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From Rights Owner to Distributor

Nick Gatfield
Former Chairman and CEO, Sony Music, UK

Learning outcomes

  • How a fundamental shift in rights ownership will change the record label's business economics
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Executive Bio

Nick Gatfield

Former Chairman and CEO, Sony Music, UK

Nick is a British music industry executive with over 34 years of experience scouting, signing, and working with global artists such as Amy Winehouse. Nick started his career as a musician in the band ‘Dexys Midnight Runners’ before moving into recorded music. At the age of 26, he was made Director at EMI Records, the youngest in the company’s history. Over the next 20 years, he went on to lead global labels such as PolyGram and Island Records and has worked at three of the four major record labels. More recently, as the Former Chairman of Sony Music, he was leading negotiations with Spotify and both new and old artists in the repertoire. Nick currently runs Twin Music, an incubator for new talent, which funds and services new artists coming to market.Read more

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Interview Transcript

The essence of that is the fact that artists have more opportunities to come to market, in the early days, and therefore, the major is becoming more of a distributor and less of a rights holder. But the major can also evolve and, as you said, have that two-tier system, where they can start incubating as well, with an artist service-led model, for independent artists and then, hopefully, take over those licensing deals, as they grow?

Potentially; or become a fund. I don’t think they will ever go back to the traditional, I’m a rights holder, business. I think that has gone. We’ll borrow your rights for a period of time but, again, I think less and less about having rights in perpetuity. Because of streaming, which provides a high degree of stability, which was never there in music, certainly not in master recorded music – publishing is a slightly different story – and it’s there now. As you can see in companies like Hipgnosis, who have raised over a billion dollars to acquire interests in publishing catalogues and you can see other companies doing in masters, you’re seeing significant private equity funds, who never look at music as a serious asset class, definitely looking at it as a serious asset class, right now. Firstly, they see growth and, secondly, they see a relative degree of stability, which was never there before.

There’s nothing to stop any of the majors. In fact, Warner’s have partnered with a bank to say, we can identify assets for this fund to acquire. We are drawing down, using our expertise. Universal itself have said, okay, we may not have rights in perpetuity, but we can make you an offer after that time and after exploration of your catalogue, which may be attractive enough for you to say, okay, yes. That’s how we’re going to build the business and be back in the rights ownership business.

Companies like Kobalt, which is a big independent aggregator, have a fund on the side. They are acquiring long-term rights to master and published acquisitions. But it’s a different kind of relationship. It’s not about acquiring rights from the get go. It’s about building the business to the point that we understand its value and we can make you a very attractive offer to acquire rights, if you choose to sell.

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