Charles Caldas has made international independent labels cool. As CEO of Merlin, the global rights agency for licensing indies’ music to digital platforms, he has battled long-entrenched notions that only major-label catalogs had value. He particularly recognized indies’ value to the rapidly growing streaming-music market. The sweet end result: $75 million-plus in royalties from streaming and subscription services in 2013. No wonder Merlin is called the “fourth major.” Fast Company magazine declared it the world’s fifth-most-innovative company in 2013. Launched in 2008, Merlin has signed up 20,000-plus independents in 39 countries, including global hitmakers Beggars Group, PIAS and !K7. It has locked multiterritory licensing deals with mega streaming platforms like Spotify, YouTube and Deezer, plus single-territory agreements including Russian service Zvooq. Legitimate digital-music ventures need Merlin members’ recordings, as infringement settlements with Limewire and Grooveshark and disputes with the new Myspace showed. “Indies perform best in this new model. It creates opportunities around the world, regardless of the territory,” he says. “Look at streaming’s impact on Spain, which was decimated by piracy. We’ve seen an incremental improvement [in royalties].” The future? More telecom giants should bundle streaming music with telephone services. “[Dutch telecoms firm] KPN has brought music to the core of its telephony services and brought quick scale, something the U.K. and the U.S. could learn from.” —Juliana Koranteng