The Independent Music Companies Association (also known as IMPALA, originally the Independent Music Publishers and Labels Association) is a non-profit trade body established in April 2000 to help European independent music companies represent their own agenda and promote independent music in the interests of artistic, entrepreneurial and cultural diversity. Its offices are in Brussels, Belgium.
The independents are in effect the small, medium and even micro operators. They are known as the independents because they are independent of the major music companies, known as the “majors”. Sometimes independents are referred to as SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), like other companies of similar sizes in other sectors. 99% of music businesses are small, medium or even micro operators, accounting for 80% of all new releases and 80% of the sector’s jobs. The collective market share of the independents has shrunk from 40% to 20% due to concentration and under capitalisation.
IMPALA’s stated mission is to grow the independent music sector, promote cultural diversity and cultural entrepreneurship, improve political access and modernise the perception of the music industry.
There is one Chairman, Mark Kitcatt (Everlasting Records), and one President, Kees van Weijen (STOMP). Executive Chair is Helen Smith and the Treasurer is Geert de Blaere (BIMA). The Board is voted in by members.
Cultural SMEs are recognised by the EC, as well as national, regional and international decision makers, as vital to innovation and economic and cultural diversity. The EC said in 2007 that they needed specific support measures and in 2010 it adopted a Green Paper on Cultural Industries where it recognised the need to “level the playing field” for independents, particularly through competition rules, as well as the importance of making appropriate finance available. IMPALA also participates in WIN, the Worldwide Independent Network.
IMPALA has over 4000 members including national associations and independent music companies.
The Board is voted in by members.
IMPALA has three awards schemes: the European Independent Album of the Year Award, the Outstanding Contribution Award and the IMPALA Sales Awards.
The European Independent Album of the Year Award winner is selected annually by a jury based on artistic merit alone, regardless of sales figures and publicity, from a nomination shortlist (nominated albums must have been released by a European independent label in the relevant year).
This award recognises the efforts of an individual or organisation, not necessarily from a label, to promote and develop European independent music and the diversity of the sector. Again, a winner is announced annually.
For many independent artists, success begins well before sales reach 1 million (the pan-European sales level officially recognised before IMPALA launched its scheme). IMPALA intends these Awards to provide a tool for independent music companies and artists to promote themselves, both domestically and internationally.
The sales levels for the awards are:
Sales award winners include:
To celebrate IMPALA’s 15th anniversary, various initiatives took place across Europe under the "IMPALA 15" banner.
In March 2016, IMPALA has launched FIVEUNDERFIFTEEN a campaign where five young labels are announced every month in The Independent Echo, with features, interviews, playlists and snippets of the local music scenes. This young label campaign is for labels the same age as IMPALA or younger, i.e. established in November 2000 or after. Over the coming months, IMPALA conducts the campaign in partnership with The Independent Echo, and industry gatherings such as Westway LAB Festival (Portugal), Primavera Pro (Spain), and Midem (France).
In 2006 IMPALA challenged the European Commission’s approval of the joint venture between Sony and Bertelsmann saying that the merger was contradictory to European competition law. The appeal court referred back for a “retrial”. No final decision was ever reached because the court closed the litigation down when Sony bought out Bertelsmann’s shares, making the joint venture an irrelevant entity. The case became a landmark litigation, setting a precedent for future merger cases that there is no presumption in favour of mergers. It also completely changed how merger cases are handled by the Commission and how the interests of competitors are taken into account. In August 2009, law firm Watson, Farley & Williams said “the [merger] system owes a debt of gratitude to IMPALA”. IMPALA is also advocating new competition guidelines to foster diversity and true competition in the music market.
IMPALA objected to the merger of Universal and the recorded music division of EMI, as well as the takeover of EMI's publishing business by the Sony/ATV consortium, and worked throughout the negotiations to emphasise the importance of maintaining competition and cultural diversity in the sector. After the European Commission approval of the mergers, pending significant divestments in September 2012, IMPALA welcomed the Commission’s recognition of the need for strong competitors and its insistence on tough remedies, but reiterated their conviction that an outright blocking of the deals would have been in the best interests of the music industry as a whole.
In February 2013, IMPALA and global rights agency Merlin announced a landmark agreement with Warner Music Group. The agreement arose out of the regulatory process in the EU concerning Universal's purchase of EMI’s recorded music business, which resulted in Universal being required to sell a significant portion of the acquired business (as well as certain UMG assets) in order to secure the EU's approval. This included Parlophone Music Group, which was subsequently acquired by Warner Music Group. The agreement between IMPALA, Merlin and WMG aims to bring more scale into the independent sector by offering independent labels an opportunity to buy, license or distribute a significant portion of Parlophone assets or their equivalent in WMG-owned assets. Other measures designed to help re-balance the recorded music market will also be put in place including behavioural commitments and capacity-building initiatives for independents, which again will be implemented by Merlin and IMPALA.
In January 2015, IMPALA launched its Digital Action Plan, a ten-point plan calling for a new European industrial policy to drive the digital market through the cultural & creative sectors which account for 4,2% of EU GDP and 7.1 million EU jobs. With the debate on copyright a hot topic, the action plan takes a robust stance and calls on the EU to reinforce copyright as a fundamental right, a liberator of the creativity that drives the digital market. The importance of stopping the abuse of the so-called “safe harbour” exemption by certain online platforms is underlined as a top priority. Other key measures include promoting diversity in a measurable way and devising a new regulatory, competition, social and fiscal framework for smaller actors.
The 10 points (click to view the relevant chapter online):
In January 2010, IMPALA launched its Action Plan for Finance. This called for more specific measures to help finance cultural SMEs. The plan included sports-inspired measures, such as a 5% compensation fee on all future revenues of artists developed at a smaller label and later signed by a major, and a solidarity-based revenue-sharing system.
It also called for action at EC, national and regional level to improve competition in the music sector, through a reduced VAT rate, ensuring proper valuation of copyright as an intangible asset, EC investment programmes and loan guarantee schemes, amongst other proposals.
In January 2008, IMPALA launched its Action Plan for Music. This called for cultural SMEs to be given a specific status. The Plan covered an investment package for financial viability and independence (including lowering VAT for music, applying tax benefits for SME innovation/risks/production, rolling out public/private loan guarantee schemes and SME friendly growth loan finance) a market access package (including making preferential terms for cultural SMEs a reality, adopting new competition rules for the cultural sector and dedicated independent space in all distribution channels) and a copyright and digital package (including extending term of protection for sound recordings, ISP engagement in resolving P2P issues, promoting the right of creators to fair private copying compensation).
In November 2011 IMPALA created the first ever European portal for ‘offline’ mechanical rights licensing in an agreement with BUMA/STEMRA, the Dutch collecting rights society, offering independent labels the opportunity to group together and thereby obtain advantages typically available only to majors.
In March 2012 IMPALA and Nielsen launched their first pan-European Independent Charts for digital downloads and radio airplay, released on a quarterly basis. With Nielsen withdrawing its activities in Europe, the 2013 Q2 charts were the last to published. IMPALA is currently investigating new partnerships.
IMPALA is active on other issues which aim to level the playing field in the music sector. These include:
IMPALA is a permanent observer at WIPO and a member of UNESCO's Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity
IMPALA actively contributed to the creation of Merlin in 2006 as a global rights licensing agency, aiming to ensure that the independents’ rights would be represented in the digital market.