Silvia Montello has just taken over as chief exec of the Association Of Independent Music (AIM).
Here, in an extended version of our Music Week magazine interview, the former boss of the Association For Electronic Music shares her agenda, from helping labels seize opportunities in an evolving market to backing the dance revival...
Congratulations on your appointment, what’s your vision for AIM in 2023?
“We want to continue the great work that’s been done but also make sure that we’re ahead of the curve in terms of where the industry is going, and to make sure that we’re a really strong voice on those issues where we need to fight for our rights-holders and creators. As part of that, I’m really committed to continuing to educate and support [labels and artists]. Our industry moves incredibly quickly. So it’s making sure that, whether it’s self-releasing artists or bigger and more established labels, everyone’s up to speed with what those opportunities are. I also want to make sure that all genres are well-represented and supported, and that we continue the great work on diversity, equity and inclusion which is something that’s really close to my heart and I feel very passionately about.”
With the growth of catalogue consumption, what are the opportunities there for indies?
“For those labels that have rich catalogues, it’s definitely an opportunity. We know that just under 70% of streaming comes from tracks that are four years old or more. So that can be a really good financial support, and that regular streaming income can then help [fund] newer artists. Finding ways to exploit the other revenue streams that catalogue can bring outside of streaming is incredibly important financially, to give that bedrock for what you’re doing in terms of investing in new talent.”
But there are challenges for the sector with vinyl production – what can be done about it?
“It’s about managing it as best as possible. Vinyl capacity is a global issue and it’s from every part of the production chain. So it’s certainly a challenge for the independents trying to make sure they get enough slots within the vinyl plants. However, a lot of independents have been using split releases strategically for their campaigns. They have actually been finding that it’s something that is a useful strategy for them, because the vinyl coming later than the digital release can give that extra bite at the cherry. Being innovative and looking at how you can use the different timings to your advantage is something that independents have been doing for a couple of years now.”
TikTok is increasingly important for indie labels. How is that industry relationship developing in terms of revenue and reach?
“Like all platforms that are still relatively new, and really still working on what is going to be the best business model and the best revenue model for that platform, things will evolve. With TikTok having blown up in the way that it has, it's become a very interesting and important promotional tool. But, clearly, if you look at the numbers of what people are actually generating commercially from TikTok, there's a way to go. It's not something where you can put all of your eggs in that basket and think that you will be able to generate a career simply from TikTok viral moments, but it's an increasingly important part of the mix. So if you use it strategically, alongside the use of other platforms, then you can have success with it. It can certainly help with viral moments, which can help revive catalogue, and they can help as well in terms of just getting some new music out to particular demographics. Time will tell… It will be interesting to see how TikTok’s model develops in terms of its offering, as well as its revenue model, over the course of probably the next two to three years.”
Majors and independents can work together across the entire ecosystem, rather than it having to be us versus them
Do you have any concerns about the market power of the major label groups?
“If you look back over the decades, it’s obvious that the majors have the balance of power – there’s nothing new in that. Where I think majors and independents can work together is across the entire ecosystem, rather than it having to be us versus them. There is much more recognition now from the major labels that, actually, the independent sector has an important part to play in nurturing and developing talent, some of which will upstream to the majors, and some of which will continue to be successful within its independent state. Independent music has been growing in market share, and it can continue to do that because of the [sector’s] innovation and creativity.”
So you can be considered an independent artist if you’re distributed by a major?
“Absolutely. The proliferation of self-releasing artists who are their own label and create their own team has really exploded in the last five years. The importance is really the nature of the deal and the control that artists have over their output, ownership and creative vision. [Just] because you are going through the Warner Music or Universal Music systems, it doesn’t mean that you’re not necessarily independent anymore.”
How do you see AIM growing in terms of a broadening of the membership?
“The industry has changed, and the structure of the industry has changed, so that now you have many more self-releasing artists, who are either their own label or they build their own team, and then they use the various different channels to actually get their music out there. So a member doesn't have to be a traditional label per se, because now anybody can set up their label, they can set up their own publishing, and they can carve out their career that way. AIM is responding to that in terms of opening up membership to independent creators and independent entrepreneurs. So it's not just about being part of a label and that structure. It's more about the spirit of independence and the way in which people are operating their business and creating their music.”
Does AIM have a crucial role when it comes to furthering the progress on diversity in the industry?
“Absolutely, AIM has a key role in that. Diversity is incredibly important for the music industry in general. The role that we can play is making sure that talent from all of the underrepresented areas, from any marginalised areas, can really be supported so that they have the access to creative and commercial success. One of the areas that we really want to focus on is socio-economic diversity. So making sure that people from whatever background, whatever their lived experience, that they are given the opportunities, the funding, bursaries and education, so that they have access to the industry and to a career. There is a danger that we become a bit mono-cultural if we don't recognise the richness of talent, especially from a country like the UK with all the richness of our population, the richness of immigration and what that has brought to our musical landscape. We really need to make sure that is reflected in our music industry and supported as much as possible. So that's something that AIM is going to continue to work particularly hard at in driving that diversity.”
Finally, how important do you think indies have been to the dance music revival?
“The UK is really lucky that we have amazing independent dance labels like Defected and Hospital Records. One of the fantastic things about it is that you can create a community around a genre and keep going back with both catalogue and new releases, building lifetime careers for DJs, producers and artists. So I see this as a really interesting and important area for independents. It’s something that I’m going to continue to support as much as possible.”