key industry acquisitions

It’s that time of year again. Michael Bublé’s assistant is digging the festive jumpers out of storage. Alexa is already missing the days of ’summer hits’ queries. And Music Ally is continuing our series of end-of-year roundups looking back at 2022

Every working day in December, we’re publishing a new article drawing together some of the big music industry stories and trends that we’ve covered this year. Today’s focuses on acquisitions.

A few notes first. We’re talking acquisitions of companies, not catalogues, and we’re talking outright acquisitions or majority/controlling stakes (so not the UMG/PIAS news that broke this week).

Read on, and be merry! And you can see the rest of our 2022 recap articles here.

01 Apple x AI Music

We’d been covering British startup AI Music from its early days, when it was promising to use AI to ‘shapeshift’ music from one genre or mood to another. Apple stealthily snapped it up early this year, although our hunch was that the deal might be more about assistive tools for Apple’s music creation or video editing software, rather than any plan to pump AI-generated tracks into Apple Music. Read our story here.

02 Driift x Dreamstage (x Deezer)

Lots of livestreaming startups sprang up during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, but more recently we’ve seen consolidation as companies plot long-term survival. Driift is an online-concerts (some live, some pre-recorded) promoter while Dreamstage was more focused on technology, so this September deal was a good match. Also notable: it was bankrolled by a streaming service, Deezer, which invested £4m in Driift alongside the acquisition, and is now Drift’s major shareholder. Read our story here.

03 WMG x Africori and WMG x Qanawat

It’s our format and we’ll blatantly break it if we want to! Two acquisitions in one entry here (and wait until you see the next one) with Warner Music Group’s deals in high-potential markets. In January it bought a majority stake in African distributor Africori, then in March it acquired Middle Eastern distributor Qanawat Music. Both signs of WMG’s intent to not just secure distribution footholds in these markets, but also ultimately to bring more local artists to global prominence.

04 Utopia x Distributors

2022 ended on a low note for Utopia Music, with a round of layoffs to ease the growing pains caused by 15 acquisitions in just two years. However, there was a distinct pattern to three of those deals earlier in 2022: Proper Music Group (January), Absolute Label Services (February) and Cinram Novum (September) were all distributors: two physical and one digital. Amid ongoing industry-wide chatter about what exactly Utopia plans to become, distribution is clearly key. Read our overall Utopia coverage here.

05 HYBE x Supertone

What to do when the biggest act on your roster – and indeed, one of the biggest acts in the world right now – are about to disappear off on military service? Buying in technology that could be used to clone their vocals using AI, perhaps? Steady on though: K-Pop giant HYBE isn’t necessarily doing away with the human BTS members just yet. But its exploration of synthetic voice technology through Supertone promises to be intriguing. Read our story here.

06 SoundCloud x Musiio

Musiio was one of a cluster of AI-powered tagging startups who’d shown promise in recent years with its ability to analyse music catalogues and create metadata for various purposes. It was extremely interesting, then, to see the Singapore-based startup nabbed by SoundCloud in May, with the promise of using its technology to “better understand how that music is moving in a proprietary way” on the streaming service. Read our story here.

07 Songtradr x Musicube

Musiio wasn’t the only metadata-focused startup finding a new home in 2022 either. Musicube had already attracted clients including Sony Music for its own set of metadata and music search tools. That pinged the radar of one of the most acquisition-hungry companies (outside Utopia) in the music industry: B2B firm Songtradr. Read our story here.

08 Hivemind and Algorand x Napster

In a global streaming market dominated by the four biggest services – Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and YouTube Music – what’s a mid-tier DSP to do? In Napster’s case: get bought (for what feels like the 187th time in its history) by a pair of companies from the crypto/web3 sector. And web3 is a big part of plans for the latest new Napster, which sits alongside another famous P2P-brand revival, LimeWire (although that’s an investment not an acquisition) in Hivemind’s portfolio. Read our story here.

09 Francisco Partners x Kobalt

After months of speculation, September brought confirmation that investment firm Francisco Partners had bought a controlling stake in Kobalt, in a deal also involving fellow funds Music and Dundee Partners. Kobalt’s team stayed on, with its new majority owner talking up plans for growth “both organically and inorganically” ahead. More acquisitions in 2023 perhaps? Read our story here.

