For a company that’s only been running for one and a half years, Kobalt Neighbouring Rights is already building up a bit of a reputation.
Claiming neighbouring rights royalties owed from collecting societies across the globe on behalf of the estate of Michael Jackson, Max Martin, new acts like Ellie Goulding and Jake Bugg as well as living legends like Bob Dylan, the KNR client list makes for an agency that’s as diverse as it is lucrative, having already delivered millions in revenue to its roster.
The world of neighbouring rights might be something of a gauntlet but KNR executive chairman Hans van Berkel has enough experience to roll with the punches. After working for PolyGram in various countries and continents, he founded and ran Dutch neighbouring rights society SENA for 18 years, managing international rights collection for the likes of Rolling Stones, Elton John, Andrea Bocelli and others.
Having launched KNR in 2012, van Berkel now has Ann Tausis by his side as MD, who moved to Kobalt in June from her role as director of European regional administration at Universal Music Publishing.
With Kobalt Neighbouring Rights having made a quintet of new signings in recent months, bringing A*M*E, Thirty Seconds To Mars, Train, Havana Brown and Matt Corby into the fold, we caught up with van Berkel and Tausis to find out what the agency can offer clients and what it has planned for the future.
How does Kobalt Neighbouring Rights work on the ground on a day-to-day basis?
Hans van Berkel: We only started one and a half years ago. Once we announced our launch we wanted to set up an infrastructure that would replicate Kobalt's established business practice of direct licensing with centralised administration.The result was we were operational in 24 countries almost immediately – now 26 – allowing for direct collections from day one.
Young artists like Ellie Goulding are coming to Kobalt and, when they do, nice amounts of money start to come in for them from the United States, from Brazil… I even get some help from the Dutch from my time at SENA. The key point is the artist. We have to make some money as well, of course, but we are transparent about our commission rates, which we believe are very fair.
Are you able to tell artists that Kobalt can increase their neighbouring rights income by a certain percent over what they get at the competition?
HVB: Yes we can say that, but it depends on the artist - if it’s someone who has existed for a long period, then you are looking at between 10% and 20% more. Looking at some of our producer clients and how much money they get now is unbelievable.
Ann Tausis: It’s down to investigating all the tracks that they participate on. Producers are a good example because they aren’t paid by all societies, although the big ones do pay, but many also play instruments and you get points depending on how many instruments you play. If you do research all that, then they will pay you accordingly. We take pride and effort in investigating all of those line-ups on recordings where our clients do participate.
So a lot of success in collecting Neighbouring Rights comes down to meticulous detail…
AT: Yes very much so. We’ve had other clients where we’ve been given a list of recordings – maybe 30 or so recordings - and we’ve found 50 more that the management didn’t actually tell us about. All of that research that we do makes a big big difference.
HVB: One of the first artists we signed is an American rock legend. We were just starting as a company, but despite US repertoire not being protected in many countries, we’ve managed to collect significant revenues.
It’s also important to be realistic with your artists. We always investigate what an artist is worth [in terms of neighbouring rights] before we sign them because, if a collections company promises substantial income but only pays very small amounts, that’s bad publicity.
We have very competitive rates based on revenue and workload. In certain cases we also give advances.
Is there a threshold that an artist has to meet before you’ll consider working with them?
AT: Sometimes we can say to a client that it’s not worthwhile for them to go with us, or it’s not worthwhile for them to go with us in their home country maybe – but we could do a good job for them outside their home country and that would make sense. It depends on each individual.
HVB: Yeah we are open to that. We can say, “We know there is money for you in this country and this country. The rest of the world, forget about it.” Always talk with the artist openly and honestly.
AT: The worst thing that can happen is that they have really high expectations and you don’t deliver – that’s devastating for your business.
HVB: I think in any business you should be open. That gets you very far and so I’m convinced that Kobalt Neighbouring Rights will grow fast.
How much money have you returned back to clients over this one and a half years? Is there a figure you can give us?
HVB: A specific figure no, but we have returned millions. For an agency that only started one and a half years ago, to be able to say millions and not just hundreds of thousands is something I’m extremely proud of.
Where do you see KNR five years from now?
HVB: We are not going for quantity. We’re going for quality first. The moment we can’t guarantee quality and transparency to the artist or label then we will stop expanding. That’s our philosophy. We are building a big company, but delivering service and quality to our clients is our first priority.
AT: Our clients get online access through the Kobalt portal, it’s like having a bank account where you log on online and can see exactly where the money’s coming from. With Kobalt our neighbouring rights clients can log on to the portal and see what money has come in in that particular month and what will be paid to them.