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Revealed: 2022 Indie Power Players

Across every genre, these are the executives at labels and distributors driving the success of the independent music industry, commanding nearly one-quarter of the U.S. recorded-music market.

In early May, one album by a veteran artist now signed to her own independent label topped three Billboard charts and landed within the top 10 on three other tallies in its debut week.

Bonnie Raitt, who began her career in the 1970s on Warner Bros. Records and reached superstardom in the 1990s on Capitol Records, has recorded for the past decade on her own Redwing Records.

Indie status has worked well for Raitt. Her latest album, Just Like That… arrived at No. 1 on Top Current Album Sales, Americana/Folk Albums and Blues Albums; No. 2 on Top Album Sales; No. 6 on Top Rock Albums; and No. 7 on Independent Albums. (Redwing has partnered with Sub Pop for U.S. physical distribution and ADA Worldwide for global digital and physical distribution outside the United States.)

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Raitt’s latest wave of acclaim — including raves from The New York Times, NPR’s Fresh Air and The Wall Street Journal, as well as an attention-grabbing Spotify billboard in Times Square — included her receiving the Icon Award at Billboard’s 2022 Women in Music event in March.

When she was recognized, Raitt gave a shoutout to fellow female artists and musical mentors, plus praised the “mighty core” of women in her organization to whom she was “extremely indebted,” including Redwing Records co-directors Kathy Kane and Annie Heller-Gutwillig.

Raitt, Kane and Heller-Gutwillig are among those honored in this report on Billboard’s 2022 Indie Power Players, including executives at more than 90 companies who have contributed to the success of the independent music sector. All of the honorees were chosen by our editors from among nominations by their companies, industry peers or the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM).

A2IM, which is Billboard’s partner in the Top Independent Albums chart, will present its annual Indie Week conference June 13-16 as a hybrid event, both online and in person, and conclude on its final day with the first live Libera Awards since 2019.

Included among our Indie Power Players are executives from labels and distributors that account for 23.5% of the recorded-music market in the United States, according to 2021 year-end data from Luminate. For this report, record companies are defined as independent by their ownership through entities other than the three major music groups. Distributors, regardless of their corporate ownership, qualify as independent through the repertoire they market.

Aside from Raitt’s mighty core at Redwing Records, our Indie Power Players are behind some of the year’s biggest success stories: executives from Roc Nation and Dreamville for J. Cole, from Rimas Entertainment and The Orchard for Bad Bunny, from BIGHIT MUSIC for BTS and Tomorrow X Together, from Disney Music Group for Encanto (featuring the endearing character Mirabel Madrigal), from Big Machine Label Group for Carly Pearce and from many others.

And as Raitt’s high media profile has shown, indie status is no obstacle to mainstream attention. Just ask Japanese Breakfast founder-frontwoman Michelle Zauner, who is signed to the Dead Oceans label (part of Secretly Group), fresh from her acclaimed May 22 performance on Saturday Night Live.

Lloyd Hummel, executive vp of global commercial strategy at Ingrooves Music Group, the independent distributor owned by Universal Music Group, puts it succinctly: “The independent music sector,” he says, “is thriving in every genre imaginable.”

Indie Power Players

Richard James Burgess
President/CEO, American Association of Independent Music

Leading the independent recording industry’s trade association, Burgess guided A2IM’s advocacy efforts with Congress for pandemic relief as part of the CARES Act and last year’s American Rescue Plan Act. Advancing equity in the industry, A2IM in early 2021 launched a fellowship grant program called the Black Independent Music Accelerator and played an important role in the shutdown of scam sites such as HitPiece, which sold unauthorized non-fungible tokens. “Our overarching effort is directed towards a more collaborative music industry future,” says Burgess, “that includes all creators, labels, publishers and tech companies.”

Jeremy Sirota
CEO, Merlin

In April, the global digital rights organization Merlin signed a licensing partnership with FLO, one of South Korea’s biggest music streaming apps, to further expand the global reach of its members’ repertoire. The deal was the latest in a series of recent agreements overseen by Sirota, following partnerships with livestream service Twitch, music licensing platform Lickd and Tencent-owned streaming service JOOX. Merlin’s membership has significantly grown over the same period with 42 new independent labels and distributors, including companies from Germany, Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey and the United States, according to the organization.

Helen Smith
Executive chair, Impala

As head of Impala, the trade association representing independent music companies in Europe, Smith has been a passionate advocate for the sector, campaigning for creator rights and promoting a greener, more diverse record business. The recent ruling by the European Union’s Court of Justice to uphold the Copyright Directive in full (following a legal challenge by Poland) will “help members maximize revenue for their artists,” she says. In April, Impala launched what it says is the first carbon calculator for the indie-music community in order to help labels measure their environmental impact.

Indie Power Players

Patrick Amory
Co-owner/president, Matador Records
Gerard Cosloy
Chris Lombardi
Co-owners, Matador Records

Over the past year, Matador Records has taken advantage of both its existing catalog and newer acquisitions to build success for its artists. The company recently marked the 20th anniversary of Interpol’s debut album by promoting that title alongside the group’s newest release, while doing the same for Spoon’s recent album and the other nine albums in its catalog. Matador’s efforts have included “using vinyl reissues, publicity around key anniversaries, unreleased music and video, our [Matador Revisionist History] podcast, social partnerships with digital service providers, physical retail and the artists themselves,” Amory says.

Noah Assad
Co-founder/CEO, Rimas Entertainment

The crown jewel in the artist roster of Rimas Entertainment is Bad Bunny, the global superstar whose new album, Un Verano Sin Ti, broke Spotify’s record for most streams in a single day and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 — only the second all-Spanish album to reach the top slot. The first album to do so? Bad Bunny’s El Último Tour del Mundo. Under Assad’s leadership, Rimas has become a full-fledged label with some 100 employees, distribution through The Orchard and a roster that also includes Jowell y Randy, Tommy Torres and newcomer Eladio Carrión, whose new album debuted at No. 2 on Top Latin Albums in December. Veteran reggaetónero Miky Woodz signed with Rimas last fall. The company won six categories at the 2021 Billboard Latin Music Awards, including Top Latin Albums label of the year.

Tunde Balogun
Co-founder/president, LVRN
Junia Abaidoo
Co-founder/head of operations, LVRN
Justice Baiden
Co-founder/head of A&R, LVRN
Sean “Famoso” McNichol
Co-founder/head of marketing, LVRN
Carlon Ramong
Co-founder/creative director, LVRN
Amber Grimes
Executive vp/gm, LVRN

“As a company, we’re most proud of the fact that we’ve been able to continue to innovate in the past year in the areas of mental health for our employees, our artists and their teams,” says Balogun. LVRN artist Summer Walker, in partnership with Interscope, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with her second album, Still Over It. “We were also humbled to be honored by the Recording Academy earlier this year as the only company recognized at its inaugural Black Music Collective celebration,” he says. “It’s an incredible honor to be receiving as we begin to celebrate our 10-year anniversary as a company.”

Dana Biondi
Partner/manager, G 59 Records

Biondi engineered the strategy that moved the duo $uicideboy$ from an underground favorite to a top 10 Billboard 200 act twice, in 2018 and 2021 — with 4.2 million units of total U.S. album consumption activity. The duo is set to tour again this year following the success of its multi-act Grey Day Tour lineup in 2021. Meanwhile, Biondi and partner Kyle Leunissen continue to expand their G 59 label roster and management company, signing Shakewell, Ramirez, Night Lovell and Chetta in 2021.

Peter Bittenbender
CEO, Mass Appeal

Bittenbender, along with partners Nas and Sacha Jenkins, launched Mass Appeal’s #HipHop50 initiative to celebrate the impact of the genre over the past five decades. The venture includes strategic partnerships and global promotional campaigns, each with charitable components. Mass Appeal has also entered into a partnership with Live Nation Urban to produce live events. The company also has teamed up with top producers — including Swizz Beatz, Hit-Boy, Take a Daytrip and fellow Indie Power Player Dion “No I.D.” Wilson — for Hip-Hop 50 The Soundtrack, and has launched a partnership with Paramount+ and Showtime to release hip-hop-focused documentaries.

Scott Borchetta
Founder/president/CEO, Big Machine Label Group

Big Machine Label Group’s imprints scored strong chart successes with top 10 Country Airplay hits from Thomas Rhett, Carly Pearce and Tim McGraw, but Borchetta is already looking ahead. “I’m most proud of our more than ever aggressive stance with A&R and new signings,” he says, citing country newcomers that include Jackson Dean, Kidd G (with Geffen), Tiera Kennedy and Mackenzie Carpenter, as well as rock stalwarts The Struts and Starcrawler. “The bench can never be deep enough, and these acts constitute the next front line of Big Machine Label Group,” he adds.

Phoebe Bridgers
CEO, Saddest Factory Records

Bridgers unveiled her Saddest Factory Records label in October 2020 and, since then, the singer-songwriter has worked closely with signees Claud, Sloppy Jane, Charlie Hickey and MUNA to release new music, map tours and otherwise support indie-rock artists on the rise. “It has been a very collaborative and creative process — exactly as I envisioned for the label,” says Bridgers. The Secretly Group label launched the Bridgers-hosted Saddest Factory Radio Show on Sirius in March — the same month it held its first showcase at South by Southwest. “Watching everyone play from the audience of people singing along has been my favorite part so far,” she says.

Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers launched her own Saddest Factory Records label in 2020 and has worked since with signees Claud, Sloppy Jane, Charlie Hickey and MUNA. Matt Winkelmeyer/GI

Shari Bryant
Omar Grant
Co-presidents, Roc Nation Label

Roc Nation’s label division landed another massive win with J. Cole’s The Off-Season, his sixth No. 1 album and a huge streaming success that has racked up 1.2 million equivalent album units since its release in May 2021. But the Roc’s two co-presidents, who emphasize that they’re in a marathon and not a sprint, have had their artist development efforts pay off this past year as well, particularly with Willow and Snoh Aalegra, the latter earning two Grammy Award nominations this year for her album Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies.

Ken Bunt
President, Disney Music Group
David Abdo
Senior vp/GM, Disney Music Group
Robbie Snow
Senior vp of global marketing, Disney Music Group
Karen Lieberman
Vp of sales and digital, Disney Music Group

Bunt cites the massive impact of Encanto’s soundtrack as Disney Music Group’s greatest success of the past year, noting his team “worked tirelessly” to release the soundtrack, music videos and social media creative in over 23 languages. That led to “billions of streams” globally, he says — including for the Hot 100 No. 1 “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” — while the soundtrack also found success at mainstream and adult top 40 and adult contemporary radio. The company is also set to launch a 32-city Encanto singalong concert tour in the United States this summer.

Corey Calder
Senior vp of marketing and brands, Artist Partner Group/Artist Publishing Group

At Artist Partner Group — the home of Charlie Puth, Kehlani and Alec Benjamin, among others — Calder continues concentrating on rising acts like Cico P, who earned his first gold record with the viral 2019 TikTok hit “Tampa,” and Lexi Jayde, who’s gearing up for her second EP, Close to Closure, which will include production and writing assistance from FINNEAS. Calder says he attributes their achievements to a “fearless” team and continued guidance from APG CEO Mike Caren.

Missi Callazzo
Co-owner, MRI Entertainment

While the company’s acts spent 2021 eagerly anticipating the return of live music, a couple of significant anniversaries became marketing hooks for MRI’s Megaforce label. Last year was the 40th anniversary of pioneering thrash band Anthrax, while 2022 marks 25 years since Third Eye Blind’s breakthrough self-titled album started its journey to multiplatinum status. “One of the things that has been the most fun is watching artists come back to life after the lockdown,” says Callazzo. “The COVID-19 pandemic stopped touring completely, and it seemed like many artists lost a bit of their identity. Watching artists gear up to go back on the road and release music has been a real highlight for me in the past year.”

Don Cannon
Leighton “Lake” Morrison
Tyree “DJ Drama” Simmons
Co-founders, Generation Now

After scoring with the 2020 hit “WHATS POPPIN,” Generation Now star Jack Harlow earned his first Hot 100 No. 1 in 2021 as a featured artist on Lil Nas X’s “Industry Baby.” Then, in April, Harlow reached the summit again after his song “First Class” debuted atop the chart. The hit follows Tyler, The Creator’s Grammy win for best rap album for Call Me If You Get Lost featuring DJ Drama, and the label — through its partnership with Atlantic Records — has its sights set on more. Says Morrison: “Watch what comes next.”

Jack Harlow
Executives of Generation Now, in partnership with Atlantic Records, have helped Jack Harlow top the Hot 100 with “First Class.” Brian Friedman for Variety

Marie Clausen
Head of Ninja Tune North America/head of global streaming, Ninja Tune

It has been a big year at Ninja Tune as Clausen watched many of the label’s artists, including Bonobo, Hiatus Kaiyote and PVA, earn Grammy nominations. She also played a role in the success of the top five releases on The U.K. Official Albums chart from acts like Bicep, Bonobo and Black Country. Ninja Tune last year also relaunched its Big Dada imprint, under the leadership of staff who identify as Black, ethnic minorities and people of color. It also affirmed its commitment to become a carbon-neutral company by the end of 2021 “and carbon-negative beyond that,” says Clausen. In February, electronic duo ODESZA released “The Last Goodbye,” the title track to the group’s forthcoming album, boosting its monthly Spotify listeners to over 6 million.

J. Cole
Co-founder, Dreamville
Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad
Co-founder, Dreamville; manager (J. Cole)
Candace Rodney
Executive vp, Dreamville; president, Dreamville Records/Dreamville Studios
Adam Roy
Partner, Dreamville; president, Dreamville Festival/Dreamville Apparel

Over the past 12 months, the multifaceted Dreamville, co-founded by Cole and Hamad, achieved its most successful period yet both financially and in terms of cultural impact, according to the company. (It does not report specific revenue results.) Cole’s The Off-Season, released in partnership with Roc Nation, became his sixth No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, and Dreamville Records labelmates Bas, Ari Lennox, J.I.D, Earthgang, Cozz and Lute all achieved chart success, while the label also organized its first major post-pandemic tour last fall. Dreamville Studios, under Rodney, has sold projects to Apple and FX Studios. Its podcast, The Messenger, debuted in January 2021 on Spotify and expanded to Apple Music. The Dreamville Festival, under Roy, returned for two days in Raleigh, N.C., in April, after a two-year absence, with Cole joined by Lil Baby, Wiz Khalifa, DJ Drama and others.

Tomas Cookman
Founder/CEO, Industria Works/Nacional Records

After hosting the Latin Alternative Music Conference online for two years in a row due to the pandemic, Cookman plans a grand return for the annual event in New York in July, which was preceded by a three-day virtual conference in April. Industria Works, which includes a label and management division, had a 100% increase in revenue and a 200% increase in stream volume year over year, according to the company. “We are excited and encouraged by the growth of not only our company,” says Cookman, “but of the overall Latin music industry as well.”

Mike Curb
Chairman, Curb Records, Curb | Word Entertainment

Curb Records continues to have hits on both the country and contemporary Christian charts. What Are We Waiting For? — the latest studio album from sibling duo for KING & COUNTRY — debuted in March at No. 1 on Top Christian Albums and No. 7 on the Billboard 200. The album also included the hit single “Relate,” which topped Hot Christian Songs for three weeks. Meanwhile, Curb country artist Dylan Scott collaborated with Stoney Creek act Jimmie Allen on an anthem of unity, “In Our Blood,” released in May.

Ángel Del Villar
Founder/CEO, Del Records

For the past 14 years, Del Villar has been a pioneer in the growth of regional Mexican music. He played an important role in the development of the corridos progresivos genre with Gerardo Ortiz and Regulo Caro, revived the sierreño style with Ariel Camacho, Ulices Chaidez and Los Plebes del Rancho, and propelled the corridos verdes sound with T3R Elemento. Most recently, Del Records act Eslabon Armado’s Nostalgia became the first regional Mexican album to reach the top 10 of the Billboard 200.

Brandon “Lil Bibby” Dickinson
George “G Money” Dickinson
Peter “Pete” Jideonwo
Partners, Grade A Productions

Fighting Demons, the second posthumous album from Juice WRLD, was released in December by Grade A Productions in partnership with Interscope Records as a tie-in with the HBO Max documentary on the rapper and hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200. “We also produced the first annual Juice WRLD Day in Chicago at the United Center, which was really well received by his fans,” says Jideonwo. “The Kid LAROI also continued to build his fan base all around the world, which has been amazing to see.”

