His companies do not report the dollar volume of revenue.) “The indie sector is here and not going away,” says Cookman, who recently opened new offices in Mexico. The ease of market entry by artists “via accessible technology has made that a reality.”
Mike Curb, 73 Founder/chairman, The Curb Group
The industry’s oldest independent label still run by its original owner, Curb Records, had its most recent success on the Billboard Hot 100 in July, when Dylan Scott’s “Hooked” single reached No. 72. Meanwhile, the music group’s Word Entertainment consistently scales the Hot Christian Songs and Christian Airplay charts, thanks to acts that include For King & Country and Francesca Battistelli. Ask founder Mike Curb why he never sold his 55-year-old label and the Nashville philanthropist quips, “I have to keep my job somehow.”
Angel Del Villar, 38 Founder/CEO, Del Enterprises
Although Del boasts a roster of regional Mexican artists that includes Gerardo Ortíz and Régulo Caro, and regularly places singles in the top 15 of the Regional Mexican Airplay chart, the addition of T3r Elemento in 2018 “was a great achievement,” says Del Villar. “This group filled up 4,000-seat venues with no label or radio support.” With streaming and digital revenue doubling in the past year, “we’re becoming more independent,” says Del Villar, who just launched Del’s first podcast and has 360 deals in place with his acts, involving him in all aspects of their careers.
Daniel Glass, 61 Founder/president, Glassnote Entertainment Group Chris Scully, 51 GM/CFO, Glassnote Entertainment Group
“It’s rock’n’roll -- in-your-face music with sass, identity, authenticity and attitude,” says Glass of his latest coup, the radio breakthrough of 20-year-old U.K. export Jade Bird, whose crossover hit, “Lottery,” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Triple A chart -- one of just five solo women to top the chart as a lead act since 2010. Scully says Glassnote can grow through strategic partnerships, such as the relationship between its imprint Resolved Records and Matthew E. White’s label, studio, publisher and artist-management startup, Spacebomb Group, home to Natalie Prass and Bedouine. “We can grow our company by working with and mentoring others,” says Scully.
Zach Katz, 47 President of U.S. repertoire and marketing, BMG Thomas Scherer* Executive VP of frontline publishing U.S., global writer services; BMG China
During one very busy week in May, BMG reports that its songwriters and artists topped 22 different Billboard charts, with hits from Jason Aldean, Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line, the collaboration of Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey and several others. But, says Katz, “it’s not about chart-chasing. It’s about being profitable and valuable.” Branching into books and documentaries, the global multimedia company enjoyed a Sundance Film Festival premiere for its lauded Joan Jett documentary, Bad Reputation; a Cameron Crowe-directed David Crosby doc is next. Recent acquisitions also include Daryl Hall’s Live From Daryl’s House catalog and a relaunch of the TV series this fall. Says Scherer: “It’s about taking the risk and working with the best.”
Gordon Kerr, 51 CEO, Black River Entertainment Dave Pacula, 39 Vice President, Black River Publishing Mike Wilson* Senior VP radio promotion, Black River Entertainment
A former educational administrator, Kerr seemed an unlikely music company chief when he took the reins at Black River Entertainment in 2010. But with the rise of Kelsea Ballerini, the addition of Christian and Americana imprints and a roster of hit songwriters, Black River has become one of Nashville’s most successful operations. Pacula proudly notes that Songs of Black River ranked at No. 9 on Billboard’s 2017 Hot Country Songs Publishers recap, thanks to hits that include Midland’s “Drinkin’ Problem,” Dylan Scott’s “My Girl” and Ballerini’s “Legends.” Wilson’s promotion team helped “Legends” hit No. 1 on Country Airplay. “It’s just a tremendous high to watch these dreams come true for these artists,” he says.
Patrick Amory, 53 President/co-owner, Matador Records Gerard Cosloy, 53 Co-owner, Matador Records Chris Lombardi, 52 Co-owner, Matador Records
Matador achieved a new milestone for Queens of the Stone Age last September when the band’s Villains hit No. 1 on both Top Rock Albums and Alternative Albums and No. 3 on the Billboard 200, en route to selling over 800,000 albums worldwide, according to Amory. He credits Matador’s relationship with the band’s representatives at Silva Management. “The collaboration with them is always amazing,” he says. With rising acts such as Car Seat Headrest and Perfume Genius, Cosloy emphasizes the depth of the label’s roster, while Lombardi notes Spoon’s five recent tours of Europe and a new worldwide deal with Interpol. “We’re pushing toward careers [using] a global perspective at all times,” says Lombardi.
