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HIS INDEPENDENT MAJESTY, MARTIN MILLS

Martin Mills, Founder/Chairman of the Beggars Group of labels, which has included XL Recordings since its formation in 1989, has been at the forefront of independent label advocacy for nearly 40 years.

Born out of the Beggars Banquet record stores, the label started in 1977 and today comprises 4AD, Matador, Rough Trade and XL, which began as a dance-music label with acts such as The Prodigy. In the 2000s, Mills and XL partner Richard Russell moved toward alternative music, scoring successes with Badly Drawn Boy, M.I.A., Vampire Weekend and The White Stripes.

XL executive Nick Huggett and Russell were the first label executives to show interest in Adele; Mills has said he became aware of Adele through an artist they signed, Jack Peñate. Mills and the Beggars team then connected the singer with songwriter Paul Epworth, who has become a key collaborator.

Mills, reappointed in November as chairman of the U.K. independent labels organization, has been a force in IMPALA, A2IM in the U.S. and the Worldwide Independent Network, trade groups that fight for a level playing field with the major labels. In February, he issued a white paper, Shaping the Future of Entertainment, that focused on five key points: “Putting Consumers and Creators First” to eradicate “aggressive windowing or lop-sided release schedules”; “Modernizing Technology,” which includes providing high-quality and consistent data for digital services; “Simplifying Licensing” through centralizing licensing points and speeding up decision making; “Promoting Diversity in Retailing and Digital Services” to allow smaller-scale ventures to succeed; and “Addressing Retail Sustainability” that more fairly spreads out physical cost margins at retail.

Mills has already experienced the windfall that comes with a new Adele album. When 21 hit in 2011 and sold 30m worldwide, XL’s revenue skyrocketed to $181m from $36m in 2010.

He insists, in an interview posted at the Beggars website, that the success of Adele has not changed the company’s operations. “Success can corrupt,” he cautions, “and we’ve made very sure that we’ve stayed true to our original principles, and still care just as much about new and smaller releases and artists.”

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