When it comes to the crunch, what really counts as an ‘independent’ artist in 2019? It is, increasingly, a definition beset by nuances and paradoxes.
Must an ‘independent’ artist retain ownership of all rights to their tracks? If so, are they permitted to work with a services partner that spends major label-level money on marketing?
What if an artist’s music is owned by themselves, but distributed and promoted by a multi-national major record company? Is that still independent?
And then, what of artists and music signed to independent labels? Especially if those independent labels built their catalogs (and, therefore, their bottom lines) through traditional life-of-copyright deals – meaning that artists essentially sold them their future rights (and much of their royalties), in perpetuity?
Such potential contradictions were thick in the air at the AIM Awards at the Roundhouse in London last night (September 3), as British trade body AIM made a fine attempt of corralling anything not directly signed to, or owned by, a frontline major record company under the key adjective of its acronym (Association for Independent Music).
Independent (i.e. label-less) artists had a strong showing at the ceremony, with UK rapper AJ Tracey performing, as Mercury-nominated Dave and fast-rising Scottish singer/songwriter Gerry Cinnamon collected trophies and made speeches.
Potential inconsistencies in the ‘independent’ banner perhaps peaked when Gerry Cinammon warned his fellow artists of being “scalped” by industry do-wrongers while collecting his publicly-voted Best Live Act award, before ordering: “If you’re doing your own thing, f*ck ’em all, man.”
Independent record companies in the room watched on in quiet deference (and, perhaps, defiance).
One individual who has certainly delivered a great service to independents – both artists, labels and other sectors of the business – is Allen Kovac, who picked up the AIM Innovator Award.
Kovac is founder of one of the world’s biggest independent rock labels, Eleven Seven Music, home to the likes of Mötley Crüe, Papa Roach and Five Finger Death Punch.
Kovac’s 10th Street Entertainment also manages these acts, in addition to the likes of Nikki Six, Blondie and Nelly Furtado.
Over the years, US-based Kovac has worked with artists including Duran Duran, Meat Loaf, The Bee Gees, En Vogue, Luther Vandross and The Cranberries.
“Allen has innovated and tested the limits of marketing, social media, ticketing, streaming and sales reporting.”
And, in an industry where the potential of music-driven TV and cinema appears to be on the rise, Kovac recently co-produced the No.1 Netflix movie The Dirt, which brings Mötley Crüe’s famously debauched autobiography to life.
Branson praised Kovac for having “innovated and tested the limits of marketing, social media, ticketing, streaming and sales reporting”.
Branson and Kovac broke new ground in 1993 when Meat Loaf’s I’d do Anything For Love (signed to Virgin Records) became one of the first songs to be distributed on the internet via Progressive Networks.
Added Branson: “[Allen] has worked towards benefitting the independent community and levelling the playing field between independents and the majors, as well as encouraging the fair valuation of music by tech giants.
“Whether it was Steve Jobs with the iPod and iTunes, Daniel Ek with Spotify or Amazon with smart speakers and in-car technology with Alexa, Allen has been ahead of the curve, collaborating, consulting and promoting new tech to the industry.”
Kovac’s next major project is the theater musical of Nikki Sixx’s Heroin Diaries, which Branson said he hopes will help “destigmatize addiction and do for the opioid crisis what Rent did for HIV and AIDs.”
In his own speech, Kovac noted that independent live agents/promoters, like Frank Barsalona, and independent label owners, like Ahmet Ertegun, played crucial roles in the rise of seminal British artists in the US including The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.
“In those days, there was an independent record store, an independent radio station, independent promoter, and an independent label – and all those artists broke,” said Kovac. “There was no stigma, everyone was working together.”
He then urged all of those working in the independent sector today not to judge themselves on the same metrics as Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music, and instead to focus on their own artist development.
“We develop artists. Majors manufacture them. Don’t play their game, and thank you.”
Allen Kovac, Eleven Seven Music (pictured)
He said: “Look at us today: we drink the major labels’ Kool-Aid.
