Recorded music revenue is up 8%. Do independents get their fair share?

According to the RIAA, recorded music revenues in the U.S. continued growing for the eighth consecutive year, with total revenues up 8% to a record high of $17.1 billion.

Streaming was unsurprisingly the biggest growth driver last year, with record levels of paid subscriptions, growth in ad-supported revenues, and growing contributions from new platforms and services.

Did this growth trickle down to independent artists and labels?

According to Billboard Magazine, independent music labels accounted for 37.32% of the U.S. recorded music sales market in May 2023. However, as of April 2024, Billboard reported that the independent sector’s market share had decreased to 36.09%. 

In other words, while the overall recorded music market is growing nicely, the indie share of it is shrinking.

It’s a familiar story for those who were active in the era of music sales driven almost solely by the major labels’ stranglehold on radio.

“It felt like things would be different.”

There was a post-Napster moment when it felt like things would be different in music’s digital era. Making music was cheaper than ever, and for a few dollars, it was available everywhere.

Social media meant that artists could bypass the gatekeepers to find an audience.

Then came algorithms and Spotify’s two-tiered marketplace, and pay-to-play was back in a new form.

With official playlists and paid marketing increasingly driving streaming success, scrappy indies are left trying to compete and squeeze every dollar from the remaining 16% of revenue, which combines physical and download sales and synch. Even adding in merch sales, fan patronage, and, when profitable, touring, it’s tough to make ends meet and even tougher to compete meaningfully.

For now, we can only monitor innovative independent labels like Secretly, services like Beleive and AWAL, and platforms like UnitedMasters and BandLab, and hope.

Bruce Houghton is the Founder and Editor of Hypebot, a Senior Advisor at Bandsintown, President of the Skyline Artists Agency, and a Berklee College Of Music professor.

Share on: