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  • Doug Banks

Are Indie Artists making money in these tough times

You bet they are and it's no small chunk of change!!

It's calculated that DIY artists would earn more than $1 billion from their music royalties (records plus publishing) across 2019, stating this was a number that was “only going to escalate in the years ahead.” At the time, that risked sounding a little hubristic — but it turns out I might actually have been underplaying things.

Raine Group is a U.S.-based merchant bank that offers acquisitive guidance to companies in the music business, as well as investing in assets itself. Over the past 18 months, Raine has completed more than $600 million in music-related transactions — following its own $75 million investment in SoundCloud (2017), as well as its funding of Stockholm-born distribution- and label-services company Amuse (which worked with Lil Nas X before he signed to Columbia). More recently, Raine has advised the selling side on some major music-biz deals, including Downtown’s $200 million-plus buyout of CD Baby (and its parent AVL) last year, plus the sale of Amsterdam-based FUGA, also to Downtown, in January — a deal sources tell me was worth north of $40 million. Thanks to its relationship with these and other companies in the space, Raine has a unique perspective on the world of independent artists.

Now, Raine has prepared a white paper, reviewed by Rolling Stone, that puts a meaningful number on the commercial size of the independent-artist business. The headline: Raine’s “The Independent Artist Sector” paper estimates that independent artists generated $1.61 billion from recorded music in 2019 … and that, in 2020, this figure will climb 32 percent, to more than $2.1 billion. (View the paper here.)

Before we tackle the ins and outs of what these calculations mean for the music business, it’s important to clarify that, in Raine’s definition, “independent artist” broadly means “artist not signed to record labels.”

This definition covers two areas: (DIY/self-releasing acts uploading their own tunes to Spotify, YouTube, etc., via services like TuneCore, Ditto, Amuse, and CD Baby; and “Mid-Tail Artist Services” acts, who ink “label services” deals with companies such as AWAL, Empire, and Believe. This latter group of firms act like record labels, spending agreed budgets to accelerate performers’ careers, but, crucially, also allow artists to maintain ownership of their copyrights. (Raine’s estimates don’t include indie artists signed to the three major record companies’ flagship label services divisions — Caroline at Universal, the Orchard at Sony, and ADA at Warner.)

Making up a minor piece of the pie, Raine further counts within its total those independent musicians being directly commissioned to create tracks for production music and/or “sync” (in TV shows, movies, ads, etc.).

According to Raine’s estimates, DIY artists, via distributors, generated $960 million last year, a number that it predicts will jump by 27 percent, to $1.22 billion in 2020. Artists signed to mid-tail services deals, meanwhile, were worth $584 million last year, says Raine. It believes this figure will jump 43 percent, to $833 million in 2020.

Overall (inclusive of a further $75 million from the production/sync indie-artist space), Raine believes that the money generated by this spectrum of independent artists will reach $2.12 billion in 2020. That cash haul, suggests Raine, will mean that indie artists are worth somewhere between nine and 10 percent of the entire global recorded-music market.

To put that into context: Warner Music Group, the third-biggest major recorded-music company in the world last year, turned more than $2.22 billion from streaming in calendar 2019, and $3.88 billion from all activities (including merch and ticket sales), according to MBW calculations. Raine’s market-share estimate looks in line with other forecasts: An update to Goldman Sachs’ influential “Music in the Air” report in 2018 predicted that the global recorded-music industry would turn more than $22 billion annually in 2020.

By Tim Ingham, Rolling

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