AIM's Silvia Montello on indies' chart impact, catalogue, breakthroughs and the challenge for vinyl

AIM's Silvia Montello on indies' chart impact, catalogue, breakthroughs and the challenge for vinyl

2024 was another good year for independent music in the UK.

As well as Arctic Monkeys being named as the most streamed domestic act by Spotify in the UK, there were hit singles by artists including Mitski, Peggy Gou and Jorja Smith.

Music Week can reveal that, based on Official Charts Company data, independent record labels’ share of the UK recorded music market increased for a sixth consecutive year to 29.2% (based on the All Music All Albums measurement). That was up from 28.6% in 2022.

“All the signs so far indeed indicate that the independent market share continues to grow and perform strongly,” AIM CEO SIlvia Montello told Music Week. “We believe the strong growth trend of the last several years continues, as more artists and their teams choose deals and partnerships with independent labels and more new fledgling businesses come into the sector, providing new innovative ways for independent talent to succeed in the future.”

In the new edition of Music Week, we crunch the numbers on catalogue growth and artist breakthroughs in the past year.

Montello took over at AIM a year ago at a time of huge change in the sector, including the rise of AI, new models for streaming remuneration and the current cutbacks in the recorded music sector

While streaming consumption is still strong and even physical sales are increasing (in value terms), majors and indies are seeking out new areas of growth – such as the much-touted ‘superfans’ – to ensure revenue does not dip as streaming growth heads towards a possible peak.

Montello is clearly conscious of surveying the entire recorded music landscape when it comes to evaluating success. 

While praising the impact of Arctic Monkeys on DSPs as “significant and welcome”, she stressed that: “...artist success is and should be measured by more than just streaming numbers, but audience growth and engagement, sales across physical product, live and merchandise, syncs, performance income, brand partnerships and more.”

Here, Silvia Montello looks at some of the highlights of the past year and the challenges for the independent sector…

Secretly Group had a Top 10 viral hit with Mitski in 2023 – how can more independent music thrive on TikTok and achieve those chart breakthroughs?

“The Mitski success for Secretly Group is a great example, and it’s encouraging to see many labels and rights-holders in our sector become increasingly creative in how they utilise platforms such as TikTok to help drive awareness and engagement with their music, particularly in those genres that resonate with the audience demographic that live on the platform and discover new music through it. The art then is turning those viral moments into full track streaming/sales engagement, with the ultimate goal of fandom for the artists, which can drive more meaningful and longer-term success.”

What are the opportunities for indies and catalogue? Is there a danger that – Arctic Monkeys aside – majors are crowding out the independent sector with their wealth of catalogue?

“The growth of catalogue proportionate to ‘frontline’/new music has been clear over the past several years. But let’s remember the wealth and depth of catalogue from the independent sector, alongside the opportunities being explored by many independents for acquiring new catalogue, for repromoting and representing their catalogue in new and innovative ways to reach new audiences and create new fans.”

It is getting harder for UK talent to break through particularly as catalogue drives streaming consumption? Are there changes or reforms that could help new talent?

“This has certainly been identified as a key issue, especially for emerging artists still building their audiences, or for labels who don't have direct routes to platforms’ editorial teams, which can provide crucial support through marketing and playlisting opportunities. There are many reforms that could help and would be hugely appreciated by those labels investing in and working tirelessly to nurture that talent towards success.  We are looking, through our engagement with both key and niche or genre-specific platforms, to suggest and support new initiatives to drive better visibility for new emerging artists and their releases, particularly ones that come without incurring punitively high marketing contributions or necessitating reductions in royalty rates. 

“We feel encouraged by some of the discussions around different models, which would actively promote new content to subscribers and drive remuneration based more on actual listens and engagement from subscribers. As so much of the exciting, diverse and groundbreaking new music comes from our sector and may appeal to consumers outside of the ‘mainstream’, more focus on connecting those consumers with the genres and artists in their ‘wheelhouse’ will go some way to addressing the issue.” 

We believe the strong growth trend of the last several years continues, as more artists and their teams choose deals and partnerships with independent labels

Silvia Montello

Is there enough support in terms of media, do platforms such as the Mercury Prize still deliver for independent talent? [Interview conducted prior to Pitchfork’s merger with GQ.]

“In some ways there are more media platforms than ever to cater for independent talent – online and specialist radio stations, genre-specific blogs, zines and so on – but TV and commercial mainstream radio certainly has gaps when it comes to putting independent music in front of bigger audiences. Any platform like the Mercury Prize, and other awards and initiatives that present new music to UK audiences, are very much welcomed. 

“As an industry, we need to work harder together to explore more of these platforms and ensure they are affordable and accessible for independent labels of all shapes and sizes to participate in. Let’s not forget the AIM Awards, which exists for precisely this reason, with our commitment to growing the reach and scope of the AIM Awards’ media profile to ensure our platform for supporting independent artists is as strong as possible in the UK market.”

Problems with vinyl production appear to have settled down, can indies now capitalise on the growth in physical music? 

“All signs point to a continued growth of physical consumption in the UK and the independents can and do certainly capitalise on that as an important income stream, as well as an important promotional tool for their artists. While vinyl continues to grow, it’s interesting to see other formats, such as cassette and a potential resurgence of the CD, being used to help combat both the price and capacity issues for vinyl. While vinyl capacity issues have softened, there are certainly still issues around key industry moments – Record Store Day – and key superstar releases where major label runs can hinder the rest of the supply chain. 

“With the retail price of a single vinyl album reaching stratospheric heights, which are now deterring even die-hard fans from investing in the format, let’s take stock and ensure that the industry doesn’t once more become a victim of its own success. [The industry needs to] work with a more sensible and strategic approach to providing the right physical offerings at the right price to the consumers who want them, ensuring the continued future health for physical products – with sustainability and climate impact at the heart of that strategic approach of course.”

BMG and PIAS have each aligned with UMG, while other artists work with services or distribution within major labels. Does independent success increasingly rely on major labels?

“It's always important here to distinguish between ‘major labels’ and ‘distribution’ when assessing how artists are getting their music to their fanbase and achieving success. The UK is luckier than most in that we still have a very strong independent distribution sector, whilst many other music markets worldwide often don’t enjoy that range of options available outside of major label-owned distribution arms. Looking more closely at the scale and success of that independent distribution sector, the independent labels and artists they work with and the successes they enjoy both domestically and globally, it doesn’t feel that independent success increasingly relies on major ‘labels’. Distribution is a route to market, whereas independence means so much more than that and shows strong signs of growth in years to come.”

Click here to read Music Week’s 2023 market analysis.


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