Modern Music: Collaboration, Influencer Marketing and Independent Labels

This October my first three studio albums are being re-released. Waves on Wire, Oto Recordings and Déjà vu, along with the single Medley #2.  They were released initially under the AWAL label, with their strong emphasis on independent artists retaining creative and financial control of their work. Sony Music, in a very high-profile move which involved no less than the UK Competition and Markets authority, bought AWAL earlier last year. This meant that my back-catalogue was re-distributed through Sony’s channels, and brought into question what exactly is meant by ‘independent label’. AWAL has remained independent in attitude, but with the gap between major and independent closing, retaining creative control is the issue taking centre stage.  

In conjunction with making music, I have been fortunate enough to be able to collaborate with many creative brands through Instagram and Facebook. Collaborating is a fantastic opportunity to exchange ideas with brands and produce some fantastically crafted pieces, in a mutually beneficial way.

There is however a darker side to what is known as ‘influencer marketing’. Social media platforms have always been used by companies for the purpose of advertising. This is much to the consternation of those who, fearing that something or someone is being ‘promoted’ to them, would rather social media remain outside of the realms of business. Moreover, the term implies that companies using Instagram as an advertising platform can collaborate with artists to effectively produce ‘content’ or ‘adverts’ for products they manufacture. This further calls into question the position of the artist in society; is the social media ‘content’ considered part of the artists’ work, and are the adverts themselves ‘products’ of the companies’ labour? Furthermore, as does inevitably happen, companies find themselves not being aware of the distinction between the rules of a certain social media platforms, and the rule of law.  This raises the question of whether the use of artists by brands is an aesthetic judgement, or a financial one based on artists follower count? Blurring that boundary only complicates the issue, a complication which I experienced first-hand. 

I recently had the rather inflammatory displeasure of having to involve a European legal team in a dispute over ownership of certain pictures produced by and of myself.  I was reminded of the 2019 incidence of an Instagram post being considered an ‘advert’ by the ASA, with all applicable advertising standards following after. The fact that this is a reality for artists is at first sight laudable, social media platforms are hardly concert halls and art galleries, but it can, as I discovered, quickly become a matter needing a good deal of gravitas to be dealt with effectively.  


‘Art is the social antithesis of society, not directly deducible from it.’ – Theodore Adorno 


It is clear from both the buying out of AWAL by Sony and the niceties of influencer marketing, that the status of artists and music is changing. The status of art as a commodity continues to be a very prevalent issue, with cultural theorists having debated the economic and political implications since at least the mid-twentieth century. For many of these critics, art is the opposite of something produced as a commodity. There is still a huge amount of confused and dissonant debate over how to combine the spheres of artistic and commodity production, in a way which acknowledges the art as separate from, while still being traded as, a commodity.  The result being that which an artist makes is not being considered for its aesthetic value, rather the financial possibilities are taking priority, and with independent labels becoming less independent, the artists control over how their work is used is diminishing. This ultimately calls into question the artists’ relationship to their work. As long as what is produced leads to a product, aesthetics will continue to be less valued than profits.