Juice Wrld
Grade A Productions, together with Interscope Records, released Fighting Demons, the second posthumous album from Juice WRLD, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Bennett Raglin/GI

Seth England
Partner/CEO, Big Loud

Led by the success of Morgan Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album, the No. 1 album on the year-end all-genre Billboard 200 chart for 2021, Big Loud is having “our biggest year yet,” says England, who oversees the label, management and publishing divisions. England cites the success of other artists on the roster, which include Jake Owen, Lily Rose and Chris Lane, as well as the second volume of HARDY’s multi-artist collaboration, Hixtape. “We pushed the envelope and will take the energy and momentum from the past 18 months into the coming year as we continue to grow and achieve,” he says.

Matt Galle
Partner/CEO, Photo Finish Records; executive leadership/agent, Creative Artists Agency
Mike Marquis
Partner/COO, Photo Finish Records; agent, Creative Artists Agency

The Maine, after a 15-year career on both major and indie labels, scored its first top 20 hit on Alternative Airplay with “Sticky” thanks to a big push from Photo Finish Records. The band had “never reached the recognition they deserved,” Marquis says of the Arizona rockers. Photo Finish has also welcomed new acts Mckenna Grace, joan, Billy Lockett and AVIV to the label, plus welcomed back to its roster Misterwives, whose Photo Finish-released “Reflections” and “Our Own House” were recently certified platinum and gold, respectively. “With our small but mighty team,” says Marquis, “we are lucky to be able to treat every artist as a priority.”

Kris Gillespie
U.S. managing director, Domino Recording Company

The pandemic became an opportunity for entrepreneurial creativity for Domino, which boosted its U.S. revenue by 21% in 2021, according to the company. The success was driven by robust vinyl sales across the catalog, steady streaming growth and over 30% growth in revenue from YouTube, with added resources dedicated specifically to that area, according to Gillespie. “Timely and imaginative campaigns” that triggered growth included those for hitmakers like My Bloody Valentine and U.K. breakthrough act Wet Leg, which has already gone global. “None of these achievements,” he says, “would be attainable without the hard work and creativity of the artists.”

Daniel Glass
Founder/CEO, Glassnote Records
Chris Scully
GM/CFO, Glassnote Records

During the past 18 months, Glassnote Records has notched successes from Chvrches, Hamilton Leithauser, Jade Bird, Flight Facilities and Norwegian songstress Aurora, whose January album, The Gods We Can Touch, followed TikTok sensation “Runaway.” Glassnote also expanded its roster with its first Latin artist, Silvana Estrada, along with Ripe, Edie Bens and Cecilia Castleman, the lattermost of whom is working on a debut album with Grammy-winning producer Don Was. Despite the pandemic, “our artists and our team worked diligently to come up with new and innovative ways to remain connected while in an at-home world,” Glass says. “As touring returns, we are now getting to see the fruits of our two-plus-years labor.”

Michael Goldstone
Founder/co-owner, mom + pop music
Thaddeus Rudd
Co-owner, mom + pop music

For Goldstone, mom + pop’s development of electro-folk singer-songwriter Ashe and her 2021 debut album, Ashlyn, made him feel like a proud parent in the indie-music industry. “The album had big moments, including a synch of ‘Moral of the Story’ for Netflix’s To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You and ‘Till Forever Falls Apart’ with FINNEAS,” he says. “A Niall Horan remix [of “Moral of the Story”] and nearly a billion streams later, a career is cemented because of the collective work that had been done to develop her in the previous years.” Most recently, mom + pop scored a coup by signing Tegan and Sara after the duo’s Warner Music contract ended in 2021. The deal reunites the band with Goldstone, who originally signed the act to Sire Records in 2007.

Elliot Grainge
Founder/CEO, 10K Projects
Zach Friedman
Tony Talamo
Co-presidents, 10K Projects

Grainge says the past 12 months have been “hugely important to the evolution of 10K.” The label re-signed Trippie Redd, “ensuring that his incredible music will be on 10K for years to come. And we’ve brought in some exciting new artists in Leah Kate and JELEEL! On the executive side, we acquired Homemade Projects, bringing in Zach Friedman and Tony Talamo as co-presidents of the label.” And internal promotions, says Grainge, “position us for even more success.”

Brett Gurewitz
Founder/CEO, Epitaph Records

In true punk-rock fashion, Gurewitz and his team at Epitaph, ANTI- and their sibling labels have risen to the challenge of another rough year for the music industry. Major new releases have included Danny Elfman’s Big Mess and the Neko Case retrospective Wild Creatures on ANTI- and Epitaph titles from Falling in Reverse, Bad Suns and Architects. The company has been busy on the signing front, too, with Epitaph bringing in The Linda Lindas, Magnolia Park and DRAIN while ANTI- added Fleet Foxes, M. Ward and Ezra Furman to its roster. Label chief and Bad Religion guitarist Gurewitz says, “Epitaph has treated its artists and employees with fairness, respect and compassion while at the same time growing the business 40% overall and close to 90% vinyl growth year over year.”

Simon Halliday
Worldwide managing director, 4AD

For Halliday, the achievements of 4AD’s staff have been “just as rewarding” as the success of its artists. While Big Thief, Aldous Harding, Erika de Casier, Tkay Maidza and Helado Negro have all succeeded during the past year, he notes that many employees have also been promoted, with interns and junior-level staff now working as label managers and department heads. “Seeing people thrive and overcome challenges,” he says, “is the best part of my job.”

Greg Hammer
Managing director, Red Bull Records

This year is the 15th anniversary of Red Bull Records, and the company has had a lot to celebrate. Hammer says he’s particularly proud of signee AWOLnation having its hit single “Sail” earn diamond certification in 2021 — only the third independently released song in history to reach that milestone, according to the label. Meanwhile, labelmates BLXST and Beartooth landed some of their highest chart positions over the last year.

Jimmy Humilde
Co-founder, Rancho Humilde

Humilde built his powerhouse regional Mexican label by breaking rules and eschewing airplay — “Programmers never wanted to play my acts,” he says — and focusing instead on streaming and digital sales. Rancho Humilde was a three-time finalist at the Billboard Latin Music Awards in categories including top Latin albums label of the year, and in April, star artist Natanael Cano — a pioneer of trap tumbao — claimed his first top 10 on the Latin Rhythm Albums chart with NataKong. In May, Rancho Humilde acts including Fuerza Regida and Los Gemelos de Sinaloa had three tracks on Hot Latin Songs.

Matthew Johnson
Owner/president, Fat Possum
Melinda Caffin
COO, Fat Possum

New and old music from U.K. act Spiritualized has been getting attention from Fat Possum. Led by Jason Pierce, the band’s only constant member, Spiritualized released the critically acclaimed album Everything Is Beautiful in April, its third since joining Fat Possum’s roster in 2012. Pierce also rereleased the entire Spiritualized catalog, dating back to the band’s first album in 1992, featuring fresh artwork and mastering. “Fat Possum has been working with our longtime partner, Jason Pierce, for over a decade,” says Caffin, “and [our ability] to reinvigorate his catalog alongside a brilliant new release has been a testament to what our label does best.”

Gordon Kerr
President/CEO, Black River Entertainment

With a label roster that includes Kelsea Ballerini and Ray Fulcher, and a publishing roster with writers including Jason Earley, Kerr says he is most proud of his team, which has “been able to keep their passion alive” through the pandemic, creating music that provides “some encouragement and even a little fun during a time that has been so challenging for our music community and the world in general.” This year, Ballerini earned her latest Country Airplay chart-topper with “half of my hometown” (featuring Kenny Chesney), while Fulcher will release his debut album on June 10.

Allen Kovac
Founder/CEO, Better Noise Music

Last year, Kovac’s Better Noise ranked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Airplay Imprints, Hot Hard Rock Songs Imprints and Hot Hard Rock Songs Labels year-end tallies. All Good Things scored a No. 1 Mainstream Rock Airplay track with “For the Glory,” Five Finger Death Punch’s F8 album was certified gold, and Better Noise opened its fifth international office, in Paris. “We pride ourselves in branding the company as ‘the artist development company,’ ” says Kovac. “The proof of concept with international, streaming, touring and radio success is fulfilling for our global team and our artists.”

