Services sector experts give their tips on how to make the independent route work for you...
1. DON’T GO INTO DEALS BLIND
Signing the first deal on offer might not be the best option. Instead, explains Paul Hitchman, president of ...
The artist services sector may have been born amidst the music biz slump, but even as the good times return to the industry, the business of providing services to recording artists is booming around the world.
More and more artists, across an increasingly wide selection of genres, are taking the independent route to market and promote their music, and make sure their royalties are collected. It’s a business that has been building over a decade or so, dynamised by the joint effect of digital distribution, which has lowered the barriers of entry, and a new DIY mentality, particularly in genres such as hip-hop and electronic music.
“The paradigm has definitely shifted, with the entry barrier being lower than ever and artists no longer depending on gatekeepers,” says Malena Wolfer, head of artist services at independent distribution and services company Believe UK. “The industry is ever-changing and streaming services and new platforms such as TikTok enable artists to reach new audiences without big budgets or extensive marketing campaigns. The key, however, is to have a savvy team around the artist that is aware of key trends and technologies and can adapt to new situations when required.”
According to Paul Hitchman, president of Kobalt-owned artist services unit AWAL, “More and more artists are remaining independent and releasing music on their terms.” He says the trend is driven “by the global growth of streaming and the emergence of a new generation of tools, services and innovative partners to support independent artists”.
Hitchman elaborates: “There is an important shift taking place in the music industry in which streaming is enabling a much greater number of independent artists to have a long-term career in music. In the new model, artists are enabled to take back control and go beyond building sustainable businesses by thriving independently with successful careers.”
“It is a new era in terms of the technology that we have access to,” concurs Nicola Spokes, UK label head at Universal-owned services company Caroline International. “Our data systems and tools enable us to provide our artist and label partners with in-depth and up-to-the-minute data and insights, allowing us to adapt, change, plan and reach more fans, faster.”
For Rich Orchard, director of market development, UK & Europe, at CD Baby, there are a lot of upsides to using artist service companies – not to mention a lot of artists in need of platforms and tools to distribute their music.
“Aside from the great terms and retaining ownership of your music, you’re able to drop a new single globally on your own schedule, and then be responsive to what happens next,” he explains. “We now have services to suit any tier of artist, so it’s just a case of ensuring clients are using the right services to help them maximise every revenue stream available to them.”
Spokes says companies such as Caroline have also adjusted to the new creative paradigm that see artists drop a new release out of the blue.
“Our digital distribution infrastructure enables fast and dynamic global release plans that match the turn-on-a-ha’penny way many independent artists and labels often want to roll out their campaigns,” she says.
Caroline can provide tailor-made individual services, including marketing, promotion (radio, TV, press), sync, sales, distribution, data analysis, insight and digital marketing, to independent artists and labels. It has been working on projects by a diverse range of artists, from veterans like Iggy Pop, Peter Gabriel and Van Morrison, to young UK urban talent such as D-Block Europe, Sharna Bass, Digga D and Mixtape Madness, as well as indie/alternative acts such as Mystery Jets, Bombay Bicycle Club and Gaz Coombes.
Labels using Caroline include Fiction Records (Tame Impala), Because Music (Christine And The Queens, Major Lazer), Mavin (Rema), Fader (Clairo), Communion (Tamino), Fantasy (Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats), Loma Vista (St Vincent, Denzel Curry), G*59 (Suicideboys) and 10K Projects (Iann Dior, Kierra Luv).
“Caroline has an incredible culture of passion, hard work and drive,” says Spokes. “We really care. This isn’t just about providing a service – you’re getting our team’s combined wealth of industry experience from across the indie and major label sectors, combined with the freedom of independence. It’s a powerful combination and a compelling dynamic for artists, managers and labels from all genres.”
One of the oldest DIY companies for the digital age is CD Baby, which started in the pre-Napster era in 1998 as a service for independent artists to distribute their CDs online. It slowly morphed into an all-digital services company, eventually becoming the largest global digital distributor of independent music and the largest publishing rights administrator in the world. It claims to serve 900,000 artists, songwriters, labels and other rights-holders worldwide, and powers a catalogue of over half a million albums, representing more than seven million tracks across 800 genres. The Portland, Oregon-based company says it has paid out more than $500 million (£404m) to independent musicians, songwriters and labels since inception.
“We offer full-service, multi-brand platforms and tools at scale, to help creators distribute and promote their music, and monetise their rights,” explains CD Baby’s Orchard. CD Baby’s scope has also widened in recent years to incorporate music publishing rights management through what was initially a partnership with Songtrust. Eventually Songtrust parent company Downtown Music Holdings acquired CD Baby’s parent, AVL Digital Group, in March 2019 in a transaction estimated to be worth $200m (£162m). The deal included assets such as CD Baby, AdRev, DashGo and Soundrop.
“We’ve undoubtedly seen lines increasingly blurred between label, manager and distributor functions,” says Orchard. “Clearly you can now manage your own business, control your own rights and have final say over everything you do, driven by streaming data and the democratisation of marketing tools.”
