'This is a fundamental revolution': Kobalt expands AWAL with $150m investment

'This is a fundamental revolution': Kobalt expands AWAL with $150m investment

Having disruped the music publishing landscape in recent years, Kobalt has now set its sights on the recording business with a massive investment of $150 million (£108m) in its AWAL operation.

The independent music and technology company will hire another 100 AWAL employees and the artist roster is set to grow significantly.

“We absolutely intend to be aggressive in what we sign,” AWAL CEO Lonny Olinick told Music Week. “Our message is very simple, we think we provide the best service in the business, we have an amazing global team that can support people across marketing, across A&R, across digital, distribution, radio – we really have a comprehensive offering and we offer a service-based model. We think it’s very compelling for artists and labels, for anyone looking to explore a different model.”

Kobalt will launch its new AWAL operation at SXSW, where the label is an official sponsor. It will also introduce an enhanced AWAL app featuring detailed royalty income broken down by artist, track, streaming service and country. 

The beefed-up AWAL operation is designed to serve thousands of artists and labels with a range of products and services, including digital distribution, music-data insights, global marketing, A&R and promotion.  

Kobalt Music founder & CEO Willard Ahdritz said AWAL was already helping hundreds of artists to make more than $50,000 (£36,000) a year from recordings with bigger acts able to “earn in the millions without signing away their rights”.

“We have transformed publishing,” Ahdritz told Music Week. “When I founded Kobalt, I wanted to take the music industry into the digital age for creators and become the most trusted brand in music. We have done recordings for some time and we have waited for this moment, when we see the tipping point is happening in that digital environment. From day one, Kobalt was designed for this. With this announcement today we are really levelling the playing field for independent artists and the independent labels we work with.”

Ahdritz made typically bold claims for AWAL’s recording ambitions. 

“We are the true enablers for artists on a global scale," said Ahdritz. "We deliver 10 times more cash – and [artists] are keeping the rights – in comparison to the traditional industry structure.”

Kobalt Capital recently closed its second managed fund to invest in music copyright, with a capacity of $600 million.

“Over the past year we have raised capital and now we are going full speed to transform the recording part of the global music industry that we are working with – I’m very excited,” said Ahdritz. “This is an absolute fundamental revolution. Combined with the structural changes we’ve seen in the growth of streaming, this is an explosion. It has never been a more exciting time in music history for artists and music entrepreneurs to be out there creating great songs and music.”

Olinick added: “This is an enormous amount of money and it’s unique to have been allocated to serve artists and labels without investing in rights."

With this announcement today we are really levelling the playing field for independent artists and the independent labels we work with

Willard Ahdritz

The doubling of the AWAL team to 200 will see staff recruited across the global operation.

“The intention with this investment is to build a compelling, competitive A&R team,” said Olinick. “We already think we have some of the best A&R people in the business but this investment is going to double down on that.”

AWAL’s roster includes Tom Misch, Bruno Major, The Wombats, Vérité, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Yung Lean.

The update to the AWAL App with enhanced financial data, along with a separate new music analytics platform, will be unveiled at SXSW. The app provides an insight into an artist’s streaming and financial performance across Apple Music and Spotify, alongside data from YouTube.

“I think our reputation at Kobalt is what we’re creating at AWAL: people trust us we’re fully transparent, we do the right thing for the artists every single time,” said Olinick. “That is 100% the mission behind AWAL.”

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