Covid 19 has caused immense changes to many industries and although its impact has been largely negative, Covid has propelled some businesses towards positive developments that would have otherwise taken years. One example of this is in the music sector, where Covid-19 has been the catalyst for independent artists to gain more power and greater control than ever before.
Independent artists are those who both own the rights to their music and use a self-releasing platform. This allows them to have greater creative control over the content they produce, as they are not constrained to a big record label’s image or timeline. These artists have enjoyed more attention from DSP’s and broadcasters since lockdown, due to many major artist campaigns being pushed back to next year. Releases have been postponed from artists such as Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, and Alicia Keys, allowing independent artists to gain more exposure.
As a result of this, some of the biggest chart toppers and key culture influencers of 2020 are independent artists. AJ Tracey is a prime example of this, as his independent album Secure the bag! recently reached number 13 in the U.K. album charts. Lady Leshurr, another popular independent artist, catapulted to fame by receiving over 100 million YouTube views. Her success is largely attributed to exposure via social media and digital platforms, which have both seen a monumental rise in users post-Covid. CEO of streaming platform Amuse, Diego Farias, argues that “[Covid -19] will perhaps speed up a transition that was already taking place; it will allow indie artists to grow [chart share] at a much faster pace in a market like the US, which was, remember, initially very resistant to a change like streaming.”
Independent artists were already growing prior to Covid-19, generating more than $643 million in 2018, a 35% jump from the year before. However, Covid-19 has levelled the playing field. It has pushed more people online for longer, generating a hungry audience who want to hear unique music. As the CEO of TuneCore, suggests “We have a large audience of young people out there who want to listen to new material.”
Not only this, the isolation aspect of Covid-19 made it harder for all artists, big label or independent, to access recording equipment, collaborate and promote their music. This removed the big label’s advantage and created an opportunity that independent artists’ have eagerly taken advantage of.
The newfound reliance on technology has diverted the focus away from antiquated big label platforms, opening a window for independent artists. Indeed, user uploads on the streaming site Amuse increased 300% year-on-year in March 2020, and this is only set to rise even further. New technology has allowed more and more streaming sites to be developed where artists can instantly share their work with the world, such as: Ditto, TuneCore, UnitedMasters, and CD Baby. Artists can now stream to millions and generate a livelihood, whilst also maintaining control over their music and the message it generates. This has led major label’s deal models to look out of date with the modern music industry, as more independent artists gain global success.
This new landscape has opened up a alternative way of doing business and created new players in the process. Signing with a label is no longer the only option for artists and it might even have become the least attractive one.
Another positive side-effect is that less mainstream genres, like grime, are now gaining more recognition. Arlo Parks argues that independent artists are “destroying the concept of genre” by breaking down the barriers created by big record labels. Instead of the previous segmentation, independent artists want to help connect people and create music outside of the socio-political restraints of big labels.
Covid-19 has shaken up the music industry for good, and the rise of independent artists has caused the definition of success within the industry to change. People no longer want commercial over-produced albums. The demand has shifted towards a genuine passion for music, and this comes across strongest when artists’ narrate and own the story they produce.