100 Awesome Independent Album and EP Releases You Probably Missed in 2017

Here we are, back in December, and everyone knows what that means: more “Best of…” lists trumpeting the best new music on the scene. And as always, so much of the independent world flies completely under the radar.

For the last two years, I’ve drawn up lists of “100 independent albums and EP’s you probably missed” during the year. Here they are:

Now it’s time for list number three, and I am so excited partly because of how the map is expanding to include places which weren’t touched in the first two lists.

As with the first two lists, these 100 albums and EP’s come from artists all over the world. This year’s list includes artists from: Canada, the U.K. (England, Scotland, and Wales), Australia, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Belarus, Romania, Slovakia, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Greece, Myanmar, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Serbia, Austria, Argentina, Ukraine, Indonesia, Poland, and 28 different U.S. states. The independent world is very, very big.

I’m also pleased to see an evolution of my own tastes and appreciation; this year’s list includes more pop, electronic, R&B, and jazz influences, obviously mixed in with a healthy helping of alternative, rock, and metal.

So here are 100 of the albums and EP’s that you probably missed in 2017. All were released during the 2017 calendar year; imagine if the mainstream paid attention to all the artists out there, and not only the handful we hear about.

As always, albums are in no particular order.

Go expand your universe. You’d be shocked at what you discover.