Noah Assad, 28 Co-founder/CEO, Rimas Entertainment José “Junior” Carabaño, 24 Co-founder, Rimas Entertainment
Rimas is behind the breakout success of Puerto Rican trap star Bad Bunny, who shared billing with Cardi B and J Balvin on the Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper “I Like It,” while achieving 40 million monthly plays on Spotify. “Everything we do is in-house,” says Assad, who built his team of 18 over the past two years. That crew includes company co-founder Carabaño, who boosted Rimas’ YouTube presence from 35 channels to 100, which are generating 1 billion views every 30 days, he notes. “Rimas is no longer just trap,” says Carabaño. “We’re a multinational label that represents many genres.”
Scott Borchetta, 55 President/CEO, Big Machine Label Group Andrew Kautz, 49 COO, Big Machine Label Group
Beyond the blockbuster success of Taylor Swift’s Reputation (3.1 million equivalent album units earned to date), the record-setting chart run of Florida Georgia Line & Bebe Rexha’s “Meant to Be” (38 weeks and counting atop the Hot Country Songs list) and new chart milestones for Thomas Rhett and Brett Young, Borchetta’s achievements of late have included branching out into spirits (Big Machine Platinum Filtered Premium Vodka), racing (Big Machine Motorsports) and TV (Canada’s The Launch, for which Borchetta is co-executive producer and on-camera mentor). “From day one, we’ve never leaned on one artist, one success, one product,” he says. “We’ve always got to be developing the next ones.” The challenge, adds Kautz, is that “music has to compete with so many different entertainment options: mobile apps, social media, content overload. The great thing about music is you can integrate it into all these new entertainment platforms.”
Stephen Campbell, 32 Head, Young Turks Recordings USA
During the past 18 months, Campbell has overseen the U.S. campaigns for albums that showcase the stylistic edge and diversity of the London-based Young Turks label: I See You, from British indie-pop group The xx; Process, from alt-R&B singer Sampha; and Heaven and Earth, from saxophonist Kamasi Washington -- “his most transcendent and creative opus to date,” says Campbell. Washington took home the best jazz album honor in June at the Libera Awards for his 2017 release, Harmony of Difference.
Luis Del Villar, 39 Founder/CEO, Gerencia 360
A record label, music publisher, booking agency and management company under one roof, Del Villar’s Gerencia 360 boasts a young “mexillennial” roster that includes Adriel Favela, whose single, “Me Llamo Juan,” is an ode to the immigrant community in the United States. Del Villar’s newest signing, Cornelio Vega y Su Dinastia, debuted atop the Latin Album Sales chart with El Problema last November and sold out Mexico’s 15,000-capacity Arena Monterrey in July.
Roger Gold, 48 Co-Founder, 300 Entertainment Kevin Liles, 50 Co-Founder/CEO, 300 Entertainment
Migos, Fetty Wap and Young Thug are just some of the acts that 300 Entertainment -- which racked up 13 billion streams in 2017, according to the company -- has introduced to the mainstream in the last three years. “I’m committed to just breaking new artists,” says Liles. Gold is focused on 300’s “nascent” pop department, but he has made strides with singer-songwriter Meg Myers and New Zealand pop act The Drax Project while building on the success of Cheat Codes, whose Little Mix collaboration, “Only You,” became the DJ trio’s 13th entry on the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart in July. “We’re constantly out there in the marketplace looking for artists who fit our vision and who we believe will be successful as streaming continues to grow,” says Gold.
Elliot Grainge, 24 Founder/CEO, 10K Projects
Since launching 10K Projects only two years ago, Grainge has broken two artists: Trippie Redd, who collaborated with the late XXXTentacion on the latter’s 2017 hit “F**k Love,” and 6ix9ine, who teamed up in July with fellow New York native Nicki Minaj and producer Murda Beatz for new song “FEFE.” Reflecting on the hip-hop energy of the moment, Grainge says: “Right now culturally, it’s quite similar to punk rock in the mid- to late-’70s era in Britain.” Except now, he adds, the “stage” is social media and online arenas like Instagram’s Explore page and WorldstarHipHop.
Steve Greenberg, 56 President, S-Curve Records
Asked for a number that best measures his label’s success over the past 18 months, Greenberg replies: “We’ve earned seven gold and platinum certifications during that time among [artists] AJR, Andy Grammer and We the Kings.” He adds that seven also “equals the number of employees we have. So that’s one gold or platinum certification per staff member. Not a bad ratio.” His music business philosophy? “Life’s too short to devote yourself to music you’re not personally excited about, or to get into business with people about whom you don’t have a positive opinion.”
