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The voice of independent labels is getting louder and louder

A new global report from the independent sector of 33 countries shows that the sector is growing faster than any other in the music industry.

Compiled from 2017 figures, the third WINTEL report from London-based Worldwide Independent Network (WIN) shows that the indie market share is 39.9%. It was 38.4% in 2016, an 11.3% year-on-year jump, while the rest of the market only expanded by 10.2%. WIN estimates its figures from ownership, not distribution (for which majors claims 22.4% of indie revenue). Direct revenue was $101 million, up from $94 million in 2016. In terms of share in their home markets, South Korea had an astounding 89.2%, followed by Japan (63.8%) and the US (39%). Australia ranked #9 a 33% share, while Canada had 25% and the UK 23%.
 
Fuelling much of the indie market’s growth was streaming revenue leaping by 46% to US$3.1 billion. Streaming now accounts for just under 44% of the sector’s overall income, aided by indie labels quickly embracing streaming because it makes cash flow easier. WIN reckons it might have hit 50% already, saying:
 
“These figures also hint at another encouraging trend for independent labels: that their investment in artists’ long-term development, and in the album format, is an advantage rather than a risk in the streaming era. While major labels expend considerable marketing resources to break individual tracks, indies are investing for the long term: and are developing sustainable businesses as a result.”
 
On average 31% of their income comes from abroad, compared to 69% from the home market. Meanwhile, some of the larger indies, including those from Australia, have revealed to Industrial Strength that over half comes from overseas. WIN drew a freeze frame of what the average independent label looks like these days. They evoke incredible loyalty from their artists. On average, 77% re-sign with them, though it’s higher in Australia at up to 89% (fifth highest) while Spain was the highest (97%). The US didn’t fair so well on loyalty at 80%, as well as New Zealand (70%) and the UK (41%). This indicates that indies are seen as fair and transparent.
 
Indies also seem to be more stable. Based on this year’s survey, 42% of staff have been there since the launch of the label. Bear in mind that the average label is 14.9 years old. They have an average of 13.6 full-time staff, 3.2 part-time staff and 97.6 artists in their catalogue. On the strong stance of independent labels, Charles Caldas, CEO of digital rights group Merlin said:  “It’s what independent labels have been great at through the history of recorded music: finding a genre, a scene or a particular strain of music, and defining it by making sure it came to market for people to discover. I really do believe we’re entering an era where that kind of long-term commitment to your artists is going to pay dividends.”