The Indie Music you Love Just Got A Little Less Indie
With the death of live performance and the loss of subsequent ticket revenues, the music industry was hit the hardest if any industry during the pandemic.
But in the midst of all the darkness, one beacon of light emerged: the indie industry. From bedroom pop legends to new school starlets, indie music continued to blossom, and artists found new ways to connect to an ever stronger fanbase.
This fact has certainly not eluded the industry’s biggest players, and the biggest of the big is Sony Music. The musical goliath wasted no time pouncing on the success of some of indie’s biggest names. Sony capitalized in the best way they know how: corporate consolidation, specifically they spent 430 million dollars to acquire the services of AWAL from Kobalt music group.
To most, that sounds like a bunch of letters and numbers with no meaning. so let me break it down for you:
Kobalt Music Group is an independent rights management and publishing company. They primarily deal with the management of indie artists, and the distribution of their music. More specifically, Kobalt music group owns the indie recording and distribution company AWAL. AWAL’s roster includes many of indie music’s biggest names, including Lauv, Finneas, Girl in Red, Gus Dapperton, and Blake Rose.
All of AWAL’s services, including distribution, A&R, analytics, and statistics are now owned by Sony Music, which means that these indie artists are no longer as indie as you might think.
There are obvious benefits to this acquisition, as Sony provides the resources of a global music juggernaut to artists that may have not previously had them. AWAL also operates under the philosophy of full creative control, as they do not own copyrights, they simply provide auxiliary services to artists. Hopefully, this will remain under Sony.
This acquisition is also indicative of one of the biggest trends in music: solo distribution deals. While a traditional record deal always involves some sort of copyright forfeiture in exchange for recording and marketing services, Artists are quickly realizing that is way more profitable to maintain their copyright ownership while allowing a third party to solely manage distribution. The artist themselves manages recording and marketing.
This model has been adopted primarily by the Latin industry, most notably by Bad Bunny. These deals have led to vastly increased profits for artists worldwide, as they don’t have to forfeit any profits from sales of their music. Bedroom pop artists are also adopting this model, producing their own music at home, and marketing through social media and direct fan outreach. They pay only a small fee to physical and digital distribution companies like Distrokid and Tunecore, which place the artist’s music on streaming platforms and produce physical products. such as CDs and Vinyl.
Sony is no stranger to this phenomenon, which explains their desire to acquire a company that solely deals with distribution, as well as some other minor services. This way they can get on the ground floor early (and of course dominate profits).
However, this deal is not all sunshine and rainbows, there are quite a few things to worry about, the biggest of which is the nature of indie music itself. Indie music, by nature, is outside of the mainstream, it is human, self-produced, and anti-establishment. Now one of, if not the biggest music company in the world, is in control of some of indie’s biggest names, which is certainly a cause for concern.
The best-case scenario is that all the indie names you know and love maintain creative control over their music and Sony simply manages distribution, preserving what it means to be indie.
Corporate consolidation is never without consequence, so it’s important that we continue to support the artists we love and keep an eye on the big boys.
Arie Likhtman is a double major in music industry studies and Critical Communication and Media Studies with a minor in philosophy at Butler University. Originally from St.Louis Missouri, he has played music since the age of 4, studying everything from classical piano to ballroom dance to saxophone. He is deeply passionate about all aspects of music from the hot 100 charts to underground indie rock. He hopes to use his voice as a writer to bring new artists to the forefront of the conversation, and to offer new perspectives on music, culture, and society as a whole