(A brief note about this episode: it recorded live on location at A2iM indie week 2016 in New York City. There’s ambient noise during the interview, and in a couple of places I re-recorded my questions to make them easier to hear. Hopefully it won’t be too distracting because this is a great one - Jim)
These days, success in the music business is about survival as much as anything else.
Major labels can lose millions and still stand because they’re owned by giant corporations. A couple of consecutive bad years for a major and there’s usually a purge, new management brought in, the roster overhauled, maybe they’re merged with another label. And a dreadful side effect of risk aversity that follows these changes is that the music that gets signed and released becomes progressively “safer”.
It’s different for independent labels. Successful independents constantly reinvent themselves, and rarely play it safe with the artists they sign and music they release. The best indies are on point, way out in front of the majors, showing us where music is going. It’s inherently risky, especially when you’re paying the bills yourself.
Which is why the accomplishents of Beggars Group are all the more stunning. Founded by Martin Mills as the Beggars Banquet label in 1977 during the height of punk rock, Beggars Group has deftly navigated 40 years of changes in musical tastes and technology. They haven’t just survived, they’ve thrived. Evolving into a label owner and distributor, Beggars Group handles Matador Records, XL Recordings, Rough Trade Records, Young Turks and 4AD. A cursory glance at the roster of acts they distribute is staggering. Jack White. Alabama Shakes. FKA Twigs. Radiohead. Warpaint. Grimes. The National. Adele. And over the past 40 years, they’ve been instrumental in bringing some of the most important alternative music ever created into the world by artists like Gary Numan, The Pixies, The Prodigy, Dead Can Dance, and Cocteau Twins.
At the helm of Beggar’s digital business is our guest on the show for this episode, Simon Wheeler. As the largest independent music group of labels in Europe, Beggars Group can change the landscape of digital music with their strategic decisions; and Simon has helped crafted and execute these strategies at Beggars since 1997. He’s been inside the guts of every significant digital music opportunity the industry has faced since the beginning. And in this episode, we get deep inside the streaming music landscape, what it means for independent labels, and where Simon feels we’re heading after 20 years in digital music.
Beggars Group: www.beggars.com/
Simon Wheeler on Twitter: twitter.com/afc99
Music we talk about in this episode: The Lemon Twigs: www.facebook.com/TheLemonTwigs/
The National: americanmary.com/
Jim's A2iM Keynote Address: www.trickness.com/blog/the-digital…-rashomon-effect