1. Why Am I Swimming Around Like This? — Fishtank — London, England, UK


2. Tube One — Okto Vulgaris — Chur, Switzerland


3. Space — The Head — Atlanta, Georgia, USA


4. It’s Butter – EP — It’s Butter — Los Angeles, California, USA


5. Grace Blue — Grace Blue — Los Angeles, California, USA


6. Machine — Hello, Mountain — Denver, Colorado, USA


7. The Hurricane EP — Morganway — Norwich, England, UK


8. Tooth & Nail — Freya Wilcox & The Howl — Brooklyn, New York, USA


9. Orphan Planet — Orphan Planet — Portland, Maine, USA


10. The Truth & The Lie — Skies Collide — Brisbane, Australia


11. Commitment Issues — Anyone’s Guess — Orlando, Florida USA


12. Dark Matter EP — Auditory Armory — Altamonte Springs, Florida, USA


13. Golden — The Talking Hours — Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA


14. Animals — Blue Eyed Sons — Helsinki, Finland


15. Dark Swallows — Dark Swallows — Boise, Idaho, USA


16. Everything You Ever Wanted — Street Pieces — Brisbane, Australia


17. The Trouble With Teeth — Little Coyote — Toronto, Ontario, Canada


18. A Flood — Twin Strike — Brooklyn, New York, USA


19. Bad Habit — Beth Blade and The Beautiful Disasters — Cardiff, Wales, UK


20. Skiddish — The Fallaways — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


21. Flux — Form Constant — Birmingham, Alabama, USA


22. Background Noise — Treading Water — Boston, Massachusetts, USA


23. Breaking the Line [EP] — The Strikes — Souchez, France


24. Wide Open — Weaves — Toronto, Ontario, Canada


25. Eclipse Of The Sun — Liquid Sunshine — Zurich, Switzerland


26. Worn Out Heart — Hollow Sidewalks — Portland, Oregon, USA


27. Start a Fire — The Burn Ins — Elkford, British Columbia, Canada


28. Coyote Gunfight — Dynamite Thunderpunch — Cincinnati, Ohio, USA


29. Monuments EP — Stereo Honey — London, England, UK


30. The Gang — The Gang — Bratislava, Slovakia


31. Drive — Sidewatcher — Detroit, Michigan, USA


32. End Times — Brother Sister Hex — Denver, Colorado, USA


33. Speak — Honey & the 45s — Chicago, Illinois, USA


34. With – EP — Fencer — Los Angeles, California, USA


35. Soul Sickness — The Versa Contrast — Revere, Massachusetts, USA


36. A Sign of the Times — Cold California — Aberdeen, Scotland, UK


37. Auto Racing EP 2 — Auto Racing — Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


38. Note to Self – EP — Ready The Prince — Toronto, Ontario, Canada


39. Decade — Fighting Jacks — San Jose, California, USA


40. Gates Of Expression — Wildchild — Sibiu, Romania


41. virus. — Novembervägen — Stockholm, Sweden


42. Hypnotic Illusions EP — Living Still Life — Sydney, Australia


43. A Show For No One — Just Noise — Des Plaines, Illinois, USA


44. All Systems Go — CODED — Cape Town, South Africa


45. Wasted EP — Kreepy Krush — Minsk, Belarus


46. Better Days — The Clock Tower — Fukuoka, Japan


47. Tales of Betrayal and Deceit — The McMiners — Belo Horizonte, Brazil


48. Black and Blue EP — Little Raven — Nashville, Tennessee, USA


49. Hydra Plane — Hydra Plane — Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA


50. Arcadia Feliz — Attikus Finch — Pamplona, Spain


51. Sublimation — Gravelarks — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA


52. The Words We’ll Never Say — In Good Nature — Boston, Massachusetts, USA


53. Polaroids — A Fire With Friends — Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA


54. Plan Of Action — The Kingpins — Montreal, Quebec, Canada


55. No Time to Die — Daeodon — Louisville, Kentucky, USA


56. Relics & Cycles — Before And After Science — Oporto, Portugal


57. In Arcadia — Field Of Giants — Oxford, England, UK


58. REM — SIAN — Tokyo, Japan


59. Aura — Set Fire — Boston, Massachusetts, USA


60. Karate Break EP — Karate Break — Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA


61. Starla — Starla — Tacoma, Washington, USA


62. Fine Motor — Fine Motor — Reno, Nevada, USA


63. Clones — Naked Shark — Ann Arbor, Michigan USA


64. Salting — Keeper — Washington, D.C., USA


65. Radio Silence — Paranoir — Thessaloniki, Greece


66. Secret Demo — Shadow Party — Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA


67. Flying High — Laneslide — Petrovsk, Russia


68. Weight — Old State — St. Louis, Missouri, USA


69. Playground — Paranoid — Lille, France


70. Crash The Gate — Cab Ride Home — Manassas, Virginia, USA


71. Space and Grit — Domestic Blend — Omaha, Nebraska, USA


72. Attic Salt — Attic Salt — Springfield, Illinois, USA


73. Demo — Piines — Toronto, Ontario, Canada


74. Heavy Dreaming — Painted Shut — Garden Grove, California, USA


75. MUTT E.P. — Whorehound — Terre Haute, Indiana, USA


76. Cinder Box — Cinder Box — London, England, UK


77. Heavy High — Bruiser Queen — St. Louis, Missouri, USA


78. The Endless and Unseen — Like The Ocean — San Francisco, California, USA


79. In Plain Sight — Elastic Blur — Downingtown, Pennsylvania, USA


80. As Far As The Stars — Nine Year Sister — Queensland, Australia


81. Fever Dreamin’ — Billy King & The Bad Bad Bad — Austin, Texas, USA


82. Sleep — Fawner — Cheltenham, England, UK


83. The Forge Sessions — Hot Raisin — Norwich, England, UK


84. Primeval — Iron Heade — Rancagua, Chile


85. Escapade — Pandelic — Yangon, Myanmar


86. Patterns — Longclaw — Portland, Oregon, USA


87. Defector — HEAVYCRAFT — Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA


88. Change — Traces — Tamworth, Australia


89. Thomas — The Shaftons — Vienna, Austria


90. Parasite — The Coathangers — Atlanta, Georgia, USA


91. Widower — Widower — Sydney, Australia


92. Rock for Life — Early Grey — Moscow, Russia


93. First Attack EP — Snappy Strokes — Krakow, Poland


94. The Story — Oceantides — Kiev, Ukraine


95. Forgiver EP — Shoplifters — Novi Sad, Serbia


96. Skoll — Astro Diver — Charlotte, North Carolina, USA


97. Alter Ego — Replica — Buenos Aires, Argentina


98. The Best Things — Beat Off! — Kediri, Indonesia


99. Kings – EP — August Tides — Cleethorpes, England, UK


100. Demos 2017 — Goodnight Cairo — Seattle, Washington, USA



If you enjoyed this please share, and feel free to Tweet me. Let’s talk music and tech!

