There may be no sweeter spot in all the music business than the American Association of Independent Music’s (A2IM’s) Libera awards, the fourth of which took place last night in New York, celebrating the independent music sector’s vast accomplishments.
This year the Libbys, as they are informally known, seemed especially celebratory, as the independent music trade body that birthed the show recently closed ranks to vigorously oppose — and change — Apple’s decision to forego paying royalties to artists during the three-month free trial of its streaming service. While Taylor Swift (who records for the independent label Big Machine) and her well-reasoned letter played no small part in Apple’s policy reversal, that decision could not have happened without the efforts of A2IM and its other coalition partners (including Merlin and AIM), who laid the groundwork for the change.
“People know what happened,” Beggars Group founder and and A2IM board member Martin Mills, whose company issued a stern refutation to Apple, told Billboard. “In the end she put the ball in the net” Mills said, using a soccer metaphor without taking the credit for all the hard work him and his colleagues put in in setting up the match and putting the ball on a silver platter (to extend the metaphor) for Swift.
The night, however, belonged to the indie world’s most successful artists and businesses of the past year, often overlooked by the mainstream (but not necessarily the marketplace) and whose accomplishments this community gathered to honor. This included award winners like the small independent electronic label Ghostly International, critically lauded artists like Run the Jewels (Mass Appeal), Family of the Year (Nettwerk), Sturgil Simpson (30 Tigers) and The War on Drugs (Secretly Canadian), as well as Warped, which won for its creative packaging of Aphex Twin’s “Syro” album (find the full list of winners below).
The highlight of the evening each year, by far, is the presentation of A2IM’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and this year was no exception. With the events’ past winners-in attendance — Mills, Tommy Silverman and Bruce Iglauer looked on — this year’s recipient was the first-ever female independent music executive. A2IM could not have made a more deserving choice in the magnanimous VP Records’ Patricia Chin, co-founder of the largest Reggae and Caribbean music business in the world.
To a standing ovation, the legend (and great-grandmother) asked a salient question some in the audience surely wondered: “Who is this Chinese lady with the Jamaican accent?” Chin went on to explain how, along with her late-husband Vincent “Randy” Chin (Vincent + Patricia = VP Records), began in the music business in Kingston in the late ’50s, selling used jukebox singles out of Randy’s Record Store. She named checked paragons of Reggae including Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Augustus Pablo, Gregory Isaacs among others all of whom the Chins knew.
Citing “political oppression,” the duo left Jamaica for the U.S in the late ’70s with “$50 in our pockets” and rebuilt their business from scratch in a far different Jamaica — Queens. The business grew to become an independent music empire with offices all over the world, sub-labels, publishing, distribution and a roster filled with contemporary leading lights in Shabba Ranks, Yellowman, Beenie Man, Sean Paul and others.
Chin had many wise words for upcoming independent businesses, including “surrounding yourself with dedicated and passionate people,” “love what you do and do what you love” as well as embracing change and sharing in success.
Two of the evenings many highlights included Sub Pop’s co-founder Jonathan Poneman jumping up and down on stage and screaming “This is fucking awesome!” upon accepting the award for label of the year (over 6 employees) and honoring Alison Wenham, chair of the UK indie trade body WIM, with the special “Appleseed Award” that recognized her as a pioneer in building the independent music community.
This year the rather informal and shambolic event was greatly enhanced by the addition of a long-overdue performance element featuring soul dynamo Charles Bradley who bookended the ceremony
This awards also capped off A2IM’s annual Independent Music Week and marked the organization’s tenth anniversary. “Every year gets better,” said A2IM’s always- charming president, Rich Bengloff. “It’s a celebration of our community which continues to grow in terms of participation. The cherry on the pie was hearing the story of Patricia Chin and her family coming to New York 35 years ago with $50 and a crate full of records.”
2015 Libera Award Winners
Hardest-Working Artist of the Year (sponsored by BMI)
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (Daptone)
Marketing Genius Award
Run the Jewels, Meow the Jewels / Tag the Jewels (Mass Appeal)
Best Sync Usage (sponsored by Silva Screen/So Recordings)
Family of the Year, “Hero,” Boyhood (Nettwerk)
Record Store Day
Creative Packaging Award (sponsored by A to Z Media)
Aphex Twin, Syro (Warp)
Groundbreaking Album of the Year (sponsored by INgrooves)
Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal)
Heritage Album of the Year
Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain/Thirty Tigers)
Breakthrough Artist of the Year (Sponsored by Merlin)
Sturgill Simpson (High Top Mountain/Thirty Tigers)
Video of the Year (sponsored by YouTube)
FKA Twigs “Two Weeks” (Young Turks)
Video of the Year (sponsored by YouTube) — Fan Vote
Die Antwoord “Ugly Boy” (Zef Records/Kobalt Label Services)
Album of the Year (sponsored by Fox Rothschild LLP)
The War on Drugs, Lost In the Dream (Secretly Canadian)
Label of the Year (5 or Less Employees) (sponsored by The Orchard)
Label of the Year (6 or More Employees) (sponsored by ADA)