David LaPointe
Founder/owner, LP

Under LaPointe, LP continues to focus on salsa and tropical music, which led to its status as a finalist as tropical airplay label of the year at the 2021 Billboard Latin Music Awards. LP is home to rising star Luis Figueroa, whose single “Hasta el Sol de Hoy” reached No. 1 on Tropical Airplay, and icon Victor Manuelle, whose “Victimas las Dos” with La India also led the chart. Says LaPointe, “A great song, a great live performance, will always prevail.”

Sung Su Lee
CEO, SM Entertainment
Young Jun Tak
COO, SM Entertainment

In 2021, K-pop boy band NCT set new records, surpassing 10 million in worldwide album sales, says Lee. NCT’s JOHNNY received an invitation to this year’s Met Gala in New York, and girl group aespa performed on the Coachella main stage as part of 88rising’s Head in the Clouds Forever showcase. Says Lee: “We are proud to be seen as trailblazers in the global music industry during such an exciting time for K-pop.”

Jon Loba
President, BMG Nashville
Thomas Scherer
President of repertoire and marketing for Los Angeles and New York, BMG

Loba and Scherer lead a label culture in which artists are encouraged to find their unique voices and push boundaries. “We’re continuing to see new deals with established artists seeking more control over their careers,” says Scherer, who worked with his team to sign 5 Seconds of Summer, Maxwell and Logic. BMG also scored big wins recently with its acquisition of Mötley Crüe’s recording catalog and the rights to administer George Harrison’s Harrisongs publishing catalog. The latter deal builds on BMG’s joint venture with the late Beatle’s Dark Horse Records, which includes licensing agreements for works by Leon Russell and Joe Strummer, among others.

Gustavo Lopez
CEO, Saban Music Group
Corey Berkowitz
Senior vp/head of pop and urban A&R, Saban Music Group

Saban Music Group, founded by Haim Saban in 2019, has strategically grown its roster to include Chesca, Static & Ben El, Mergui, Loyal Lobos and hitmaker Don Omar — who last year signed a groundbreaking multiyear partnership with the company. These signings have set up Saban to become a “unique vessel [for] worldwide exposure for developing and established artists alike,” says Berkowitz. Most recently, the label released Don Omar’s comeback track, “Se Menea” (featuring rapper Nio Garcia), which peaked at No. 1 on Latin Airplay.

Justin Lubliner
Owner, The Darkroom

“Watching Billie Eilish win an Oscar, three years after we started that process, was an incredible moment,” says Lubliner, citing the best original song Academy Award that went to Eilish and brother Finneas O’Connell for “No Time To Die,” the title track to the latest James Bond film. In partnership with Interscope, Lubliner’s label released Eilish’s 2019 smash debut album and 2021’s Happier Than Ever, both chart-toppers on the Billboard 200.

Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish has achieved the status of cultural phenomenon through her releases on label The Darkroom, owned by Justin Lubliner, who partnered with Interscope Records. Christopher Polk for Variety

David Macias
President, Thirty Tigers

Since Macias co-founded Thirty Tigers over 20 years ago, the company has worked with such names as Alanis Morissette, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and Patty Griffin. Last year, Thirty Tigers was instrumental in guiding Morgan Wade’s breakthrough album, Reckless. The company grew in markets outside the United States and brought more international artists into the fold. Macias says he is “proudest of how well the Thirty Tigers team kept our customer service at the highest levels [during the pandemic] and our business thrived.”

Josh Mendez
Co-founder/COO, RichMusic

With the re-signing of Panamanian singer-songwriter Sech and producer Dimelo Flow — as well as new artists and producers including Latin Grammy winner paopao, Symon Dice, Thyago, Animal and Rike Music — RichMusic is “strengthening and growing,” says Mendez. “We’re developing promising new acts, including our first-ever female artist, paopao.” RichMusic has also “kick-started community impact initiatives,” he adds, “empowering youth in our hometown of Miami to realize their hopes and dreams.”

Martin Mills
Chairman, Beggars Group
Nabil Ayers
President, Beggars Group U.S.
Claire Taylor
GM, Beggars Group U.S.
Brandon Becker
Global head of streaming, Beggars Group
Risa Matsuki
Vp of promotions, Beggars Group
Miwa Okumura
Senior vp of West Coast operations and licensing, Beggars Group

The staff of Beggars Group — whose labels are home to bands including Big Thief, The National and Spoon — experienced internal success in the past year with the promotion of “multiple long-time employees to roles including president, GM, global head of streaming [and] product manager, as well as label positions at 4AD and Matador Records,” says Ayers. The sales and content teams at Beggars are also growing, in addition to several new roles such as a director of streaming and another product manager that were added to keep up with the increasing needs of artists.

Jeremel “Daddyo” Moore
Co-founder, Paper Route Empire

Despite the death in November 2021 of Paper Route Empire founder Adolph Thornton Jr. (better known as the rapper Young Dolph), Moore has continued to guide a promising hip-hop roster at the label, which includes Big Moochie Grape, Snupe Bandz, Kenny Muney and Dolph protégé and cousin Key Glock. In January, the label’s artists united for the mixtape LLD (Long Live Young Dolph), which debuted at No. 44 on the Billboard 200. Moore attributes the year’s success to “executing like a major label.”

Young Dolph
Despite the death of Paper Route EMPIRE founder and rapper Young Dolph in 2021, label partner Jeremel “Daddyo” Moore has continued to guide the success of the label’s hip-hop roster. Prince Williams/Wireimage

Norbert Nix
Partner/president, Triple Tigers Records

Now in its sixth year, Triple Tigers counts artists including Scotty McCreery, Russell Dickerson, Cam and Jordan Fletcher as part of its roster. The label has notched another Country Airplay No. 1 with McCreery’s “You Time,” as well as its first triple-platinum-certified single with Dickerson’s “Yours.” Meanwhile, McCreery’s latest, “Damn Strait,” is at No. 11 and climbing on Country Airplay, and Dickerson’s “She Likes It” has earned over 75 million U.S. streams.

Lynn Oliver-Cline
Founder/CEO, River House Artists
Zebb Luster
Vp/GM, River House Artists

Independent label, publisher and artist development company River House recently celebrated the rise to No. 1 of Luke Combs’ “Doin’ This,” the first single from his third full-length album, Growin’ Up, due June 24. The song was co-written by rising star Drew Parker, also a River House act. In March, the company announced a new venture with Warner Nashville and Elektra Records. “They are a passionate and collaborative team,” says Oliver-Cline, “and are allowing us to truly be the artist development company we want to be.”

Jonathan Poneman
Co-founder/co-president, sub pop records
Tony Kiewel
Co-president, sub pop records

The pioneering Seattle label co-founded by Poneman, which started modestly in the late 1980s and helped launch the grunge explosion of the early 1990s, has survived the setbacks of the pandemic. Kiewel credits “an incredible team of co-workers and artists” that has persevered. “We’ve not only survived those tribulations, but we’ve grown our business, tackled massive systems upgrades and released some of our biggest albums to date from Beach House and Father John Misty,” says Kiewel. “All while continuing to honor our core mission of helping newer artists like Suki Waterhouse, Hannah Jadagu and CHAI develop their art and build their audiences.”

Louis Posen
President, Hopeless Records; executive director, Sub City

After founding the alternative rock/pop punk label Hopeless Records in the 1990s — and creating its nonprofit Sub City in 1999 — Posen says his team “has been leading the way on the new Gen Z artist sound.” The label’s artists — including DE’WAYNE, Scene Queen, LØLØ, NOAHFINNCE, Stand Atlantic and Point North — “are paving a way for a new genre and community that welcomes and embraces being different and weird,” Posen says. “It’s an attitude and a lifestyle that connects with artists on multiple levels, whether it be on TikTok, Twitch, in person or in the metaverse.”

Bonnie Raitt
Kathy Kane
Annie Heller-Gutwillig
Co-directors, Redwing Records

See story at top.

