Field work: Festivals facing up to 'difficult market' as artists explore live options

As the AIF warns on festival cancellations, live execs discuss the congested summer for music events, soaring costs and why more acts are playing their own outdoor shows BY ANDRE PAINE Agents and promoters have spoken about the UK’s summer ...

State Of Independence: A special report on the thriving indie publishing sector

With brand new entrants to the market rubbing shoulders with well-established mainstays, the independent publishing sector is thriving in 2024. In our latest special report on the market, Music Week gathers a selection of the key players to discuss rights, technological change and the shape of things to come… BY BEN HOMEWOOD  When it comes to evaluating the health of the indie publishing sector, the Independent Music Publishers International Forum (IMPF) report is the perfect place to start. Published in April, the fourth edition of the trade body’s annual survey carried the headline figure that the sector’s value grew by 16.8% in value year-on-year to €2.43 billion in 2022, the most recent year for which full data is available.  The report also found that, despite a slight drop in market share from 27.1% to 26.7%, the sector as a whole is larger than the biggest major music publishing company, Sony Music Publishing. What’s more, revenues in indie publishing doubled in the five years up to 2022, from €1.25 billion to €2.43 billion, while estimates for 2023 suggest that the growth rate of the sector is going to be a minimum of 8-12%. Little wonder, then, that those working within it are laden down with stories of recent success. “We’ve seen a lot of growth and many noteworthy successes,” says Marcus Wise, CEO of Wise Music Group, which works with writers such as Ludovico Einaudi, Ólafur Arnalds, Hania Rani, Anoushka Shankar and more. “Last spring, we became the majority shareholder of Edition Peters Group, growing our classical business, while our recent signings across various genres have included Portico Quartet, Högni Egilsson, Dickson Mbi, Ron Trent and Jacob Mühlrad. We also renewed our growing relationship with Ólafur Arnalds and now represent the publishing catalogue of Random Noize Musick.” A renowned specialist in classical music, Wise Music Group owns or controls nearly half a million copyrights and has recently added Iceland and Hong Kong to its global network of offices. “Iceland remains interesting as a hub for creativity,” Wise notes. “We have also reorganised our approach to business in Asia, having recruited experts in the region, and are restructuring our sub-publishing there, including direct membership of several performing rights organisations.” Wise says that the sprawling remit of the business helps set it apart in a crowded publishing landscape. “Our licensing and sync teams are strong and consistently outperform the market,” he affirms. “We also develop international productions such as Black Sabbath The Ballet and won an Olivier Award for Innocence, Kaija Saariaho’s final opera, which was performed at the Royal Opera House.” Another company with a similarly broad reach is the recently formed Bella Figura Music, headed up by former BMG UK president Alexi Cory-Smith. Although Cory-Smith and her business partner Neelesh Prabhu only launched the company in 2022, it already boasts bountiful relationships with the likes of Guy Chambers and David Gray, while it recently acquired the RAK Publishing catalogue, which spans hits by the likes of Hot Chocolate and Kim Wilde. “We have been busy doing what we focus on: auditing the metadata, getting best-in-class partners around the world in place to collaborate with us, and exploring creative opportunities, not just for the well-known songs but also digging out the lesser-known gems,” says Cory-Smith, who also points to growing staff levels (former Secretly Group executive Hannah Overton recently arrived as head of operations) and a move to a larger central London office. Cory-Smith has been impressed by the welcome the new company has received, noting support from IMPF and IMPEL. She is also keen to point out what it takes to work with catalogue most effectively. “Some of the legacy that arrives with catalogues is bad administration,” says Cory-Smith. “By reviewing and enriching the metadata we can course correct to ensure revenues flow accurately and efficiently. It’s hard, detailed work, requiring patience, diligence and expertise to get it right.” Bella Figura Music joins a market where the current crop of established international players also includes Downtown Music Publishing, where president Emily Stephenson names her proudest recent achievement as integrating Songtrust and Downtown Music Publishing under joint leadership.  “The team’s openness to collaboration and efficiency, paired with exciting new and legacy clients who continue to find success, was a winning recipe for a successful integration between the two companies,” she says. Stephenson believes that the publishing arm of Downtown Music operates in its own unique way.  “In any publishing administration deal, the bones of what we do are copyright, royalties and licensing,” she says.“We have honed in on [building] the industry’s most efficient and effective rights management system. What allows us to continue to level up are our creative and technology teams. Our sync and A&R teams do not limit themselves to genres or territories, rather, they prioritise finding the right music for the right moments.”  She adds that the size of the operation allows the roster to benefit from a bespoke service at a major scale. “Downtown is a place where rights-holders can find the expertise a more commercialised company has, but also the flexibility to manage your rights in the way you feel most comfortable with,” she explains. “No one is doing exactly what Downtown is doing. We are fully committed to a services offering and we are able to connect clients with a suite of other services, including artist and label services, distribution, neighbouring rights, YouTube monetisation and more.” Ralph W Peer, recently named managing director of Peermusic UK, contends that indie publishing is a “very exciting sector to be in”. Peermusic counts the signing of Nothing But Thieves in the UK among its recent highlights, with further domestic success coming in the shape of its JV with Max Music Publishing (home to chart-bothering bands The Reytons and The K’s) and the continued rise of Gabrielle Aplin. Internationally, Peermusic writer Dave Hamelin appeared on Beyoncé’s smash Cowboy Carter, while its Latin department has inked a deal with Puerto Rican talent Alejo. “In my opinion, songs can travel much further than masters and therefore there is a more universal attraction to work in the area,” Peer points out. “Lots of publishers may have skill sets in these certain areas, but as a company with a nearly 100-year history, we have been able to build specialist teams that play to each of the industry’s many areas.” Amidst the celebration of the sector’s health and his own company’s recent wins – a credit on Doja Cat’s Super Bowl sync and a 230% increase in income from Asia to name just two – Phrased Differently’s head of A&R Dan Edu sounds a note of caution.  “The competition to stay in business has become even more difficult as earnings on the publishing side are slow when compared to other areas of the business,” Edu says. “Despite the abundance of released songs globally, the challenge lies in identifying truly viable artists worthy of our songs.” Business is booming at last year’s Music Week Award-winning independent publisher, which works with a 40-strong roster starring Maegan Cottone, Ivorian Doll and Norma Jean Martine. But rather than focusing on trying to stay ahead of the competition, Edu says Phrased Differently takes a collaborative approach, recognising that success often hinges on partnerships. “Gone are the days when songs were exclusively owned by one entity; instead, collaboration needs to become the norm,” Edu says. “By working hand in hand with other independent publishers, we leverage collective strengths and resources to elevate artists and their works. A win for one publisher can translate into a win for us and vice versa.” Mark Hayton at Dirty Hit Songs – which is celebrating its first Ivor Novello Awards nomination for long-term client The Japanese House this year – highlights the independent publishing sector’s innate knack for finding new talent early on. “Publishing can provide support that makes a real difference for artists and writers early in their careers,” he states. “The independent publishing sector has lots of brilliant people who thrive in this environment of signing and developing talent from an early stage, therefore I believe it will always be a competitive space. However, we are lucky that there are lots of brilliant songwriters, and an active and competitive space is only a positive thing for all of those involved.” Amore overarching view of the independent publishing marketplace can be found at Y Royalties, which began life as a department of accountancy firm CC Young before taking flight in its own right last year.  