'We continue to push boundaries': Silvia Montello salutes indie sector ahead of AIM Awards

'We continue to push boundaries': Silvia Montello salutes indie sector ahead of AIM Awards

AIM CEO Silvia Montello has told Music Week that the AIM Awards 2023 will "showcase the incredible breadth of diverse talent" from the UK’s independent music sector.

Speaking ahead of tonight's ceremony, her first since taking on the role last December, the CEO praised the event as a celebration of "how our community continues to push boundaries musically, creatively and ethically"

This year's previously announced winners include Soulwax/2manydjs, Björk and Speedy Wunderground co-founder Dan Carey, while performances on the night will come from P Money & Whiney, Laughta and more.

"The event demonstrates how independent music discovered and developed within these shores punches well above its weight on the global stage," said Montello. "We’re so proud to celebrate the achievements of our member rights holders, labels, artists and entrepreneurs, of all sizes and from all backgrounds, working across our many different, dazzling and evolving music styles and genres. It's been another year of continued market share growth for the independent sector, with positive signs pointing to continued and accelerated growth in 2024."

Here, Montello holds court on Outstanding Contribution winners Soulwax, talks Björk and Ezra Collective and hails the work being done by Black Lives In Music...

Given your own background in electronic music, how would you sum up the contribution Soulwax/2manydjs have made over their career?

“Over the decades, dance and electronic music has too often lacked the recognition and kudos it deserved. It's been seen a bit like the ‘naughty child’ of the music business – operating at night, outside of the ‘respected’ industry norms, gathering sub-cultures into underground movements. Electronic music acts, producers and DJs haven’t been seen as quite as ‘serious’ or ‘respected’ as other genres which use so-called ‘real instruments’. I’ve heard “it’s not real music” uttered too many times in the 30+ years I’ve been in the industry, and even recently. 

“From the emergence of house, techno and rave in the ’80s, the birth of garage, jungle and drum ‘n’ bass in the ’90s and the emergence of what we can now call legends of the scene – Soulwax/2manyDJs – through to the present day, music industry recognition of this genre has waxed and waned depending on how and when the music captured the mainstream zeitgeist, with accompanying commercial success. 

“I clearly remember back in 2004 seeing a well-respected music journalist (whose blushes I’ll spare by not naming names…) declare that ‘dance music is dead’. But here we are in 2023 with as vibrant and healthy electronic scene as ever, and dance music the second-most consumed genre in the UK. 

“I also clearly remember my mind being blown by the first 2manyDJs ‘Radio Soulwax’ essential mix in 2005. It wasn’t just ground-breaking music production and remix work, but something that pushed boundaries of how an ecosystem of electronic music was being presented to the world.

“Ten years after Glastonbury's first dedicated dance tent in 1995, the 2manyDJs set at Glastonbury 2005 attracted such huge crowds of music fans that we couldn’t get close to – let alone inside – the tent to see it, and just joined the thousands of ravers outside in the field celebrating the dance. 

“The Dewaele brothers have shown for almost three decades how to create and evolve a unique sound and style – something that has been used to add an extra dimension to some of the biggest names of the pop mainstream just as successfully as it has to the underground scene. It's great to see AIM and those who supported their nomination for this Award recognise what they’ve achieved and the impact it’s had on the music scene throughout that time.” 

As an industry, we’re not yet close to where we need to be in terms of representation, especially when it comes to business founders, senior executives and at board level

Silvia Montello

Charisse Beaumont is also among the winners. Where is the independent sector in the fight against racism and discrimination?

“The answer here is a simple one – the sector has made some great headway in the fight against racism and discrimination, but there is still much to be done. Recent music industry reports have highlighted that there have certainly been steps in the right direction – with an increase in the representation of diverse ethnic talent, both on rosters and within industry teams. There are also ongoing conversations about the need to ensure that the industry recruits, supports and develops talent that reflects the diversity of races and voices across our home nations. 

“But as an industry on the whole, we’re not yet close to where we need to be in terms of that representation, especially when it comes to business founders, senior executives and at board level. As well as building on that, we must remember the importance of ensuring genuine equal opportunity and respect for all those already in, or entering, our industry, so that discrimination is actively addressed with real action, not just lip-service or performative gesture, and we work towards a genuinely level playing field for all talent to thrive and succeed. 

“AIM continues its commitment to tackling racism and discrimination, and to providing support, resources, education and initiatives as part of that commitment. Working with our peers and partner organisations including Black Lives in Music, Power UP, UK Music and many more, we’ll continue to work towards the diverse and inclusive industry we all want to see, with everything this brings to the wealth of brilliant music and to the improved commercial success we know comes from having more diverse and varied teams and rosters.” 

The AIM Awards always recognises new music, but is there enough new independent talent coming through? Are the pathways to success open enough?

“Well, there’s no question about there being enough new independent talent out there, either waiting to be discovered or already crafting their art, building their creative vision and finding their audiences. Absolutely there is an amazing amount of that talent coming through the independent scene, whether through our incredible independent labels or through the DIY/self-releasing part of the industry. But as we know, when it comes to the pathways to success, it's always a challenge for enough independent talent to break through and earn enough from their music to sustain viable careers as artists. 

