Secretly Distribution CEO Darius Van Arman on UK growth, true independence & 'special' artist Mitski

Secretly Distribution CEO Darius Van Arman on UK growth, true independence & 'special' artist Mitski

Secretly Distribution CEO Darius Van Arman has pledged that the company will continue to offer “true independence” for artist and label clients.

The US indie giant, which marked 25 years in business last year, has 35 staff in the UK and Europe. It powered the successful campaign for Mitski’s The Land Is Hospitable And So Are We (Dead Oceans), which won Record Of The Year at the American Association of Independent Music’s Libera Awards this week.

In addition to working on label releases within the wider music group, including Secretly Canadian, Dead Oceans and Jagjaguwar, Secretly Distribution provides global services to industry partners such as Chrysalis, Moshi Moshi, Captured Tracks and PMR.

“When we started in London 15 years ago, we had two or three people,” said Van Arman, who’s interviewed in the latest issue of Music Week alongside London-based Tom Davies, director of global marketing & campaigns. “We’ve steadily grown our presence in the marketplace.We don’t want to overextend, we’re not growing for growth’s sake. We want to achieve responsible growth, so we don’t take on a financial burden that creates pressures counterproductive to our goals.”

Secretly Distribution recently recruited Warner Music executive Rich Thane as associate director of artist & label strategy, based in London. His remit includes expanding the client base of independent labels in the UK and Europe, as well as forming services agreements with management firms, artist estates and others that need global support.  

The indie achieved strong 2023 results. Global physical shipments increased 29% year-on-year to 3.1 million units, almost double the figure in 2020. It also experienced a 20% streaming increase last year. 

As well as partnering on catalogue with David Gray and Danger Mouse’s 30th Century Records (including Gnarls Barkley), Secretly Distribution has powered Mitski’s streaming and sales success.

“We’re very selective about the partners that we work with,” said Van Arman. “We want to be quality rather than quantity-focused. Yes, we need scale as a distributor to be able to be efficient and also to be able to have resources to support releases globally, but we also don’t want to be all things to all people.”

We are one of the only ways to stay truly independent in the UK marketplace and in mainland Europe

Darius Van Arman

The company also works with A24 Music on film and TV soundtrack releases, including animated series Hazbin Hotel, which has more than half a billion streams globally. The digital-only soundtrack was No.1 overall on the UK compilations chart in the first quarter of 2024 and has consumption to date of 71,979 units (Official Charts Company). 

While expansion in the UK coincides with a booming artist & label services sector, Van Arman stressed that the company will continue to take a curated approach to the roster of releases that it distributes beyond the Secretly Group labels. 

“It is competitive because distributors feel it’s inevitable that the marketplace is going in that direction,” said Van Arman. “Some distributors are really hungry to build up their businesses, they might overreach and take on too much risk. Our approach is that we’re a little bit more careful. We’re not chasing artist deals for the splash of it. But we are very confident that we can be an extraordinary partner with some artists.”

Van Arman underlined their independent roots.

“We are one of the only ways to stay truly independent in the UK marketplace and in mainland Europe,” he told Music Week. “True independence is one of our three pillars.” 

“We want to achieve good scale, which means we’re selective about who we work with, and we don’t want to grow at all costs,” he added, outlining the ethos of the company. “Also, we want to support artists and labels who are overlooked or don’t get the respect they should for the quality of work they’re producing.”

Van Arman highlighted the results for Mitski, who had a viral hit with My Love Mine All Mine. The single peaked at No.8 in the UK (507,355 sales).

“Mitski is an example of an artist we worked with when she was a much smaller commercial success, but now is one of the top streaming artists in the world,” he said. “That’s the kind of impact we want to have on culture.”

Signed to Dead Oceans, the singer/songwriter – described by Van Arman as an “extraordinary artist” – headlines All Points East on August 18.

“She makes these very special events of her live performances that really contribute to how her fans connect with her work,” he said. 

The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We, which peaked at No.4 on the UK albums charts, has more than 1.25 billion streams internationally.

“We knew that this was a very special record and we did our best to make sure that, globally, things were set up as strongly as possible for both the digital and physical,” said Van Arman.

For physical shipments in North America, Secretly Distribution opened a new 90,000 square-foot warehouse in the company HQ in Bloomington, Indiana last autumn.

In the UK and Europe, Secretly works with local distributors including PIAS, Cargo and Republic Of Music on physical shipments.


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