Michael Ugwu, CEO of Freeme Digital, a Nigerian music distribution firm; and Tunde Balogun, the co-founder of LVRN, a US label, were named among Billboard’s 2021 ‘Indie Power Players’.


Billboard, on Monday, named its 2021 ‘Indie Power Players’, a title that recognises industry leaders — nominated by their companies and peers and selected by the magazine’s editors — at independent labels and distributors.

Named the first black member to the board of Merlin in 2020, Ugwu leads Freeme Digital, which works with over 2,000 artistes including Rudeboy, Flavour, The Cavemen, who is an emerging local act, and Basketmouth.

“Ugwu has developed Freeme Space as a creative hub that over the past year has seen nearly 100 videos recorded by artists including Burna Boy and multinational brands like Budweiser and Hennessy Cognac,” Billboard stated.


Among the music executives from more than 80 companies also named are Jeremy Sirota (CEO of Merlin), Ghazi Shami (founder and chief executive at Empire), Shari Bryant and Omar Grant (co-presidents at Roc Nation).

On its 2021 list, Billboard said: “Amid all of the challenges of the past year — office shutdowns, tour cancellations, a surge in social music platforms and even a vinyl supply backlog — the independent music sector has been thriving.

“Independents grew market share in 2020 from 29.7% to 31.1%, according to an analysis in March by MIDiA, which previously estimated that indie labels and artists account for nearly one-third of the global music market.


“This year’s list reflects the strength of independent labels in R&B and hip-hop (achieving hits in joint ventures). Distributors, regardless of corporate ownership, qualify as independent through the repertoire they market.”

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