UMG CEO & chairman Sir Lucian Grainge has congratulated staff around the world on the major’s “phenomenal” performance in 2021.
In a memo seen by Music Week, UMG’s leader reflected on the global success of the major, its new status as a publicly listed company and the efforts to help artists and songwriters during the last two years of the pandemic.
“For all of us in UMG, last year was, in a word, phenomenal,” wrote Sir Lucian Grainge. “Our artists achieved unprecedented creative and commercial success. Our position as the industry leader was assured by the innovative steps we keep taking to adapt to, and support, the ever-changing marketplace. And, on top of all that, for the first time in UMG’s history we became a freestanding publicly traded company able to chart its own destiny. Thank you for helping to make all these remarkable things a reality.”
Sir Lucian, who nearly died after contracting Covid early in the pandemic, also noted that the world is approaching a third year of the global pandemic, which has proved challenging for the music community.
“We’ve provided support addressing the effects of Covid for recording artists, songwriters and the broader music community through organisations such as MusiCares in the US and Help Musicians UK,” he wrote. “Our partnership with Music Health Alliance in the US has helped more than 300 of our recording artists and songwriters and their families save millions of dollars in healthcare costs, and in some cases allowing them to receive lifesaving medical treatments.”
Sir Lucian also underlined the efforts of staff on other initiatives, including Co-Pilot, a programme to mentor musicians in the UK in various aspects of the music business.
“The All Together Now Foundation in the US contributes both funds and people-hours of work to key areas of need, such as housing, education, health and wellness, natural disaster relief, and the environment,” he added.
Launched in 2020, the Task Force for Meaningful Change moved up a gear last year.
“The employee-driven Task Force for Meaningful Change continued its groundbreaking work this year, supporting more than 140 organisations around the world,” Sir Lucian wrote to staff. “The Task Force’s philanthropic focus this past year was education, especially supporting students from marginalised communities in areas such as mental health and wellness.”
UMG’s leader provided a long list of the major’s - and its artists’ - achievements in global market.
On Spotify, UMG had four of the Top 5 global artists with Taylor Swift, BTS, Drake and Justin Bieber. Olivia Rodrigo - Music Week’s Artist Of The Year - had the most streamed song with Drivers License and the most-streamed album with Sour.
In the US, UMG had seven of the Top 10 albums for the year and three of the Top 5 singles. In the UK, the major had seven of the Top 10 artists (combined sales) in 2021 according to the Official Charts Company: Taylor Swift, Drake, ABBA, Olivia Rodrigo, Eminem, The Weeknd and The Beatles.
Sir Lucian stressed that, beyond recordings, UMG has a “continuum of services and resources in merchandise, brand management, sponsorships, live, ecommerce, and film & television” for artists.
This is an exhilarating time for artists and for fans and the music they love
Sir Lucian Grainge
“I’ve experienced many transformational shifts over the course of my career: changes in format from vinyl to cassette to CD; partnering with Apple on downloading; championing the launch of Spotify’s streaming service; forging the industry’s first partnership with Facebook to open social media,” he added. “Change is a constant. Yet, through all these twists and turns, by adapting our business models, promoting competition, and creating a healthier ecosystem for music and artists, we never resisted change, we embraced it. And we’ve always come out stronger.”
The major, said Sir Lucian, believes in the “compelling power of music, in the artists who create it, in the fans who love it, and in the importance of supporting creativity in local languages, country by country and region by region”.
Leadership appointments in 2021 included Capitol (Michelle Jubelirer), Def Jam (Tunji Balogun), Island (Imran Majid and Justin Eshak) and Ethiopia Habtemariam, who established Motown as a standalone label. Habtemariam was a winner at the Music Week Women In Music Awards.
“The future of music is - and always has been - dependent on the discovery and nurturing of new talent,” wrote Sir Lucian. “We and our artists have a common interest: building and sustaining their long-term careers. We succeed only when our artists succeed. That’s why our business model is based on long-term artist development and investment. We invest our worldwide resources, our capital, our marketing and promotional services, as well as the talent and expertise of thousands of our employees.
“In country after country, we are seeing record royalty outflows to recording artists and songwriters. In fact, UMG’s investment in artists has never been higher. And that’s critical, because for us, music - something to which we have all dedicated our lives - is the most vital form of creative human expression, an art and a gift to be cherished and nurtured.
“Artists naturally want the best shot at success. That so many of them choose UMG as their partner is the strongest validation of the quality of our teams, our values and what we repeatedly deliver across all our labels and businesses in the 60 countries in which we operate that cover more than 200 markets around the globe.
“This is an exhilarating time for artists and for fans and the music they love. The entire music ecosystem is growing - by genre, by geography, by platform, by consumer demand. Improved connectivity and growing smartphone penetration have pushed streaming to record levels. And the very definition of music consumption has evolved and deepened. Music is a vital ingredient in a wide range of media: feature-length films, television, short-form video on social networks, ‘fit-tech’, health/wellness apps, NFTs and blockchain innovations, gaming and the new frontiers of the metaverse.
“That is why we should all take enormous pride in the fact that the recording artist and songwriter development work we do together at UMG is the single most important driver of the entire global industry. It is the very lifeblood of every sector in music: independent and major labels, independent and major publishers, and live events, and streaming, and radio, and on and on.”
I see so many opportunities in categories we are only just beginning to monetise
Sir Lucian Grainge
UMG’s CEO & chairman predicted a “new wave of growth”.
“I believe we’re at the very beginning of a new wave of growth,” he explained. “When I think about the addressable market for music, I see so many opportunities in categories we are only just beginning to monetise - social media, fitness, physical and mental health, gaming, smart audio devices, the connected car - some of these already contributing meaningful revenue, all with enormous potential,” wrote Sir Lucian.
“Leading the music industry globally and sitting at the intersection of artistry and technology as we do, we are privileged to embrace change and drive innovation with ingenuity and enthusiasm. This entrepreneurial spirit, and UMG’s culture of invention, inspire the leaders of all our businesses around the world.”