Can the independent music sector unite under a set of global independent values?

Photo credit: Jacobo Medrano
WIN CEO Noemiì Planas

MBW Views is a series of exclusive op/eds from eminent music industry people… with something to say.

The following op/ed comes from Noemí Plenas, CEO of the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), which represents independent music trade associations worldwide.

The Worldwide Independent Network brings together trade associations representing thousands of independent music businesses throughout Australasia, Asia, Europe, North and South America.

In the year 2000, when I started working at a small record label in Madrid, the music industry was a different beast altogether. People bought records, labels had cash to splash, and with the proceeds of one profitable album, we could produce four, five more.

Fast forward to today, and the scene’s undergone a radical transformation. The concept of a “record label” is murkier now, but one thing remains constant: the importance of nurturing good music.

Growing up, many in my generation found our musical tastes shaped by iconic labels like Sub Pop, 4AD, Creation, Merge, Jagjaguwar, Domino, and many more.

These guys weren’t just about making money; they were about passion and personal taste, and in my own musical journey they became a beacon of trust: if you vibed with one artist on their roster, chances are you’d dig the others too.

Even today, amid this changing scene, independent labels such as Daptone, Dale Play, Partisan, and Armada continue this tradition, catering to the tastes of younger generations.

These labels don’t march to the same beat. Their uniqueness isn’t just evident in their outward-facing strategies, but also in the behind-the-scenes services they provide and the deals they offer.

Thousands of labels like these make up the memberships of trade associations around the world that WIN connects and brings together as the global support and coordination network for the independent sector.

Independent labels offer a diverse range of tailored business models. The terms of their deals are as varied as the artists themselves, contingent on a myriad of factors, with investment being chief among them.

Artists should receive a fair royalty rate and record labels are investors who also deserve a just return on their financial backing. A balanced partnership is essential for mutual success.

The digital revolution shook the industry to its core, stripping away significant value. Yet, independents adapted, embracing change and finding innovative ways to connect with audiences worldwide.

“Independent labels offer a diverse range of tailored business models. The terms of their deals are as varied as the artists themselves, contingent on a myriad of factors, with investment being chief among them.”

The Fair Digital Deals was a pioneering initiative promoted by WIN in 2014. At a time when the majors were cashing out million-dollar advances from streaming platforms and did not share them with their artists, independent labels committed to fairness and transparency in all agreements related to the digital exploitation of music works.

As technology evolves, so do our efforts to ensure that the music ecosystem remains competitive. Streaming reform to maximize revenues for artists is one of the sector’s priorities. Initiatives like the IMPALA Streaming Plan demonstrate our continuous commitment to a more transparent, ethical and sustainable marketplace.

Recently, artificial intelligence has opened up new avenues for creative expression and independents are actively engaged in shaping conversations and advocating for safety, transparency and accountability in the development of AI systems, so that they respect the rights of artists and listeners alike, while promoting innovation and new commercial opportunities.

When I started working in music, there were five major record labels. Today, there are three. In an industry marked by mergers and acquisitions, independents stand as guardians of diversity and creativity. By fostering a competitive environment, we ensure that diverse voices are heard and that opportunities are available to all. Together, through collective action and collaboration, we oppose monopolistic practices advocating for an open, dynamic, and inclusive music ecosystem.

Setting best practices and standing up to the big players is part and parcel of being independent. But you cannot do it alone. Thus, we unite, forming trade associations to amplify our voices, standing as one and giving us a fighting chance against the tech giants and big players throwing their weight around. Together, we strive to forge pathways for growth and prosperity for all independent music businesses around the world.

Twelve years ago, WIN published the 10 values that encapsulate the collective position of the global independent recorded music sector. Updated to reflect the changes in the landscape, I am heartened by the fact that these Global Independent Values not only mirror the ethos of my organization but resonate deeply with my own convictions.

Equal access and terms, deciding how your work is used and getting paid for it, working with artists as partners, speaking out against abuse, promoting best practices, transparency, fairness, diversity and sustainability… Being independent is being committed to foster a strong, ethical and united ecosystem worldwide.Music Business Worldwide

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