POWER MOVE: Many majors would envy Mills’ success in the last two years, but he’s been resolutely powerful and effective in standing up for the indie community in front of Congress against Universal’s EMI acquisition.
THE RUNDOWN: No one in the independent music community has the stature of Martin Mills, chairman of Beggars Group and Billboard’s 2013 Industry Icon honoree. Mill’s various stints in the ’70s as a DJ, record shop clerk, live promoter and punk manager put him on the path to build Beggars, which now has four separate labels: XL Recordings, in partnership with Richard Russell; 4AD; Matador; and Rough Trade.
Today, Beggars describes itself as the largest owner-run group of labels in the alternative world, and, certainly, alt acts across the spectrum scored success with the company. Cocteau Twins, the Pixies, the Cult, the Prodigy, the White Stripes and Vampire Weekend, among others, have contributed to Beggar’s reputation and its annual revenue of €50 million. And that was before XL’s triumph with Adele, whose 21 has sold more than 10 million units on XL/Columbia in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Mills is praised by peers for putting the collective cause of independent music first, playing a key role in forming organizations to protect the interests of indie companies. That’s why he joined colleagues to issue an “independent manifesto” at MIDEM on Jan. 28 and testified in June 2012 before a congressional subcommittee to raise the indie world’s objections to Universal Music Group’s merger with EMI.
“When a company owns 50% of the market—if you’re a producer, a songwriter or an artist—a company that big can dictate terms,” Mills says. “That’s what dominance does. For the creative community [and] for the business community, it’s dangerous.”
Martin Mills photo by Shawn Brackbill