Paul Roper
President, Dualtone Records

Dualtone began its year by helping The Lumineers achieve their third straight No. 1 on Top Album Sales with Brightside, while the album’s title track reached No. 2 on Rock Airplay. “As The Lumineers peaked, Amos Lee simultaneously had his most successful single in over a decade with ‘Worry No More,’ ” says Roper of Lee’s track, which reached No. 6 on Triple A. “Our direct-to-consumer platforms, the Dualtone online store and our vinyl subscription service, Magnolia Record Club, have exploded in the past 12 months and are close to tripling our year-over-year growth,” he adds. “These e-commerce platforms are great differentiators for our label.” He credits their growth to “the strategic work of our incredible staff.”

Jon Salter
President, ATO Records

ATO welcomed Old Crow Medicine Show back to its roster in October 2021 after the band left for Columbia Records Nashville in 2017 and put out the group’s new album, Paint This Town — its first in four years — in April. The label also celebrated wins for newer acts including Black Pumas, whose 2019 self-titled debut album and its single “Colors” are both approaching gold certification, according to Salter. “To witness several of our younger artists,” such as Nilüfer Yanya and Amyl and The Sniffers, “have breakthrough, acclaimed albums reaching wider audiences with elevated campaigns is the ultimate achievement,” he says, “and the most fulfilling.” ATO has also seen “promising growth” in its TV/film licensing and direct-sales departments in the last year, with the latter benefiting from “the increased demand [for] vinyl” releases, including catalog vinyl reissues, says Salter.

Old Crow Medicine Show
Under ATO Records president Jon Salter, Old Crow Medicine Show returned to the label and, in April, released Paint This Town, its first album in four years. Astrida Valigorsky/GI

Andy Serrao
President, Fearless Records, Concord
Ryan Whalley
President, Loma Vista Recordings, Concord
Rebecca Berman
Michael Nance
Senior vps of international, Concord Recorded Music
Michele Smith
Vp of estate and legacy brand management, Concord

Under Serrao, Concord’s hard-rock-oriented Fearless Records scored success in the past year with iDKHOW, The Pretty Reckless and Ice Nine Kills, the lattermost of which co-headlined The Trinity of Terror Tour this spring. Whalley has guided Loma Vista Recordings, home to St. Vincent, Rise Against, Manchester Orchestra and Robert Glasper, winner of the Grammy Award for best progressive R&B album for Dinner Party: Dessert. With responsibility for global marketing for Concord Recorded Music repertoire, Berman and Nance have raised the international profile of acts including Rise Against, The Offspring, Korn, Chase Atlantic, Yola, Allison Russell, Ghost and Denzel Curry — while supporting Concord’s relaunch of Tears for Fears. Smith oversees label partnerships and brand licensing for the iconic Stax Records and the estates of Billie Holiday and Tammy Wynette. She has worked with the Concord Stax Scholarship Fund on plans to raise $1 million to benefit 100 students at the Memphis-based Stax Music Academy over the next five years.

Moe Shalizi
Founder/CEO, Pick Six Records/The Shalizi Group

Last year, Pick Six Records and the Shalizi Group team helped their artist Morray go from an unknown rapper from Fayetteville, N.C., to a rising hip-hop star. With assistance from partners at Interscope and Audible Treats, Pick Six guided Morray to two Grammy Award nominations for his work with J. Cole on the No. 2 Hot 100 hit “my.life,” best new artist nominations at the BET Hip-Hop Awards and Soul Train Awards, and placement on the XXL Freshman list. Morray also landed a gold record with “Quicksand”; released his debut mixtape, Street Sermons; and hit No. 1 on the Emerging Artists chart.

YJ Shin
President, BIGHIT Music

Since HYBE spun off BIGHIT MUSIC as an independent label in 2021, Shin has led the South Korean and global promotions of the groups BTS and Tomorrow X Together — which both scored top five hits on the Billboard charts last year. (BTS had three No. 1s on the Billboard Global 200, while TXT’s The Chaos Chapter: FREEZE peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200.) During the pandemic, Shin took “the rapidly changing artist and fan perspective into consideration,” proposing “borderless, all-encompassing” promotional and marketing strategies, which broke from traditional approaches of carrying out operations on a region-by-region basis. That allowed BTS and TXT to enhance their presence in key global markets, including the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Jonny Shipes
Founder, Cinematic Music Group

Shipes’ partner at 4lifers Film & TV, internet comedian Druski, has grown into a creative force within hip-hop culture, from his scene-stealing guest appearance in the music video for Drake’s Hot 100 No. 2 hit “Laugh Now Cry Later” to starring alongside Grammy-nominated rapper Jack Harlow in their comedy sketches. But Shipes says he’s most proud of “all the talent found at Coulda Been Records,” which is Druski’s satirical record label, where he has aspiring rappers freestyle for him over Instagram Live on the label’s account with 300,000-plus followers.

Paul Sizelove
President, Gaither Music Group

Expansion has been pivotal to Gaither Music Group over the past year, according to Sizelove. The Gaither brand launched its first TV specials and video recordings with Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire and strengthened its relationship with Capitol Nashville. Gaither Music Group also released new projects by The Oak Ridge Boys and Gaither Vocal Band, in addition to assimilating the Sun Records catalog and brand, which bolstered ties with Virgin Music Distribution and Capitol Christian Music Group. Sizelove credits the team that “ingested a steady flow of new catalogs, led initiatives across consumer platforms that have increased revenue streams and created a winning strategy that combines decades of masters with newly recorded content.”

Brian Slagel
Chairman/CEO, Metal Blade Records
Tracy Vera
President, Metal Blade Records

Metal Blade marks its 40th anniversary in 2022. The label will forever be associated with Metallica — Metal Blade released the group’s first song on a compilation — but it prides itself on forging lasting relationships with bands. “We love working long term with artists we respect like King Diamond, Whitechapel and Killswitch Engage, who we consider family,” Vera says. And Metal Blade refuses to rest on its laurels: Vera says the company “is still going strong with signing young bands like 200 Stab Wounds.”

John Smith
Associate director, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

At the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, Smith oversees a release schedule like none other — from the nine-CD Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap to Industrial Strength Bluegrass, a history of Ohio bluegrass music. Smith signed and developed current acts including Vietnamese American singer-songwriter No-No Boy, folk performer Charlie Parr and the trio Lula Wares, and Smithsonian Folkways has achieved 36% year-over-year streaming growth, thanks to initiatives like its People’s Picks playlist series, which delves into its deep catalog.

Ben Swanson
Co-founder/COO, Secretly Group
Chris Swanson
Co-founder/president of A&R, Secretly Group
Phil Waldorf
Co-founder/chief marketing officer, Secretly Group
Nick Blandford
Managing director of Americas, Secretly Group
Hannah Carlen
North American marketing director, Secretly Group
Jon Coombs
Vp of A&R, Secretly Group
Robby Morris
Creative director, Secretly Group

Secretly Group had success in the past year across its family of labels. Japanese Breakfast, on Dead Oceans, earned two Grammy Award nominations including a nod for best new artist. Labelmate Mitski debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. Jagjaguwar’s Big Red Machine, a collaboration between The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, drew creative contributions from Taylor Swift, among others. Phoebe Bridgers launched her Saddest Factory Records with new signings including Claud and MUNA. Meanwhile, Ben Swanson, with marketing assistance from Blandford, took the lead on Secretly Canadian’s 25th-anniversary campaign, Every Light on This Side of the Town. The charitable fundraising venture, on behalf of the nonprofit New Hope for Families, was aimed at helping homeless families in Secretly Canadian’s hometown of Bloomington, Ind., and has involved artists including Bridgers, Jim James, Goose, Bright Eyes, Bartees Strange and Madison McFerrin, as well as partnerships with Vans, Topo Designs and others.

Arnold Taylor
CEO, South Coast Music Group
Daud Carter
Executive vp of A&R, South Coast Music Group
Garrett Williams
Vp of marketing/head of operation, South Coast Music Group

For Taylor, the most important achievement of South Coast Music Group in the past year — and throughout the pandemic — “has been to stay relevant while continuing to break our artists DaBaby, Toosii, Blacc Zacc, TiaCorine and Big Mali” through its partnership with Interscope Records. “We were extremely excited to introduce Tino Szn and Dustystaytrue with their debut projects in 2021,” adds Taylor. This year, “we have been making a lot of noise with our new artists Dee Youngin’ and Lil Shordie Scott with his ‘Rocking a Cardigan in Atlanta’ record,” which cracked the Hot 100 in March.

