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Independent Record Labels on the Rise

By Devon Tucker

 

Athens, Georgia is a town known for various alternative rock bands, but many of these groups would not be known without the hustle and bustle of numerous independent record labels.

Independent record labels are on the rise in the global market and generated $6 billion in sales 2016, according to a study released from Worldwide Independent Network (WIN).

WIN, a worldwide organization for independent music communities, published its second WINTEL report on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. The report was commissioned by WIN to analyze the global impact of the independent music sector both economically and culturally.

According to the WIN website, vice president Martin Mills commented, “It speaks volumes for the tenacity, passion and entrepreneurship of independent labels, and the public’s desire for musical diversity, that even in these times of global dominance by major corporations, almost four out of every 10 dollars spent on music goes to the independent sector.”

Independent music is music produced on one’s own outside of the bigger commercial records labels such as Universal Music Group or Sony BMG and Athens does not lack an independent music scene.  Athens George Fontaine, label president of New West Records and Normaltown Records, explained that Athens is a unique music hub for independent music.

“So the thing about Athens, for whatever the reason, it has been this creative center for a long time,” said Fontaine. “But there is something about how the university and the town sort of intersect. It has always made it unique as far as I am concerned.”

As stated in the WINTEL report, the individual markets for countries were diverse in their global sales. With the U.S market share increased by 1.7 percent to reach 37 percent, countries such as Germany and the U.K decreased even with the overall growth.

Despite the difference between countries, independent record labels overall accounted for 38 percent of the global market and in almost all countries there was a significant increase in streaming of independent music. Streaming revenue was up 80 percent with a total of $2.1 billion from $1.2 billion the previous year.

Andrew Rieger, co-owner of Orange Twin Records, has seen a steady growth in their business over the last few years.

“There is definitely a market for the type of independent music we produce at Orange Twin Records and it continues to grow,” said Rieger.

The independent music sector has created a unique model for musicians in Athens and Fontaine sees the positive in it since the start of his career in 1996.

“The landscape has changed incredibly since I have been in this business,” explained Fontaine. “It was all cd driven when I started in the business and now it is vinyl and streaming. It has totally changed but there is a model that works and we know where we fit.”

Fontaine’s label, New West Records has approximately 350 records in its catalog and it continues to grow. The music is distributed internationally and songs are placed in synchronization licenses so they can be used in movies and television shows.

For Fontaine, the work all comes down to passion and the relationships they built with artists.

“We clearly love what is going on here and are very passionate about the music and we love our local artists,” Fontaine said. “But it is a hard hard business, but I love it and I want everybody to exceed.”

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