A2IM Calls Out Billboard For “Erroneous” Independent Music Power Players List

A2IMBillboard has published its latest Independent Power Player Edition and A2IM, the U.S. indie label sector’s top trade organization, is crying foul over the magazine’s definition of independent, which includes many companies owned or controlled by major labels.  

“There is no known definition of ‘Independent’ that embraces 100% ownership by a major label,” wrote A2IM CEO Richard James Burgess. 

Here is the full A2IM statement. (We’ve added bold for emphasis.):

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A2IM congratulates its members who were honored in the Independent Power Player edition of Billboard. We are grateful to Billboard for finally recognizing the independent sector in this way.

Unfortunately, Billboards’ editors chose their own, erroneous, definition of what the term ‘independent’ means. Irrespective of good intentions, it is frustrating when others undermine our definition of ‘independent’ by conflating independents with majors in this way.

Make no mistake, A2IM and the global independent sector have a very clear definition of what qualifies a label to be termed ‘independent’. An independent label must own 50% or more of its masters and, as it stands, no independent has more than a 5% global market share. Similarly, a distributor must be 50% or more owned independently of the major labels. As I and my predecessor have pointed out, it is commercially damaging to independent labels when their market share is subsumed under a major label’s market share simply because the independent is distributed by a major or one of its subsidiaries.

Sadly, approximately 11% of the companies that Billboard chose to honor as Independents are, in fact, wholly owned by major labels and 17.7% of the people on the list are employed by a major label. [Editor’s note: Of the 36 companies in Billboard’s Indie Power Players, only four, or 11 percent, are known to be wholly owned by major music companies, and are identified as such]. There is no known definition of ‘Independent’ that embraces 100% ownership by a major label.

Many of the wholly owned companies are Associate Members of A2IM. This means that these companies are colleagues, business partners, and friends to Independent record labels and the Independent community at large. However, unlike A2IM label members, associate members are not required to be Independently owned.

We are proud to work with these companies and we value the benefits they bring to the independent sector. We like and respect the folks who work at these companies and nothing in this statement should be construed otherwise. By way of illustration: A2IM often honors these organizations, and others like them, at our annual Libera Awards. We honor them for the valuable services they offer to the independent sector. Nevertheless, they cannot by any measure be construed as independent, particularly in an article honoring ‘Indie Power Players’. They are part of the foreign-owned major label system, they are 100% major label owned, and their employees are paid by the controlling major.

A2IM consistently seeks to collaborate with the entire recorded music and publishing industry. However, good fences make good neighbors and the boundaries between independents and majors could not be clearer.

The truly independent American entrepreneurs risk all, against great odds, and on a playing field profoundly tilted in favor of the three majors. It does a deep disservice to these businesses when a media outlet like Billboard conflates organizations 100% owned and funded by foreign owned conglomerates with authentic Independents. Finally, it is profoundly insulting for any person or organization to indicate to another group that it cannot self-define. Independent status will always be determined by the Independents and never by outsiders.

Richard James Burgess, CEO, A2IM (American Association of Independent Music)

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