The IMI 16th Feb 2023

Silvia Montello on new streaming models and her vision for AIM

The indie trade body’s new CEO officially entered the building on February 1 and wants to work more closely with stakeholders across the music business…

Collaboration is at the centre of Silvia Montello’s vision for the next era of AIM and its membership of independent record labels, entrepreneurs and self-releasing artists.

The trade body announced the appointment of its new CEO in December, with Montello officially walking through the door on February 1.

It should come as little surprise that she’s keen to bridge the traditional divides between indie and major, as well as finding ways to work with stakeholders across different music business sectors. The CV she has developed over a 30-year career to date is a diverse one, with key roles at major corporations such as Universal Music Group and BMG; charities including Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, Festinho and Save The Children; a music/tech platform in rights data business Blokur; and another trade body in AFEM, where she was CEO before making the jump to AIM.

And it feels like, now more than ever, a collective approach between all of music’s stakeholders could be vital, with questions around the keystone of the modern music biz, streaming, growing louder and significant change seemingly growing nearer.

We caught up with Montello to ask her how AIM can maintain the central role of indies in the streaming debate, other areas of the business that need attention, and what she hopes to achieve at AIM generally.

What made you want to take the AIM role?

SM: AIM has been an incredibly important part of how the breadth of amazing talent across the country is supported before or outside of the major label system. Actually, when the role came up 6 years ago, I was tempted to go for it then but I wasn’t sure that I had quite the right level of industry experience and knowledge to benefit AIM. This time, I really felt like I was ready. I feel like I’ve got a lot that I can bring to the job. It’s a great honour and a great pleasure. There’s going to be a lot to do, but I’m very excited about it.

Give us your assessment of the independent market as it pertains to AIM. What do you think the landscape looks like for independents and where would you like to see it go?

SM: It’s positive. Market share for independents has been growing over the last five years, and there were some recent statistics that suggested the share for independent and DIY artists on platforms like Spotify has gone up as well. So there’s definitely growth in the independent space and growth within the DIY self-releasing artist space as well, which is really exciting. Those are areas where AIM is providing greater support – to enable developing artists and DIY artists with the right tools, knowledge and support so that they can navigate their way, make a success of their career and understand where to put their focus in terms of streaming platforms, download platforms, direct to consumer, and all the other aspects of the industry. There’s a lot that I would like to see us do in terms of evolving that support.

"We will need the majors and the independents to work together with streaming platforms, to find models that are going to be more equitable for music creators."

There’s been a lot of chatter about streaming models recently, with Universal in particular making it known that it’s exploring the potential for alternatives to the current status quo. How much of a role do you think the independent sector can have in that conversation? Whatever happens next in that space will have big implications for the entire industry. To what extent can the indie sector assert itself and protect its interests?

SM: Firstly, I think when people saw the letter that Lucian Grainge had written to the Universal team about wanting to make sure that the streaming remuneration models were changing, it was good to see reference to independent and DIY artists as well as major label artists.

Our role is to make sure that if, for example, the idea is for different types of streams having different value or being paid through in different ways, that major label content is not going to be seen as more valuable than independent content.

I don’t think that’s where Universal is heading with this, but, obviously, we as a sector need to make sure that’s not how music is calibrated in terms of its value.

A new model could look at the way in which music is consumed by a fan – that might give it different value. It could be a system that says that music that has had actual action from the fan has more value compared to passively consumed music on a playlist.

I think absolutely we will need the majors and the independents to work together with the platforms, to find models that are going to be more equitable for music creators. We need the whole ecosystem to add value and create more fairness in the way in which creators are remunerated.

We’re in a really interesting time at the moment with a lot of different discussions about what different models could look like. But it is going to take engagement with the platforms as well, so that it works for artists across different genres and across different stages of their career.

We’ll be looking very closely at what that model between Universal and Tidal could look like, how other players in the market respond, and the other models that come out of discussions.

"Streaming, as we know, currently doesn't really work for the vast majority of artists as their sole way of driving revenue or growing a fan base."

The streaming debate takes up so much of the headlines at the moment. What other areas do we need to be paying attention to?

SM: I think there is a danger sometimes that people focus so much on streaming income, or trying to get that track on New Music Friday or one of the big playlists, without actually really looking across the ecosystem. Streaming, as we know, currently doesn’t really work for the vast majority of artists as their sole way of driving revenue or growing a fan base. In fact, it’s incredibly hard for a lot of artists that are more at the development stage of their career to really be able to use streaming that successfully. So, we need to be looking at platforms that are direct to consumer and other formats, across physical, web3, the metaverse and so on. We need to be looking at where the opportunities are within the live landscape, and also make sure that some of the less sexy revenue streams that a lot of independent artists maybe don’t know as much about – like performance and broadcast revenues, for example – are understood.

It’s not just about streaming, and I think we need to get the narrative away from it being the thing that takes all of our headspace, and explore other opportunities that are going to be able to supplement what people are doing on streaming platforms.

Moving on to AIM itself, what are your plans for the organisation?

SM: I don’t want to say too much about it yet because I’m only a week in, but we have big plans for the free creator tier. We are really still in the infancy of pulling that together and actually building something that is going to be incredibly powerful – not just for independent creators, but also for those who are distributed by or signed to our AIM community.

Then, we’re going to build on the focus around diversity, equity, and inclusion, with a focus on equity. Often when people talk about DEI, they think of diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexual identity…. Sometimes we miss out the equity part in terms of looking at socioeconomic equity or lack thereof. So that’s something that I’m really keen to make sure that we bring to play, as well as looking at all of the ways in which AIM can better support our community across the nations and regions. There’s much more of a focus coming in now on ensuring that people don’t feel like the music industry has to be centred around London. It’s up to us, working with partners and our community, to make sure that we really are representing fantastic talent. So, there will be plans and initiatives rolled out around that too.

One of the things that I want to bring to AIM is closer relationships with our partners in the live sector and in the venue sector. Obviously for performing artists, understanding what’s going on with our UK venues and festivals, and the challenges there is going to be incredibly important. So, I want to be able to bring in some of those relationships and really make sure that we’re working hand in hand with all of our key stakeholders across the ecosystem, To make sure that we are as relevant, valuable, switched on and supportive as we can be.

What’s your overall message to the broader industry?

SM: Collaboration is probably the key thing for me in terms of asking how we’re going to drive the UK music scene and support it in the face of a variety of challenges. For me, that means collaborating with major labels as well as independents, collaborating with the streaming platforms, really communicating and lobbying with government and other trade organisations. Rather than having an ‘us and them’ mentality, it’s ‘us and us’ because the music industry and everybody that touches our music industry has to work together to make sure that we continue to be one of the key creative outputs for music in the world.