The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — January 25, 2016

I’ll call this week a “stuck-in-your-head” week, because most everything on this list just sticks with you from the moment you hit “play.” The list this week is a little all over the place, but in the best way; people are back from the holidays, and some great music for 2016 is starting to roll in. For the artists who are making their second, third, and subsequent appearance on the Hit List, there’s a reason why; you’re really going to want to check those people out.  As always, albums are in no particular order, so hit it all up. ;D That’s it, happy Monday, now go forth and listen to some great tunes!

1. White Lotus – SingleIt’s Butter – 2015


2. Please Welcome Imperial JadeImperial Jade – 2016


3. BurlesqueSouthern Storm – 2016


4. No More Blue (EP)New Days – 2016


5. She-Devils EPShe-Devils – 2016


6. Refraction – Moonfall – 2015


7. Stages – Kopacetic – 2016


8. Bear Essentials EPOne Trick Grizzly – 2015


9. Cosmophonie EP – Cosmophone – 2016


10. Between the RosesSway – 2016


11. Lost E – SingleMy Cruel Goro – 2016


12. OceanaThe Trade Rumors – 2016


13. Neat Neat – Neat Neat – 2016


14. Gone To PerditionHype Lights – 2016


15. The MirrorsThe Mirrors – 2016


16. The Journey (EP)Rusty Joe – 2016


17. Colorworld EPColorworld – 2015


18. For When You’re Falling BackwardsRome Hero Foxes – 2016


19. Nothing GoodBremer and the No Goods – 2016


20. WiltSOAR – 2016


The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — November 23, 2015

Some weeks it’s like a windfall of amazing new music hits the streets, and this week is one of them. Some of my favorite new EP’s and albums have made appearances on the list again, but so many of the artists this week are first-timers, and I couldn’t be more stoked. This list is all over the pace, with electronic and ambient tunes mixed in amongst blues-heavy rhythms and crunchy chords. Australia is representing heavily this week, and Canada is breaking out with a vengeance. Listen to one and you’ll have to listen to them all, because there’s no way you won’t want to hear everything here. As always, albums are in no particular order, so give all these albums a nice long listen!  \m/

1. MillipedesThe Head – 2015


2. The AwakeningAuditory Armory – 2014


3. Staring at the SunCherry White – 2015


4. Astray EPFogscape – 2014


5. Steel City MuthaFunkas – EPSteel City MuthaFunkas – 2015


6. Thousand Needles In Red – EPThousand Needles In Red – 2015


7. StarBenders – EPStarBenders – 2014


8. The TipThe Tip – 2015


9. Untied – SingleGreen Light Theory – 2015


10. Burning Down EPNo Damn Good – 2015


11. Liquid DreamsJacuzzi Sunset – 2015


12. BurstVenus In Aries – 2015


13. Demo – EPThe Last Exposure – 2015


14. West EPThe Red Harbour – 2015


15. AetherIn Repose – 2015


16. SpoilerSpoiler – 2015


17. In AbstractionIn Abstraction – 2015


18. Do You Feel Electric? EPMiss – 2015


19. Snakes EPFayZed – 2015


20. SuperNeatO EPVoodoo Motors – 2015


The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — October 19, 2015

I’m stoked for the list this week; there are some amazing new albums that dropped in just the past couple of weeks. This week it’s a healthy dose of alternative-rock spread over some more eclectic genres like jazz-pop, indie-folk, rockabilly punk, electro-rock. Some of these artists are so new they don’t even have more than a few hundred fans yet, but I expect that to change for sure ;D. Albums and EP’s like this are why I love living to the left of the dial, these people are sick! As always, albums are in no particular order so make it all the way through!