Chris Taylor
President/CEO, MNRK Music Group

MNRK Music Group, formerly eOne Music, controls the catalogs of Last Gang Records, Dualtone Music Group and the publishing catalog of Chuck Berry. For Taylor, MNRK’s biggest recent accomplishment was finalizing the sale of the Death Row catalog and trade name to Snoop Dogg in February. “Involvement with this iconic music brand for 13 years will be one of my career highlights,” says Taylor. “The sale was a true win-win-win for all parties and a testament to the MNRK team, who have been proud custodians of the brand for decades.”

Snoop Dogg
MNRK president/CEO Chris Taylor guided the sale of the Death Row catalog and trade name to Snoop Dogg. Kevin Winter/GI

Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye
Founder, XO Records
Wassim “Sal” Slaiby
Co-founder/CEO, XO Records
Amir “Cash” Esmailian
Co-founder, XO Records
La Mar C. Taylor
Co-founder/creative director, XO Records
Melissa Mahood
GM, XO Records

This year, XO, in partnership with Republic Records, launched The Weeknd’s hotly anticipated Dawn FM, which hit No. 1 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, Top R&B Albums and Top Album Sales and No. 2 on the Billboard 200. See You Next Wednesday, the third album from Belly, was released in conjunction with Roc Nation and hit No. 4 on Heatseekers Albums. Says Slaiby: “XO is a brand, lifestyle and a music global success story that started from nothing.”

Pierre “P” Thomas
CEO, Quality Control Music
Kevin “Coach K” Lee
COO, Quality Control Music
Simone Mitchell
President, Quality Control Music

Quality Control’s reign over hip-hop continues through its partnership with Motown Records with the success of Lil Baby and City Girls. My Turn rapper Lil Baby won his first Grammy Award for best melodic rap performance as a featured artist on Kanye West’s “Hurricane,” while duo City Girls performed at Coachella alongside their label counterpart. Now Quality Control is expanding its reach, announcing new ventures in sports, film and podcasting. Says Thomas: “It feels exciting and like the expansion is endless.”

Fiona Whelan Prine
Jody Whelan
Managing partners, Oh Boy Records

At Oh Boy Records, the pioneering indie label co-founded by his late father, John Prine, Jody Whelan attributes its continued success to the ability of the label’s artists to steadily find ways to connect with and grow their audience. “Whether it’s in-person events like our Vinyl Brew tour, our support of charitable events and nonprofits or unique ways to connect with people online, we’ve really focused on forging deeper connections within our larger community,” he says of a roster that includes Dan Reeder, Kelsey Waldon, Tré Burt, Arlo McKinley and Emily Scott Robinson. With several Oh Boy acts set to tour this summer, says Whelan Prine, “It’ll be a fun time traveling together and bringing some great music to our fans.”

Bryan “Birdman” Williams
Ronald “Slim” Williams
Co-founders/co-CEOs, Cash Money Records

Cash Money — which launched the careers of Lil Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj and more recently sent Young Thug and Juvenile to stardom — remains at the forefront of hip-hop. Ronald “Slim” Williams says that between May 2021 and April 2022, the label earned over $55 million in total revenue, and Luminate tracks a total consumption of 6.5 million album-equivalent units for Cash Money. “As we prepare to release a new slate of artists, it’s gratifying to see our catalog hold its value,” he says. “It’s a testament to our commitment to making great music and signing extremely talented artists.”

Dion “No ID” Wilson
Co-founder/CEO, ARTium Recordings

ARTium hitmaker Snoh Aalegra earned her first Grammy nominations for best R&B performance (“Lost You”) and best R&B album (Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies). The latter reached No. 24 on the Billboard 200 (Aalegra’s highest placement on the chart), and she’s now playing a sold-out North American tour. With ARTium continuing to score big globally, Wilson says the company has also helped a newer discovery — rising Nigerian R&B singer-songwriter Ogi — navigate a partnership deal with Atlantic Records. “ARTium takes immense pride in tirelessly working to ensure our artists are productive, fruitful and creatively fulfilled, all while breaking boundaries,” he says.

Indie Power Players

Paris Cabezas
Ana González
Managing partners, InnerCat Music Group
Garrett Schaefer
GM, InnerCat Music Group

A digital distributor for indie acts, InnerCat also has deals with over 60 digital service providers worldwide and offers artist services such as digital marketing (for names including Gilberto Santa Rosa, whose album Colegas won a Latin Grammy Award for best recording package), YouTube channel search optimization and revenue collection. This year, says Cabezas, the company introduced Play & Follow, a proprietary smart link that provides data on fan engagement to labels, managers and artists. InnerCat recently added a live production space and an in-house video team; a recording studio is now in the works. Says Schaefer: “We want to provide everything to our clients in one place.”

Bob Frank
Founder/CEO, BFE

After building BFE into a record label with even bigger distribution and more label services, Frank recently diversified his company by forming catalog acquisition division Red Shark Ventures, which acquired 33% of master recordings owned by Charlie Daniels in its first deal. Distributing such labels as Righteous Babe, Charly and earMusic — and recordings by Ani DiFranco, Alice Cooper, Marie Osmond and Joe Satriani among the 300 releases it issued last year — BFE has notched $10 million in global revenue. “We expect our business to double in size again over the next two years,” says Frank. “It’s an incredible period of growth for us and the niche we are strongest in — physical and deluxe physical, which represents over 60% of our business.”

Ghazi
Founder/CEO, EMPIRE
Nima Etminan
COO, EMPIRE
Tina Davis
Senior vp of A&R, EMPIRE
Mobolaji Kareem
Regional head of West Africa, EMPIRE
Moody Jones
Senior vp of digital and creative, EMPIRE

EMPIRE’s expansion into West Asia and North Africa in 2021 demonstrates the label’s far-reaching growth, which founder/CEO Ghazi says reflects the company’s “commitment to building a global footprint” since its inception in 2010. This year, EMPIRE partnered with Blackground Records to release its coveted catalogs across streaming platforms, including the long-awaited music of the late Aaliyah. EMPIRE also contributed to the rise of cryptocurrency among creatives by paying artist Money Man’s seven-figure advance in bitcoin through Cash App.

Jason Peterson
Chairman/CEO, GoDigital Media Group
Barry Daffurn
C0-founder/president, Cinq Music

GoDigital widened its scope in 2021 to add Sound Royalties — a provider of royalty-backed advances to creators — to a business that already includes tech (AdShare) and media networks (VidaPrimo, mitú). In April, the Los Angeles-based company funded subsidiary Cinq Music (a distributor, label and publisher) to the tune of $100 million “to acquire rights in the independent sector,” says Daffurn, who adds that Cinq will be acquiring recordings and compositions — and signing creators to recording, publishing and distribution deals, bolstering a catalog that includes the Beluga Heights label and music by Jason Derulo and T.I.

Jacqueline Saturn
President, Virgin Music Label & Artist Services
Matt Sawin
GM, Virgin Music Label & Artist Services
Adam Starr
Senior vp of marketing, Virgin Music Label & Artist Services

Virgin Music has been “on a continual growth curve,” says Sawin, citing worldwide distribution agreements forged in the past year with Primary Wave and Australia’s Mushroom Group. Alongside partner Thrive Music, the company also mounted an eight-month global campaign for ACRAZE’s streaming smash “Do It To It” (featuring Cherish), which peaked at No. 3 on Hot Dance/Electronic Songs and No. 65 on the Hot 100. These achievements have “illustrated the expansive global vision” at Virgin, Sawin adds. “Our team is firing on all cylinders.”

