Italy’s Color Sound sells stake to label Artist First
Long-running Italian booking agency Color Sound has sold what it describes as a “significant stake” in the company to Milan-based record label and music distributor Artist First.
Founded in 1989 by Antonio Colombi, Color Sound has represented a roster of high-profile Italian artists, with current acts including stars Ornella Vanoni, Le Vibrazioni, Patty Pravo, Roby Facchinetti and Riccardo Fogli.
The investment is the first by Artist First (A1) in the live music sector, and follows the recent purchase of digital agency Officine Orange and the launch of its own studio complex. The company has 50 employees in Milan and an office in London, and works with acts including Andrea Bocelli, Gazzelle and a number of international artists.
“When the chance came to make a significant investment … we jumped at the chance”
“Live music is the keystone of our industry and remains a hugely important part of how artists engage with audiences and vice versa,” comments Ferrante. “Although life has been extremely hard for this sector during the last year or so, we force a boom in live concerts in the near future and are confident this sector will bounce back stronger than ever.”
Ferrante continues: “Color Sound are one of the most revered live music booking agencies in Italy and when the chance [came] to make a significant investment into their business and bring them closer to the A1 family we jumped at the chance. It is important to us that we offer a full service to our clients, and this is another step towards being able to add even more value to our existing offering.”
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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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New signings continue during corona lockdown
Nearly three months into the shutdown of virtually all concert touring globally, booking agents and artist managers continue to discover and sign new talent, with many using the opportunity to bolster their rosters in anticipation of live music’s return, they tell IQ.
“Discovering new talent is a big part of the agent’s job, and since many of us are stuck at home with no shows happening currently, that gives us extra time to listen to new music and get interested in new artists, even more so than before,” says Belgian agent Guillaume Brevers, who left London’s ATC Live to set up his own agency, Hometown Talent, earlier this year.
“I believe it wasn’t the case in the first few weeks following [the outbreak of] the virus, as most of the agents were really busy postponing their tours, discussing festival cancellations, etc. But more recently, I personally have found I have more free time to focus on new music.”
Similarly, Dominik Meyer of Austria’s Cobra Agency tells IQ that while the early days of pandemic were largely spent dealing with cancellations and postponements, there is now definitely “more time to listen to music and explore new stuff”.
One London-based agent (who asked not be named) says he, too, has been signing new acts during the shutdown, as there are “things that I am definitely excited about and that I feel I need to sign now.” He adds that discovering new talent gives him a feeling of normality in strange times – as well as “a sense that there is a business to come back to.”
“Signing new talent is a good way for agents to remain proactive while no tours are taking place”
Also keeping calm and carrying on is Australian artist manager Andrew Stone, who leads Chugg Music, the management, publishing and label division of Michael Chugg’s Chugg Entertainment. Chugg Music’s most recent signing is Mason Watts, who agreed a label deal with the influencer-focused City Pop Records late last month.
With City Pop, says Stone, “we’re looking to sign artists now more than ever. There’s a focus on artists who have developed in the influencer/social media space” – City Pop’s first signing was TikTok star Mia Rodriguez – “so we feel at least somewhat prepared for a more online model of artist development. I think it’s a good time to build catalogue and grow communities on streaming, socials and radio, so that when the artists are heading out on the road in the future they have more than two songs that people know.”
Signing new talent is “a good way [for agents] to remain proactive” while no tours are taking place, comments Brevers, “so when things hopefully get back to normal, agents will be effective immediately and ready to provide their clients with the service they deserve”.
“In an industry where everything happens especially fast, I’m taking advantage of this new free time to think about new ways to reinvent myself as an agent,” he adds, “as well as how this industry could evolve to meet the challenges we’re facing in today’s society.”
Stone says lockdown is “forcing us to get really good at online marketing and collaborations. We are collaborating more than ever with artists across Zoom, and having features from other countries and languages, so that our international audience development isn’t completely halted by our inability to tour.”
“As long as there are engaged audiences, there will be a creative and nimble industry that can make the most of connecting with them”
With the return to full-scale concert touring believed to still be some way off, it depends on the individual agent or manager – and their personal circumstances – whether they’re using their relative downtime to scout for new talent, or just trying to survive, says the London agent.
“I think it comes down to the people,” they say. “Some are nervous about the future and just holding on, and some are understanding that it will pass and that they have to check new things out.”
