artwig Masuch, CEO of one of the fastest-growing music companies of the past decade, names 10 tracks which have helped to define the new BMG.
This was released through the old BMG in 2000, eight years before the new BMG launched, but in many ways it marked the high point of the old-school music business. The album from which it came, “No Strings Attached”, sold an incredible 2.4m copies in its first week in the US alone. Within a couple of years, the record business was in freefall having completely failed to understand the implications of the digital revolution. Our shareholder Bertelsmann took a deep look at the business and reached the conclusion that rather than trying to modernise the old BMG, it would be easier, quicker and cheaper to start again from scratch. It sold BMG Music Publishing and its half of the Sony-BMG record company and we started the new BMG on 1 October 2008.
On Day One it was just me, Max Dressendoerfer – still our CFO today – and our assistant Jasmina Zammit, who now coordinates sync with our sub-publishers worldwide. Rather than start with no revenue at all, when we sold out of the Sony-BMG joint venture, it was decided that we would take a small number of recordings with us. “99 Luftballons” was one of them, and one particularly close to my heart. In the early 80s Nena and I were part of a group of ambitious young people in our hometown of Hagen who wanted to be musicians, also including the band Extrabreit who I later produced. Nena remains a dear friend to this day.
The past nine years have been full of milestones. Our first German Number One (“RAF 3.0”), our first UK Number One (“You Me at Six”), our first Benelux Number One (“Within Temptation”), but the first US Number One, Janet Jackson’s “Unbreakable”, really was special. Conventional wisdom had it that BMG were “publishers playing at the record business”. Taking Janet to Number One in America pretty much killed that idea.
As a new company, we have had the opportunity to look at the market afresh. One of the real opportunities we see is supporting artists who have fallen victim to the record industry’s “fashion police”. The music business focuses disproportionately on newer artists and is too quick to write off proven artists who it decides are yesterday’s news. Together with Rick, who has now sold over 300,000 copies of “50”, the album from which “Keep Singing” is taken, we are happy to prove them wrong. We take all of our artists seriously, no matter which stage of their career they are at. “50” not only gave Rick his first UK Number One since 1987, it is his most successful record in 30 years.
Just as the established music industry often fails to support established artists, we believe it is often too quick to write off newer artists. US singer-songwriter LP had released albums on three different labels before she came to BMG. We decided to place our faith in her vision of the artist she could be and the result has been a hit record across Europe, the most significant success of her career and sales of 200,000 albums. We did the same with Jack Savoretti – no real traction with three previous album releases and then he comes to BMG and begins to enjoy real success.
BMG is unique at its scale in being an integrated music publishing and recordings company, but publishing still accounts for two-thirds of our business. Roger Waters was a particularly striking signing, and not just because it was one of the biggest music publishing deals of the past year, but also because of his huge cultural significance. We are incredibly proud to represent many of the greatest writers in popular music and Roger Waters is in the very first rank. Significantly he came to us directly because of personal recommendation from existing BMG clients. It does not come sweeter than that.
A large part of our music publishing business is accounted for by writer-performers, but for successful hit-making non-performing songwriters like busbee, William Wiik Larsen and Nate Cyphert there has never been a better time. “H.O.L.Y.”, performed by Florida Georgia Line, is not just one of the biggest country songs of the past years, it is an incredible vindication of BMG’s SoundLab songwriting camps which have set a new standard in the industry.
Blondie first came to us through acquisition. We have done a lot of acquisitions, more than 100 of them, from big publishing catalogues like Chrysalis, Cherry Lane, Bug and Primary Wave to labels like Vagrant, S-Curve and Rise. The reason is that the streaming world is a world of scale. You’re dealing with huge worldwide platforms like Spotify and Apple Music and YouTube, so if you are going to deliver value for songwriters and artists you need scale too. What is great about this is that having first encountered Blondie through acquisition, we have now entered into a new relationship with them. This track from their latest album, “Pollinator”, released and published by BMG, shows their ability to reinvent themselves for a new generation. It really is Blondie at their best.
In February 2017 we announced one of our biggest acquisitions to date (publicly reported at $100m), Nashville’s Broken Bow Music Group. It surprised a lot of people because they couldn’t understand why a Berlin-based music company was buying into country. But like all of our acquisitions, we didn’t buy BBRMG for what it is – although it is a highly successful company – but because of what we think it can be. Streaming is creating a new international market for country music, and Dustin Lynch is a prime example of the artists we believe are set to benefit.
Of the 10 tracks here, this one has a particular personal resonance. It was the inspirational impact of buying this record in 1969 which set me on my course to work in the music industry. But there is a BMG connection too: in 2013 we began representing the songwriting interests of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. More than 40 years after Mick and Keith literally changed my life, it is an incredible privilege now to be representing them. It is a powerful reminder that while music is a business (and one which is in need of improvement), it is a cultural and artistic force which has never been more relevant than today. Too often in the past music executives have attempted to put their own interests above those of the artists and songwriters they represent. As long as I am at BMG, this is not a mistake we intend to make.