Acraze, winner of the Dance Song of the Year award for ‘Do It to It,’ at the 2022 iHeartRadio Music Awards held at Shrine Auditorium on March 22, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Virgin Music, in partnership with Thrive Music, drove a global campaign for Acraze that led to his track “Do It To It” reaching No. 3 on Hot Dance/Electronic Songs. Gilbert Flores for Variety

Camille Soto Malavé
CEO, Glad Empire

Last year was bittersweet for Soto Malavé and her company. After the success of “Te Boté Remix” and signing a multimillion-dollar distribution deal with indie label Flow La Movie, company founder José Angel Hernandez died along with eight others in a December plane crash in the Dominican Republic, “leaving great sorrow,” says Soto Malavé. The partnership with Flow La Movie led to Glad Empire distributing hit singles such as Nio García’s “Travesuras Remix” and the Bad Bunny- and J Balvin-assisted “AM Remix,” co-produced by Hernandez. Looking ahead, Soto Malavé says she will expand Glad Empire’s recently launched gaming center to “create and monetize” gaming content.

Indie Power Players

Stacey Bedford
CEO, Bandzoogle

Under Bedford’s direction amid the drop in touring income during the pandemic, digital distributor Bandzoogle helped creators sell over $11.5 million in music, merchandise and tickets directly to fans, commission-free, in 2021. The company also acquired U.K.-based SoundJam, a DJ website-building platform. Most recently, Bandzoogle announced a new smart link feature and custom landing pages to its suite of tools for musicians. Smart links allow artists to more easily sell music directly to fans and also link to their work on streaming platforms from a single, mobile-friendly page on artists’ websites.

Jorge Brea
CEO, Symphonic Distribution
Randall Foster
Chief creative officer, Symphonic Distribution
Nick Gordon
Chief partnership officer, Symphonic Distribution
Janette Berrios
Head of corporate marketing, Symphonic Distribution

Over the last year, Symphonic has prioritized technology to become the first distributor to offer clients TikTok Analytics and received a patent for a first-of-its-kind transfer tool to assist incoming clients in seamlessly moving their catalogs from another distributor without losing revenue. After expanding its offices to Brazil and Africa, Tampa, Fla.-based Symphonic landed new clients including Activision and Imogen Heap. The company also distributes the music of Doechii, who is now signed to Top Dawg Entertainment.

Kevin Breuner
Senior vp of artist engagement and education, CD Baby

Breuner, a 16-year veteran of CD Baby, notes that the online independent music distributor recently reached the milestone of $1 billion in payments to artists since the platform’s 1998 launch. “We’re also now representing publishing rights for over 2 million songs,” says Breuner, “which continues to ensure artists are collecting everything they are owed for their music.”

Andreea Gleeson
CEO, TuneCore

Since its inception in 2005, TuneCore, which distributes music mainly for indie DIY artists (and also for some established acts and labels), has reached $2.5 billion in collections for artist earnings from about 500 billion streams and 700 million downloads. TuneCore reported revenue of 35.8 million euros ($40.1 million) last year as part of Paris-based parent Believe’s year-end results. But that amount takes into consideration only the company’s fees for distributing music. Overall, Billboard estimates that TuneCore collected $450 million to $500 million for artists in 2021. “We want music creators to know that TuneCore is where you go to make money,” says Gleeson, “and by announcing our artists have earned $2.5 billion, we’re showing receipts. While TuneCore is truly proud of reaching this immense milestone, all credit goes to our incredible artists.”

Kristin Graziani
President, Stem Distribution

Independent distribution is about carving a niche to differentiate companies from their peers, and Stem, which started in 2016, positions itself as a tool kit that helps indie artists run their businesses. In August, Stem launched its Recoup Rules feature to help clients track and recoup expenses before calculating and distributing royalty splits. “This kind of transparency is unheard of in the music industry, even for superstar artists signed to big major-label deals,” says Graziani. A $20 million investment in April will help develop more accounting tools to assist artists regardless of their distribution partner.

Drew Hill
Vp of physical distribution, Utopia Music; managing director, Proper Music Group

In April, the distribution division of the United Kingdom’s Proper Music Group received the Queen’s Award for enterprise in international trade. The company has achieved a run of No. 1 hit albums from metalcore favorites Architects and indie rockers The Wombats, among others, and has delivered $450 million in indie-label royalties, despite the pandemic and the challenge of post-Brexit trade policies, according to the company. Switzerland-based fintech group Utopia Music acquired Proper in January with plans for international expansion. “With physical music still pushing artists to the top of the charts,” says Hill, “I look forward to our work continuing to excel.”

Michael Howard
Operations director, Redeye
Laura Campbell Pittard
Marketing director, Redeye
Hank Stockard
Business development director, Redeye
Jason Taylor
Director of sales and label relations, Redeye

As Redeye marks its 26th year as a distributor, the company has kept its sights focused on supporting indie labels and artists despite widespread supply chain issues. “We prioritized advising our labels on the latest marketplace trends, the growing demand for vinyl and the latest digital and physical marketing opportunities,” says Pittard. In the past 12 months, she adds, “we have received glowing feedback from our retail partners as the gold standard in packaging records and shipping on time, with product arriving in great condition.”

Philip Kaplan
Founder/CEO, DistroKid

DistroKid launched 21 services that are free for company clients “and we’re continually building new things that are fun and useful to artists at every level,” says Kaplan. Examples include Hyperfollow, which creates a website for every release, helping fans find an artist’s music across multiple platforms; Promo Cards, which offers artists customizable graphics that artists can post across social media; and Synched Lyrics, which makes it easy for listeners to sing along with songs on Instagram and other platforms. Kaplan says his company “now distributes 30% to 40% of all new music in the world, which blows my mind — we’re thankful for and grateful to every artist who relies on DistroKid.”

Cat Kreidich
President, ADA Worldwide
Sam Juneman
Head of marketing and services, ADA Worldwide
Samantha Moore
Chief of staff, ADA Worldwide
Adriana Sein
Head of international, ADA Worldwide
Marcus Siskind
Head of U.S., ADA Worldwide
Andrea Slobodien
Head of product and integration, ADA Worldwide

In early 2022, ADA signed Grammy-nominated producer Murda Beatz, who has racked up over 7 million U.S. streams with “One Shot,” and the company also arranged to distribute longtime dance-music executive Patrick Moxey’s labels Payday and Helix. “We’ve invested in the best people, combining major-label muscle with indie scrappiness,” says Kreidich, who took over as president of the Warner Music-owned distribution and label services company in April 2021, following eight years with The Orchard. “Our pitching team has tripled in size and brings genre specialization experience.”

Tony Larios
Founder/CEO, TuStreams

With over 6,000 clients on the TuStreams roster, including regional Mexican acts such as Grupo Firme and reggaetón artists like Don Omar, Larios has built a business model focused not only on digital distribution but also on publishing, ticketing, live events and agency services. In 2021, TuStreams partnered with Nederlander Concerts for Grupo Firme’s seven back-to-back shows at the Staples Center (now Crypto.com Arena). The group made history as the Latin act to perform the most shows in a single calendar year at the venue. TuStreams has now partnered with Live Nation, Nederlander and Eddie Orjuela Entertainment for Grupo Firme’s first-ever stadium tour kicking off May 28 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.

Don Omar
Under founder/CEO Tony Larios, digital distributor TuStreams has built a roster of 6,000-plus artists including reggaetón star Don Omar. John Parra/GI

Brad Navin
CEO, The Orchard
Colleen Theis
COO, The Orchard
Tricia Arnold
Senior vp of global label management and sales, The Orchard
Mary Ashley Johnson
Senior vp of North America label management and sales, The Orchard
Alan Becker
Senior vp of artist and label partnerships, The Orchard
Taylor Wilson
Director of product management at Human Re Sources, The Orchard

The Orchard, the Sony Music-owned independent distributor, claimed its strongest global market share to date in 2021 (although it does not report specific figures) placing over 350 albums on the Billboard 200 including titles by Bad Bunny, BTS, Nas, YOASOBI, Jorja Smith, Noel Gallagher, $uicideboy$, Banda MS, Ozuna and Anuel AA. The expansion of its label roster also contributed to that growth. Theis notes that The Orchard “closed two major global distribution partnerships with Rimas Entertainment, which included the creation of new independent label SONAR and Mass Appeal Records, which brought rap legend Nas back to the Sony Music family.”

Lonny Olinick
CEO, AWAL
Paul Hitchman
President, AWAL
Ron Cerrito
President, AWAL North America

AWAL has continued to open up alternative opportunities for acts seeking to trade the traditional label/artist paradigm for AWAL’s business model of supporting artist-owned repertoire. “2021 was a record-breaking year,” says Olinick. The label services provider has produced breakthrough talents like Norwegian-born girl in red, whose debut album hit No. 8 on the Top Alternative Albums chart and single “Serotonin” reached No. 2 on Alternative Airplay, and AWAL client Little Simz won the BRIT Award for best new artist.

