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Level the Playing Field: How Merlin Changed The Game For Indie Reach Records

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(Hypebot) — Despite being co-owned by two-time Grammy winner and multi-platinum artist Lecrae, Reach Records had the same problems that most indies face – too many middlemen and too little clout to do much about it.

By Katie Alberts, SVP of Operations, Reach Records & Board Member, Merlin

COVID-19 is changing the face of every industry. For the music industry, artists are being challenged like never before. Physical sales have been heavily impacted, live shows are likely canceled into 2021, merch and D2C sales have declined, sync revenue has evaporated for some labels, and it’s challenging even to decide when to release an album.

Not only is COVID-19 impacting music in 2020, the civil rights movement is bringing much needed changes to the business. Labels are re-evaluating long standing contracts, task forces are being created, and a hard look is being taken at internal practices that have led to systemic injustice. The industry is changing day to day, hour to hour. Music, as the forefront of culture, needs to have agility.

And for a long time, that agility was a difficult choice to make. Independents, known for flexibility, speed and lack of corporate red tape, could release whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, with full control over their rights, but just not for the same rates. An independent track would earn less than a major label supported track with the exact same number of streams. That’s a really compelling reason to be at a major. And a really difficult system to keep ownership of your rights in.

“Reach Records’ started with distribution from the trunks of cars and live shows consisting solely of prisons, juvenile detention centers, and summer camps.”

At Reach Records, there’s one partner who has helped change that narrative. Founded in 2003 by Lecrae Moore and Ben Washer, Reach Records’ started with distribution from the trunks of cars and live shows consisting solely of prisons, juvenile detention centers, and summer camps. And as the music sparked a movement, the business grew. In 2014, our label partnered with a major-owned distributor and the partnership opened up doors and opportunities with the industry that our humble beginnings couldn’t have dreamed of. But by 2018, we started asking ourselves, what’s next? We missed the control over our rights and the flexibility of our early days. Our artists wanted to know why they needed to wait 4 to 6 weeks to release their single. In finance, we asked why so many fees were taken off the top of our revenue. And our digital team wondered why we couldn’t own our relationships with digital partners, without the middleman.

“founded on the proposition of leveling the playing field”

Thus began our search for a better way. How do we answer all those questions without sacrificing access, terms, and the income our label and artists rely on? If we’re on our own, will we still receive the same per stream rate as we did with a major-owned distributor? And in the midst of those questions came the answer, Merlin.

Founded on the proposition of leveling the playing field, Merlin uses the collective weight of its independent label and distributor members to negotiate better terms in the digital marketplace. Our indie label might not have enough market share to move the needle, but we do have enough leverage with the weight of a catalog that includes 2Pac, ODESZA, Major Lazer, MC Kevin o Chris, Lauv, The Lumineers and 10,000+ more labels, hundreds of thousands of artists, and millions of tracks. This gives us access to best-in-class deal terms, including earlier access to new digital partnerships, advances, ad inventory, better data, and other marketing opportunities that we wouldn’t have access to if it weren’t for Merlin.

Lecrae Returns To Indie Roots

As the only one of our artists with a JV deal with a major, Lecrae, two-time Grammy award winning artist and co-owner of Reach Records, still valued that flexibility and control as much today with gold and platinum records on the walls as he did back in 2003 selling CDs out of the trunk of a Dodge Stratus. That’s why Reach did everything in our power to get the rights back into independent hands for his upcoming album Restoration. And it worked. So last Saturday, when it no longer feels right to put out an upbeat record about being “over the top” on Friday, we’re able to swap it out for a single that directly addresses the current civil rights movement and personal experiences Lecrae has had, “Deep End.” In fact, we swapped the record and decided to put it out earlier, on Wednesday, just four days later. And we’re able to do all of that without sacrificing commercial terms.

Let’s choose to be with a major because the partnership makes sense and the artist wants it, not because there’s not another option to get access to the best. It’s about having the choice of what to do with your rights, and Merlin is helping to make that choice possible.

For more information on Merlin:

Katie Alberts has been at Reach Records for 7 years, managing relationships with DSPs as well as overseeing marketing campaigns for releases for Lecrae among other hip hop artists who have sold millions of records worldwide. Other Reach artists include: Andy Mineo, Tedashii, Trip Lee, Gawvi, 1K Phew, WHATUPURG, Wande, and Hulvey.

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