How Indie Artists Came to Dominate the Music Industry


One of the biggest stories in the music industry in 2013 was the rise of music streaming. In the first half of the year alone, people listened to 50 billion songs on streaming services, like Spotify and Pandora, or on YouTube, according to Nielsen SoundScan. This is an increase of 24% compared to the first half of 2012.

Streaming service revenue is also growing: Record labels and musicians earned $1.1 billion from ad-supported and subscription-based streaming in 2012, a 40% jump from to 2011. That’s still only a fraction of the $28.7 billion the global music industry raked in in 2012, but like Hannah Karp at The Wall Street Journal Remarks that money will only increase with the explosion of new streaming services this year.

Music streaming is transforming the music industry in more than just turning sales into rentals. By mid-2013, independent labels — basically everyone but the big three: Universal Music Group, Sony and Warner Music Group — controlled 34.5% of music business, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The largest single label, Universal, held a 28.3% market share. In 2007, Universal had a slightly larger slice of the pie, 28.8%, but Indies collectively controlled only 25.8%.

“The rise of streaming music services, where major label control is weaker, and the decline of FM radio, where label control is strong, have had a clear effect on the power of indie,” says Claire Atkinson at New York Post. On Pandora, for example, 50% of songs streamed aren’t from a major label; in radio, that number drops to 13%. In 2013, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” became the first No. 1 song not released by a major label since Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” in 1994.

Rich Bengloff of the American Association of Independent Music told the Post that musicians can feel which way the wind is blowing and the rise of independent labels — and streaming platforms that bring that music to new audiences — as well as success. successful boutique artists like Mumford & Sons, Bon Iver and even Taylor Swift explains why so many up-and-coming bands shun the majors.

However, smaller labels can only take you so far, and “indies are still tied to big labels for distribution,” says Atkinson. And the big labels didn’t get huge for no reason: they watched the rise of indies and “gobbled up some of the more successful ones.”

An “indie” artist doesn’t always necessarily exclude a major label either, noted Steven Hyden at Grantland back in October. The most famous independent album of 2013, Haim’s The days have passed, was released by Columbia Records, owned by Sony. Lorde has been under contract with Universal since she was 13 years old. Icona Pop’s It’s… Icona Pop was published by Warner.

Just as the genre known as ‘alternative’ was abandoned in the summer of 1997, Hyden asserts, ‘we are now seeing the rattle of the current version of alternative, ‘indie’. »

If this is really the end of “indie”, that’s fine with me. I have no attachment to indie as a sacred emblem, and welcome the push into pop as a natural progression, especially when it results in records as enjoyable as The days have passed. Yet I have a nagging concern: where is the anger? You remember anger, don’t you? It is this emotion that humans feel on occasion – it is often accompanied by spite, exasperation and catharsis… Anger has traditionally been used as fuel for independent artists who use music to criticize excesses of popular culture (rather than as a party membership). Now everything seems so… pleasant…. Assimilation, not alienation, is what drives indie now. [Grantland]

Isn’t that how it’s always been with the music industry? Maybe “indie” isn’t winning after all. How could he? Once a genre wins, it’s no longer “independent”, it’s popular.


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