BMG acquires German promoter Undercover
BMG Rights Management, the Berlin-based record label and music publisher, is entering the live business for the first time with the acquisition of a majority stake in promoter/event production firm Undercover.
Brunswick-based Undercover, which usually promotes in excess of 200 concerts and shows annually, will form the basis for a new live music and events business unit within BMG in Germany. The company also serves a tour agent, brokering tours and festivals for national and international artists across Germany, Austria and Switzerland (GSA), and develops and produces its own touring formats.
Undercover CEO Michael Shacke and his team of 30 will remain in place following the acquisition, the terms of which were not disclosed and which is expected to close by the end of this month.
The deal, says BMG, means that, in addition to “releasing recordings and publishing songs, BMG can now offer artists an integrated tour promotion and ticketing service” on an opt-in basis.
“An important part of our job will be to form a centre of excellence for events”
Dominique Casimir, BMG’s EVP of repertoire and marketing for continental Europe, says: “Moving into live is the logical extension of BMG’s plan to integrate all the services an artist could need under one roof, with the artist brand at the centre of it all. Crucially, we have found in Michael Schacke and his team a partner who shares our values.”
“I founded this company in 1991 to be able to perform with my band, and that’s how I became a promoter. This idea has since grown into a nationwide concert agency with over 30 employees,” adds Schacke. “Discussions about a partnership with BMG commenced long before the coronavirus pandemic, but we are now perfectly set up for when the market returns.
“There is a significant opportunity for us working together to offer a genuine alternative for artists in Germany and beyond, building on Undercover’s established recipe of ‘live entertainment and artist partnership’.”
The acquisition comes during a time of upheaval in the Covid-hit German live music market, and follows the launch of new promoter DreamHaus – also based in Berlin, and staffed with a number of former Live Nation Germany employees – last week.
Maximillian Kolb, managing director of BMG GSA, says: “Artists want partners who build their business around them, rather than the other way around. Above all, this means offering the best possible service.
“Moving into live is the logical extension of BMG’s plan to integrate all the services an artist could need”
“The German music market has proven to be extremely adaptable and is one of the strongest in the world, especially in the live segment. I am very happy that we have become the first territory within BMG to be able to offer a complete service portfolio to artists, including live.”
Launched in 2008 as the successor to Sony BMG, BMG Rights Management – owned by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann – represents artists including Iron Maiden, John Legend, Bring Me the Horizon, Bloc Party, Alt-J, Tame Impala, Morrissey, MIA, Frank Ocean, Jess Glynne, David Crosby and Kylie Minogue for label services and/or publishing.
Undercover will form part of a network of Bertelsmann brands, the Bertelsmann Content Alliance, which also includes broadcaster RTL, book publisher Penguin Random House and magazine publishing Gruner and Jahr (Stern, Capital, Geo).
Casimir, who is also a board member of the Bertelsmann Content Alliance, explains: “An important part of our job will be, together with the Undercover team, to form a centre of excellence for events within the Content Alliance. We look forward to working with the other divisions and together adding even more value to our artists and media brands by creating bespoke live experiences.”
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Black music executives set out standards for industry
A collective of Black music executives in the UK has sent a letter to heads of companies including Live Nation, Universal Music Group and Spotify, laying out five “immediate calls to action” to tackle structural and systematic racism within the music industry.
The letter builds on Black Out Tuesday last week, which saw the global music business down tools in solidarity with anti-racism protestors in the US and in order to reflect on what steps need to be taken to address racism in the industry and wider society.
Following on from the demonstration, which was promoted through the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused, executives from Metropolis Music, the Music Managers Forum (MMF), Ministry of Sound, Sony Music, UMG, Atlantic Records, Warner Music Group, and more, have come together under the #TheShowMustBePausedUK initiative and newly formed Black Music Coalition to call for immediate changes at the UK’s biggest live and recorded music companies.
