Collectively, Indie Labels are Now Bigger Than Any Major Label

Secret City Records, one of several indie labels contributing to the no. 1 ranking.
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Secret City Records, one of several indie labels contributing to the no. 1 ranking.
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Secret City Records, one of several indies contributing to the no. 1 ranking.

Indie labels are now outranking major labels in terms of total marketshare.  In fact, this is the second-straight year that’s happened.

Universal Music Group is a giant major label valued at nearly $40 billion.  But maybe indie labels are worth more than than.  According to revenue data compiled by Music & Copyright, indie labels collectively outranked Universal Music Group for the top slot in 2017.

“A repeat of 2016 saw independent record companies collectively account for the biggest share,” Music & Copyright relayed.

Specifically, indies pulled a 32.2 percent marketshare, with Universal Music Group following at 29.7 percent.  Sony Music Group finished with 21.9 percent, while Warner Music Group lagged with 16.7 percent.

The rankings are based on revenues earned, instead of units sold or total streams.

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source: Music & Copyright

One of the most interesting wrinkles here is that indies are wildly outperforming in physical.

For the year, indies grabbed an impressive 39.2 percent share, while second-place UMG posted a 25.4 percent share.  That result points to disproportionate gains among indie artists and labels from vinyl, not to mention formats like CDs and even cassettes.

Unsurprising considering the increased loyalty that indie artists often experience, with fans buying more valuable mementos.  Additionally, indie fans are more motivated to support their favorite artists, and physical formats like LPs a far greater revenue-generators than digital formats like streaming.

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That’s certainly the case on Bandcamp, where unsigned and indie artists are still selling healthy amounts of album LPs, CDs, and cassettes.  Over at Record Store Day, indies may also be outperforming, though majors are certainly moving into the RSD upswing.

One criticism of this ranking might be that majors and indies are often more intertwined than they appear.  In many cases, majors are supplying the distribution muscle, or partnering with an indie to boost a promising artist.  Even Taylor Swift has claimed to be an indie, though that classification is obviously more complicated.

On the publishing side, indie publishers also managed to outpace their big label rivals.

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In fact, indies collectively crushed their big publishing rivals.  Specifically, indie publishers grabbed a 41.2% share, with Sony/ATV Music Publishing coming in at second with a 27.3% share.  Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) scored a third-placed ranking with 19.8 percent, while Warner/Chappell Music Music finished fourth with a 12.0% share.

Sounds like a big development, but according to Music & Copyright, indies have long taken the cake in publishing.  “Independent music publishers have long dominated music publishing and continue to compete well with the majors for major artists’ attention,” the group shared.




5 Responses

  1. Jack.

    Universal Music valued at 40 million or 40 billion? I’m just not sure myself so I am asking actually…

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Billion, B. My bad (pouring more coffee).

  2. Lest it be overlooked...

    “Copyright, the court reasoned, does not impermissibly restrict free speech, for it grants the author an exclusive right only to the specific form of expression; it does not shield any idea or fact contained in the copyrighted work, and it allows for “fair use” even of the expression itself.”

    Firstly, with so many specific forms of expression such as music compositions, sound recordings and music videos, I am confused as to exactly what business the record labels are actively engaged in whether it be the three major labels or, collectively, the indie labels (the ‘fourth major label’ so-called)?

    I have yet to read an article reporting the distribution of any proceeds from the spotify windfall by either the Sony Music Group, the Warner Music Group or the indie labels (affiliated with the Merlin Network) with their artists, or otherwise.

    With reports such as this, specifically, that the indie labels have collectively generated more revenue than either of the major labels, it appears that there is no reason why the indie labels cannot afford to do so too. With so many negative reports about others not paying artists, it seems that any failure to do so by any of the record labels, major or otherwise, would just prove what has been stated on many occasions, that is to say, that the reason most artists signed to a record label do not receive a sizeable income is due to the fact that the record labels exact a significant portion of such revenue.

    To be fair, the same can be said of the songwriters signed to a music publisher, yet I have not read any articles reporting that any of the music publishers represented by the NMPA have shared any revenues worth mentioning from the Spotify settlement (assuming that it has been settled, I have not yet seen any reports in that regard either) with their songwriters (presumably, if they had done so, it would have been front page news). Maybe I just missed the reports, maybe.

    Perhaps they are all simply waiting to see whether or not the MMA passes – now ask yourselves, if that is so, why is that?

  3. Jim

    Good article there digitalmusicnews.

    Good point about indie winning at physical. I’ll use me as an example. I stopped buying cds a long time ago, still like pirate bay, and have for a long time, and prefer files, don’t get into spotify and do use youtube. I think there are a lot of people who are generally like me. We’re good music customers, but its not to majors for physical.

    A lot of shows. A lot of money spent on shows. And at the shows, yes, expensive souvenirs, yes, vinyl or cassette. I would buy even more obscure formats. The music is free already, pirate bay and all, and if not, just on youtube, it’s not hard to access music for free. We know this, we know that money that would go to the artists for recorded music isn’t getting there from us through the normal methods, but that money that would go for cds is going for shows.

    It’s easier than ever (and has been for 10 years, since youtube basically) to access every music for free. And that means that a lot of people are able to hear things for free that they wouldn’t have heard at all, some of those things they’ll like, and want to see the act live, and if they live near a city, they might be able to pretty easily. And when they’re there, they might buy a 7 inch single somewhere in the $5-$10 range. Or a $5 cassette. And hopefully the album price is something like $15 and not substantially more. It’s not bad to have a stack of vinyl or cassettes that largely represents shows you went to.

    Point occurs to me. If CDs aren’t selling, why sell CDs? CDs are extremely easy to turn into mp3s or whatever file format you want. It’s not easy to do that with vinyl or cassettes. If there were no CDs, and a band didn’t want to release in digital formats, there really wouldn’t be mp3s around everywhere. Someone will make a vinyl rip, maybe, but that might not be instantaneous with the release of the vinyl. You just have moore control if you just use vinyl or cassette, at least initially, with a new release.

    If the CD is no longer the distribution medium, the 74 minutes of a CD might stop being a thing. Was anyone really unhappy with 2 sides ranging in length from 15-23 minutes? I wasn’t. One really long album with even more songs really wasn’t a slam dunk improvement. Maybe, collectively, we could think about moving back to a vinylcentric view, I like the 7″ singles that are out there. A lot of bands should look at “release of a 7″ ” as an event to be treated like a cd release party, but it should be much more frequent. I don’t think that people are really going to be buying lots of physical now, but a 7″ vinyl for $5 at a show is a solid impulse buy. More bands can get a 7″ inch done than a cd, it’s just less music to write and record. People don’t need to be able to listen to vinyl or cassette to buy them, because they can access the music anyway on the internet easy. Here’s $5, and I have a vinyl, that’s fine. Beers often cost more than $5.

    I would think that when you’re talking physical, sales at shows would be an increasing share of total.