Marie Ringheim, Girl in Red
AWAL has supported the breakthrough of artists like singer-songwriter girl in red, whose debut release reached No. 8 on Top Alternative Albums. Jason Koerner/GI

Bob Roback
CEO, Ingrooves Music Group
Jeff Cuatto
CFO, Ingrooves Music Group
Lloyd Hummel
Executive vp of global commercial strategy, Ingrooves Music Group

Ingrooves, the independent distributor owned by Universal Music Group, continues its aggressive international expansion, led for the past seven years by Roback. “And we continue to see great success stories across genres at home and abroad,” says Hummel. Recent examples include Stray Kids’ mini album, Oddinary, released in partnership with Imperial Distribution, which sent the K-pop group to No. 1 on the Billboard Artist 100. Yahritza y Su Esencia’s hit “Soy El Unico” debuted at No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs and reached No. 20 on the Hot 100. “The independent music sector,” says Hummel, “is thriving in every genre imaginable.”

Krystian Santini
President, Equity Distribution

With the distribution industry becoming increasingly competitive, Santini points to exclusive deals and releases from artists like Alicia Keys, Tinashe, Tokischa, Mach-Hommy and Poo Bear, among others, as examples of how his company boosts artists who want to maintain ownership over their careers. “We’re quickly becoming the premier label for independent hip-hop and Latin artists,” he says.

Ed Seaman
CEO, MVD Entertainment

MVD has had another strong year as vinyl sales continue to soar. Best known for helping repertoire owners sell physical products (DVD, CD, vinyl and merchandising in brick-and-mortar stores), Seaman has spent the past 12 months strengthening the company by hiring new executives, including a new vp of label management, a vp of digital and a director of marketing. Seaman is also working to “ramp up [MVD’s] marketing services to provide even better experiences and results for its valued label partners.”

Eliah Seton
President, SoundCloud
Jeff Ponchick
Head of creator, SoundCloud

In the past year, SoundCloud focused on its new artist services by helping independent artists extract maximum value from the platform through its monetization, distribution and professionals; developing its first-ever artist roster with names like Lil Pump and Tekno attached; and by partnering with Quality Control’s Solid Foundation Management in a joint venture “to discover new talent and revolutionize artist partnerships by empowering creatives with bespoke resources, tools and access,” Seton says.

Steve Stoute
Founder/CEO, UnitedMasters

In May, during its SelectCon creator conference in Brooklyn, UnitedMasters launched the Beat Exchange — a curated marketplace to buy and sell beats, connecting producers with UnitedMasters’ 1.5 million independent artists. The platform gives artists access to emerging and A-list producers, including Hit-Boy, Turbo (Travis Scott, Gunna, Young Thug), Sham “Sak Pase” Joseph (Kodak Black, Rihanna, SAINt JHN), Kato on the Track and David Morse. “The potential of independent artists is endless,” says Stoute. “Independent music is the fastest-growing segment of the industry. With more independence, artists will earn a fair share of the value that they create and our culture will benefit from more voices being amplified and heard.”

Jonathan Strauss
Co-founder/CEO, Create Music Group
Wayne Hampton
Co-founder/chief business development officer, Create Music Group
Alexandre Williams
Co-founder/COO, Create Music Group

Create — which, according to the company, is the only distributor to provide daily earnings data from the major digital service providers — last year introduced Create Carbon, a credit card for its clients. The tool allows artists to tap revenue on the day it is earned, rather than wait for monthly payments. The company’s Flighthouse brand on TikTok has nearly 28 million followers and has drawn marketing partnerships with almost every major label, according to Create. Snoop Dogg chose Create to release his first Death Row Records album, B.O.D.R., prior to his performance in the Super Bowl half-time show.

Dean Tabaac
Head, AMPED Distribution
Pip Smith
Vp of sales/GM, AMPED Distribution

AMPED enjoyed a double-digit increase in revenue for the eighth year in a row last year, says Tabaac. (The company does not publish specific figures.) AMPED labels had an aggregate increase of 20% and 50% on CDs and vinyl, respectively, “with our commitment to physical goods combined with a direct account reach for brick-and-click retailers that is the largest in the industry,” he says. In addition, in April the independent distributor says it represented some 27% of 2022’s Record Store Day releases, which hit an event record of 1.32 million vinyl albums sold in a week.

Darius Van Arman
Co-CEO, Secretly Distribution
Chris Welz
Managing director, Secretly Distribution
Chris Cannon
Head of international strategy, Secretly Distribution
Charley Kiefer
Director of digital account strategy, Secretly Distribution
Jacqui Resur
Head of label relations, Secretly Distribution

With Dead Oceans act Japanese Breakfast performing on Saturday Night Live, labelmate Mitski debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 with Laurel Hell and Phoebe Bridgers launching her Saddest Factory Records, the global physical and digital distribution division of Secretly Group has good reason to cheer on its roster. Van Arman in January was named chair of Merlin, the independent global digital rights organization. Welz reports the company grew over 50% in 2021. (Secretly does not publicly state its earnings.) Cannon created a new neighboring rights division at the company. Kiefer’s digital strategy is credited with helping drive Mitski’s Billboard 200 achievement. Resur oversees a new label rep division and brought onboard 30 new label and artist partners last year.

Pieter van Rijn
CEO, FUGA

FUGA launched in 2006 in Amsterdam and first worked primarily with local dance music labels, but the music distribution and services company has steadily expanded its footprint. “Last year’s merger of Downtown and FUGA Neighboring Rights, now managed under FUGA, has led to the signing of artists such as Lindsey Buckingham and Young T & Bugsey,” says van Rijn. While FUGA helps deliver millions of tracks a month to digital service providers, van Rijn is proud of his company’s recent entry into physical distribution, where it has enjoyed “chart success on releases for Run the Jewels and Pete Doherty’s label Strap Originals.”

Emmanuel Zunz
Founder/CEO, ONErpm

Digital distributor ONErpm has continued to expand at a rapid clip, opening offices in Australia, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Africa and Ghana in 2022 — with more offices coming in Southeast Asia — bringing its global workforce to 450 employees across 29 offices. The company, which has sought to improve interfaces for users and clients alike, recently introduced new features to track differing recoupment rates to improve marketing transparency and centralize analytics. In 2021, ONErpm signed artists including Cosculluela as its revenue grew 70% year over year along the way, according to the company.

Contributors: Darlene Aderoju, Trevor Anderson, Rania Aniftos, Chuck Arnold, Katie Bain, Alexei Barrionuevo, Starr Bowenbank, Ed Christman, Leila Cobo, Stephen Daw, Thom Duffy, Chris Eggertsen, Deborah Evans Price, Griselda Flores, Gary Graff, J’na Jefferson, Gil Kaufman, Steve Knopper, Juliana Koranteng, Carl Lamarre, Cydney Lee, Elias Leight, Heran Mamo, Geoff Mayfield, Taylor Mims, Melinda Newman, Jessica Nicholson, Glenn Peoples, Bryan Reesman, Eric Renner Brown, Kristin Robinson, Jessica Roiz, Neena Rouhani, Dan Rys, Richard Smirke, Christine Werthman, Jewel Wicker, Deborah Wilker.

Methodology: Nominations for Billboard’s executive lists open no less than 120 days in advance of publication. (For a contact for our editorial calendar, please email thom.duffy@billboard.com.) The online nomination link is sent to press representatives who send a request for notification before the nomination period to thom.duffy@billboard.com. Billboard’s Indie Power Players were chosen by editors from among independent labels and distributors based on factors including, but not limited to, nominations by peers, colleagues and superiors. Nominations from the American Association of Independent Music also were considered. Record companies are defined as independent by their ownership through entities other than the three major music groups. Distributors, regardless of their corporate ownership, qualify as independent through the repertoire they market. In addition to information requested with nominations, editors consider industry impact as measured by metrics including, but not limited to, chart, sales and streaming performance as measured by Luminate and social media impressions using data available as of April 25.

This story originally appeared in the June 4, 2022, issue of Billboard.