Music

Why LANY Dropped the Major Label Act and Went Indie With Stem: ‘Autonomy Is the Future’

After LANY completed its four-album deal with Interscope early last year, the Los Angeles pop-rock duo decided to be an independent act. 

“You’ve built your career on a major [label] model, and you’re like, ‘We’ve got what we’re going to get out of the system – let’s get back some control,’” says Rupert Lincoln, the band’s manager.  

LANY had a big following, and multiple streaming hits, including 2018’s “Malibu Nights,” which has more than 403 million Spotify plays, and the 2020 album mama’s boy, which hit No. 7 on the Billboard 200. But without a label, the band needed help – and money – to market music and shows to its fanbase. 

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So Lincoln and the band talked with some of the many distribution companies now vying for independent artists’ business with advances and marketing services. They selected Stem Disintermedia, founded nine years ago by United Talent Agency veteran Milana Rabkin Lewis and which a year ago secured $250 million in credit for artist advances from Victory Park Capital.

LANY self-financed a new album, last year’s a beautiful blur, with help from Stem and Virgin Records, its label for international territories. The band made a deal with Stem to handle marketing and promotion. “Stem made an investment,” says Seth Faber, the distributor’s general manager, adding that LANY took “a few advances along the way to fund different aspects of the project.” Stem set up a TikTok marketing campaign, taking advantage of the social-media giant’s commercial music library, which allows new and indie artists to make their tracks available for brands to use in video clips. Then Stem and Lincoln pooled their radio connections and pushed “XXL” onto iHeartMedia and SiriusXM playlists. 

Stem launched a TikTok campaign, and fans shared footage from the band’s fall tour in Asia, helping “XXL” hit No. 46 on the TikTok Billboard Top 50 last September. Then the company took the track to radio — “shook hands, kissed babies,” according to Faber — and peaked at No. 26 on Pop Airplay in February. “Considering what we were going up against, major labels and their pockets, it’s a pretty good magic trick to pull off,” Faber says. The band performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Today in the fall, and its U.S. spring tour was in clubs and theaters. “XXL” has 14 million Spotify plays and more than 3 million YouTube views.

“The splits are very favorable with Stem,” says Lincoln. “We felt incredible support from the top down.”

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Stem began as a typical indie distributor, helping artists to put out physical and digital music and seeing to it they received their streaming revenue. After working with top indie artists and labels, from Frank Ocean for his Blonde album to Big Loud Records, home of Morgan Wallen, Stem pivoted to a new model in 2020, emphasizing advance artist payments; last year, it spun off a new company, Tone,  to “modernize the music industry’s financial infrastructure,” as Lewis said earlier this year. 

Stem is one of many indie distributors that does not require artists to give up long-term rights to their master recordings in exchange for advance payments — DistroKid, CD Baby, Create Music Group and Secretly Distribution operate a similar way, simplifying the process of putting artists’ music out and helping to arrange timely royalty payments. But what distinguishes Stem, according to Faber, is the ability to “add value” to artist deals by emphasizing major-label-style promotion and marketing campaigns. Instead of distributing numerous artists, Stem selects acts, like LANY, who have track records of sales success and potential for high-quality new material. 

Using this model, Stem works with indie labels such as Quality Control and artists such as R&B singer Brent Faiyaz, who received eight advance Stem checks to make his album Wasteland. Artists signed to Stem borrow what they need for music videos or digital-marketing campaigns, negotiating terms as they go along. “Now that we have the bandwidth to focus on a lower volume of more meaningful acts, all these acts get the human touch,” Faber says. “Our approach requires artists that see the big picture and are not just chasing the largest check that they could find — and are looking to make smart and calculated investments in themselves.”

Jim Caparro, a former Warner and Island Def Jam CEO who ran Polygram Group Distribution in the ’80s, says most artists don’t need a major label or even a major distributor, such as Warner Music-owned ADA or Universal Music-owned Virgin Music Group, to serve their fanbase with new music and social-media marketing. Artists like LANY, who’ve established themselves on major labels, simply need up-front money for recording projects and radio connections. 

“It’s a matter of advances: Who can write the biggest check?” Caparro says. “Artists can do it themselves. They really don’t need all those partners to share their royalties with.”

Lincoln, who runs Hills Artists in Los Angeles and London, praises Stem for giving LANY a pathway to radio connections, including top execs at iHeartMedia and SiriusXM, which will undoubtedly be useful for future single releases. He also emphasizes that Stem’s success with LANY is due to a collaboration between the distributor and the management company. “It’s been a really great partnership so far,” he says. “Autonomy is the future of the business.”

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