1. Burning Down EPNo Damn Good – 2015


2. Runaways EPPermission to Panic – 2015


3. Stories EPIn Codes – 2015


4. 2 Song DemoDiablogato – 2014


5. Perfect Little Princess – SingleFlying Kangaroo Alliance – 2015


6. The Way BackThe Merry Go Rounds – 2015




8. Summer Fits EPSummer Fits – 2015


9. The Girl Who Stole My Boyfriend – SingleMinds Without Purpose – 2015


10. Centaurus – EPCentaurus – 2015


11. Dreadful WorldDust Idols – 2015


12. U.N.I.O.N.U.N.I.O.N. – 2015


13. NeverlessNeverless – 2015


14. Tottie & the WanderersTottie & the Wanderers – 2015


15. InsideEvenstate – 2015


16. Just Like July – SinglePelicans and Their Allies – 2015


17. New Cardinals – EPNew Cardinals – 2015


18. Songs of GlassVitrea – 2014


19. Nothing EPHeart-Shaped Scars – 2015


20. Embark EPDyadic – 2015


You Better Be a Punk

I just finished reading Jason Calacanis’s post “You don’t have what it takes” with regard to starting a company. How hard it is to start a company, and how hard it is to keep a company going. And how it is to keep your team breathing financially, and make your company successful. And not just any company; a startup.

I was pointed to the post when Charles Jo tagged me on Twitter (though I would have read it eventually, as I follow Jason’s blog), and posed a thought process to me: “[S]eems similar to what I imagine musicians go through.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 7.44.29 PM

I let that postulation play through my head as I read Jason’s article, and tried to see if any of the advice and realities in it applied to new (most times) independent artists too. I reflected on my ~10 years of experiences in the music universeas an artist, a journalist, a DJand of all the artists I know and speak to. And the finding of my thought experiment regarding those realities, is yes, they do. A lot.

Jason talks very bluntly about the pain that startups cause founders, and what kind of spine you need to have to soldier on through it. Startups are a bloodsport, and not nearly as easy, romantic, or chic as people might think after watching an episode of Shark Tank.

So in an effort to not simply reiterate Jason’s already well-made points, I’ll instead pose a different line of thinking. Before deciding that you have the spine to lead a startup company, take a moment and ask yourself a different question: Do I have what it takes to be in a band?

Do You Have What It Takes to Be in a Band?

Bands are fucking hard. And just like startups, they are way less glamorous than people think. Do you have visions of yourself playing Madison Square Garden, or accepting a Grammy as your song rockets up the charts? If so, you probably don’t have what it takes. Do you look forward to touring and watching as packed clubs mouth the words to your songs? You’re living in a dream.

Chances are most all the clubs you’ll play for the first year (or more) will be near dead empty, and no one will know (or care about) your songs. You’re more than super likely not going to have a “hit song,” and you pretty much for damn sure aren’t ever going to get anywhere near Madison Square Garden except when you’re buying tickets to see KISS play live.

You’re going to have a day job for the foreseeable future (forever?) and when you “go on tour,” you’re going to be sleeping in your crappy van, eating overpriced bar food (which you can’t afford), playing to people who mostly don’t care, and trying to raise a Kickstarter campaign for your next EP release, which again, no one cares about. You’re going to have to deal with being stiffed on your pay many nights, and your van will get broken in to and your gear stolen at least once.

This is just the reflection of the tip of the iceberg, and if any of this bothers you, then pack up, go home, and don’t even think about doing it. In fact, if this doesn’t excite you and make you hungry for more, then you don’t have the spine to be in any part of the music business other than as a fan and consumer.

