Will 2021 Herald a Golden Age of Artist Partnerships for Independent Labels?

The following MBW op/ed comes from Pru Harris (pictured), General Manager of Marathon Music Group.

While the current COVID-19 pandemic transforms aspects of the “norm” worldwide the recorded music business, which continues to be sustained by streaming income, has remained relatively insulated from any commercial downturn so far.

It is widely accepted that creativity thrives in any period of confusion, fear and uncertainty. Among all this upheaval though, it can be argued the future looks bright for our industry and its artistic communities.

To ensure that this situation stays positive, and that great music can continue to be produced, we music professionals owe the artists we represent our dedicated, unconditional focus. This focus must be embedded within the entire infrastructure and team involved in an artist’s career, and that team must live and breathe the ambition and scope of the artist’s vision, adding value wherever they can.

Independent music companies that have built teams of top-tier professionals, and have access to the capital to fund partnerships with artists with the aim of reaching global audiences, are poised to be the future of this business. A combination of expertise, and the aforementioned focus, aligned with a willingness to take measured risks is a potent offering compared to other alternatives in the marketplace.

A partnership approach with artists, though not a new concept, is becoming a default option for many successful independent companies and there is a lot more clarity on what is required to make this model work.

Those companies that thrive in this spirit of partnership will earn the trust of artists at all stages of their career, both now and perhaps even more as they become established, and will provide the following:

  • The appropriate human and financial resources needed for an individual artist to properly realise the scale and scope of their vision and ambition. A presence in key international territories – boots on the ground if you like – remains a fundamental component to amplifying the capabilities of any team working with artists.
  • Undiluted attention and a sense of priority to make an artist feel that they are at the centre of any decision making. Too often artists become disillusioned with the service they are getting from their industry partner through a perceived lack of focus on their needs.
  • A&R specialists with expertise across diverse music cultures. A&R professionals can have a crucial role to play as an artist’s main point of contact within their record label. Having an A&R team with knowledge and expertise across a wide spectrum of music is a huge asset for any music company. Major labels are usually involved in a wide range of music genres, through the very nature of their accumulated label groups, but any meaningful cross-pollination is sometimes hindered by the sheer scope and inevitable internal politics of those organizations. An independent company which successfully covers a broad range of music through open minded A&R specialists have a distinct competitive advantage in the current marketplace.
  • Flexibility and nimbleness, along with an ability to react and adapt to cultural shifts or unpredictable world events impacting industry dynamics. The music business is known for constantly re-inventing itself and therefore, successful music companies must strive to diversify and seek new revenue streams and opportunities as they appear. Moreover, an agile music business translates into an ability to offer flexible terms in line with an artist’s own career trajectory.
  • A curiosity and appetite for innovation and technological advancements impacting the value chain of music creation and commercialisation. Music is inherently linked to technology and logically ; the ‘marketeers’ of music must be aware of the latest best practices in order to deliver optimal results to the artists with whom they partner.
  • A high-risk tolerance. By nature, the music industry is unpredictable and often records that break big globally are a result of the ‘magic’ factor that is unique to music and comes from a direction that previously held no industry expectations. Being heavily risk averse hinders creativity and can be fatal to culturally important projects, most of the big indies started out within the margins of cultural revolutions, showing once again their dedication to risk taking.

An open minded and sometimes maverick approach to creativity flows naturally within the independent music landscape, and together with the above factors they can bring unique value to artists at all stages of their career.

Independent labels have an important part to play in the current landscape where they continue to discover new artists, new audiences and are creating a unique ecosystem, providing an alternative to every type of artist including those coming out of deals with major labels.

There is an increasing focus by some of the bigger music companies to simply develop, or in some cases acquire, existing catalogue, but independents who are well-resourced, well-funded and have the expertise aligned with authentic global reach, are now well positioned to not only champion potentially culturally significant artists at the start of their careers but also to provide time, attention and resource to those established artists who may be looking for more value from their industry partners.Music Business Worldwide