It's never been a better time to be independent. Not only in the music industry but in every way. With an ipad and a smartphone and a good idea you can run a business from anywhere. People are being laid off work because belts are being tightened. But far from worrying and burying our heads in the sand, us Brits are taking the bull by the horns and leading the way!
Look at the amazing Adele. A normal girl from south London with a potty mouth, yet a voice that makes you cry, she's just notched up her 3millionth album sale in the US and is currently number 1 in the US iTunes charts following yet another spell binding performance at this weekend's MTV Video Music Awards. We should be proud of her success and realise that actually as a nation we're bloody brilliant at producing world-class music superstars. The ironic thing of course is that for all the desire and incredible demand for shows like the X Factor and Britain's Got Talent those big shows rarely produce the big stars. Okay, Leona Lewis did well for a while, but she's struggling to maintain the prestige she once had and who else has really gone on to international success? Will Young has proved to be a versatile and likeable talent, but only in the UK...so there's not so many.
What stands out about Adele's success to me as a manager working in the UK music industry is that her success has come about because she went the independent route. Her label XL Recordings, backed her and believed in her and allowed her to become the artist we see standing before us now. Whilst major record labels such as Universal, Sony and Warner's continue to blindly waste money on those hotly tipped bands that the media excitedly mention in those Ones to Watch lists every January,(that then come to nothing), its the brave old indie's like XL, Domino, Fierce Panda, Moshi Moshi etc who are the real industry leaders.
The recent riots in London dealt a blow to many of these independent labels when the Sony distribution centre they all depend on was burnt to the ground. Fortunately my acts that use the PIAS network weren't affected by the fire, but many indie labels such as Sunday Best and Domino were affected and lost all their stock. Fortunately the independent sector has rallied round and clubbed together to raise money to replace the stock they lost.
What I think this shows more than anything is that the major labels still haven't learnt from the past ten years of diminishing returns that have seen their biggest acts leaving to self release and sales slump year on year. They continue to sign acts for a million pounds and waste the same again on marketing it to an audience that doesn't want it. Whereas Indie labels listen to and are in touch with their fanbase and are constantly communicating with them and have their support. Unfortunately (and I say this as someone who does still believe in the major record labels) whilst they still remain excellent at selling to the masses once the hard work is done, exemplified perhaps best recently by Mumford & Son, they're becoming more and more impotent in their ability to find and nurture new talent - artists like Adele. As more and more acts find major success independently, its not going to be long until the major labels stop signing acts directly altogether and only offer licence deals for acts that are already selling records and having hits, before they get involved. This I would have thought would be a terrifying state of affairs for any major label to be in...
In the meantime we should all look to the indies for the next big thing, that's where we'll find the stars of tomorrow.
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