You Need to Be Somewhat Masochistic

I’m convinced that you need to be severely masochistic on some level to want to be an independent artist, the same as if you want to lead (or be part of) a startup company. There are no breaks, and you shouldn’t want any, other than to eat, and call your parents and friends to tell them you still have a pulse. You should want to be thinking about work all the time because your work should excite you that much.

The real independent artists out therethe ones who you will probably go through your whole life never hearing aboutknow you won’t ever hear them, care about them, or help them. They do it anyway. They don’t wait for someone to hand them a great contract to get started, and they for damn sure don’t let hardships slow them down.

You Better Know How to DIY It Like a Punk

Just like being in a startup, how do you know if you have the spine to be in a band?

Here’s how: You know you’re going to do it, no matter what anyone else says, or tries to convince you of. You’re going to be a punk about it; you’ll DIY it the whole way through if you need to, but you’re going to do it. You’ll get down and dirty in the muck of all the things that could and will go wrong, and make your home in the palace of adversity. You’ll relish the challenge and ask for permission from no one to take on that next challenge that gives you chills.  And that’s it.   

Some may say that being too focused on your startup is living too closely to your passion, and can create large blindspots. In general, that can be very true. But you also can’t do a startup without that diehard passion. If you don’t want to tattoo your startup’s logo on your armif you figure you can just pivot to something elseyou don’t have the drive and spine for either a band or a startup.

But if you can honestly think to yourself, “yeah, I’d definitely go on tour in a shitty van (which will break down), play shows to empty rooms, not get paid, and then spend money I don’t have on recording my next album” then maybe you can do the band thing. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you play; bring out your inner punk and see how stupidly masochistic that punk is, and just how badly that punk wants it.

The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — August 3, 2015

I think the best part about doing the Hit List every week is showing just how many amazing artists are out there. Check out these 20, a few featured again, and a bunch featured for the first time. As always, albums are in no particular order. These artists are absolutely sick!

1. LegsLegs – 2015


2. The Artist – SingleEternal Mortality – 2014


3. I Was Born EPGhost Lit Kingdom – 2015


4. My Cruel Goro EPMy Cruel Goro – 2015


5. Feast of AshesInviolate – 2012


6. HorseAnimals in Suits – 2015


7. On the Rebound EPSet It Right – 2015


8. March in the Dark: Chapter TwoAnyone’s Guess – 2015


9. Nine Scythes – SingleOtherWorld – 2015


10. DetoursDamn Mondays – 2015


11. Jellyfish EPBlaine the Mono – 2015

Template 505 CD 6 Panel 1 Disc Digipak SR

12. Whole Other KindDear Stalker – 2012


13. Forgotten Realms of WondersShaylon – 2015


14. AvantéAvanté – 2015


15. Sara – SingleAltessa – 2015


16. Tide of MindTide of Mind – 2015


17. Do It YourselfCount Me Out – 2015

Do It Yourself

18. Francis Duffy & The Kingpins EPFrancis Duffy & The Kingpins – 2015


19. Back to YouDimitri’s Rail – 2013


20. Ghosts Have My NumberOur Way Out – 2015


The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — July 27, 2015

One month down and still killing it with some amazing artists here on the Hit List. This week, a sick new bunch of artists tearing is up. You gotta check these people out, you won’t be able to stop hitting repeat, ha! As always, albums are in the no particular order. Check these people out, they’re brilliant!

1. GhostBetween California and Summer – 2014


2. Don’t CareBelly Up – 2015


3. Run and Gun – SingleFake Planes – 2015


4. Survive the Night – Single50/50 – 2015


5. Last Known SurroundingsCarousel Scene – 2015


6. InsideEvenstate – 2015


7. Generation DreamsTeenage Buzz – 2015


8. Own Your OceanDirect Divide – 2015


9. Saturday Night LoudThe Forty Whacks – 2014


10. Sweet Disillusion – SingleElie & the Engine – 2015

Sweet Disillusion - Single

11. Spirit of FreedomPerseids – 2014


12. The Lost [EP]The Beautiful Monument – 2015

The Lost [EP]

