Music streaming benefits the independents too

Despite public criticism from some mainstream artists, streaming platforms offer smaller, independent labels great opportunities to get their music out there into the public consciousness.
6 March 2018

Independent music labels are thriving in the streaming market. Source: Shutterstock

The independent label music sector is capitalizing on the streaming music delivery platforms proliferating across the world, according to Charles Caldas, CEO of Merlin, a global rights agency for the independent sector.

New digital platforms and audiovisual technologies have helped independent artists gain more exposure than they might have expected in the past, through non-traditional channels. Today, more than 12% of global music is created and streamed by independents.

The digital revolution has both wreaked havoc on the music industry – you’ll remember that the industry has been contracting for more than a decade, and the institutions across the music space have placed the blame squarely at the feet of streaming services which they claim are not providing enough compensation.

However, as various reports have indicated, streaming services have actually revived the languishing industry, bringing news of revitalized growth. The industry recorded its second year of growth this year, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) which reported a 5.9 percent margin of growth in 2016.

Those numbers are largely due to the boom in streaming across the world, and in particular, it’s been healthy for the independent markets.

According to Caldas, who was speaking at the All That Matters conference in Singapore last year, the independent sector has undergone a kind of renaissance thanks to the power of the streaming service. Platforms such as Spotify, Jukes, Apple Music and the like have brought visibility to independent artists and labels which have previously been drowned out of the masses’ attention.

“The reality is that in the streaming space independents are competing in a way that they’ve never really ever enjoyed before,” said Caldas. “Our market share of listenership on streaming services is far beyond what we saw in the physical or download market.”

The main reason for that is listeners have access to all music all of the time, which has proven a boon for independent artists and labels who are usually edged out of traditional distribution platforms such as radio, television, press, and retail. Merlin itself has seen its revenues more than triple between 2014 and 2017.

According to Caldas, independents have thrived today largely because of the breathing space that’s been provided by streaming services and the entrepreneurs who live in the world outside the big three music labels.

“Independents are growing faster in that’s because our space is driven by real entrepreneurs who are facing the future, and really making use of all the opportunities streaming services can provide,” said Caldas. One might surmise that in many ways, the streaming platform – which democratizes music access and distribution – was made to favor the independent who is used to struggling to get his music out there.

Streaming services are able to tie in their social media presences to grow their exposure. “They’re able to control how they interact in the digital space and play around with connectivity with their listeners,” said Caldas.

Now that distribution services have become easily available, independents have become far more empowered to take their music not only to more listeners in their home countries but to a global audience.

A global audience

The digitization of the music industry has been pivotal to bringing independent music to ears all over the world. The independent markets have seen some great traction in non-traditional countries, where up until now only big hitters from the three major labels have managed to penetrate through. Caldas said that there’s a lot of potential to be gained from artists and labels looking at entering emerging markets, seeing as how the growth of revenue is significantly higher than those seen in the global market.

Asian markets registered 60 percent more revenue growth in terms of recorded music profits as compared to the global market over the last year, according to Merlin data.

“The growth that we’re seeing is not just in the USA but in emerging markets,” Caldas explained. “Brazil streaming revenue will soon exceed those in France. These rates of growth that we’re seeing across Asian markets indicates that this is not going to stop,” he said. “This acceleration of growth and adoption of these platforms presents incredible opportunities for not only these markets but regionally.”

For the most part, the access to these markets has been driven by the large-scale adoption of digital streaming platforms by more and more labels and artists. Today, more than ever, small artists have the ability to drive their business beyond their home territories, helping them to expand outward to listeners that would otherwise not be accessible.

“There’s a global marketplace for everyone,” said Caldas. “More companies are earning dollars outside their home territories in the digital space, versus the physical space.”

Furthermore, the digital platform is extremely important for gleaning data about where new audiences can be reached. Caldas points out the fact that “getting the data about where your music should be played and where you should be putting your efforts and resources” is a central concern for businesses looking for reasons to be more outward facing.

“You need to build your strategy around how your music gets out on these platforms.”