Indie Music Is On The Rise…Or Is It? A Response From The GRAMMYs, Coachella and More

Left Table: Moderators Professor Amanda Harrison (professor of music industry studies, formerly of Live Nation) and Professor Kristen Walker, Ph.D. (graduate marketing professor). Right Table: Panelists moderated by professors of the Masters in Music Industry Administration program at California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

Left Table: Moderators Professor Amanda Harrison (professor of music industry studies, formerly of Live Nation) and Professor Kristen Walker, Ph.D. (graduate marketing professor). Right Table: Panelists from The Family Business, The Recording Academy/The GRAMMYs, Goldenvoice/Coachella/Stagecoach and Bill Silva Entertainment. This event is an installment of the “Industry Insights” panel series organized by CSUN Music Industry Program in collaboration with CSUN Music Entertainment Student Association for students of the Bachelors in Music Industry Studies and Masters in Music Industry Administration degree program at California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

Last night I attended a very informative music industry panel featuring Branden Chapman (Executive in Charge of Production & Chief Business Development Officer of The Recording Academy & The GRAMMYs), Bonnie Marquez (VP of Marketing of Goldenvoice’s Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals), Bill Silva (music industry mogul and respected concert promoter of Bill Silva Entertainment), and SuzAnn Brantner (Founder of The Family Business and former Head of Digital of William Morris Endeavor). 

The panel was moderated by two of the professors of CSUN’s esteemed Music Industry Studies (undergrad) and Music Industry Administration (graduate) program. The panelists addressed marketing and branding in the modern music industry and answered questions regarding social media marketing, crowdfunding, digial media and streaming, concert/tour sponsorship and more.

I asked the entire panel the following question:

DAE: Over the last decade, independent artists and independent music has been on the upswing in terms of exposure. So much so that for the last 3 years independents have been nominated for over half of the non-producer GRAMMY Awards, indie artists have been booked for more music festivals than ever before, indie music has increased its share of radio airplay, indie artists have sold out headlining tours, and indie artists have earned significantly more music placements in film/TV and brand endorsement deals than previous years. Gatekeepers see the independent music community as real contenders in terms of exposure and market share. While this is all good, what do you believe are contributing factors that has influenced the indie music community to grow significantly in terms of exposure, but remain around 30% of overall record sales (especially when indies represent over half of The GRAMMY nominations (and in 2010, won about half of the categories))?

PANEL (COLLECTIVE SUMMARIZED RESPONSE): The major label machine is still very powerful and more resourceful than any one independent machine in terms of moving units domestically and internationally. While music streaming sites such as Pandora, Spotify, Rdio and Mog as well as YouTube has helped the indie artist generate exposure and fans like never before, it still doesn’t add up to compete with the noise that major labels can make [and pay for], so it’s not enough to move the same kind of major units. Also, music listeners are more likely to listen to an indie artist for FREE on music streaming sites (which helps the artist generate exposure) than they are to actually purchase the album or single. It’s less of a risk now to discover a new act or check out new music than in the past when a music listener had to purchase a ticket to a concert or buy music to really discover new music. Although exposure to independent music — facilitated primarily by digital means — is increasing rapidly, the incentive to buy music is not increasing at the same rate (as evidenced by the decline in record sales in general).

The panel’s response is consistent with my view and consultations with indie artists and labels. Basically, indie artists should view the collective impact of streaming, social media, and incremental synch opportunities as all contributing towards well needed exposure for music discovery and generating new fans. Once you’ve began to build traction and new followers, leverage live performances to generate revenue and promote new releases.

Don’t be fooled by one-off examples of independent success stories such as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Lumineers and Mumford & Suns. The fact is most independent unit sales are coming from major-independent labels, not individual independent artists in the pure unsigned sense of the word.

The good news is, the collective power of independent record companies is growing. Collectively, independent record companies have been out selling each of the majors in album sales. With growing power comes the ability to work together to create new deals and effect change for the benefit of indies.

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About Dae Bogan

Dae Bogan is a music rights executive, serial entrepreneur, and educator with over fifteen years of experience in the music industry. Currently, he is the Head of Third-Party Partnerships at the Mechanical Licensing Collective and Lecturer at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

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