13. Turkana BoyThousand Days – 2015


14. the OceanOf the Sonic Sea – 2015


15. UnifyIsometric – 2015


16. In My HeadHillary Hand – 2015

In My Head

17. Lov/ners – The Nories – 2015


18. For Machines EPLimb to Limb – 2015

For Machines EP

19. Stranger Just the SameHeel – 2014


20. Fourstory EPA Black Eye Affair – 2015

Fourstory EP

The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — July 13, 2015

Another week, another 20 demos, albums and EP’s from the international underground you need to hear this minute. Check these artists out. In no particular order:

1. The Lost [EP]The Beautiful Monument – 2015

The Lost [EP]

2. Save Me EPForever Still – 2015

Save Me EP

3. DreamersMonster Eats Manhattan – 2015


4. Penny The DreadfulThose Mockingbirds – 2014

Penny The Dreadful 2

5. Mad Dog EPTen Dead Crows – 2015

Mad Dog - EP

6. DetoursDamn Mondays – 2015


7. Stranger Just the SameHeel – 2014


8. Uncontrollable – SingleThe Nixon Rodeo – 2014


9. Passengers EPThe Fallen Prodigy – 2015

Passengers - EP

10. Dais EPDais – 2015

Dais EP

11. EgressorThe Body Politic – 2014


12. NocturnalIsobel Trigger – 2014


13. AnchorsThe Wonderlife – 2015


14. Time and PlaceThe Playbook – 2013

Time and Place

15. Do It Yourself!Count Me Out – 2015

Do It Yourself

16. Change EPBranded Bandits – 2014


17. LungeLunge – 2013


18. Give It Away EPFelice LaZae – 2014


19. ContendersContenders – 2015


20. The Drake Equation EPHelion Prime – 2015

The Drake Equation EP

The Resurrection of The Hit List — July 6, 2015

When I was running my radio show Underground Takeover, one of the best things I did was run a feature called The Hit List: 10 Demos, Albums, and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now. Every couple of months I would compile a list of the albums, EP’s and singles that I found myself listening to ad infinitum, and that I figured everyone needed to be aware of and listening to.

When my show ended (it was a college show, after all), The Hit List ended with it. Lately though, so much amazing material has been coming out, these artists really need to be highlighted. So, we’ll resurrect The Hit List for a little while and see how it goes!

Some new details though, to reflect a new incarnation of The Hit List:

  1. Lists will be lengthened from 10 entries to 20.
  2. List items (demos, albums, EP’s, single) appear in no specific order; i.e.: there is no “top” or “bottom” of the list.
  3. I will do my best to attach relevant details to each item, including title, artist, artwork, and year.
  4. I will do my best to keep the list running, and publish a new list as often as possible.
  5. These albums and singles are spread across a variety of platforms, and thus making a straight playlist is currently too time-consuming. However, I’ll reexamine this point over the next few months.
  6. To help distinguish: demo, Single, Album, and EP titles occur in italics, artist names in bold, and years of release in regular font.
  7. Artist names will be linked to either their Facebook, Twitter, home site, or other pages.
  8. This is all for fun, so let’s keep it that way.

So with that, let’s get to it. Here’s my Hit List for July 6, 2015:

