Downtown recently launched a global division to combine tech solutions, label & artist services, distribution and more.
It’s all part of the company’s services strategy after the large part of its publishing copyrights were acquired by Concord in 2021.
Here, in an expanded version of that interview, the Amsterdam-based exec talks global expansion, technology, unlocking the power of catalogue, the boom in neighbouring rights and his artist origins…
Why is it important to operate Downtown Music as a single services division?
“The timing was right to think a bit more holistically around a clear market proposition, a clear definition of who does what. It's more like a realignment. You see all these businesses, and it’s really around sharing best practices. We know that technology is key if you want to be an innovative services offering business. That's a strong capability at Fuga, so how can we leverage that across the organisation? And for global expansion, it’s about how we can think a little bit more cohesively about those steps.”
You were CEO of Fuga from 2014, how does it feel to now step up to a wider role at Downtown?
“I'm happy that I'm still indirectly responsible for Fuga. It's bittersweet because I've seen the business evolve so closely. When I started, we were just 10 people and it was really a scruffy start- up - now we are a global business. I can look at it with a big sense of satisfaction. But at the same time, I was already thinking that it is good for the team after eight years [as CEO to move on]. When I started to think about this opportunity, it all came together nicely.”
Fuga recently secured a partnership with Bjork and her label One Little Independent. What’s been key to the growth of those kinds of deals?
“In the beginning, it was technology, unlocking catalogue to the world and opening up this gateway to delivery of content. As we expanded our services offering - not just in terms of technology, data and royalty accounting - we really added the services layer on top. We feel that we need to be very dedicated in our service offering. We feel responsible for our clients, we feel connected to what they do. It’s a cliche, but I would say we all feel that we're as good as our last clients. We're dependent on that client satisfaction.”
You mentioned catalogue - how important is your role in unleashing the power of classic repertoire?
“There’s the unlocking of it, the distribution of it, and then there is how can you help add value to the catalogue by helping with release campaigns and marketing? Another way to do it is data integrity, so if your data is in good shape, monetisation will be better. So if you're taking care of valuable catalogue at all the DSPs in the right way, that in itself [brings] value. We've become a trusted partner, not just for labels, but also artist services companies and DIY platforms and distributors.”
When I started, Fuga was a really a scruffy start-up with 10 people - now we are a global business
Pieter van Rijn
How are your publishing services tapping into business from new entrants?
“Across the company, we already have a number of clients who you could probably deem as financial investors. We are very well placed for servicing that type of client. Downtown has seen first-hand what that has meant [financial investment], and it's clear that there's a new market segment emerging. It's a segment that requires monetisation of catalogue both in publishing and in masters, and you can only do that well once you have the right technology to underpin that. We do think that, across rights, we are really well positioned there to make a difference.”
In what ways are artist services evolving in terms of technology and social music?
“You could almost call Spotify and Apple more traditional platforms now, which is crazy. There are definitely opportunities within social UGC platforms. With Web3, and gaming, there's a lot of opportunity there for a broader offering. It’s still very much a market in development, but we're very active on social and on UGC platforms. We're exploring our position on Web3, and how we can be less opportunistic and more strategic.”
What are the ambitions for neighbouring rights?
“Fuga had a neighbouring rights division and so did Downtown, so we decided to merge those two businesses in one and that's now known as Downtown Neighbouring Rights. It’s part of our one-stop-shop and our broader label services division on the recording side. It's a growing segment, it's also a very competitive area. I look at it as a key service for us to offer as an additional extension to many of our current clients. But it's also a beautiful way for clients to get to know Downtown and understand the breadth of services that we have. It's a very specialised business as well. We've developed the capabilities now to have a good offering and we're investing in technology around it as well. That’s the fuga DNA that we can leverage there.”
Finally, you started out as a songwriter and artist, is that a helpful perspective now in this role?
“It was just when I came out of university. I was playing a lot of music back then. I was really ambitious about writing - I still sing now but more occasionally. The experience helped me a lot because it was really a bad time for artists [during the noughties decline]. I don't blame the industry for not having made it at all. I wasn't cut out for it. But what I learned at the time was you need to be really committed as an artist, but you also need to find the right place and the right people to help you really build your career. It has helped me in the way that I feel a responsibility towards artists - you do whatever you can do in your power to help them succeed.”
Click here to read our interview with Downtown global president Mike Smith.