“We try to compete on charts, [but] we don’t need to do that – we need to build audiences the way Frank Barsalona did. He created the independent promoters; Ahmet created the independent labels. [Independents] were 14% market share when AIM started; now, we’re 40%.”
Added Kovac: “We develop artists. Majors manufacture them. Don’t play their game, and thank you.”
Kovac created Eleven Seven Records in 2006, a full service independent label which handles everything from radio and licensing to publicity and marketing.
Last year, Dan Waite was appointed as the new Managing Director of E7LG-Europe in London and Bjorn Meyer at COO, Europe, working out of Berlin.
You can see the full list of AIM Awards nominees and winners below.
Best Live Act (in association with Songkick)
- AJ Tracey
- Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes
- Gerry Cinnamon WINNER
Best Small Label (in association with Proper Music Group)
- Fuzz Club Records
- Killing Moon
- Local Action
- Scruff of the Neck WINNER
- Speedy Wunderground
Best Creative Packaging (in association with MCPS)
- Various Artists, hand picked and curated in collaboration with The Rolling Stones, “Confessin’ the Blues” WINNER
- Murlo, “Dolos”
- IDLES, “Joy as an Act of Resistance”
- Various Artists, Sick Music 2019 compilation
- Keith Richards, “Talk Is Cheap”
UK Independent Breakthrough (in association with YouTube Music)
- Black Midi
- Ezra Collective
- Gerry Cinnamon
- IDLES WINNER
- Jade Bird
Outstanding Contribution to Music in association with Merlin
- Debbie Harry WINNER
Best Independent Album (in association with Spotify)
- Better Oblivion Community Center, “Better Oblivion Community Center”
- Christine And The Queens, “Chris”
- Dave, “Psychodrama” WINNER
- Fontaines D.C., “Dogrel”
- Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, “End of Suffering”
- Jade Bird, “Jade Bird”
- Jordan Rakei, “Origin”
- Little Simz, “GREY Area”
- Snapped Ankles, “Stunning Luxury”
- Swindle, “No More Normal”
Best [Difficult] Second Album (in association with Key Production)
- Erland Cooper, “Sule Skerry”
- IDLES, “Joy as an Act of Resistance.” WINNER
- Julia Jacklin, “Crushing”
- Maribou State, “Kingdoms In Colour”
- SOAK, “Grim Town”
PPL Award for Most Played New Independent Artist
- AJ Tracey
- Cosmo Sheldrake
- Freya Ridings WINNER
- Guru Randhawa
- Jorja Smith
International Breakthrough (in association with Creative Industries Federation)
- Afro B
- Jade Bird WINNER
- Maribou State
- Nilüfer Yanya
Innovator Award in association with Amazon Music
- Allen Kovac WINNER
Best Independent Video (in association with Vevo)
- Christine and the Queens, “5 Dollars”
- Hot Chip, “Hungry Child” WINNER
- John Grant, “He’s Got His Mother’s Hips”
- Caleb Steph, “Black Boy”
- FKA Twigs, “Cellophane”
Best Independent Track (in association with Facebook)
- Dave, “Funky Friday (ft. Fredo)” WINNER
- FKA Twigs, “Cellophane”
- Fontaines D.C., “Boys In The Better Land”
- Georgia, “About Work The Dancefloor”
- JARV IS, “Must I Evolve”
- Jai Paul, “Do You Love Her Now”
- Holly Herndon, “Eternal”
- Little Simz, “Selfish (ft. Celo Sol)”
- Sharon Van Etten, “Seventeen”
- Four Tet, “Teenage Birdsong”
One To Watch (in association with BBC Music Introducing)
- Arlo Parks
- Barney Artist
- Georgia WINNER
Best Independent Label (in association with [PIAS])
Pioneer Award in association with Bucks Music Group
- Johnny Marr WINNER
Indie Champion in association with ClientEarth
- Charles Caldas WINNER
Music Business Worldwide