  1. Take Me – Single — Pneumatic — 2015

  2. Ephemeral   Remedy X — 2013Ephemeral
  3. The Devil Never Comes — Molly Rhythm — 2015The Devil Never Comes
  4. Passengers EP — The Fallen Prodigy — 2015Passengers - EP
  5. The Steppin Stones — The Steppin Stones — 20154pan1t-1
  6. Fourstory EPA Black Eye Affair — 2015Fourstory EP
  7. Prophet — Florence & Normandie — 2015Prophet
  8. Triangulum Mechanism — Sunshine & Bullets — 2014Triangulum Mechanism 1
  9. Half Blue — Half Blue — 2015a4155327433_16
  10. Sweet Disillusion – Single — Elie & the Engine — 2015Sweet Disillusion - Single
  11. Just the Tip — Big Red Dog — 2015Just the Tip
  12. Girls of the Yukon — The Head — 2013Girls of the Yukon
  13. Demo — Third Season — 2015Demo
  14. Faces of the Sea — Party Asylum — 2014Faces of the Sea
  15. Blur of Our Souls — Heavy Gloom — 2015cover
  16. Distance Between Us — Eat Your Heart Out — 2015Distance Between Us
  17. Miles Away — My Monthly Date — 2015Miles Away
  18. The Drake Equation EP — Helion Prime — 2015The Drake Equation EP
  19. Dais EP — Dais — 2015Dais EP
  20. Unable to Function EP — Vanilla Function — 2015Unable to Function EP

Spotify’s Sony Contract: What It Means for Everyone

With the leak of Spotify’s contract with Sony last week, there’s a lot of attention on the streaming service right now. I’ll be taking a closer look at that contract over the next week, but for now I’ll focus on the fallout over the last week. In particular there seems to be a lot of renewed interest on the music space, more so than I’ve seen in a while. I think, though, that this has to do with a lot more than simply one contract between two companies; for the first time perhaps, the general public (including music producers, artists, and general music listeners) is aware of the kind of deals being struck behind the scenes.


Even as Spotify soars in newer valuations that have the company somewhere in the $8B range, yesterday’s leak shows that such a valuation may in fact be misleading—Spotify has to cough up around $43M just for licensing from Sony alone. How much do you think they need to cough up for the other two majors, Warner and Universal? Even if we snip off the extra $3-4M, and assume an upfront licensing fee of $40M from Sony—and then simply assume similar prices for Warner and Universal—then Spotify has already spent $120M of investor money. And that’s just for the privilege of having access to the major labels’ stable of artists.

Also, don’t forget that’s before royalties and any other metrics that Spotify has to hit. Therefore it’s more like $43M upfront for the privilege to pay more later on; it’s not a one-and-done purchase. And most unfortunate for Spotify, this latter number is also predicated on how an artist performs in popularity, something they have essentially no control over.

I’m not going to rewrite Micah Singleton‘s article, but I will draw on a number of points he highlighted and what they mean in reality. There are numerous points of importance, but these are the ones I think the general public really needs to be apprised of. Though the contract has since been removed, we got the basic gist:

