Not only is it cool to be an indie artist, it's also beginning to pay off

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on January 28, 2014

From The News Desk

The Grammys have come and gone, and Macklemore is now officially cool, his street cred rising high since beating down a real rapper. Or do the Grammys make you not cool? I have trouble keeping track.

Nevertheless, one thing to note is that independent artists did exceptionally well this year. They did well last year, too. And the year before that, and leading up to 2011 Indie artists won album of the year four straight years. Sense a trend?

At any rate, about half of the artists who won Grammys this year were considered "independent." Which is to say the artists were not represented by a major music label. These included Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Vampire Weekend. Note, too, that Taylor Swift is considered an indie artist.

This shouldn't come as a huge shock, says Rich Bengloff, the president of the American Association of Independent Music. Over the last few years, independent music has gotten a whole lot more popular. The reason: online music services like Pandora and, now, Beats. They are changing music consumption habits, nichifying music and helping listeners to find artists they might not have come across in the past.

"We happened to get lucky because society has become more niche oriented," he says.

It's been a long road, though. He's been working for the last eight and half years at A2IM, trying to help labels who wouldn't otherwise be picked up by the majors. "Our mantra is access and monetization," he says.

And thanks to services like Pandora, et al, which frequently showcase artists who aren't represented by major record labels, access has definitely increased. And with more access, comes the possibility for smaller labels to make more money. Which, according to Bengloff, is happening --  with his help, of course.

Bengloff's role as president is largely acting as an advocate for smaller labels. Right now his organization represents more than 325 labels, along with about 125 associated members. His work is to make sure these labels get the credit they're due. This means being aware of new music services that may promote independent musicians, as well as help burgeoning artists and labels network with others.

While major labels are looking to sell millions of record and using the most expensive equipment available, Bengloff's metric for success is slightly different. Many of his musicians aren't looking for overt acclaim from the masses, or to be played on every radio station around. Instead, all they want is to record an album and sell enough to continue doing what they love. For many labels, selling 20,000 records is the perfect amount to pay both those behind the booth as well as the artists performing.

And now he sees these artists getting even more due -- the Grammys being a perfect symbol for that.

The next hurdle he sees is to ensure that music-playing platforms continue to remunerate artists. "Consumers have to be re-taught that music shouldn't be free," he says. This seems to be slowly happening. According to Billboard Magazine, independent labels control 34.6 percent of the music market.

And, in my opinion, this new widespread indie music love is a boon for society too. More music artists are able to focus on their craft and still make a living.

Or, as Bengloff explains it, "our community looks to produce a body of work."

I'm not sure if the same thing can be said for Justin Bieber.

[Image Macklemore'd from Thinkstock]