Does Adele’s success dispel the myth that the majors’ dominance hampers market access for indies?

In the two weeks before the publication of the current issue of Music & Copyright, we conducted a poll of visitors to this blog asking whether Adele’s success disproved the argument that major-record-company dominance hampered market access for independent artists. Unsurprisingly, the majority of voters said no (see chart below). Despite the phenomenal success of Adele, one artist, no matter how big they have become, would certainly not be enough to invalidate the argument. But there have been a number of other indie-label successes that could form part of a case against the arguments concerning market-access restrictions.

Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and Arctic Monkeys may not be as big household names as Adele, but they have all sold well from an indie label base. Arctic Monkeys are possibly the band most notable for gaining success outside of the major-record-company domain. Their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, released by indie record company Domino in 2006, is still the fastest-selling debut album in UK chart history.

Given the right artist and an appealing release, a good number of indie record companies have succeeded with their artists, regardless of the size of the major-label competition. This conclusion will no doubt form part of Vivendi/UMG’s arguments for allowing the deal to go ahead. But does this mean Vivendi/UMG should be able to acquire EMI Recorded Music uncontested? Of course not. Recent indie label achievements will only be one of a great many factors the regulators will look at before deciding on the fate of the deal.

It is worth noting that focusing on a single argument and highlighting indie successes does not present the strong views of the indie sector against the deal. Indie successes have done little to halt the collective market share growth of the majors over the last few years and will not influence the regulators on issues such as competition and the possible excess power of one company. What we have offered here is merely food for thought. Adele is an exceptional artist regardless of her label background. However, making the point that indie labels are in some way disadvantaged by increased major dominance, at a time when the world’s biggest-selling artist is signed to a record company that publically lauds the advantages of its small size, might not be as straightforward as it was perhaps a year ago.

The European Commission has set a deadline of March 23 for the end of its first-phase review. After phase one is completed, the Commission will either clear the deal or request more time and begin a second-phase review. In the US, the FTC has already issued a second request for information.

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