Y Royalties keeps a beady eye on many parts of the business, but director Ben Marlow tells Music Week that indie publishing is offering more food for thought than most right now. “The increased data capabilities of performing rights organisations and local sub-publishers means that publishing administration is more accessible to independents, making indie publishing more viable without needing to find a major deal,” offers Marlow. “With the market opening up there are now more independent publishers; for those with no existing infrastructure, the right support from us means creatives and managers can work on the music, whilst remaining independent and holding onto their rights.” Marlow spells out what he believes any artist or writer should be looking for from an independent publishing deal in 2024. “When we speak about independent publishers, we also include artists and writers who want to self-administer; those who are in a position in their careers where advances and A&R are not required or can be self-managed,” he says. “Proper consideration needs to be given to royalty tracking and royalty audit provisions. While self-administration is very accessible, creatives and managers need support when dealing with PROs and securing mechanical royalties. Do they have the enthusiasm and capabilities to investigate these matters, can they successfully match songs with masters?” In terms of the pitfalls creatives and their teams should look out for, Downtown Music Publishing’s Emily Stephenson warns against “large advances that lead to long terms”. “Part of being independent is getting to control your rights,” she says. “If you tie yourself up in a longer-term deal, that becomes increasingly difficult to do at will.” Nigel Elderton, president, Europe at Peermusic, posits that “it’s not having the ‘hit’ that’s the hard part; it’s collecting the money”.  “That’s where global administrative expertise kicks in,” he says. “As an international company, we have our own people on the ground who can help ensure that local registrations and royalty distributions are being paid correctly to our clients.” For Bella Figura Music’s Cory-Smith, the devil is in the detail. “You must be across the detail; there are big wins to be gained if you ensure your rights are correctly registered and all your rights are registered,” she says. “If your metadata is not complete and your songs are not properly registered, you will not optimise your revenues. It starts there. Global analytics platforms are easy to access – monitor where your success is coming from and make sure you are being paid what you are owed.” Phrased Differently’s Dan Edu likens independent publishers to Ferrari garages because “they emphasise quality and craftsmanship over mass production”. “Signing with an independent publisher isn’t the end goal, but rather the beginning of an ongoing journey,” he says. “Many artists fall into the trap of thinking that everything is sorted once they sign, but in reality, that’s when the real work begins.” Jamie Oborne, founder of Dirty Hit, makes the point that, for indie publishers, the work never really stops. “This industry is in a constant state of evolution and we will continue to fight for the rights-holders we represent,” he says. “I don’t think it’s lost on anyone at Dirty Hit that without amazing artists, creatives and writers, we don’t have an industry, hence why our focus is always to improve their situations.”  Cherish Kaya, head of A&R at Dirty Hit Songs, happily points out that the talent pipeline is in rude health. “As an A&R in the age of the internet, we are spoiled for choice,” says the exec, who is currently working with a roster featuring No Rome, HYNLU and Beabadoobee collaborator Jacob Bugden. “We are lucky to have access to artists and writers from every corner of the Earth. Saying that, it means that, now even more than ever, the talent can’t just be good, it has to be ridiculously good. A lot of the time, songwriting is at the core of that.” There’s a long-held argument in the independent sector that the more intimate nature of the business done within it helps to better nurture and support creative talent, a point that Wise Music Group COO Dave Holley echoes today. “As a family-owned independent, we are not constrained by things like having to report to the stock market, investment funds or big corporate shareholders,” he says. “We are in the great position of being able to make decisions quickly, whilst also having the freedom to look at our business over the long term and to develop close relationships with writers over that time. The short-term