Could Covid-19 empower independent artists?

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On March 11, as global measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 began to intensify, US President Donald Trump announced a travel ban from mainland Europe to the United States. In another era, this would have been troubling news for the entire Swedish music industry – which has long relied on its ability to export its creativity (see: Max Martin, Shellback) and technology (see: Spotify ) to the American entertainment industry.

Yet on this particular date, one of Sweden’s most disruptive modern music companies, Stockholm-based distribution and service company Amuse, may have celebrated a bit too loudly to hear The Donald’s pitch. in its entirety. March 11 was the date local rapper Dree Low, one of Amuse’s indie artist clients, claimed an astonishing 19 top 50 tracks on Spotify’s daily chart in Sweden. Math geeks won’t need me to point out that 38% market share is monumental — the kind of figure that would typically get entire record labels cheering, let alone a single DIY act.

Success of independent artists (defined, in this case, as those who own their own rights and use a self-production platform) in Sweden has been bubbling for some time. And yet, for the global recording industry, the general trend – that of DIY acts gobbling up increasing levels of market share more generally claimed by major labels – may have massive ramifications for the future.

If Dree Low’s dominance over Spotify in Sweden last month sounded like a new horizon for independent artists, it was not without precedent. I analyzed the figures for Sweden’s IFPI Top 50 Official Singles last year: five of the top 20 singles were released by independent artists, and in terms of national repertoire (i.e. greatest songs by Swedish artists), no less than Seven of the top 15 tracks, nearly 50%, were by non-label artists.

Amuse has compiled the average monthly percentage of artists’ self-released tracks in Spotify’s Top 50 in Sweden: in January this year, this figure reached 29.4%, compared to 9.9% in January 2019 and 0, 8% in January 2018. If this trend continues unabated, by this time next year independent artists will own more than half of Sweden’s biggest hits. The question facing the global music industry now is twofold: 1. Will the Swedish trend of independent artists go global? 2. Could Covid-19 really act as an accelerator for the success of independent artists?

As has been well reported rolling stoneand, the coronavirus lockdown has already caused hit albums by Sam Smith, Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys to be postponed, while simultaneously driving a proliferation of independent artist releases through platforms like Ditto, TuneCore, UnitedMasters and CD Baby. These factors lead to the logical assumption that we are about to see a significant global increase in the market share of independent artists. Giving credence to the idea, Denis Ladegaillerie, CEO of Paris-based Believe – owner of TuneCore – wrote earlier this month that major streaming services, after noticing a slowdown in superstar releases, are telling independent artists who work with his company: “We have a very large audience of young people who are eager to listen to new material; please make [your] music available so we can engage them.

Diego Farias, CEO of Amuse, agrees with this version of events and predicts that the current situation may even be responsible for accelerating the “Sweden Effect” in other corners of the globe. He said, “We believe that [Covid-19] may accelerate a transition already underway; this will allow independent artists to grow [chart share] at a much faster pace in a market like the United States, which was, let’s remember, initially very resistant to a change like streaming.

“That could be a big catalyst. In a few years we’ll look back on that moment and probably say, “Wow, Covid-19, with all the bad things it’s brought, has actually accelerated the growth of independents and their ability to impact the charts. of the whole world”.

Amuse, backed by $15.8 million, says its DIY user downloads were up 300% year-over-year in March. According to Farias, the Covid-19 lockdown has “leveled the playing field” for independent artists against their major label-signed peers, both in terms of recording and collaborating and in terms of their ability to promote. their music. He comments, “Artists are all trying to figure out how to collaborate and how to make art over shitty VOIP connections; it’s the same for Lady Gaga, as it is for Dree Low, or small independent artists.

Farias adds, “Whatever role radio has played in the past, the real impact [in terms of music promotion] right now is happening on social media – something that belongs entirely to the artist. And independent artists control their media channels in a way that not all major label artists have necessarily had to do in recent years. It’s a truly digital landscape, and this is where the opportunity becomes so apparent for independent artists.

“A few years from now we’ll look back on that moment and probably say, ‘Wow, Covid-19, with all the bad things it’s brought, has actually accelerated the growth of independents and their ability to impact businesses. charts around the world. —Diego Farias, Amuse

Meanwhile, in Sweden, the majors counter-attack. Einár, who had the biggest single of any independent artist in Sweden last year with Katten I Traktenrecently signed with Sony for his latest hit, Rymden och tillbaka. It’s a story that closely mirrors what happened in the United States last year with two standout independent artists: Arizona Zervas and Lil Nas X, who both ended up signing multimillion-dollar contracts. with a Sony label, Columbia Records, as well as their greatest hits — Roxane for Zervas and Old Town Road for Lil Nas X – were climbing the global streaming charts.

It’s really a subject for Farias: Lil Nas X was previously distributed by Amuse, who offered the artist his own seven-figure contract to stay before he jumped ship to Sony. According to Farias, big deals with major labels with independent artists today are the natural result of big corporations trying to stem an inevitable tide (using a dam constructed from a pile of whole dollar bills). -powerful). “It would be weird if the majors didn’t do everything in their power to try to put things back in the order they prefer,” Farias says. “They definitely overspend in some cases. It’s a tough business there, and [the majors] try to close deals before [indie artists] explode.”

Steve Stoute is CEO of US music distribution company UnitedMasterswhich was backed by a $70 million funding round led by Google/Alphabet in 2017. UnitedMasters saw its own chapter in the Lil Nas X/Arizona Zervas/Einár narrative unfold last year when the teenage American rapper NLE Choppa, who had amassed half a billion streams with Stoute’s company, signed an estimated $8 million deal with Warner Records.

Like Farias, Stoute says he is unfazed by such events, as the increase in market share for independent artists, in his view – especially in the US market – is only just a step away” the first round”. speaking on Music Business around the world podcast this week, Stoute told me, “When a new artist makes $8 million, [or] 11 million dollars for a fucking song, that’s not the record business, man! This is the lottery business!

He predicted: “Over the next couple of years you will see, on a yearly basis, cumulative indie revenue – anything not published on the majors – will exceed major revenue, [with] a larger market share.

That’s a pretty optimistic forecast: Midia Research suggests that 67.5% of global recorded music revenue last year was generated by major labels, all independently distributed music (including independent labels) claiming 32.5%. That said, Raine Group recently estimated (pre-Covid) that independent artists alone would see their revenues grow by 32% in 2020, claiming an annual global recorded music market share of between 9-10%.

Amuse boss Diego Farias knows where he places his chips. “I totally agree with Steve [Stoute]the assumption of where the world is going,” he says. “It has been proven time and time again that Sweden is way ahead of new trends and has the ability to predict where things are going. If you rewind the tape a bit, when Spotify launches, the notice to [record company] executive tables in New York, London and elsewhere was, “It’s just a Swedish phenomenon. We are already seeing signs of indie music taking a bigger percentage share in all sorts of different markets – in France and the Netherlands, for example, indie music is growing at a very rapid pace.

Farias admits that, for now, it may be easier for independent artists to challenge the big labels in markets dominated by local-language repertoire than in the United States, where “the whole world is competing “. However, he adds, “I don’t know how many years it will take, but I think this trend will happen in the United States quite soon – it’s a matter of time.”

Tim Ingham is the founder and publisher of The music industry around the world, who has served the global industry with news, analysis and jobs since 2015. He writes a weekly column for Rolling stone.

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