Matt Harmon, 46 President, Beggars Group USA Martin Mills, 69 Chairman, Beggars Group
“It has been incredible for us to compete in a marketplace that has not been kind to rock bands in the past few years,” says Harmon, whose Beggars Group is the parent company for labels celebrating success on the Billboard 200 with The xx (No. 2 with I See You on Young Turks), Queens of the Stone Age (No. 3, Villains, Matador) and The National (No. 2, Sleep Well Beast, 4AD). Mills is equally excited by the rise of a younger Beggars artist, Memphis-based Julien Baker. “When you find an incredible new artist like Julien and start getting her across to the audience you can reach,” he says, “that’s deeply rewarding.”
Robert John* Creative Head/co-owner, Megaforce Records/MRI/Palmetto
Megaforce, home to Anthrax and Third Eye Blind, remains fiercely loud and proud. “It’s good to see an artist-controlled entrepreneurial model being utilized more,” says John. “Megaforce pretty much invented the model in the early 1990s with the establishment of our company, MRI. Now you see BMG, Kobalt [and others] all using this model. At least artists have more options now, and I think Megaforce helped alter music history with this model.”
Allen Kovac, 63 CEO, Eleven Seven Music Group
Kovac’s label is expanding abroad while its roster thrives at home. The company has opened offices in London and Berlin and partnered with The Orchard as its global distributor. “We break a lot of [artists],” says Kovac, “like Nothing More, which got three Grammy nominations and had one of the biggest alternative rock songs of the year [Mainstream Rock chart-topper “Go to War”].” But Kovac is particularly enthusiastic about the New York alternative-pop artist Just Loud, whose recent single, “Soul Train,” features Debbie Harry. “He’s going to be a very special artist,” he says.
Since the fatal shooting of XXXTentacion in June, the rapper who ignited controversy during his life had nine songs chart posthumously on the Billboard Hot 100 -- and Shami’s EMPIRE signed a new album deal with the artist for tracks that he recorded before his death. (A release date for a posthumous project has not yet been set.) Meanwhile, Landy notes that EMPIRE has played a role in the continuing success of Tyga, the singer Lloyd, Fat Joe, Remy Ma and rapper-producer DRAM. Says Shami: “The industry is moving at a breakneck pace that we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Patrick Moxey, 52 Founder, Ultra Records
Moxey has overseen the growth of Ultra Records since he founded the iconic dance-music imprint in 1995. He has forged a global alliance with Sony Music while maintaining majority ownership in the label, and during the past year hit radio pay dirt with Sofi Tukker’s “Best Friend,” which reached No. 5 on the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart. UItra also released Kygo’s Apple documentary, Stole the Show, while its YouTube channel passed 8.7 billion views and 14 million subscribers. Last November, Moxey returned to his hip-hop roots by relaunching Payday Records with DJ Premier and A$AP Ferg. “Let’s be careful that music doesn't start to live or die within an algorithm,” he says.
Louis Posen, 47 Founder/president, Hopeless Records
As his label marks its 25th anniversary in 2018, Posen can boast hit titles on the Top Rock Albums chart with The Peace and the Panic from Neck Deep (which peaked at No. 2) and Sister Cities from The Wonder Years (No. 5). Posen, who founded Hopeless in his 20s as he began to lose his sight, was elected chairman of indie-label trade group the American Association of Independent Music earlier in August. “That’s a fairly big accomplishment for a blind punk-rock guy,” he says.
Gabriel Roth, 44 Co-Founder, Daptone Records Neal Sugarman, 55 Co-Founder, Daptone Records
Despite the deaths of two beloved artists on its roster, Sharon Jones in 2016 and Charles Bradley last September, Brooklyn-based Daptone retains its critical buzz with releases including Jones’ posthumous Soul of a Woman, the self-titled debut from Cuban act Orquesta Akokan and Michael Rault’s It’s a New Day Tonight on Daptone’s new rock subsidiary, Wick Records. “We’ve built a brand based on quality music -- long-tailed discovery that’s going to keep us in business in the streaming world,” says Sugarman. When asked about a recent highlight of his work, Roth (the Dap-Kings bandleader goes by the stage name “Bosco Mann”) replies: “I had a stranger in a bar come up to me and tell me that he was pretty sure his child had been conceived to a Sharon Jones record I made. That was pretty good.”