They’re in the latter camp, they say – and so is Stone. He concludes: “I hope we’re not in denial about the long-term outcomes, but I think that so long as there are engaged audiences, there will be a creative and nimble industry that can make the most of connecting with them – whatever the circumstances.”
IQ launched its monthly New Signings playlist, which features tracks curated by a selection of major booking agencies, last week. Listen here:
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Sony’s Thread Shop to acquire Araca merch division
The Thread Shop, Sony Music’s merchandise unit, is to acquire the music merch division of the Araca Group, a US theatrical production and entertainment merchandising company.
Araca’s music merch roster includes artists such as Led Zeppelin, Pink, Shania Twain, Dua Lipa, Sugarland and Zayn Malik. The purchase of Araca, headquartered in LA and with offices in New York, Las Vegas, London and Sydney, significantly grows Sony Music’s in-house merchandising business, and several Araca team members have joined Thread Shop to work on the companies’ new integrated roster.
Richard Story, president of Sony Music Entertainment’s commercial music group, comments: “As artists continue to seek out merchandising opportunities to complement their music revenues, branding and marketing, Sony Music is significantly expanding its presence in this growing area of the business under the leadership of [Thread Shop SVP, strategy] Howard Lau.
“The acquisition of the Araca Group’s music merchandise division will further strengthen the Thread Shop’s artist roster and infrastructure and the competitive capabilities we offer to the music community.”
“Artists continue to seek out merchandising opportunities to complement their music revenues, branding and marketing”
“We are thrilled at the opportunity this acquisition provides for our music merchandise division,” says Michael Rego, CEO of the Araca Group, commenting on the Sony deal. “The team at the Thread Shop is artist-focused, passionate and well positioned to build upon the merchandising programs [sic] that Araca has created for our music clients.”
Sales of music merchandise were were worth nearly US$3.5 billion in 2018, IQ revealed last month, with more artists seeking to grow their merchandise offerings to offset limited revenues from music streaming.
The agreement with Araca comes as Sony seeks to also increase its presence in live, announcing on the same day the acquisition of a majority stake in UK promoter Senbla.
Oz promoter Astral People launches new label
Astral People, an Australian touring and artist management company, has partnered with label/artist services firm PIAS to launch a new record label, Astral People Recordings.
Operated by Vichara Edirisinghe and Tom Huggett, Sydney-based Astral People started out as a management firm before diversifying into touring, having promoted Australian shows by the likes of Stormzy, Sampha, Snakehips and Nao.
The first signing for Astral People Recordings, which will be run on a co-op model with PIAS, is producer and DJ Wave Racer, who recently released his new single, ‘Auto’, after a four-year hiatus.
“Our vision for the label is just a pure reflection of our joint musical tastes as a company,” say Edirisinghe and Huggett in a joint statement, “representing both local and international artists who we truly believe are the best in their fields at what they do. We’ve never been a company that’s been pigeonholed into a certain genre, and we certainly won’t be with this label. However, what we can say is that the artists we choose to represent will be ones of the highest calibre and an exciting prospect in their respective genre or scene.
“The label will represent artists that we truly feel will last the test of time in this forever changing business, and we are incredibly proud to align ourselves with such a leading voice in independent music, along some of our favourite labels – Phantasy, DFA, Mute and Transgressive Records – in the co-op model. It’s an honour to have Astral People Recordings sit amongst this group.”
Data platform Beatchain allies with McGhee and EL7G
Beatchain, a new data-science and digital marketing platform for the music industry, has announced strategic partnerships with Don McGhee’s McGhee Management and US indie label powerhouse Eleven Seven Label Group (E7LG).
Beatchain – led by founder Ben Mendoza, and comprising behavioural economists, data scientists, artificial intelligence/machine-earning experts and other music industry professionals – will use its technology platform to “help both companies grow artist fanbases and engagement for select developing artists”, according to the company.
Eleven Seven Label Group will initially use the Beatchain platform for two emerging artists, Just Loud and Bang Bang Romeo. In addition, Beatchain’s data analysis tools will be utilised for decision-making in A&R, catalogues, soundtracks, new music, ticketing, social media, advertising and geographic targeting of markets.
“We are thrilled to be working with industry leaders such as E7LG and McGhee Entertainment”
For McGhee Entertainment, meanwhile, Beatchain will deploy a feature set optimised for agency, manager, ticketing company and promoter use. This use of the Beatchain platform will automatically identify the most viable potential tour markets, estimate appropriate venue size and ticket pricing and then “hyper-target” tour markets to promote to only those fans most likely to respond, resulting “in sell-outs at a massively reduced promotional cost”.
