Who is an independent musician in today’s age? Is it an artist who owns the masters and distribution rights? Or artists who are signed to independent labels? That makes us question who are independent labels and how are they independent if they are labels?
Most of the income an independent artist generates is from streaming and from live performances, it is not the rule of thumb that these are the only ways to earn.
According to a survey conducted by MIDiA, nearly three-quarters of independent artists earn less than $10,000 a year from music, and average incomes are also low even for signed artists. 61% of artists under labels made the same amount of money. Thereby, leaving a very narrow window of monetary hope for artists under labels.
Being an independent artist now is more empowering than ever before. With this sector growing rapidly, the independent music genre is a huge contributor to the global recorded music industry. Artists that release music without a record label have drastically changed the archaic method of needing a record label to produce music. This does not mean that the record labels are put out of business.
Artists these days regard labels as one possibility and not a goal. Interestingly, less than a third of independent artists consider it important to get signed to a record label. Record labels despite the differences will remain the central force in the recorded music business while adapting to the changes that take place in the music landscape.
Independent music in India has been witnessing an upsurge lately, with Hip-Hop being the dominant genre. So much so, the mainstream media is adapting it in movies or reality TVs.
With OTTs shifting their focus on artists and non-film music, the transition is also seen in labels pressing on this genre to promote music apart from Bollywood. Which brings us to revive the 90’s era of artists and their albums regardless of movies they voiced for.
Vinit Thakkar, Senior Vice-President, India & South-Asia, Universal Music, expressed his opinions on new artists coming together with music labels,
“It’s important to understand the artists’ vision. It’s important as a label for us to fulfil value addition for the artists’ careers,” at All About Music, an annual music conference in Mumbai.
What are other avenues for independent artists to make money?
An artist of this generation is sitting on a landmine of information with which comes an act of rebellion from the independent artists. They seem to believe that being associated to a label means giving up their power over their music. Also because of the infamous notion of labels not paying them rightfully. Nevertheless, artists need to be educated with the rights and registrations with collecting societies viz., IPRS or PPL in India. These registrations help the artists monetize their music which goes beyond the live music space.
Rajat Kakkar, CEO, Phonographic Performance Limited, India, said,
“All rights have now become extremely important. Earlier it used to be very adversarial. Today it is more a partnership mode yet discussing growth ideas,” at All About Music 2019.
With the help of digitization, the popularity of an artist becomes easily acceptable amongst masses that makes them sit on an influential seat. With marketing trends evolving every year, the focus for brands has shifted to getting more influencers who have direct contact with their followers.
Similarly, collaborating with artists is easier because music spreads faster. When an artist has established himself enough, their collaboration with brands will give both these parties a new avenue for greater visibility. Also, the connection to a wider audience without huge investments for brands is always a win-win.
Kushboo Benani, Content, Influencer Marketing and Brand Advocacy Head at Diageo India, corroborated,
“Music is always necessary. Why interrupt when you can be interesting? Music has higher chances of engaging consumers,” at All About Music 2019.
That said, while there are conventional methods for artists to work with or without record labels, the effect of digitisation in India has opened multiple avenues for artists alike. The contradiction arises if the artists signed onto labels have gigs as their primary source of income. However, the independent artists also earn by writing and producing for others.
The independent music sector now represents the fastest-growing segment of the global recorded music business, affecting a market of global scale with real impact and influence. The highest influencing tool that is readily available is TikTok which has added to many artists’ advantage. The rise of Lil Nas X represents a larger phenomenon that exists in the digital space. A song reaching the audience to the level of being contagious is currently the best form of popularity.
The juxtaposition of music on a content-driven platform marks a bizarre recipe of success today. What TikTok is doing for artists is using other people to make content for them. The massive strength the users have to make a song viral takes place without any augmentation or forced viewership on the app.
The tug of war isn’t between an independent artist and a label artist. An artist is an artist regardless. What needs to exist is a buffer zone where both can find a middle ground to work together. India predominantly being a Bollywood driven country has an influx of artists singing ultimately for movies. However, Independent artists today have collected a huge number of audience that they cater to thereby generating sufficient income.
Azadi Records, an independent label in India, has numerous artists performing live without a brand or sponsor investing. The growth is seen majorly in the Hip-Hop genre now.
Artists who begin independently use YouTube to showcase their talent, until they find proper traction.
Pawan Agarwal, Head of Music Partnerships, YouTube & Google Play, India and South Asia, YouTube, said,
“Monetising on YouTube is either about monetising with brands and/or monetising as a brand. Success on YouTube is a starting point,” at All About Music 2019.
Therefore, artists’ influence on music is more from culture than the money they source. Also, artists working for value, seek validation for their work which is cashed in as recognition. The more an artist gains value, the more their work can be monetised. Thereby, producing more fandom amongst the masses.
With the fluctuations involved in the music industry, to mark the fall and success of a segment is a risky affair. However, having a dedicated fan-base, sizable up to 50% is far and above a failure denominator for an artists’ success. The fact that label artists strongly index over 52% as compared to independent artists which make up to 37%, gives an upper hand to the label artists due to their global recognition and fan-base.
That said, if artists took the holistic approach of contribution to the culture they associate themselves with, gain recognition and a strong fan-base, use streaming services and lead a successful touring act, could provide a saner approach to success.
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