Chris Taylor, 52 Global President, Music, Entertainment One
“One of the largest myths being perpetuated is the ‘irrelevance’ of the record company,” says Taylor, whose independent Entertainment One develops and distributes music, film, TV and, most recently, live content with the March acquisition of Round Room Entertainment, an event production company. Adds Taylor: “We are going to have a whole generation of musicians who [will] miss their opportunity to excel by declining the assistance of well-trained, well-financed companies that can really help a developing act take things to the next level.”
Bryan “Birdman” Williams, 49 Co-CEO, Cash Money Records Ronald “Slim” Williams, 50 Co-CEO, Cash Money Records
In the label’s early days, Birdman liked to refer to his crew as the Cash Money Millionaires. Twenty years later, 1 billion seems a more apt number: Drake’s Scorpion racked up a billion global streams during its first week in July, the first album to reach that milestone. Meanwhile, Cash Money in June settled the label’s four-year legal dispute with Lil Wayne, clearing the way for the release of his long-awaited Tha Carter V album. Slim Williams says Cash Money is laying the groundwork for what he calls the label’s “next phase of artists,” particularly in a rapid-fire streaming business. “Everybody moves so fast, and the deals that are being signed are bigger than the way they used to be,” he says. “So right now we just got to be and stay competitive.”
Josh Abraham, 45 Co-CEO, Pulse Music Group Scott Cutler, 56 Co-CEO, Pulse Music Group
Pulse’s gross revenue in 2017 increased by 205 percent over the previous year (the company does not report the dollar volume of its business), in part thanks to Camila Cabello’s “Havana,” co-written by Pulse songwriter Brittany Talia Hazzard, known professionally as Starrah. It’s the first single led by a female artist to simultaneously top the Pop, Rhythmic and Adult Pop charts since 1996. In an in-house, year-end tally, Pulse found that its writers had amassed a combined 45 BMI and ASCAP awards and 150 million in singles sales. “It kind of blew our minds,” says Cutler.
Andrew Bergman, 49 COO, Downtown Music Publishing Justin Kalifowitz, 36 CEO, Downtown Music Publishing
Ongoing acquisitions, signings and hirings are a sure sign of Downtown’s growth. The company does not reveal its financials, but in April it struck a deal for over 2,000 copyrights from the Major Bob Music catalog, including hits by Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney and Reba McEntire (but not material by Garth Brooks), and in July it acquired Booker T. Jones’ share of his songs, including the classic “Green Onions.” Newly signed writers John Prine and Natalie Merchant have joined a roster that includes Ryan Tedder, One Direction, Benny Blanco and Sturgill Simpson. “We have added 64 people to our staff in the last 19 months,” says Bergman. “They were added in every department including tech” -- strengthening Downtown’s SongTrust operation, which provides global rights administration and royalty collections -- “and we hired a new head of A&R.”
Josh Gruss, 44 Founder/CEO, Round Hill Music
Round Hill, a private equity-financed company that invests in publishing and recording assets, began 2018 with the acquisition of Carlin America, a veteran indie publisher built by legendary executive Freddy Bienstock with its iconic catalog of 100,000-plus copyrights, including hits from Elvis Presley, AC/DC and Meat Loaf. With the deal reportedly worth $245 million, the value of Round Hill’s copyrights now totals about $500 million. “Seven years ago,” says Gruss, who founded the firm in 2010, “that number was zero.”
Golnar Khosrowshahi?, 46 Founder/CEO, Reservoir Media Management
Khosrowshahi says that the chart positions of the songs administered by Reservoir confirm “the quality of the music catalogs we have acquired and the quality of the people who we have added to the writer roster.” The music publisher, which counts Migos and 2 Chainz among its songwriters, reports a publishing interest in 68 titles on the Billboard 100 since January 2017, including five No. 1s: Migos’ “Bad and Boujee,” Post Malone’s “Rockstar,” Camila Cabello’s “Havana,” Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” and Drake’s “In My Feelings.”
Al “Butter” McLean, 49 Senior VP creative, Kobalt Sam Taylor, 41 Senior VP creative, Kobalt
“Butter” McLean (Alicia Keys bestowed the nickname when he worked for her at MBK Entertainment) has sizzled at Kobalt lately with the signing last December of Childish Gambino, whose “This Is America,” released in May, has generated 375.8 million on-demand streams. The catalog of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis also came to Kobalt through McLean. Taylor has signed seven top writer-producers this past year, from Kendrick Lamar collaborator Teddy Walton to J White, who was involved with Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” and “I Like It.” Air Force veteran Taylor says that his mission now involves “shattering the myth that a flashy check is the best option,” and proving that his clients “can create big hits, own their rights and get paid.”