  1. Written by Sony—First let’s just take a moment to note that the contract was written by Sony. Of course this is their prerogative, but when considering the fact that Sony holds the rights to much of the content that Spotify wants to license, it clearly illustrates who is subject to whom. Frankly, since Sony holds the content rights, they (and the other major labels) essentially hold Spotify’s lifeblood in their hands—that’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. Realistically Spotify is not built around an independent and free model, so they need to play ball with Sony and the other labels, or they won’t play at all. Period.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 8.01.23 AM
  2. Advances—Spotify paid Sony $42.5M just for the right to license the music. That’s an upfront fee just to get in the door. This means that anyone looking to compete head to head with Spotify or Rdio needs to magically have about $130M lying around or in funding before they even get their feet wet (projecting the combined upfront licensing fees of the Big Three major labels). One of the reasons that Spotify has to raise such massive funding rounds is because these advances are somewhat annual, and thus need to be renegotiated all the time. And as the major labels continue to get squeezed in their wallets, these numbers are only going to rise for services looking to use major label content.
  3. Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.36.33 PMDivided How and Among Whom?—As Singleton points out, Sony can essentially do whatever they want with that money; there’s no stipulation that it has to be divided in any particular way, or that any of it has to go to artists or songwriters. According to multiple sources, that money usually stays with the label and is generally not shared with artists. This particular point has raised such criticism that its prompted both a response from the EU, which is now looking into Spotify’s contracts, and virtually obliged Sony to come out with a public statement on the matter. Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.36.56 PM
  4. Most Favored Nation Clause—Essentially a clause that guarantees that Spotify’s balls remain in Sony’s vicegrip. The clause guarantees Sony the right to amend  any portion of the contract if it perceives that any other label has a better deal than it does. This means that Sony is essentially never bound to Spotify in any way; it can decide—based on its own perception—that another label has a better deal (which it may or may not) and rework the entire deal for its own benefit. And Spotify has to swallow everything.
    Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.41.24 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.42.20 PMWhere this really kills Spotify is when used in conjunction with the clause dictating payment based on market share. Thus, if another label has a better deal in that regard—perhaps double what Sony is getting monetarily—then Spotify has to cough up and pay Sony the difference.
  5. Spotify’s 15%—Basically exactly what it sounds like. Spotify takes 15% of the revenues from third-party advertising right off the top. What they do with this money is unknown, though it’s quite plausible that they’re not redistributing it to the artists, and are probably giving third-party advertisers a raw-ish deal. Next time Spotify releases a statement saying that they don’t have the funds to pay the artists more money, let’s all remember this little financial tidbit.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.47.16 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.48.28 PM
  6. Sony’s Ad Spots—This one’s pretty easy to understand: essentially Spotify is obligated to give Sony a certain amount of free ad space on its service. The ad space—which is clearly worth a fair amount of money—is given to Sony at a massive discount.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.53.33 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.54.09 PMBut that’s not all; Sony retains the right to sell the credited ad space to whomever they want, whenever they want. Again, Spotify gets squeezed.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.54.41 PM
  7. User Metrics—Spotify essentially has goals it needs to hit in terms of its user metrics (on both payment tiers), and if it misses those, it could be penalized. Conversely, if it exceeds expectations in either of the tier metrics, it recalculates that number so that Sony gets paid more. In English, what this means is that the better Spotify does, the more money Sony is entitled to, but doesn’t necessarily mean that it all works out for the streaming service.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 3.07.40 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 3.07.51 PMIt’s important to remember that Sony isn’t in the business of making sure that it backs up Spotify. It—like the other major labels—is licensing its music to numerous services, so its only real loyalty is to its bottom line. How that affects Spotify is essentially irrelevant to the major label.
  8. The Royalty Distribution (Forget About the Artists)—Without going too deeply into it (Singleton’s initial analysis and infographics are worth consulting), it basically boils down to this: the royalties per stream are so miniscule that you need to be getting millions of streams in order to make any real money (and by real, I mean anything more than $10.00). We all know that independent artists are never going to get to that level trying to compete on an unfair playing field, so let’s just put that point to bed right now. One thing that is worth noting now, though, is that not even every artist has a contract entitling them to royalties. So for all the bluster about royalty payments, many of the artists signed to major labels aren’t even entitled to fair cuts from the streaming.Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 6.33.02 PMBut even more so, the way in which streaming royalties are calculated is so incredibly convoluted you almost need a degree in economics just to understand it. That’s not how it should be. For independent artists—and even mainstream artists who simply want to understand the financial dynamics—this is yet another way of keeping them in the dark. No one in any other industry would accept some sort of voodoo economics principle when it came to calculating their earnings, so why should music artists—mainstream or independent—have to settle for that? That’s the point, they shouldn’t.

There are numerous other points worth discussing, but these are some of the major ones that discussions of the music industry revolve around. Though arguably a major embarrassment for Sony and Spotify, the leaking of the contract between the two really shines a bright light on what goes on behind the scenes. It clarifies that what happens behind the curtain affects every type of artist, and underscores why more transparency and reform is needed in the music industry. And it highlights something else: the music industry is not dead and foregone. We’re now right on the precipice of a whole new type of music industry that’s taking shape every day. Those who accept and embrace the new dynamics will be the ones who benefit most from them when they inevitably come.


Thanks to Shelley Marx for reading early drafts of this.