The convergence of ‘independent’ and ‘differently dependent’

Flickr user kelseyxsunshine

I’m attending the Future of Music Summit today, hearing panel after panel of experts, artists, and advocates interested in a healthy ecosystem for independent musicians. And it’s striking me how the worlds of ‘indie music’ efforts and nonprofit arts organizations are finding their way into the same world (or at least longing toward it).

‘Independent’ in music and film tends to include artists or projects that are not financed by major labels or major studios. Of course, it’s never that simple, as artists move in and out of many systems — some parts supported by big business, some not — and some systems are complex interconnections of big business and small provider (thanks to Live Nation, Ticketmaster, and Broadway Across America among others). In a music system that’s often been a slave to ‘scale’ — big-ticket stars crowding out the channels and opportunities for smaller voices — many are working to create more accessible and equitable connections between artists and their current and future fans.

Nonprofit arts organizations may not be eligible for the ‘indie’ credential…but they are essentially designed to be ‘differently dependent’ than commercial entertainment firms. They provide, on purpose, creative work that cannot capture its full cost through direct sale to consumers. And they do so by accessing other marketplaces for capital and operating support (aka, philanthropy, government subsidy, and such).

As systems and supports for independent artists grow in size and service, and as established nonprofit arts groups strive toward more meaningful community connections and ‘networks’ of support, the two worlds seem to be coming to play in the same sandbox: providing channels and resources for artists who can’t ‘go to scale’ or don’t want to.

There’s a lot of talk at this summit about building vibrant networks of true fans, building multiple income streams to support creative work, connecting the dots between curious audiences and interesting artists, and empowering artists to manage and benefit financially from those new connections. Seems like we should talk.


  1. Mary Margaret Schoenfeld says

    WESTAF has created the Independent Music on Tour program, to tour independent musicians from the Front Range of Colorado to presenters throughout the Western states. Great example of your point.