Lawrence Mestel* Founder/CEO, Primary Wave Music Publishing Justin Shukat, 43 President, Primary Wave Music Publishing
In a $50 million deal with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell -- a former partner and mentor to Mestel -- Primary Wave acquired an 80 percent share in the catalogs of Blue Mountain Music and reggae legend Bob Marley. Although Marley’s songs have been streamed over 1.7 billion times in the United States alone, Mestel hopes to “reintroduce him to a new youth culture, and do it in a way that would make Bob Marley proud.” A cover of “Three Little Birds” by Maroon 5 reached No. 5 on Billboard’s Reggae Digital Songs in June, and an animated movie based on Marley’s music is in development from Fox Animation and PolyGram. While Primary Wave also recently acquired the publishing catalogs of David Rose, Brenda Russell, Alice Cooper and pianist Glenn Gould, Shukat is excited about newly signed clients like Carlie Hanson, whose second single, “Only One,” has collected 16.5 million on-demand streams.
Kerry O’neil, 65 Co-Owner, Big Yellow Dog Carla Wallace* Co-Owner/CEO, Big Yellow Dog
Wallace, whose track record includes signing a 17-year-old Meghan Trainor and guiding Maren Morris on a career path from songwriter to recording star, now urges a watchful eye on Big Yellow Dog’s latest writer-artist signings, Tenille Townes and Brynn Elliot. O’Neil says that Big Yellow Dog has excelled at the three goals of any music publisher: artist development, synch deals and copyright placements. The greatest challenge on the horizon, he adds, is “the continued transition to a streaming-dominant business.”
Robert Ott, 54 CEO/Founder, ole
Ott sold his stake in Canadian rights-management company ole in May to its founding equity partner, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, but announced he would remain as CEO. Ole, which publishes Richard Marx among many others and has a partnership deal with Timbaland, achieved a 15 percent increase in global revenue and a gross margin of $64 million in 2017, according to its founder. Ott says his keenest concern is how to advance the conversation about “the value of music in the new [streaming] environment and solve the inherent data issues.”
David Renzer, 58 Chairman/CEO, Spirit Music Group
One of Spirit’s copyrights -- “Shape of You” by Johnny McDaid and Ed Sheeran, which spent 12 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and 33 consecutive weeks in the top 10 -- managed to achieve what Renzer calls the “trifecta of our industry.” It was awarded BMI’s pop song of the year, ASCAP’s song of the year and PRS for Music’s most performed work prize at the organization’s Ivor Novello Awards. “Not bad for a little independent,” says Renzer with a laugh.
At venerable peermusic, which marked its 90th anniversary in 2017, Spanberger has claimed recent wins like the signing of Mexican pop singer Sofia Reyes, whose single, “1, 2, 3,” with Jason Derulo and De La Ghetto, reached No. 17 on the Latin Pop Songs chart. A 39-year publishing veteran with global responsibilities, Spanberger also oversaw a restructuring of its Australian operations in Sydney that produced a 68 percent increase in local revenue. (The company does not report the dollar volume of its business.) “We’re having great success across the board,” she says, “which isn’t easy.”
*Declined to provide age
Contributors: Rich Appel, Steve Baltin, Dean Budnick, Ed Christman, Leila Cobo, Chuck Dauphin, Camille Dodero, Thom Duffy, Andrew Hampp, Steve Knopper, Carl Lamarre, Geoff Mayfield, Matt Medved, Gail Mitchell, Melinda Newman, Cathy Applefeld Olson, Paula Parisi, Deborah Evans Price, Bryan Reesman, Craig Rosen, Dan Rys, Eric Spitznagel, Colin Stutz, Deborah Wilker, Nick Williams
WHAT MAKES AN INDIE...INDIE?
Record labels and publishers featured on Billboard’s Indie Power Players list are defined as independent because they’re not owned by the three major music groups: Sony, Warner and Universal.
Distributors are defined as independent based on the repertoire they market, largely from labels not under the majors’ umbrellas. Seven of the distributors included here are independently owned and market indie repertoire.
However, four other distributors here qualify only by the repertoire they market. The Orchard is owned by Sony, Alternative Distribution Alliance by Warner and Caroline by Universal, which also has a minority stake in Ingrooves.
The criteria above differ from how Billboard and Nielsen Music classify titles for the Independent Albums chart, where releases distributed by both indie distribution companies and the indie distribution arms of the majors are included, but independently owned labels distributed directly by the majors are not. The criteria also differ from how the American Association of Independent Music defines “indie.”
For this list, Billboard chose to recognize executives from the major-owned distributors due to the volume of indie-owned repertoire they market, thus their importance to the indie music business.