Everything has changed for independent labels and artists, especially in their potential to wield negotiating power with the rest of the music business. The independent route has gone from last option to great option, thanks to the tenacity of artists who wanted to go their own way and the hard work of forward-thinking labels and artist service companies. To cite just one telling metric that reflects this trend, the independent music sector is the fastest growing segment of the music market, expanding by around 15% in 2018, according to MIDiA Research analysis.
We see this expansion firsthand. At CD Baby, we represent over 750,000 artists from around the world. Much of our growth is coming from new territories where the opportunities for artists and local genres look very different. The mainstream industry won’t see these trends as fast as we do because independent artists exploding out of local markets tend to see success locally and on platforms like YouTube before trending on the major DSPs.
This data suggests that as digital music creation and streaming consumption mature and go global, local niches are providing the biggest opportunities for independent artists. By definition all these niches are each doing their own thing, making them unlikely to mobilize as one unified force on their own. This can make standing up to traditionally dominant forces in the industry and their approach to music making and distribution seem impossible.
Yet ultimately if all the niches work together, they have the potential to negotiate on par with the majors and further define the rules of the game. They can aggregate the volume of the independent sector, which collectively has clout. This united power can represent the real economic interests of independent labels and artists in negotiations with digital service providers. And, importantly, this power lies in embracing more than just what’s happening with artists in the U.S. and in Anglo territories. We need to embrace bold independent music voices everywhere.
This is easy to say, tougher to execute. But it’s worth it, as CD Baby has discovered in our recent expansion throughout Latin America with wildly diverse independent artist communities. The impact of global consumption and market share is influenced by things happening in local economies. These global niches retain strong regional flavors. This is the key to unlocking the full potential for artists; we’ve seen that when we localize the language we use to interact with artists and — perhaps most importantly — deploy knowledgeable local professionals who can engage artists meaningfully, growth increases by two to six times. Wherever we hire someone local to work with artists, business takes off.
As independent business leaders reckon with how they can best counterbalance traditionally dominant forces in the music industry, they need to unleash more of this regional power. They need to see they have real allies and peers across the globe and that what works at home may not work in a new market. They need to take local music professionals seriously, hire them for their superior local knowledge when appropriate and strive toward shared goals. By cooperating in rapidly growing independent music markets like Colombia or India, we can all have a voice in writing the rules that govern how music business gets done. We can go from a few culturally specific people dictating the laws of the market, to a freer, more diverse, more economically vibrant music business with a planet’s worth of creativity and innovative local ideas about how to keep things growing.
This means ensuring balanced representation across the world for the independent sector. We have to strengthen our commitment to advocate on behalf of those rights holders; those in markets that have been neglected or segmented off, globalizing our collective bargaining with the services that use music from everywhere.
At CDBaby and DashGo, we are engaging in other parts of the world with independent music organizations in places like Brazil, Mexico and India. This needs to continue and I’d argue we need to double down on our commitment to listening to and sharing the microphone with our colleagues in these markets.
Wherever there’s growth, wherever there’s more people streaming music and wherever there’s an opportunity to connect with fans and independent art, we want to make sure that we’re engaged in the independent music ecosystem and ensuring room at the negotiating table. The power of niches promises that if we do this, we’ll keep independent music growing and thriving.
Tracy Maddux is CEO of AVL Digital, the parent company of CD Baby. AVL is also home to YouTube monetization experts AdRev, label and artist services provider DashGo, distribution platform Soundrop. AVL’s industry leading suite of artist promotional tools include HearNow and Show.co. AVL is owned by Downtown Music Holdings.