“We are thrilled to be working with industry leaders such as E7LG and McGhee Entertainment,” says Mendoza, who previously designed and implemented data management and analytics solutions for companies including Apple, Facebook, Uber, SAP, Time Warner Cable, Unilever and Goldman Sachs.
“Our newly launched platform will allow music pros to bring their data points together, use the latest in AI, automation, and data science techniques and drive informed decisions in multiple areas.”
UMG announces partnership with ESL
Universal Music Group’s Central Europe division has this week announced a multi-year partnership with the Electronic Sports League (ESL) to discover and promote new artists throughout the world of gaming, creating what is hoped will be “the ultimate destination for esports and music fans.”
Part of the deal includes the creation of a joint-label between the two entities. Using ESL’s extensive global platform, which last year attracted more than 300 million viewers in total, the label team will scout out promising new talent and integrate music into live game broadcasts and the various ESL social media channels.
Artists signed by the label will also have the opportunity to perform at live game tournaments. This will not be the first time UMG artists have crossed over into the world of gaming; 2017 saw Years & Years, Chase & Status, Wretch 32 and Jaguar Skills – all of whom are signed by Island Records, a division of UMG – take to the stage of the UK’s Insomnia Gaming Festival.
Commenting on the partnership, Frank Briegmann, president and CEO of Central Europe UMG says: “Together, our dedicated new label, with its laser-sharp focus on the artists and music of esports, will provide the soundtrack to the gaming experience for this massive global audience for years to come.”
“Music is a universal language and, like gaming, one of the key-pillars of pop-culture”
Music and gaming have indeed become increasingly intertwined in recent years. Since 2016, the ESL has signed a number of impressive deals tying it to the music industry, including a partnership with AEG which introduced esports to the O2 and the Barclays Center, and a union with UMG parent company Vivendi to co-promote a new esports championship across the Canal television network.
More recently, ESL joined forces with the world’s largest heavy metal music gathering, Wacken Open Air festival, to create a world-first esports arena at this year’s event. Festivalgoers were able to play against each other and watch tournaments between professional gamers and artists, set to the soundtrack of heavy metal music.
Speaking of the new deal and the link between music and gaming, Bernhard Mogk, senior vice president of global sales and business development at ESL says: “Over the last couple years, live music acts have become an integral part of our global tournaments.
“Music is a universal language and, like gaming, one of the key-pillars of pop-culture. ”
How streaming has changed the industry
In March this year, Ed Sheeran broke the UK singles chart top-20 record when, thanks to his streaming figures, his songs occupied 16 places in the list. It’s just one example of the dramatic way that streaming has changed the music industry.
At a time when sales of CDs and CD players were starting to decline, streaming suddenly emerged as the dominant way for people to consume their music. Record labels may have had to change what tracks they release, how they release them and how they market them, but in many cases streaming has kept them profitable. For some, like Warner Music Group, streaming has become the most important source of revenue. For others, it’s making them more money than ever before.
You might think that with the greater ease of access to music that streaming has brought about, that attendance at live events would be in decline. After all, attendance at cinemas is dwindling as people increasingly choose to watch films on their TVs, computers or smartphones. But in the case of live music, the opposite has happened. In fact, according to UK Music’s Wish You Were Here study, audience attendance at concerts and festivals in the UK is up to a record 30.9million annually. The live sector is one of the most vibrant and profitable parts of the music industry, and it is through ticket sales and merchandise that most musicians generate the majority of their revenue.
“Promoters understand the advantage they have over streaming services is that they offer not just music but an experience”
This may have something to do with the effect streaming has had on the profits of individual artists. Streaming has complicated the way they make money, and reduced the total amount they earn to the extent that some artists, such as Taylor Swift, have tried to boycott streaming altogether. Swift famously pulled her music off Spotify and refused to allow Apple to offer music from her latest album. It may have been a shrewd PR move (her eventual return to streaming was covered by every major newspaper and website) but it’s no secret that one of the challenges facing streaming services and record labels is appeasing and alleviating the fears of artists while still offering tracks cheaply to their customers.
It’s also to the credit of festival and concert organisers that they’ve thrived in the new musical environment. These organisers understand that the advantage they have over streaming services is that they offer not just music but an experience, and they’ve looked to improve all the elements that together make live music an experience, such as the stage design, the lighting and the pyrotechnics. At the same time, they’ve managed to keep the price of tickets at an affordable (though increasing) level. An all-day festival in the UK costs between £50 (€57) and £100 (€113); a single standing ticket to see Drake costs £110 (€125).
