Streaming services are reviving the fortunes of the global music business, which grew a healthy 9.7% in 2018 (IFPI figures).
This new age of tech-driven entertainment places music creators at the heart of the industry – as compared with the past when the business more or less required artists to focus purely on their legal contracts. Hence the emergence of the Artist and Label Services sector, there to serve creators whose work has become more complex – and potentially more lucrative – as digital takes hold.
“By creating the first-ever Artist & Label Services Forum, we aim to further serve the global music community and provide concrete music solutions for new artists, entrepreneurs and the industry´s needs,” Midem director Alexandre Deniot said.
These solutions have been nurtured by the emergence of digital direct-to-consumer and direct-to-artist platforms – for example Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube and other pioneering online music services. They triggered lawsuits, which effectively also educated artists about having a greater say in their careers.
Seeking out Artist and Label Services
Enter the DIY age when a new generation of established and emerging music acts have the option to use tech to do things their way. Instead of signing to separate companies for recording, publishing, touring and even marketing, they have started actively to look for business partners who provide a level of service that can centralise their requirements – including marketing services – and prioritise their needs. They have also gained opportunities to own or control their copyrights.
As UK-based Charles Kirby-Welch, CEO and founder of Kartel Music Group – Independent Global Music Services, said: “The good news here is that the music business is becoming increasingly artist-centric. It is based on a relationship not an exchange of rights.”
After US artist Chance the Rapper released his mixtape-album Coloring Book in 2016 exclusively on streaming platform Apple Music, the relationship between traditional label artists and the labels themselves was never the same again.
Without a record contract, Coloring Book became the first album to top the Billboard 200 based only on the number of streams and the first stream-only album to win a Grammy Award.
Elsewhere a number of music companies – including London-headquartered artist-services operation Kobalt, with its Built for Creators tagline – have emerged to be the trusted business partners that monitor and keep track of the billions of times artists’ recordings might be streamed plus the royalties due.
Managing the risk
But there is only so much you can do on your own as a DIY artist. “Cutting through the noise and implementing a great marketing strategy remains a complicated and risky process,” Kartel Music’s Kirby-Welch offers.
Drew Hill, managing director of UK-based music-distribution conglomerate Proper Music Group, explained how the firm’s strategy is evolving. “Our philosophy has always been to listen to what the artist wants from us as a partner, working to support their needs and not forcing them into one type of deal which that might not be the best for them,” Hill said.
“I see Artist Services as covering pretty much everything that an artist signing to a label – in the more traditional sense – would get, but normally after the record has been recorded. So, maybe no A&R – and increasingly, ownership of the master remaining with the artist.”
Today’s technologies offer artists the choice to have a hands-on role in the business. They can upload tracks on to YouTube, create playlists for Spotify, Apple Music and the endless number of streaming platforms entering the business, and use a host of social media and messaging services to promote their work globally.
The majors get in on the act
Even the major labels have jumped on board the Artist-Services train.
Warner Music Group’s ADA Worldwide is a major artist-services operation. ADA offers WMG’s global resources to both in-house and third-party acts and labels. In June, ADA agreed to handle the future releases plus other label services including, sync and radio promotion for Producer Entertainment Group, the world’s biggest label for drag artists.
Sony Music Entertainment has grown its Artist-Services business following its acquisition of online distribution company The Orchard. In March, leading K-pop management firm JYP Entertainment appointed The Orchard to handle digital and physical releases outside South Korea.
Breaking the label mould
US-based international online distribution operation CD Baby positions the Artist and Label Services it provides (via its Creator Services and Label Services units) as the antithesis of the business model of the traditional record label.
And that approach has worked for its roster, which includes Dominican singer El Alfa, award-winning Canadian independent pop band Walk Off The Earth, Grammy and BRIT awards-nominated singing star Aloe Blacc and Danish singer-songwriter Oh Land.
“Our Creator Services can provide any of the following: editorial and playlist pitching, sync-licensing pitching, pursuing digital-service-provider (DSP) opportunities, physical-release co-ordination, hiring marketing agencies, digital ad buying and design resources,” CD Baby’s vice-president of Creator Services, Jon Bahr said.
CD Baby also believes that it is in the creators’ best interests for Artist Services to help digital platforms grow. “We deliver so much content to all the DSPs that we’re in constant communication with them,” vice-president of marketing, Kevin Breuner, said.
Benefits for emerging artists
“Our international footprint is also a huge advantage since much of the opportunity is in emerging markets, where the streaming services are trying to make inroads with local fan bases in places where we have staff – like Brazil, India, Argentina and Colombia. They want to feature emerging artists from those regions and we’ve been able to make great connections that have really benefited the artist communities.”
The ultimate goal is to create a music business environment that encourages artists, big and small, to thrive, according to Kirby-Welch of Kartel Music, whose company recently opened an office in Los Angeles.
An example of independent artists whose international careers have grown under the Kartel Music roof are New Zealand group Fat Freddy’s Drop.
“Fat Freddy’s Drop are DIY trailblazers and uncompromising creative entrepreneurs. They have independently developed a global fan base, playing arenas and even their own outdoor festivals across multiple continents – and selling hundreds of thousands of records despite very limited mainstream media support.”
Tailoring the business to each artist’s ambitions is paramount, Kirby-Welch added. “Being small, nimble and focused on a small roster of artists enables us to add a human touch and a real voice to each and every client we work with.”