attractions of a major’s chequebook are obvious.We believe writers benefit from long-term support from their publisher and what you get from us is genuine, personal attention.” Even so, the support of an independent publisher cannot completely insulate creative talent from external forces, be that the continued rise of AI, the remuneration debate or the fallout from this year’s row between Universal Music Group and TikTok. On the subject of AI, Y Royalties’ Ben Marlow articulates his feelings carefully. “We’re very concerned about the impact it will have on creatives, songwriters and recording artists,” he says. “As an industry we need to decide on which side of the fence we sit: the simple pursuit of profit regardless of the consequences to the creators, or the celebration of artistic works by creative people? The choice is there: allow it to continue, or the withdrawal of rights by the majors from those platforms allowing this artificial propagation.” Ralph W Peer counters with a reminder that, even if technology is used increasingly to make music, “it’s still human ears that listen”. But that’s far from his biggest concern for the sector. Indeed, Peer highlights the “continued undervaluation and misunderstanding of where we as publishers sit” in the industry.  “In many instances we are the first ones to take a chance and without us there are a lot of songwriters whose work would never make it to people’s ears,” he reasons. Marcus Wise, too, calls for greater recognition. “Our major international strength has traditionally been our core classical catalogues,” says the Wise Music Group CEO. “However, we have a diverse and varied catalogue and in every genre, we actively work to strengthen and grow writers’ careers over the course of long-term relationships.” At Bella Figura, where bonds with the roster are also flourishing, Hannah Overton calls for reevaluation of the streaming model. “Songwriters need infrastructure and financial support around them to become creators, and it’s important we recognise the length of time it takes for a songwriter to get paid when they lack the diverse revenue streams that artists have,” she opines. “We should question whether policy change [would] create a more even industry than commercial negotiations clouded by NDAs [do]. How can we find a balance to allow new companies to be created and new sounds and talent to be fostered without creating a class system where streaming royalties are concerned?” As for the debate surrounding TikTok, which independent body IMPALA recently entered into on behalf of its members, Overton is hopeful of a solution to suit all parties. “It is important that TikTok recognises how bereft of energy and content the platform would be without the music,” she states. “As disappointing as it might be for artists and writers whose music is not currently available on there, it would be much worse to set a precedent where they are not appropriately paid.” At Downtown Music Publishing, CCO Jedd Katrancha underlines the industry’s responsibility to work together “to make sure artists and writers are treated fairly”. “I have plenty of anecdotal stories from clients who have felt that the momentum they had via social media was halted because of decisions their label or publisher made,” he says. “It’s not as if there is no precedent in this industry for dangling benefits to creators only for them to find out they’re in a bad deal.” But even though no one in this sector can know precisely what the future holds, positivity is the resounding sentiment emanating from Music Week’s latest investigation. “The indie sector has always been a vital part – if not the very heart – of music publishing in the UK, no matter what technological and other challenges have come along the way,” concludes Wise Music Group’s Holley. “We are facing new challenges and uncertainties, but I am confident that the indie sector will continue to play its vital part in finding and developing new writers and supporting the careers of more established writers well into the future.” 

Charts analysis: Sabrina Carpenter holds off challenge at singles peak

