Hip$ters: Merlin Is Hitting $500 Million In Annual Indie Label Payouts


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Major labels are still almighty — but indie labels are bringing in some serious business.  Like, $500 million+ in annual business.

Major labels still dominate streaming platforms and boast the biggest artists.  But indie labels are gaining incredible traction — and taking huge advantage of digital platforms.  According to Merlin, an organization that represents indie labels in negotiations with digital music providers like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple, indie labels are just shy of earning $500 million in annual collections.

The half-a-billion figure was recently reported by Billboard.  And that’s part of a fast-growing pie.  According to longtime Merlin chief Charles Caldas, the consortium has paid out $1 billion to member companies in the first nine years of operation.

Nine years ago, the industry — and indie labels — were struggling through a pretty difficult patch.  Of course, 2018 has been entirely different.  Just recently, that pie got a whole lot bigger with Spotify’s ‘non-IPO’.  Shortly after the company went public, Merlin cashed its shares and distributed the winnings to members.

The consortium held an estimated 1% piece of the pie.

Merlin’s large collection of indie labels sits at a comfortable 800 members, with 20,000 labels and imprints throughout 55 countries.  “Ten years ago, when we sat down and we were considering what Merlin would look like one day, I would have been happy if we could get to $10 million one day,” Merlin CEO Charles Caldas told Billboard.

Merlin Just Licensed 90% of China’s Legitimate Digital Music Market

Caldas credited far-flung countries like Brazil for helping to boost earnings.  Just recently, Merlin inked a series of broad-reaching deals with Chinese streaming platforms.  That included Xiami (Alibaba), NetEase Cloud Music, and Tencent’s QQ Music, Kugou and Kuwo, which comprise roughly 90% of the Chinese digital music market.

Effectively, the formation of Merlin has almost created a ‘fourth label,’ with negotiating power that can’t be ignored.  Indeed, the cooperative coordination has led to some serious negotiation wins, with streaming platforms simply unable to undercut indie labels.