“In the modern music industry, the method for A&Ring and discovering talent is very different and the sheer volume of new music being created by new talent, across so many platforms, can be overwhelming. So finding those artists who will develop into the successes of the future can sometimes feel like finding needles in a haystack. 

“But by combining the vast amount of data that’s now available, looking across the many talent pools from streaming platforms, social media and across the growing self-releasing creator sector, we are confident that our independent businesses will not only find that great new talent for their rosters, but also nurture and develop it for the longer term. It shouldn't be about the big companies swooping in and opening the cheque-book for one-offs or short-term deals, however commercially tempting that might be; but about those label-artist partnerships which truly develop and support the talent, aligning with and enhancing their creative vision to build something special and sustainable in the long-term.”

We are all facing the uncomfortable but indisputable truth that we must take responsibility to reduce carbon emissions

Silvia Montello

In terms of independent music icons, there are few greater than Björk. What does it mean to AIM to have Bjork recognised this year? 

“As an artist, Björk represents the epitome of everything the independent world stands for – huge and ever-present musical innovation and inventiveness, uniqueness of style and creative vision, attention to detail with breath-taking inventiveness and curious exploration to bring something new and wonderful to her fans, both in her studio recordings and through her incredible live shows. Since the late ‘90s with The Sugacubes – singing in Icelandic, presenting quirky songs full of their own fresh identity – right to the present day, she has consistently opened our ears to new sounds and lush instrumentation in ways few other artists have. 

“And of course, in this world where we are still wrestling to establish the equal standing for women in music – as chart-toppers, global streaming stars or festival headliners – she’s a genuine icon and important reminder to any female talent out there that there is a place for them, and that they can carve out their own unique and brilliant path without conforming to the tired old mainstream expectations of women in order to succeed. 

Ezra Collective feature among the nominations and are fresh from their Mercury win. Of course, they've had success at the AIM Awards before. How important is their story to show what's possible in independent music? 

“Ezra Collective’s story is hugely important for showing just what is possible with the right vision, talent and belief; and it’s really inspirational on so many levels. They only formed in 2016, have only recently released their second studio album and already in such a relatively short time have won prestigious industry Awards, enjoyed commercial success, won over mainstream festival audiences with their stunning live shows and received huge critical acclaim. Not only that, but they’ve done all this within jazz… one of those genres that’s traditionally seen as niche, weird, a bit chin-stroky or elitist, one that's often misunderstood or shied away from by music audiences. They’ve taken so many of their own early musical influences – reggae, soul, afrobeat, hip hop – and combined them to create their own intoxicating, unique form of jazz. By bringing this new energetic jazz and making it fresh, accessible and exciting, they’ve captured new young audiences for the genre, and by collaborating with some amazing peers, they’ve been a driving force in the new contemporary British jazz scene. For that I think we can all be inspired and grateful.”

The AIM Awards is a chance for the sector to come together and celebrate good work, but also to discuss its agenda. What single issue or subject would you urge attendees and the wider sector to talk about?

“I would have to say that independent music – and indeed society's – biggest burning issue (and excuse the bad pun here) has to be climate change. We are all facing the uncomfortable but indisputable truth that we must take individual and collective responsibility to reduce carbon emissions across our music business activities, supply chains and means of consumption. We know that in the face of local and global economic pressures, this isn’t an easy message; when many in our sector are continuing to struggle to survive commercially, there is a fear that becoming greener or working harder to reduce carbon emissions isn’t possible, or it’s out of reach, or something that we can’t focus on right now. The reality is that sustainability and carbon reduction are no longer the can we can kick down the road. Time is against us and without a concerted effort, the future we face not only for the music industry but for humanity, is looking increasingly bleak. Simply put, no planet equals no party. 

“One of the many great recent examples of our industry collaborating and pulling together to solve problems has been The Music Climate Pact – by signing up, working together, renewing commitments to tackling carbon emissions and reaching net zero, companies of all sizes can make a difference and harness the power of their artists and fans to play their part.”

Finally what is your message to the indie world about the next 12 months and beyond? 

“The independent sector has shown steady growth in recent years and that growth is set to continue and accelerate. Against the backdrop of the well-reported challenges of recent years, there is much to be optimistic about. Our sector has always been at the forefront of innovation and creativity, able to adapt, pivot and evolve quickly to capitalise on new developments in technology, consumer behaviour and routes to market. 2023 feels like we are on the cusp of some of the biggest shifts in our industry for many years. 

“There’s AI and the opportunities – and challenges – these technologies bring to the way in which creators and rights holders will work. Also there’s finally a genuine exploration of different models and new means for promoting, rewarding and compensating our creator talents across the global streaming ecosystem. Then there’s the continued explosion in opportunities within the creator sector, bringing with it new pools of undiscovered and emerging talent reaching new audiences. 

“We face even greater change and evolution than ever before; and change naturally brings nervousness or fear, as the well-trodden models are disrupted and we are forced to explore and navigate new landscapes. But by embracing the change and being open to the new, we become open to exciting business models and future possibilities that can support our sector and continue its growth and success in the years to come.”

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