The Orchard acquires dance distributor Above Board: 'We're supercharging our standing in the genre'

The Orchard acquires dance distributor Above Board: 'We're supercharging our standing in the genre'

The Orchard has acquired UK dance music distributor Above Board, Music Week can reveal.

As part of the strategic deal, Above Board’s roster will have access to The Orchard’s full suite of global distribution and artist & label services. The Above Board brand will continue as part of the deal. Terms were not disclosed.

Above Board founder and managing director Dan Hill will remain at the company, reporting to The Orchard’s UK MD Ian Dutt. Above Board’s offices have been merged into The Orchard’s UK headquarters. 

“The new relationship gives Above Board the global infrastructure and resources to match our artists’ and labels’ ambition, plus gives them the platform to ensure they retain the rights to their music," said Hill.

The deal follows The Orchard’s first ever UK No.1 single with Raye’s Escapism (feat. 070 Shake), which reached the summit in January.

The agreement with Above Board comes amid a boom in dance music consumption on streaming platforms.

Following 15 years of growth since Above Board was launched in 2007, Hill decided that the time was right to accept an offer from The Orchard. Major labels have increasingly been spending big money on licensing deals in the dance sector as a source for hits.

“It got to the point in the last few years, with electronic music continuing to blow up, where we've been fighting off licensing or upscale deals from the  competition,” Dan Hill told Music Week. “We understand that The Orchard is owned by Sony. But it's a case of arming our artists to make sure that they can continue to retain their rights and don’t have to license their music on, because we got to the point where our hits were getting licensed away.”

“To be able to continue to compete, we need to have [a big company] behind us,” he added. “We've always been solely independent. I still feel like I am in an independent office even though we're based in Sony, because it's all independent [music] coming through this floor.”

Dan Hill, Above Board founder & MD

“Everybody within the industry has been acutely aware of the strength of house music over the last few years,” said Ian Dutt. “It is one of the genres that definitely flourished through lockdown, and some of the figures that have come out of the IMS over the last few years are pretty outstanding when it comes to house music consumption.

“It's an area I wanted to strengthen The Orchard’s standing in. But the important thing for me was to do it in a culturally correct way. We wanted to make sure we have people within our organisation that lived and breathed electronic music, that could talk to DJs and artists and label owners in a manner in which they felt very comfortable. We wanted to make sure that the way that music is presented to DSPs was done in a very culturally correct way. So from our perspective, we wanted to partner with a company who was entirely invested in electronic music and Above Board was the obvious choice.”

We wanted to partner with a company who was entirely invested in electronic music and Above Board was the obvious choice

Ian Dutt

The partnership marks a new chapter for Above Board, which is a distribution and artist/label services company dedicated to the electronic and dance music space. Since its inception in 2007, Above Board has played an integral role in developing the release strategy and roll-out for electronic music acts running their own labels or signed to independents in the sector, including Peggy Gou, Charlotte de Witte, Patrick Topping, Jamie Jones and Maceo Plex. 

Above Board has new releases in March from Charlotte De Witte, Enrico Sanguiliano, Robert Del Naja, Leon Vynehall, Mella Dee feat. Bernard Sumner, Radio Slave, Joshwa, Pale Blue, Partiboi69 and more.

According to Official Charts Company data, Patrick Topping’s Be Sharp Say Nowt is the biggest track in the UK for Above Board as a distributor over the last five years. It has chart sales to date of 278,817 (based on 27.4 million streams and 7,796 downloads). Peggy Gou’s Starry Night is the second biggest with 176,696 (based on 17.7m streams and 5,893 downloads).

The new partnership will enhance Above Board’s service offerings to include The Orchard’s technology, digital and physical distribution, analytics and business development opportunities, advertising, publishing administration, neighbouring rights, and the global reach of teams operating in 45 territories worldwide. Hill has been tapped to help sign and develop global dance/electronic talent to The Orchard’s roster. 

“There are lots of pluses being in this infrastructure, whether it's neighbouring rights or just strategies in the electronic sphere that can be shared around the different campaigns,” said Hill. “It gives us that extra oomph for new deals, and also retaining the deals we have and continuing to grow the artists that we work with.”

The Orchard’s roster of dance labels includes Liquid State/Dimitri Vegas, Amtrak, TMRW Music Group, Rose Avenue, and more. Recent label signings include Perfect Havoc (UK) and Solomun’s DIYnamic (Germany). 

“Dance music is on a roll now,” said Dutt. “I think it's a much overlooked aspect of the independent sector - independent, DJ-owned labels. We often talk about the independent sector through rose-tinted glasses of the independent labels of old, from the last 20 or 30 years, but probably the most flourishing independent area is DJ-owned labels who have been incredibly successful in their own right over the last four to five years.”

Ian Dutt, MD, The Orchard UK

Based on US data, The Orchard is the leading distributor of EDM in the territory. The addition of Above Board to The Orchard, along with key hires in the US and Europe, underlines the company’s expansion into the dance/electronic music genre. 

Dutt said the company’s market share for dance is growing.

“One of the biggest benefits of investing in house and electronic music is that there are no language barriers to house music - a record can be as popular in Poland as it is in Canada,” he told Music Week. “The language of house music is very universal. So we've always been very fortunate - because The Orchard has always had a very global leaning to [the operation], we have a good standing within the genre. What we are doing is supercharging it by bringing in Above Board.”

“It’s different to the ’90s when it blew up massively,” said Hill of the genre’s growth. “Now it’s a much more global phenomenon, there’s much more infrastructure in South America with tours and festivals, there’s a huge electronic festival in India. 

“We’re based out of London, but now we can tap into every market. [The Orchard] has got fantastic people across their German, Australian, American and South American offices that we can talk to immediately about what's poppin’ off and what's coming down the pipeline.”

Above Board and The Orchard will mark their new partnership with a special event during Miami Music Week.


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