There’s a professional and independent music industry, sandwiched in between the largest corporate and VC funded businesses, and the hobbyist and part time music makers. It is vitally important as a repository of skills and cultural memory, as the guardian of meaningful values in music, and as an engine of innovation for the future. And I think that its future is very bright indeed.
Indies Provide a Better Home for Better Artists
It used to be that their superior financial resources, and, further back, their ownership of the best studios, gave the biggest labels a strong advantage when it came to helping an artist develop a career. No longer. The necessary blend of experience, skills, knowledge and dedication is found everywhere in the music industry, but in the bigger companies it is warped by the demands of financial managers and corporate apparatchiks.
The best and most interesting artists know this, and increasingly are making the choice to treat the industry as a menu of services that they can buy in when they need them. I think that these artists will over the next few years rediscover the indie record label as a deep and long term partner, where they can find accessible and approachable support for their creativity, along with an unprecedented marketing reach.
The Digital Dividend
Professional and independent creators and producers benefit proportionately far more from the revolution in digital tools and technology. Of course access to capital is still important, but the creative playing field is now much more level.
Music is no different to any other endeavour in that it can often benefit from skills, experience, and teamwork in bringing the artist’s original vision into the world. This set of competences is supported now by technology that enables global scale business networks to be pulled together even by small local businesses. So record labels can help artists who don’t want to start at zero, and can stretch those with ambition to do more with their talent. Digital production tools make quality and authenticity affordable in a way that for many was previously out of reach. And once the music is ready, the digital revolution provides a global market.
Real Independence is Rare and Valuable
Real independence is very much in tune with today’s sophisticated consumer, who is more and more rejecting the mass market in food, in coffee, beer, and all areas where your choices say something about your values. Quality matters a lot, but not at the expense of authenticity. For today’s consumer, the way that the corporate music companies manage risk, with focus groups and ‘outsourced’ creative teams, has negative value; this audience has taken DIY to heart and shops in advance of production on crowdfunding platforms, and in small stores.
Nor can this set of values be faked or bought in. It’s part of the natural cycle of business that founders often end up selling to the big conglomerates, but they can’t sell the love and support of the customer who joined them on the early part of their journey. And of course, in music, the artists that join do so because they share the values. Independence has the chance to become not just a slice in the music industry, but a social and cultural movement.
So for the following three reasons, I think that indie record labels will grow their role in the music industry of the future:
Reason number one: The best and most interesting artists need a supportive and sympathetic environment to develop their art and their careers; indies can provide this far better than investor driven corporates.
Reason number two: Professional indies will be helped by the digital revolution to reach a bigger and more sympathetic market than ever before, with a product that is enhanced by digital recording and sound production technology.
Reason number three: Today’s consumers are embracing the values that can only reside in independent record labels, and will join the movement if they consider it authentic and worthwhile.