10 Snoop Dogg x Death Row

The business history of hip-hop label Death Row is quite the *consults lawyers for acceptable terms to use* saga, but it took an unexpected twist in February 2022. One of the pivotal artists associated with the label, Snoop Dogg, announced that not only had he bought Death Row, he was planning to unleash its “immense untapped future value” with an eye on NFTs and web3 technologies. Read our story here.

11 Spotify x Heardle

Buying a viral game is always a risky business, especially if it’s something you could probably build a just-different-enough version of yourself. So Spotify’s acquisition of Heardle in July raised a few eyebrows. The music-identification quiz had tapped an age-old ‘Name That Tune’ format to get popular very quickly. Spotify’s long-term ambitions for the property remain to be seen. Read our story here.

12 Spotify x Podsights and Chartable

There was bigger strategic importance, albeit for podcasts rather than music, in Spotify’s acquisitions of Podsights and Chartable in February. Both focused on data: Podsights measuring podcast advertising, and Chartable providing analytics to podcasters. The latest moves in a patient strategy of putting together the pipes to power Spotify’s spoken-word business. And actually, there was a music angle: Spotify said it saw potential to use Podsights’ tech to measure audio ads around music too. Read our story here.

13 Spotify x Kinzen

One more Spotify acquisition that pinged our radar this year was Irish startup Kinzen. Its tech was all about using a mixture of humans and AI to spot “harmful content” within audio. Moderation is one of the biggest challenges for Spotify’s podcast business (and music too, although to a lesser extent). From Covid-19 misinformation to hate speech, Kinzen could help Spotify identify problematic content as early as possible. Of course, devising good policies for dealing with that content is the other part of the puzzle… Read our story here.

13 UMG x TM Ventures

WMG’s Africa and MENA acquisitions showed its determination to get boots on the ground in high-potential markets. Rival UMG’s deal to buy a majority stake in Indian talent management agency TM Ventures was in similar territory. Well, literally a different territory, but you know what we mean. TM Ventures is well-connected: besides repping artists like Arijit Singh, Badshah and Nucleya, it also runs industry news site Music Plus and runs the popular All About Music conference in India. Read our story here.

14 Orfium x Breaker Inc

Orfium is one of the companies that has quietly got very big, without really seeking out headlines. Its move to expand into Japan in April caught our interest though: it bought Breaker Inc, an influencer-marketing agency / multi-channel YouTube network. How this fits into Orfium’s wider business of helping rightsholders track music usage and collect royalties will be interesting. Read our story here.

15 Audius x SoundStage

Napster may be moving onto its patch, but Audius is still the most established of the new breed of ‘web3 music streaming’ services. In October, it bought, a startup exploring the idea of ‘SoundClubs’ – online virtual experiences with fans joining via webcam. Metaverse and/or online-concert startups are still plentiful, but we’re keen to see how one might fit into a streaming service. Read our story here.

16 Beatport x Ampsuite

One of the under-the-radar stories of recent years has been electronic-music brand Beatport’s investment in B2B: tools and services for its community of artists, producers and DJs. In February it bought Ampsuite, whose business focused on royalty accounting, label management and promotional software. The latest part in a longer-term story of evolution for Beatport. Read our story here.

17 Elon Musk x Twitter

Alright, we had to mention it. It’s fair to say that the first after Elon Musk’s $44bn acquisition of Twitter have been something of a rollercoaster. The bumpy ride is very relevant for the music industry, because Twitter is still an important social platform for artists’ expression and their teams’ marketing campaigns alike. Fears of an uptick in racism, misogyny, general toxicity and impersonation are worrying. Musk’s seeming determination to make more ways for creators (including musicians) to make money could be… good? What’s certain is that this particular theme-park ride will not be slowing down in 2023. Read our coverage here.

While you’re here…

– January’s NY:LON Connect conference we co-run with Music Biz has sold out of in-person tickets, but virtual tickets are still available. Check the lineup here!

– The Knowledge is Music Ally’s free weekly newsletter, arriving in your inbox every Friday with news, analysis and marketing tips. Sign up for it here!

– In October we launched a series of five courses to help labels, managers and artists make the most of Amazon Music. The free courses each last 30-45 minutes. Find them here!

Music Ally’s next Learn Live webinar will help you understand what’s required for artists to thrive in new international markets!

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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