It’s fair to say that independent labels in Australia have been making big waves over the past couple years, at a time when traditional business models are rapidly needing to adapt. Yesterday’s Electronic Music Conference panel Indie Labels: Taking the Power Back? saw the faces behind names like Future Classic and I Oh You discuss the roles of indies and majors in a modern setting – in particular, how major and independent labels are working together to positively grow artists.
In particular, the advent of the digital landscape has been a revolution for artists and independent labels alike, given that with the rise of streaming and the ability to market via social platforms, the cost of entry is often next to nothing. For Johann Ponniah of I Oh You, there’s been a heavy shift towards integrating digital platforms in release strategies. “In the field we work, fans of indie rock weren’t early adapters to streaming but it’s changing rapidly across every genre. Now, we have to have converstaions with Spotify and Apple Music to work out the right way to climb through playlists”.
Aden Mullen of etcetc – who are distributed through Universal – pointed out that for them, the upshot of working with a major mostly comes down to getting physical stock into stores, as well as marketing and sales strategies that specially work to retail settings. Additionally, having the embedded audience of things like a major’s Spotify playlists means labels can plug into audiences straight away. “What majors offer now is about bolstering their distribution for newer platforms like streaming”.
When it came to breaking local artists internationally, having unique teams in different territories that are passionate and excited about the artists they’re working with. Given that, as an indie, it’s practically impossible to have a team in each territory straight away, international relationships with other labels need to be based on genuine enthusiasm for an artist.
Burns, who worked as part of Future Classic on the international strategy for Flume’s 2016 sophomore album Skin, said the campaign was exciting but also challenging given that, while in Australia he had significant ground beneath him, he was an emerging artist when it came to the US. The balance between maintaining interest in both territories was a challenge, particularly for artists like Flume whose campaign strategies are built on performing live – tour cycles overseas meant taking time off locally. “There’s a certain momentum you have to maintain and finding that sweet spot is so important”, said Burns.
Speaking to the decision to work with indie labels internationally (Skin was released through Mom + Pop in the US), Burns “We wanted to find people who really vibe on the album, have a vision for it, and know their territory. When you’re on the same page it’s awesome”.
For indie labels, the lines between management and label roles are increasingly being blurred. As Burns explained, the division between those parts of the business are less important than having an overall coherence. Ponniah agrees – “we get so in depth and involved with planning that it felt like a natural step. It’s a full-on relationship as a manager – we’re the one getting the calls when the van breaks down and we need to work shit out”.
As Flume (Future Classic) and artists like DMA’s (I Oh You) show – there’s an international hunger for Australian music across genres at the moment. With the pressure to expand internationally, Burns acknowledged that there’s an edge to holding onto that identity. “Australia is our home base and we have no plans to leave. It’s central to who we are and also our competitive advantage.”