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UMG and WMG execs talk startups and innovation at Sonar+D


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Behind the music industry’s fiercely competitive public face hides a wider spirit of digital collaboration, according to Tuhin Roy, the executive who leads Universal Music’s efforts to support early-stage digital music companies.

Roy was speaking at the Sónar+D conference in Barcelona alongside Warner Music’s Tiago Teixeira Correia, on a panel that gave a rare glimpse into the music industry’s efforts to foster emerging technologies.

Roy said that the music industry has fallen off the radars of many investors, with one of his responsibilities being to lure them back into the fold. “The reason I am at Universal, I went to my now boss Michael Nash [executive vice president, digital strategy at UMG] shortly after he joined the company [in 2015],” Roy said. “I said to Michael: ‘I think the music industry has a problem – there aren’t enough entrepreneurs and business thinkers focused on our space any more.’”

Roy explained that when he was working in San Francisco 15 years there was a large amount of entrepreneurial interest in music. But this fell off as music revenues started to decline, while many investors saw the music business as difficult to work with, due to issues such as rights and licensing.

With music revenue now increasing again globally, Roy believes that that time is right for companies to invest in the sector again. “But that is not going to happen if we don’t have talent in the space,” he added. “We have this real commitment to start to look at what we as company can do to support entrepreneurs.”

Surprisingly, perhaps, Roy explained that the three music majors do tend to collaborate, at least in spirit, towards this goal.

“While major labels compete to sign artists there is actually a lot of collaboration – maybe not explicit collaboration – but collaborative contributions to same goal of supporting entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said, citing examples like hackathons and design challenges. He also mentioned the event UMG is holding at Sónar+D, in which attendees are encouraged to “design the future of digital music services using emerging technologies and consumer behaviour trends”.

“We are doing a lot of work with the investor community to re-engage investors, many of whom had just tuned out and don’t know about it,” Roy added “We attempt to be a partner with entrepreneurs, giving them advice, talking about what problems there might be. And it has been pretty successful so far.”

Correia, who works for the Innovation team at Warner Music said that historically the music business “has not been the best at doing innovation”. “There is now perception that we need to step up,” he added. “How is that going to be done? We are thinking about that, doing several approaches to see what works. We are putting our key where our mouth is, with our [WMG] Boost fund which we launched last year…The objective of the fund is to support these new distribution models and new methods of consumption that we are seeing created.”

In 2017, one year before WMG Boost launched, the major acquired concert discovery platform Songkick. Correia explained, “We invested heavily in Songkick because that was a tool for fans to express their fandom for artists by saying: ‘I like it. Next time they come to my town I will be able to see it’.”

Correia also mentioned Coil, a company founded by Ripple’s former chief technology officer Stefan Thomas, which allows content creators to be paid for the amount of time people consume their work. “Paying for media consumption based on time spent: I think that model is interesting to explore and I wonder whether consumers would prefer that,” he said.

Ben Cardew

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