a 2 i m

GRAMMY House Speech by
Dr. Richard James Burgess

A2IM’s President & CEO was invited to give an opening speech and introduction for an official GRAMMY House panel titled “Growing Wild: Independent Music Community.” The panel took place in the Los Angeles Art District on Thursday, February 1st, and focused on key trends and predictions for 2024 and beyond.

Panelists include leading professionals in the independent music community, including Stan Founder and CEO, Denisha Kuhlor, independent recording artist Cocoa Sarai, Splice CEO Kakul Srivastava, SymphonyOS* Co-Founder and CEO Megh Vakharia. and moderator Chris Maltese, VP of Label & Artist Relations at Vydia*.
*A2IM Member

Read the speech below:

“Welcome to Grammy House, here in the vibrant heart of LA’s Arts District. I am Dr. Richard James Burgess, President and CEO of The American Association of Independent Music, otherwise known as A2IM – and – as a musician, recording artist, songwriter, and record producer, I am a longstanding and proud recording academy member. It’s a great privilege to speak to you all today united by our love for the freedom and creativity of independent music.

A2IM was founded in 2005 by a group of visionary independent record labels, today we stand as the world’s largest trade association dedicated to independent music. Our mission is to advocate, to educate, and to build community, the objective being to ensure that the independent music sector thrives as our industry evolves in an environment of increasing conglomeration, which produces mega corporations with unhealthy amounts of market power. 

As you know independent labels have developed many global icons like Elvis, Adele, Taylor Swift, Frank Ocean and many more. Independent labels calculated by ownership rather than distribution account for greater than a third of the total US recorded music market share, surpassing even the largest major label. 

This week, as we celebrate the 66th Grammy Awards, we are proud to say that more than 50% of this year’s nominees are independent. It’s worth pointing out that almost every genre of music that we think of as uniquely American, blues, jazz, country, hip-hop, etc. were developed by independent labels. Independence is not tied to a genre but is a business model that artists and labels choose to be able to forge their own creative and business paths forward.

A2IM is active on Capitol Hill and our advocacy efforts focus on fostering favorable legislation and public policies that support the independent music ecosystem. 

Antitrust law has been upside down for a too long, it protects the biggest companies of all time from small and medium sized enterprises including sole proprietors. We have a bill that would allow independents to collectively negotiate with giant companies such as the DSPs and AI companies to get fairer deals for artists and entrepreneurs. 

I am sure you are aware that musicians, producers, and artists in the US don’t get paid when their music is used by terrestrial radio so we are part of the musicFIRST coalition along with the Recording Academy and we are jointly lobbying for a terrestrial right so that you will get paid when your music is played on the radio. And there is so much more. 

We have educational initiatives that empower music professionals with essential knowledge and tools, offering workshops and webinars on topics from copyright and licensing to marketing.

A2IM serves as a unifying force in the otherwise disparate independent music community, encouraging collaboration and shared learning. Our members benefit from exclusive marketing opportunities, international market guidance, trade missions to other music markets, and participation in key industry events like A2IM Indie Week, the Libera Awards and of course, the Grammys.

The U.S. music market is the world’s largest single music market. However we are witnessing significant growth in emerging markets around the world, which increases opportunities for independent artists, labels, and distributors alike. Obviously, streaming is the dominant source of revenue for recorded music but by adjusted dollars we are still down between 30 and 40% below our industry’s peak revenues in 1999. This is in large part because we are undermonetizing streaming and simply not monetizing superfan engagement on streaming services.  

Interestingly, despite being nearly a quarter century into the digital age, physical sales in this country remain significant and are growing every year but here there is a big difference between the major labels and the independents. For independent labels, physical and download sales on average constitute about 42% of their revenue, this is in stark contrast to the major labels’ low single digit sales of physical and downloads.

In today’s digital era, independent artists and labels navigate a complex landscape. Platforms like Bandcamp and SoundCloud are crucial as are streaming services such as Spotify, Apple, Amazon, YouTube, Tidal and Deezer, yet being heard above the vast cacophony of music is challenging. Financial sustainability for independent artists and labels is still a hurdle to be sure, but the independent path offers creative freedom for artists, the potential for organic growth, and ownership or control of valuable assets for independent artists and labels.

This is an exciting time to be in the music industry and, as always, there are many challenges – fraud is a major issue on streaming services and, while AI is an exciting new technology, many artists and labels are now concerned about deep fakes and the abuse of AI. 

We are working on all of this with the Recording Academy and all the other trade organizations in the copyright industries. 

Being and remaining independent is not always easy but the control it bestows is rewarded by much greater freedom of creativity and the resilience independence builds offers the opportunity for sustainable longevity. The panel discussion today will delve into real experiences, industry insights, and the profound impact of indie music on fans. Let’s engage in meaningful conversations, challenge our perspectives, and explore innovative ways to support this dynamic community. We may be small individually but together we are mighty. 

Thank you all for being a part of this journey and contributing to the rich diversity of independent music. Thank you to the Recording Academy, Ruby Marchand and John Loken for inviting me to speak and let’s hear what our amazing lineup of panelists have to say and let’s continue to champion the unique spirit of independent music.”

About A2IM:
A2IM is a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit trade organization headquartered in New York City that exists to support and strengthen the independent recorded music sector. Membership currently includes a broad coalition of more than 700 Independently-owned American music labels. A2IM represents these independently owned small and medium-sized enterprises’ (SMEs) interests in the marketplace, in the media, on Capitol Hill, and as part of the global music community. In doing so, it supports a key segment of America’s creative class that represents America’s diverse musical cultural heritage. Billboard Magazine identified the Independent music label sector as 37.32 percent of the music industry’s U.S. recorded music sales market in 2016 based on copyright ownership, making Independent labels collectively the largest music industry sector.

Learn more about A2IM here.
For information about how to join our community, see here.