“Despite the improving health of the live music industry, for some festivals making a profit is no longer a given”
But can this model endure? With the proliferation of outdoor festivals comes the fact that the market is getting pretty saturated. There has been a sharp fall in the amount of money that is spent at smaller venues (those with a capacity below 1,500). In London, where costs are rising, licensing is strict and property developers wield a lot of power, these venues have declined in number by 35%.
With more and more festivals coming on stream, it is the artists who are benefiting most: they are now able to up their fees while different festivals compete to secure their presence. And despite the improving health of the live music industry on the whole, for some festivals, making a profit is no longer a given. One or two of the existing festivals are beginning to pull up stumps. This will be the last year of Secret Garden Party, for example, and there are rumours that other long established festivals might not appear next year.
As the figures show, live music has more than weathered the changes to the wider music industry. The live market has always been a valuable revenue generator for established artists, and this will always be the case. Nevertheless, the future may not look so bright for smaller festivals and small music venues. Their fate remains to be seen.
WMG acquires Songkick discovery platform
Recorded music giant Warner Music Group (WMG), one of the ‘big three’ record labels, has acquired “selected assets” from Songkick, including its concert-discovery app, website and the Songkick trademark.
The surprise acquisition excludes Songkick’s ticketing business – established in June 2015, when it merged with white-label ticketing platform Crowdsurge – and, crucially, the “pending litigation” associated with it. The company has been locked in a legal battle with Live Nation/Ticketmaster since December 2015, when Songkick sued the conglomerate over alleged abuses of its “monopoly power” to stifle competition.
The Songkick app will operate as a standalone brand overseen by WEA, WMG’s artist and label services division. WEA services include sales, distribution, streaming account management and playlisting, analytics, insight, artist websites, VIP experiences, fan clubs and merchandising, and the acquisition will “lead to additional offerings for Songkick users”, says WMG.
At press time the direction of Songkick’s ticketing business is unclear; IQ has requested clarification. WMG is already an investor in Songkick through its parent company, Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, which invested a further US$15 million in last August.
“I’m excited to pass the baton on the discovery service to the great team at WMG, an ideal organisation to carry on this mission and to take it in new, innovative directions”
“Fans all over the world trust Songkick to help them find events featuring the artists they love,” says Tony Harlow, president of WEA. “It’s a passionate, highly engaged music community, always on the lookout for new experiences. Bringing together Songkick’s discovery platform and world-class technology with our existing ecommerce expertise and global reach represents a powerful step in strengthening and evolving our direct-to-fan capabilities.”
Matt Jones, CEO of Songkick, adds: “Songkick was founded on the promise of improving the live experience for fans and the artists they love. Over the years, we have helped tens of millions find their next great live experience, and today I’m excited to pass the baton on the discovery service to the great team at WMG, an ideal organisation to carry on this mission and to take it in new, innovative directions.
“And, on behalf of the many artists and fans we’ve served over the last decade, we are committed to continuing our litigation against Live Nation and Ticketmaster independently.”
Roc Nation ‘renews touring deal with Live Nation’
Jay Z is reportedly seeking new investors for the recorded side of his Roc Nation business, as the full-service entertainment company’s ten-year ‘360’ deal with Live Nation comes to an end.
Roc Nation was established in 2008 as a subsidiary of Live Nation. The mammoth deal, rumoured to be worth US$152 million, remains one of the biggest of 360 agreements, creating a new company incorporating recording, management, publishing, concert promotion and TV/film production divisions.
According to sources quoted by the New York Post’s Page Six, Live Nation wants out of Roc Nation’s recorded-music business, with Carter reportedly seeking new investment, potentially from Universal Music Group.
“Live Nation is not in the business of buying recorded music any more”
“Jay’s 360 deal with Live Nation is not being extended,” says one ‘insider’. “Live Nation had bought into the artists’ rights and recorded music, but they are not extending any of those relationships. Live Nation is not in the business of buying recorded music any more.
A spokesperson for Live Nation tells Billboard that is indeed the case: “Live Nation has a new long-term deal with Jay Z, and we expect to continue being equity partners in Roc Nation for many years to come.”
Artists signed to Roc Nation include Rihanna, Lil Wayne, Big Sean, J. Cole, Grimes, DJ Khaled and Demi Lovato.