“The music industry has long been a microcosm for [racial] injustices and they continue to play out within the companies you lead”
Directed to “chairman, CEOs presidents and music industry leaders”, the letter calls on companies to implement mandatory anti-racism/unconscious bias training; commit money each year to Black organisations, educational projects and charities in the UK; implement career development for Black staff to ensure greater representation at senior management level; replace the term “urban music” with “Black music”; and establish a dedicated equality and diversity task force.
“It is a widely shared belief that the music industry has long been a microcosm for these injustices and they continue to play out within the companies you lead, companies which we are a part of,” reads the letter.
“Your public statements of support throughout the recent times were impassioned and we appreciated them, but we now want to drive forward tangible changes, giving power to that show of support.
“We expect that these long overdue steps will be implemented in a comprehensive manner to translate your empathy into a legacy of lasting change and we look forward to working with you to ensure that this happens.”
The letter can be read in full below, along with a list of signatories:
Dear Chairmen, CEOs, Presidents and Music Industry Leaders,
The past few weeks and months have been filled with visceral and overwhelming emotions of frustration, grief and sadness following the violent and untimely deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in America and what the circumstances of their deaths repeated to us about the position of Black people, the value of Black lives and livelihood and of the pervasive stain of racism in our society.
As the Black community mourned, many of us working in this and other industries tried to adopt our usual coping mechanism of suppressing our trauma caused from witnessing the disregard for Black life, but this time was different, we found and find ourselves unable to do so.
For far too long, the global Black community have faced racial injustice, inequality and disenfranchisement across all aspects of society and here in the UK, is no different.
As Black British people, we know of and have seen members of our community overpoliced, brutally treated and die at the hands of institutionally racist police forces and recount for example the deaths of Sarah Reed, Rashan Charles, Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg and many more. Simply put, the UK is not innocent.
Further, we are all facing an unprecedented global pandemic caused by the Coronavirus yet still, it is Black and Brown members of society who are being disproportionately affected e.g. Public Health England COVID19: Review of Disparities in risks and outcomes study shows that Black males in the UK are 4.2 times more likely to die from a Covid- 19 related death than white males. Throughout this public health crisis, racism also continues to rear its head; we witnessed a blatant indifference to Black lives most recently, in the case of Black front-line key worker Belly Mujinga, who was made to work in a public facing position despite her bosses being aware she had underlying health conditions, consequently died from Coronavirus having been assaulted by a white male. The investigation into her case was swiftly closed by the police and only reopened following immense public pressure and a peaceful protest in London.
The music industry has long profited from the rich and varied culture of Black people
These situations illustrate the ways structural and systemic racism creates poor outcomes for Black people and the Black community at large.
The music industry has long profited from the rich and varied culture of Black people for many generations but overall, we feel it has failed to acknowledge the structural and systematic racism affecting the very same Black community and so effectively, enjoying the rhythm and ignoring the blues. We feel that as an industry, we cannot continue to benefit and profit, whilst continuing to ignore the issues of the community we benefit and profit so much from, issues which affect far too many of our artists in one way or another.
In the US, Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas launched #TheShowMustBePaused initiative and their mission was clear – to give us all a moment; a moment to pause, to exhale and find some solace. Here in the UK, the message resonated with many of us Black executives and as a result we launched #TheShowMustBePausedUK, coming together to discuss what permanent change we needed to bring about within our beloved industry.
Coming together and talking about the events outlined herein and our shared experiences, caused us to relive the many instances of injustice, racist comments and marginalisation across our lives including in our experiences within this industry. It is a widely shared belief that the music industry has long been a microcosm for these injustices and they continue to play out within the companies you lead, companies which we are a part of. As a result of the passionate and thought-provoking conversations over the last week; the consensus is clear – the time for change is NOW.