Trailing on sales flashes all week, Sabrina Carpenter’s Espresso got a timely but ultimately unneeded shot from the release of the CD edition on Thursday, cementing its third straight week at No.1 on consumption of 75,649 units (618 CDs, 1,001 digital downloads, 74,030 sales-equivalent streams).  The track which threatened to derail it would have restored one of the duo whom Carpenter dethroned to the summit. I’m talking about singer and rapper Post Malone, who was top with Taylor Swift and Fortnight, and was looking for a quickfire return to the apex courtesy of his new Morgan Wallen collaboration, I Need Some Help. Valiant in failure, it opens instead at No.2 on consumption of 73,605 units (2,047 digital downloads, 71,558 sales-equivalent streams). Only the second hit for Wallen, who reached No.28 last year with Last Night, it is a full-on country song, and delivers Malone his 35th hit in total, and 10th Top 10 entry. America’s top two singles continue their UK chart climbs: Not Like Us, which opened atop the Billboard Hot 100 last week, jumps 10-6 (47,403 sales) for Kendrick Lamar, while Tommy Richman’s viral debut, Million Dollar Baby – No.2 stateside – climbs 7-3 (65,208 sales).      While one country song debuts at No.2, two others drift to lower positions in the Top 10 despite increasing consumption: A Bar Song (Tipsy) retreats 3-4 for Shaboozey despite a muscular 23.01% rise week-on-week to 61,494, while Austin is down one slot week-on-week and three on its peak to No.10 even though its consumption increases for the 12th week in a row, adding 7.01% to 39,538 units. The Shaboozey hit tops the download singles chart (2,554 sales). The rest of the Top 10: Too Sweet (2-5, 58,587 sales) by Hozier, Beautiful Things (4-7, 46,430 sales) by Benson Boone, Fortnight (5-8, 43,174 sales) by Taylor Swift feat. Post Malone and I Like The Way You Kiss Me (6-9, 39,739 sales) by Artemas. Outside of the first week after Christmas, when streaming elevates sales to giddy heights, Hozier’s tally is the highest for a No.5 singles since Shawn Mendes’ Stitches achieved 60,434 units in February 2016.  ACR brings down the curtain on Lose Control’s 18-week run in the Top 10 for Teddy Swims. It slides 8-17 (21,322 sales) while his second hit, The Door rises 68-58 (9,819 sales).   Two weeks after his November 2023 track Solo finally made its chart debut at No.69, 25-year-old singer/songwriter Myles Smith, from Luton, has a much bigger hit, with Stargazing debuting at No.12 (31,769 sales). Solo (73-71, 8,932 sales) remains in the Top 75. A year ago this week, there were eight songs from the Eurovision Song Contest in the Top 75, including four in the Top 10. The 2024 intake is neither so large nor so dramatic but there are debuts for the Swiss entry and winner of the 68th Grand Prix, The Code (No.18, 21,257 sales) by Nemo; Croatian entry and competition runner-up Rim Tim Tagi Dim (No.36, 13,228 sales) by Baby Lasagne; disqualified Dutch entry, Europapa (No.37, 13,219 sales) by Joost; and Irish entry Doomsday Blue (No.67, 9,040 sales) by Bambie Thug. It is the first hit for all.  UK entrant Olly Alexander’s Dizzy – which finished 18th out of 25 entrants in the final – picked up 46 points from the national juries but none of the 2,204 available from the public vote. To do so means that it failed to rank among the Top 10 songs as voted for in 36 other countries, and ‘the rest of the world’. It does re-enter the chart domestically, but only at No.48 (11,399 sales), failing to match its original No.42 peak. Five years after their first collaboration, One Thing Right, peaked at No.76 – missing the Top 75 by 13 sales – the second teaming of Marshmello & Kane Brown – country/EDM track Miles On It – is more successful, debuting at No.70 (8,996 sales). It is the 17th Top 75 entry for Marshmello, the first for 30-year-old country/pop singer/songwriter Brown. Despite falling tantalisingly short of the Top 75, One Thing Right has to-date consumption of 286,048 units, making it Brown’s top track, and Marshmello’s 12th.     Also new to the Top 75: 360 (No.41, 12,614 sales), the 23rd hit for Charli XCX, and the second from her upcoming sixth studio album, Brat; Hind’s Hall (No.51, 11,010 sales) a pro-Palestinian protest song and the ninth hit for rapper Macklemore, arriving five years to the week since his last; One Of Wun (No.55, 10,425 sales), the title track of American rapper Gunna’s new No.4 album, and On One Tonight (No.64, 9,203 sales), his 20th and 21st hits; and Take A Bite (No.68, 9,036 sales), the third hit for Beabadoobee. Benson Boone scores his second Top 20 single as Slow It Down jumps 23-16 (21,600 sales). There is also a new peak for Love Me Jeje (52-45, 11,805 sales) by Tems.    Overall singles consumption is up 3.26% week-on-week, busting through the 30 million mark for the first time at 30,971,974 units, 11.29% above same week 2023 consumption of 27,830,369 units. Paid-for sales are up 1.52% week-on-week at 277,950 – 8.24% below same week 2023 sales of 302,911.   

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