Independent labels generated $6.9 billion in sales in 2017, up from $6.2 billion the previous year, according to a new report from Worldwide Independent Network (WIN).
The 11.3 percent rise in revenues means that indies now represent 39.9 percent of the global recorded music market, marginally up from 39.6 percent in 2016, says the umbrella organization's third WINTEL study.
The report -- compiled by MIDiA Research using data from over 660 independent music companies across 33 countries -- notes that growth of the indie sector outpaced both that of the major labels and overall music market, which grew by 9.7 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively.
WIN claims the study is the most comprehensive assessment of the global independent record label sector ever compiled. In contrast to other industry reports, WIN's figures are based on revenues generated through rights ownership rather than distribution, which the organization says provides a more accurate overview of the marketplace.
According to WIN, $1.2 billion worth of independent content is distributed through major-owned companies through their in-house distributor and label services divisions (Caroline for Universal, The Orchard for Sony Music and ADA for Warner Music).
Other key takeaways from the report include 46 percent growth in streaming revenues to $3.1 billion, accounting for just under 44 percent of the indie sector's overall income, up from 33 percent in 2016.
In terms of emerging markets, indie music sales in China were up by 36 percent. In Latin America they rose by 17 percent. Meanwhile, the average independent label now gets 31 percent of its sales from overseas, compared to 69 percent from their home market.
The number of artists choosing to self-release through third party distributors was also up, with revenues rising from $94 million to $101 million.
The study additionally provides some valuable insight into the inner workings of independent record labels and music companies in today's digital era. According to respondents, three quarters of artists signed to indie labels renew their contracts at the end of the term, while the average label has around 14 full-time and three part-time staff and just under 100 artists in their catalog.
"It has been another turbulent twelve months for our industry on a lot of levels, but we have emerged with the prospect of powerful new legislation to protect our businesses, fantastic growth in some unexpected territories and increasing support from music fans who have continued to enjoy and engage with the amazing music coming out of the worldwide independent community," said WIN CEO Alison Wenham.
She cited the high number of artists renewing their contracts with indie labels as evidence of the strength and "great bonds" that exist within the sector.
"With two out of every five "purchases" of music going to the independent sector, now may be a good time to draw breath and celebrate this incredible achievement," added Beggars Group founder and WIN chairman Martin Mills.
"In an era in which diversity of all kinds is prized, yet consolidation is the norm, for a cultural sector such as music to achieve such remarkable diversity of both art and business models is truly extraordinary, and due in no small part to our ability to be strong together through our collective organisations," said Mills.
The report's findings were also welcomed by IMPALA executive chair Helen Smith, who said they demonstrate a sector "going from strength to strength."