The consensus is clear – the time for change is NOW
As the leaders across the UK industry, who stood in solidarity with us for #BlackOutTuesday, publicly declaring your support and commitment to change, here are our immediate calls to action:
- Mandatory Anti-Racism/Unconscious Bias training across each respective company for all non-Black members of staff, led by Black Educators in the field and complimentary counselling and holistic services made available for Black members of staff with immediate effect.
- For each company to commit a specified annual budget to financially support Black organisations, educational projects and charities across the UK e.g. The Black Curriculum.
- Career development implemented for Black staff across all business areas including long standing consultants in order to develop the next generation of leaders. To address, challenge and change the lack of Black staff at Senior Management level and no Black female President/Chairwomen across the industry.
- Following statements from major labels and management companies, the term “Urban music” is to be removed from your company verbiage and replaced with “Black Music”.
- Establish a dedicated internal task force to review, and with the remit to drive and challenge both the Equality and Diversity aims within your business structure, and the advancement of Black executives across your business including equal pay, mentorship and career progression.
Your public statements of support throughout the recent times were impassioned and we appreciated them, but we now want to drive forward tangible changes, giving power to that show of support.
We expect that these long overdue steps will be implemented in a comprehensive manner to translate your empathy into a legacy of lasting change and we look forward to working with you to ensure that this happens.
The Black Music Coalition, The Show Must Be Paused UK, and on behalf of Black executives from Warner Music Group, Sony Music, Universal Music Group, BMG, Live Nation UK, Spotify and MMF.
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Scooter Braun launches music tech investment group
Former BMG president Zach Katz has launched investment vehicle Raised In Space Enterprises with Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings and Ripple’s Xpring, an initiative focused on developing blockchain projects.
Raised In Space Enterprises provides funding to entrepreneurs with technology solutions across all aspects of the music industry, including ticketing, touring and fan engagement. Investments range from US$500,000 to $5 million.
The company hopes to capitalise on its partnership with Ripple’s Xpring, integrating blockchain technology and the digital asset XRP to benefit and impact the music industry.
“We will unify the most forward-thinking leaders in both music and technology to foster a community and ideas that will ultimately catapult the music industry into the future,” states Raised In Space founder and chief executive, Katz.
Katz launches the investment vehicle following his December departure from the US division of music publisher BMG, where he held the position of president. He teams up with famed artist manager, Braun, and technology and music entrepreneur, Shara Senderoff, in founding Raised In Space.
“The relationship between music and technology has massive untapped potential”
Braun, who manages Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, is the founder of venture-capital firm Ithaca Holdings and an early investor in numerous technology companies.
“The relationship between music and technology has massive untapped potential,” says Braun. “I’m excited to launch a company focused on bridging these two industries in a transformative and actionable manner that raises the value of music.”
Braun has worked with Ripple’s Xpring, a blockchain technology and investment firm, on various projects. The company is “excited about blockchain’s potential to solve problems in the entertainment space,” says Ripple’s Xpring senior vice president, Ethan Beard.
“Xpring is about empowering the best entrepreneurs to apply technologies like the XRP Ledger in new and novel ways. We are excited to see how the entrepreneurs they [Kantz, Braun and Senderoff] back will build new solutions that can reshape the music industry.”
Major publishers to pull catalogues from embattled SGAE
Four of the big five international music publishers have taken the first steps towards severing their ties with SGAE, as the fall-out from the alleged ‘wheel’ scam continues to plague the controversial Spanish collection society.
Warner/Chappell, Sony/ATV, Universal Music Publishing and BMG, along with US-based indie Peermusic, have each written to SGAE requesting to pull their international catalogues, which include the likes of Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Radiohead, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Enrique Iglesias, collectively comprising almost 60% of broadcast collections in Spain – according to leading daily El País.
SGAE (Sociedad General de Autores y Editores) has been embroiled in controversy since June 2017, when police raided its offices in search of documentation relating to an alleged scam dubbed ‘the wheel’ (‘la rueda’), in which SGAE members and TV execs allegedly conspired to create “low-quality music” – often reworked versions of songs in the public domain – that was then broadcast on late-night TV, generating performance royalties collected by SGAE.
Royalties from music licensed under la rueda account for around 70% of monies collected by SGAE from television, despite reaching only around 1% of the TV audience, says the paper. “Our repertoire, however, receives about 1%,” says Santiago Menéndez Pidal of Warner/Chappell Spain and Portugal. “It’s a joke.”
Publishers’ association ICMP warned last month that, despite having being reprimanded by the international publishing community and a World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) arbitration panel, SGAE continues to operate a version of the alleged scam.
“We need the people who have brought corruption to this house gone”
When the purported scheme first came to light, SGAE said it had introduced measures to address the ‘wheel’. However, ICMP suggested the society never intended to eliminate the scheme completely, and a Spanish court has since rejected the WIPO panel’s decision (which would have restricted the percentage of ‘wheel’ music on TV to 20%) entirely.
An ICMP source said, pending a wholesale “revision of the society’s governing structure”, publishers may be forced to seek “alternative licensing options in order to protect their repertoire in Spain.”
In identical letters sent to SGAE last Friday, the five publishers accuse the organisation of “mistreating” their international/‘Anglo-Saxon’ repertoire, and lay out their intention to take their catalogues elsewhere.
According to El País’s sources, the most likely destination for those rights would be a “well-known Italian entity”, with public performance and live/popular music royalties set to follow as part of a period of “decolonisation” of all rights currently administered by SGAE, starting in January 2019.
“For us to stay [with SGAE], we need the people who have brought corruption to this house gone,” says Rafael Aguilar, Peermusic’s regional president. “Fire the president, José Miguel Fernández Sastrón, and ensure that real musicians are represented in the [SGAE] governing body – not the wheel.”
SGAE did not respond to a request for comment.
BMG says “nie wieder” with campaign against antisemitism
German music publishing and rights management outfit BMG has initiated a new campaign aimed at combatting antisemitism and hate speech in schools.
The campaign launched at Berlin’s Zoo Palast cinema on Wednesday, where Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser talked about his experience in the Nazi concentration camps, and director Emanuel Rotstein screened his film Die Befreier (The Liberators). At the end of the launch event, Lesser asked the audience to hold hands and repeat after him three times, “Nie wieder” (“Never again”).
BMG’s intervention follows the cancellation in April of the Echo Music Prize – the German recording industry’s highest accolade, equivalent to the Grammys or Brits – following worldwide criticism of the jury’s decision to hand the 2018 award for best hip-hop/urban album to rappers Farid Bang and Kollegah for 2017’s Jung, brutal, gutaussehend 3. The album includes a song, ‘0815’, where the two rap about their bodies being “more defined than Auschwitz prisoners,” while another line says they’re planning “another Holocaust, coming with a molotov”.
Commenting on the awards’ axing, organiser BVMI said the Echos had, by their association with the rappers, been tainted with “antisemitism, contempt for women, homophobia and the promotion of violence” and had to be brought to an end. Sister prize Echo Jazz was also cancelled the following month.
“We have been heartened by the incredibly positive reaction”
BMG – which severed its ties with Farid Bang and Kollegah as a result of the controversy – has committed an initial €100,000 to the campaign, which is to focus on music-related projects, and has appointed a full-time campaign coordinator to oversee the initiative.
Lala Süsskind, chairwoman of the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism (JFDA) and former chairwoman of the Jewish Community of Berlin, comments: “This was a very meaningful event. It was incredible to see the impact of Mr Lesser’s words on the schoolchildren.
“I applaud efforts to engage young people in the battle against antisemitism, and I commend the idea of a music industry led campaign to communicate with young people in the language they understand.”
“We have been heartened by the incredibly positive reaction,” adds BMG’s general counsel, Ama Walton. “The initiative will combine several elements and will set an important example against antisemitism and hate.”