This new environment has allowed what Hitchman calls “middle-tier artists” to build viable careers by remaining independent and using companies such as AWAL.
“One interesting aspect with the growth of streaming is that more middle-tier artists will be able to live off their work – ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in recording income,” says Hitchman. However, he adds that the current music industry “isn’t set up to support this volume”, and companies like AWAL can help artists develop their career “from starting out to global success”. “There is no ceiling on what an artist can achieve with AWAL, whether that process is a fast one or a more organic development over time,” he says.
AWAL’s services include marketing, release management, playlist promotion, A&R, funding, radio promotion, PR, YouTube monetisation, global digital/physical distribution and access to real-time comprehensive music data and insights.
“We see our model as quite unique,” says Hitchman. “Providing the global services that you would get at a major label but also empowering artists to keep control of their rights and their career and enabling them to retain the majority of income. AWAL receives a share of the revenues we generate on behalf of artists, so our interests are completely aligned, and we do not lock artists into long-term exclusive agreements.”
AWAL services have been used by such artists as Lauv, Tom Misch, Rex Orange County, Little Simz, Gerry Cinnamon, Bruno Major, The Kooks, Snoh Aalegra, The Wombats, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Kim Petras, Gabrielle Aplin, Steve Lacy and Omar Apollo, as well as labels such as Good Soldier (home to Freya Ridings), Glassnote, SideOneDummy and B-Unique.
Believe, which was created 10 years ago in Paris by Denis Ladegaillerie, initially as a digital distributor, now offers a wide range of services, from distribution and marketing to rights management, sync and monetising videos, all on a global basis.
“Every artist and campaign is different and we really tailor our services to fit the artist’s set-up and objectives,” says Wolfer. “We have a global network with 44 offices around the world and are putting a strong emphasis on global audience development. Our artist services team provides a full service, assisting with everything from strategic campaign planning to coordinating teams to conceiving and implementing creative and innovative marketing campaigns.
Wolfer notes with pride that Believe has just delivered a Top 5 album for British band Feeder with their 10th studio set, Tallulah, their highest charting record for 14 years.
“Our team worked closely with band and management to deliver a hugely successful campaign that engaged the existing fanbase while, at the same time, reaching new audiences through streaming and creative tools such as Instagram AR filters and Facebook Messenger bots,” says Wolfer.
Other recent Believe success stories include Orbital’s comeback, as well as Welsh singer-songwriter Novo Amor, who has registered over 100 million streams.
“We really encourage artists to make the most of their creative and strategic freedom,” says Wolfer.
For a lot of artists, going independent with a service company offers specific benefits, not least the ability to retain recording and publishing rights to their works. “Signing an artist services deal will allow the artist to retain ownership of their masters and stay in control of the creative and strategic process while at the same time having the financial backing and global network of a company like Believe,” says Wolfer.
AWAL’s Hitchman sums up the benefits of service companies in three words: ownership, control, empowerment.
“Artists are just starting to understand the power they have to own their creative process, engage directly with their fans and make informed decisions about the way they want to run their business,” he elaborates. “It is great to see artists take this control but the industry is really at an inflection point. If artists demand more transparency, fairer deals, ownership over their life’s work and an active voice in their creative process, there is an opportunity to reshape the entire industry around creators.”
One of the more contentious issues in the ‘old’ model was the royalty rate artists would get from labels. In the services-driven model, the question of what stays with the artists boils down to how much they pay for the type of services they need. Each artist service company has its own system and practices – some apply a set of rates depending on the investment required, others go for flat fees for certain types of services.
“Our rates are upfront and reflective of the platform and services an artist opts into,” explains Orchard, who says CD Baby’s 9% commission rate has remained unchanged since its first digital release in 2003.
“The key difference now is our artists get so many more services value-wrapped into that, with tools such as [marketing solutions company] Show.co free to CD Baby artists,” he adds.
Others, like Believe, don’t charge fees for any of the services offered, preferring to focus on deals based on revenue shares.
“Our goal is to provide the best service to the artist and we have tech in place to ensure everything we do is transparent,” explains Wolfer. “Every project is different and our deals are becoming more and more flexible. Besides, working with established artists, we also offer a variety of development deals for artists who are looking to get their project off the ground.”
Spokes says pricing is determined by multiple variables.
“Like any business, Caroline looks at the market, demand and the quality and depth of the service level we provide,” she says. “There’s more competition in the marketplace, which makes expertise, relationships and innovative thinking even more important. It’s also indicative of the level of success now being achieved with artists, and rapid growth in the sector.”
While AWAL’s Hitchman remains discreet on the share that goes back to artists, he is adamant that they “receive a far bigger share of the income versus traditional major label deals”.
“While we can’t disclose an average percentage of income, our splits are close to the opposite of a traditional major label deal, ensuring the artist takes home the lion’s share of profits,” he adds. “This artist-first focus has caused waves in the music industry and has driven industry competitors to offer better deals, creating a more artist-friendly music industry.”
