AIM’s newly-appointed CEO Silvia Montello has spoken to Music Week about the performance of the independent sector.
Montello takes over at AIM at the end of this month. It follows the departure of Paul Pacifico, who spent six years in the role representing the interests of independent music.
Montello joins from her role as CEO of the global trade body the Association for Electronic Music (AFEM). She has held previous senior positions at Universal Music Group, BMG and AWAL. In fact, she was once a Music Week Awards winner in the Catalogue Marketing Campaign category for the Motown 45 anniversary release.
“I've worked for an international major label, working very closely with the other territories and with international departments on everything from pricing strategies to product marketing, product creation and identifying niche audiences in different territories,” Silvia Montello told Music Week. “So I’ve got a good grounding and understanding of the international picture, as well as the UK one.”
A new year means it’s a moment for the independent sector to reflect on its successes in 2022, as well as looking ahead to key challenges.
In a boost to the indies, the BPI has confirmed that independent record labels’ share of the UK recorded music market increased for a fifth consecutive year in 2022 to 28.6% (AES). This was up from 26.9% in 2021, while the independent share has grown by nearly a third since 2017 when it stood at 22.1%.
“It is encouraging,” Montello told Music Week. “It's encouraging because it's not a blip, it seems to be a trend. We've seen year-on-year growth for five years in a row now for the independent sector in the UK. It's a trend that I foresee continuing.
“I think the independent sector is in a really strong place. And it is strengthened all the time by the innovation within the sector, and by more artists and entrepreneurs entering the independent sector and really finding that as the place within the industry where they can flourish.”
Nine independently released LPs topped the albums chart during the year by 5 Seconds of Summer, The 1975, Central Cee, Don Broco, Fontaines DC, Louis Tomlinson, Stereophonics, Wet Leg and The Wombats, while over 60 indie albums reached the Top 10.
The independent sector is in a really strong place, and it is strengthened all the time by the innovation within the sector
Domino-signed Wet Leg were one of the year’s biggest breakthrough acts with their self-titled album, which is fast approaching gold status (100,000 sales). It was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize last summer and has since been nominated at the Grammys in the US, where the group are in the running for Best New Act.
Asked if that performance suggests UK indies have the capabilities to achieve international success with debut acts, Montello said: “Absolutely, and not just Wet Leg but various other independent artists have had tremendous success, commercially and internationally. If you look back at some of the biggest artists around, Arctic Monkeys are independent, Adele was independent [for her first three albums], they're also examples of how independent music can become enormous internationally, as well as on a territory by territory basis.
“It shows the importance of the independent sector, that you can have artists that are huge-selling and mainstream, right down to artists who are much more niche and have a very different kind of audience within the music industry as a whole. So, yes, Wet Leg have been a phenomenon and there are plenty more to come like them I'm sure.”
Wet Leg and Arctic Monkeys - both signed to Domino - will be hopeful of representing the independents in the BRITs nominations next week.
Although it didn’t reach No.1, Arctic Monkeys’ seventh studio set The Car achieved nearly 120,000 chart-eligible sales in its first week of release in October and became 2022’s biggest new independent album.
Domino had the highest ranked independent album - Arctic Monkeys’ AM at No.13 (177,022 - Official Charts Company) - as well as three other LPs in the year-end Top 50 (Arctic Monkeys’ The Car at No.17 - 159,573 sales; Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not at No.37 - 108,616 sales; and Wet Leg’s self-titled debut at No.50 - 95,326 sales).
The independent sector has also had a boost from its repertoire on vinyl, which has soared in popularity and registered its 15th year of growth in 2022 - up 2.9% to 5.5 million units - despite challenges for global production. Half of the Top 10 sellers of 2022 were by independent acts, including Arctic Monkeys’ The Car at No.3 (51,545 sales), Wet Leg by Wet Leg at No.6 (29,484), Being Funny In A Foreign Language by The 1975 at No.7 (24,654), AM by Arctic Monkeys at No.8 (23,866) and Skinty Fia by Fontaines DC at No.9 (23,062).
But there is a potential concern for physical music sales with the long-term viability of CD under scrutiny. The format declined at an accelerating rate last year with sales down 19.3% to 11.6 million units. Yet CD sales still outperformed the LP release for the highest-ranked indie vinyl releases by Arctic Monkeys and Wet Leg. With 67,877 CDs sold of The Car in two months last year, Arctic Monkeys had the biggest-selling CD by an independent act in 2022.
Montello said the format can still be valuable for the independent sector.
“It's a really interesting one, because it depends who you talk to in terms of how many CDs actually sell and where they sell,” she said. “Obviously, the importance of CDs has declined for several years now in the UK, and for certain genres it's next to zero. For other genres and for other demographics, it still has its place. What's hit it has been the reduction of supermarkets and generalist stores stocking as many CDs over the last decade, for example.
“But there's still a place for CD. For some independent labels, if they want to put out physical product and enjoy the margin that they can get from that, sometimes they are now putting out CDs or cassettes because they're cheaper and quicker to manufacture than vinyl, and it still provides something physical and tangible that the fanbase can buy into. So it will still have its place.
“As with anything else, the consumers will be the ones that decide when a particular format has run its course. Just look at what happened to vinyl - I don't think anybody 20 years ago would have imagined that it would come back like this. So, let's see what the consumers and fans dictate going forward in terms of format.”
Subscribers can read our exit interview with the chief exec of another trade body - BPI boss Geoff Taylor.