NEAR TRUTHS:
PLANET OF THE INDIES

THE OVER, THE UNDER AND THE INDIE: For the first time in more years than we can remember, independent releases occupied the top two spots on last week’s chart. Bad Bunny, on Rimas, and Brent Faiyaz (Lost Kids) via Venice/Stem, demonstrate that indie artists and labels are becoming an increasingly large factor in the Spotify/TikTok era.

Yes, we know, Noah Assad's Rimas is distributed by The Orchard. But Bunny’s overwhelming success is no less an indicator of an evolving, expanding system. In fact, distribution is not the only indicator of indiehood, and even as entities like Rimas and HYBE use the majors for their distro, they control A&R, marketing, branding and artist management. The new streaming world has created a more fertile environment and meant less dependency on the majors.

Once the data confirms an indie act’s potential, the majors charge in with checkbooks blazing. For most young artists, even the ones already earning online revenue, the sight of all those zeroes proves impossible to resist, and the artist-whispering wiles of the most effective label folk can typically overcome any remaining trepidation. Every once in a while, though, an artist proves too tough a nut for even the Big Three to crack; such was the case with Faiyaz, who’s remained fiercely independent despite having been wooed with big offers for several years. Much credit for his success goes to managers Ty Baisden and Jayne Andrew as well as Troy Carter’s Venice, and the album’s #2 chart bow signals loudly that Faiyaz has arrived.

Earlier this year, we saw two independent acts, Lauren Spencer-Smith and Muni Long, make huge noise before inking with majors. Prior to that, country artist Morgan Wallen became a phenomenon, leading to Seth England-led Big Loud's doing a distribution deal with Republic. It’s worth noting that Wallen’s first album, like Faiyaz’s, was distributed by indie-services outlet Stem. (Wallen, we might add, is having a big moment at multi-format Pop radio after having been verboten, with Republic promo boss Gary Spangler leading the charge. How the worm has turned.) BTS, too, made significant noise via South Korean label Big Hit before entering the majors’ global-distribution machines.

A WHOLE NEW WORLD: In the new ecosystem, music from all over the world has come to represent a bigger piece of the pie. Bad Bunny’s massive worldwide success may well provide a path for more Spanish-language artists to break through (we note, another Orchard-distribbed act, Argentine producer Bizarrap, has attained the #1 global Spotify berth), and the brand-new Columbia deal for long-buzzing Yahritza Y Su Esencia puts them very much in that mix. The young group is part of a new generation of U.S.-born Spanish-language artists, unlike the imports that have historically fueled the Big Three’s Latin labels. In any case, the importance of Afo Verde-led Sony Latin (Maluma, Becky G, Ozuna), Jesus Lopez-helmed Universal Music Latin (J. Balvin, Juanes, Luis Fonsi) and WMG Latina (Anitta, Paulo Londra), headed by Alejandro Duque, has vastly increased in this global marketplace. K-pop has had one bona fide planetary supergroup in HYBE’s BTS—not to mention successful projects from YG Entertainment’s BLACKPINK, SM’s NCT 127, JYP’s Stray Kids and more—and will surely launch more impeccably styled ensembles into the mainstream. Meanwhile, JOJI, whose 88rising is now distribbed by Warner, is the first Japanese act we can recall ruling the global streaming roost. How long before the first giant breakouts from Africa and India ping the DSP radar?

TIKTOK TALK: The ecosystem has been significantly democratized as indie acts that can move the needle via TikTok, YouTube or other platforms often then parlay that activity into streams on Spotify and Apple Music.

One major challenge faced by the expanding biz is the situation with TikTok, which is comparable to what happened with YouTube. The biz must be especially vigilant in protecting its rights and interests against digital platforms that build their fortunes on music’s back. How can rightsholders make TikTok pay properly for music? The current model has labels receiving lump-sum payments (so-called “buyouts”) that cover a prescribed term. The fear is that TikTok already wields such power that renegotiating a more equitable deal is more difficult—and the app’s leadership has essentially argued that in addition to paying these buyouts, TikTok also indirectly enhances label revenue by spurring activity on Spotify, Apple, et al.

The vagaries of TikTok (which has been accused of egregious data mining by politicians and online activists) are compounded by its ownership—it’s a property of Beijing-based media conglom Bytedance. But with its user base expected to hit the 1 billion mark by 2025, the biz will be reckoning with it for some time to come.

HITS LIST:
HOME RUN DERBY
Going yard (7/11a)
SONG REVENUE:
SCHLEMIEL, SHABOOZEY
Th epitome of new country (7/11a)
GRAMMY PRE-CHEW:
THREE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIG 4
On your Marks, get set, go. (7/8a)
TOWARD A FRUITFUL GRAMMY SEASON
Our editurr in chief has something on his mined. (7/10a)
SABRINA TO REACH NEW HEIGHTS WITH TOUR MERCH?
Her table's stacked. (7/10a)
THE GRAMMY SHORT LIST
Who's already a lock?
COUNTRY'S NEWEST DISRUPTOR
Three chords and some truth you may not be ready for.
AI IS ALREADY EATING YOUR LUNCH
The kids can tell the difference... for now.
INDIE DISTRIBUTION'S RISE TO GLORY
The discovery engine is revving higher.
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