And with the good times for the music industry set to continue, it’s clear artists have more options than ever.
By Emmanuel Legrand
Take Me Back To London is No.1 for the third straight week for Ed Sheeran feat. Stormzy, becoming the fourth of Sheeran’s eight chart-toppers to spend more than a fortnight at the summit, while increasing his overall tenure of the top spot to 36 weeks. It does so on consumption of 59,683 units - a 10.40% decline week-on-week – including 54,936 from sales-equivalent streams.
Powered by streaming of his No.1 new album, Hollywood’s Bleeding, Circles surges 11-5 (39,297 sales) to become Post Malone’s eighth Top 10 single. It is joined in the top tier by Goodbyes (feat. Young Thug), which bounces 14-10 (32,050 sales), and had its only previous week in the Top 10 nine week ago, when it debuted at No.5. Malone also secures his 17th Top 75 entry and the week’s highest new entry with the title track of Hollywood’s Bleeding (No.11, 30,223 sales). All of the other tracks from the album are ‘starred-out’ of the Top 75, contributing 14 of the record 26 titles that are ‘starred-out’ of the Top 75 under the rule that restricts primary artists to three concurrent chart entries. The most-consumed of these is Take What You Want by Post Malone feat. Ozzy Osbourne & Travis Scott, which would be No.13 (28,079 sales), followed immediately by another Post Malone title, Saint-Tropez (27,055 sales).
After a fortnight at No.2, Higher Love moves into slightly lower orbit for Kygo & Whitney Houston, falling to No.3 (43,364 sales) as it swaps places with Manchester rapper Aitch’s Taste (Make It Shake) (3-2, 45,842 sales), which receives a big boost from the release of his new EP Aitch2O. Said EP also spawns new hits (Aitch’s fifth and sixth) in the form of Buss Down (feat. ZieZie, No.21, 20,220 sales) and Already (feat. Treezy, No.43, 10,977 sales.). Five more songs from Aitch2O are ‘starred-out’ of the Top 75 while Strike A Pose – the Young T & Bugsey hit on which Aitch is featured – is up for the sixth straight week, advancing 10-9 (32,592 sales). Higher Love, incidentally, remains atop the paid-for sales chart, with a further 5,655 copies being purchased in the latest frame.
The rest of the Top 10: Ladbroke Grove (4-4, 39,409 sales) by AJ Tracey, Sorry (6-6, 36,271 sales) by Joel Corry, 3 Nights (5-7, 35,912 sales) by Dominic Fike and Ran$om (7-8, 32,938 sales) by Lil Tecca.
After eight weeks in the Top 10, So High is hit by ACR and dives 9-35 (14,156 sales) for Mist feat. Fredo. Also departing the Top 10 is How Do You Sleep? (8-12, 29,923 sales) by Sam Smith.
Vossi Bop got to No.1 and Crown to No.4, and now Sounds Of The Skeng – the third single from Stormzy’s upcoming second album – debuts at No.20 (21,441 sales), becoming his 25th hit.
No date has yet been set for the release of Camila Cabello’s second solo album, Romance, but two simultaneously released singles from the set make their chart debuts this week – Liar at No.38 (13,208 sales) and Shameless at No.50 (9,566 sales).
Also new to the Top 75: Got It All (feat. Alice Chater, No.48, 9,892 sales), Professor Green’s 14th hit in all, but first since 2014; and We Got The Cool (No.70, 5,979 sales), the first hit for Belgian DJ Yves V, the ninth hit for featured Dutch DJ Afrojack and the third hit for featured Swedish vocal duo Icona Pop.
Kosovan DJ Regard’s debut hit Ride It continues its brisk climb, advancing 25-15 (23,169 sales).
No.1 in her native Australia for the sixth week in a row – among songs by female solo artists only Kylie Minogue’s 1987 debut The Locomotion has endured longer – Dance Monkey by 19-year-old singer/songwriter Tones And I, has also topped the chart in Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. Previously climbing 60-48-40-31 here, it picks up speed this week, jumping 31-19 (22,058 sales)
No.2 in his native Ireland for three weeks in July/August, 27-year-old singer/songwriter Dermot Kennedy’s first hit, Outnumbered, improves its chart position here for the 10th week in a row, advancing 26-23 (19,980 sales).
There are also new peaks for: Truth Hurts (30-29, 17,210 sales) by Lizzo, Slide Away (47-40, 12,767 sales) by Miley Cyrus, Simmer (51-46, 10,465 sales) by Mahalia feat. Burna Boy, Will We Talk (66-58, 7,981 sales) by Sam Fender and Love Me Again (62-59, 7,815 sales) by Raye.
Overall singles sales are up 1.01% week-on-week at 18,703,872, 21.83% above same week 2018 sales of 15,352,291. Paid-for sales are down 3.22% week-on-week at 616,852, and are 28.18% below same week 2018 sales of 858,919. It is their lowest level since chart week 10, 2005 (Music Week publication date 19 March 2005) – before downloads were counted - when they were 523,223. They are below same week, previous year sales for the 319th week in a row.