interviews

Hitmakers: Stuart Price on the songwriting secrets behind Madonna's Hung Up

In 2005, Hung Up not only took Madonna back to the top of the world’s charts, but it made her a fixture on global dancefloors. Co-writer Stuart Price reveals how a night on the M1, a chance Radio 2 play, ...

Utopian state: Swiss tech firm aims to 'supercharge' music industry

Utopia Music’s Roberto Neri has spoken about the company’s ambitions to boost music business revenues in the data-heavy streaming economy. The Swiss-based fintech firm has been making headlines recently with its rapid global expansion. As well as high-profile appointments, including former Downtown exec Neri as chief operating officer, Utopia has acquired companies including Proper Music, Sentric and Absolute Label Services. “Ultimately, what we’re working towards is being the back end of the music industry,” Neri told Music Week. “We need to have one central platform that powers all parts of it.” Utopia’s mission statement is “fair pay for every play” by using its real-time technology and data platform, which has been five years in the making. It aims to serve the music industry to ensure all creators receive correct royalties. For music publishing alone, the Ivors Academy has estimated that there’s an annual data gap affecting £500 million of streaming royalties. “We’re making sure that whatever is due should be paid,” said Neri. “So when a stream happens, we want that to be paid to the creator or the rights-holder in question. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always find its way into the right pockets, that’s why we’re helping with the data gap and providing this unified solution.” Neri said the bold agenda is realistic based on the technological infrastructure in place. “We’re certainly heading towards that ultimate utopian state of making sure that the right people are being paid, but also that it happens in a timely fashion,” he said. “At the moment, it can take years for a play in Japan to reach the pockets of creators and rights-holders in the UK. We need to make sure that happens quicker. “By freeing the industry from the administrative burdens, and the costly overheads, we will grow the pie for everyone involved. We will scale up as we start taking a fractional payment from everything we do. From all the different touch points across the industry as we centralise it, we’ll see this Visa-like state where we take an incremental cost for doing that.” Neri stressed that Utopia will be a partner to the music industry, rather than a competitor. “We’re not here to be the Uber disrupting the market and taking out black cabs,” he explained. “We are here to service and supercharge and power pretty much all companies. “We are completely neutral. Coincidentally, our head office is in Zug in Switzerland, so I like to see us as the Switzerland of music!” While it is becoming an important player in the industry, Utopia will not become a copyright holder. Neri also ruled out any plan to replace collective management organisations (CMOs) for licensing collections, such as PRS For Music and PPL. “We don’t want to become a CMO,” he said. “We believe in the CMOs, so we’re not trying to take them out. We just want to help power them and for them to be able to provide fair pay for every play.” We are here to service and supercharge and power pretty much all companies Roberto Neri Utopia has pledged that it will never be owned by any major music or tech corporation. Nevertheless, it has established a frontline industry presence through its acquisitions, which represent 1,800 labels, 1,100 publishers and 450,000 music creators. Partners include AWAL, Ingrooves, The Orchard and ADA. The acquisition of Sentric Music enabled Utopia to launch its new royalty management services business unit, which will continue to be Liverpool-based. The deal for Proper Music formed the basis of their distribution services unit, which was then bolstered with Absolute. “Joining the Utopia family has supercharged Proper’s business,” said MD Drew Hill. “Through Utopia’s platform we have been able to provide increasing value to our clients, including improved distribution efficiency and the quality of physical product metadata. Through Utopia’s financial services business unit, we have also been able to accelerate royalty payments to creators.” As well as Switzerland, Utopia now has offices in London, Liverpool, Helsinki, Stockholm, LA, Paris, Barcelona and Sydney. Neri views the expansion of music licensing across audio-visual streaming, user-generated content and gaming as key to royalties growth. “There are some big companies that are currently unlicensed,” he said. “We would like the industry to come together to ensure that music and its true value are being completely realised. [Twitter] is certainly one company that I would like to see licensed.” IFPI reported in March that global recorded music revenues increased by 18.5% year-on-year in 2021 to $25.9 billion. “We’re in a really good place,” said Neri. “But one challenge is the explosion of data. For many businesses who are managing this amount of data, and the infrastructure to support it, it is very costly and obviously time-intensive. So we’re here to help the industry.” Neri suggested that the ambitious Utopia Music concept had been a “long time coming”. “I completely bought into the idea of doing this because it’s the right thing to do – and the industry desperately needs it,” he said.

'I was happier than I'd been in a long time': Warpaint on their return

Warpaint are back with their first album in six years, Radiate Like This. The LA quartet have built a reputation for their brooding, difficult-to-pin-down sound which has borrowed variously from psychedlia and dreampop and grunge. But separation over the course of the pandemic, and involvement to greater or lesser extents in solo projects, has seen them inhabit a different vibe this album. "I think we've got to a softer place: maybe a little more sensitive, possibly a little less angular," says vocalist and guitarist Theresa Wayman, speaking over Zoom to Music Week from Los Angeles.  The band have also recently moved labels, from Rough Trade to Virgin – the latter providing a change of scene after the band's three albums, and a new home for a softer sound.  Here, Theresa Wayman tells Music Week the story...  It's been six years now I think since your last album. How does it feel to be back together as a group? “We had an impromptu show a couple of months ago – someone hired us to play for a birthday party. Stella was out of town so we didn't play with her but the three of us, at least, got to play together for the first time in about three years. It just felt mind-blowing; it was so good to really play and rock out. It was so therapeutic. I was happier than I'd been in a long time.” How did you fare over lockdown? “It was nice in some ways because we got a lot of time to be in our little home studios and mess with things home things and tweak things, and play around a lot like in a very personal way, which we don't always have a lot of time to do. But then it just started to feel too isolated as well. And I just really missed flushing things out with my friends in a room and getting to the bottom of it that way.” You've got a huge tour coming up. How are you feeling about it? “It's hard right now because we haven't started rehearsals. And these songs, we've never played them live. Well, a couple of them we played live together, but most of them were layered and recorded in the box – kind of piecemeal. And so I’m a bit apprehensive about how it's all gonna come together. But that's just like, you know, that's projection: you can get fearful about anything if you think about the future of it, you know, so I’m just trying to take it day by day. I know that I had a great time last weekend playing all our old songs. I saw them in a new light. I was just almost had to relearn some of them we just hadn't played in so long. And I just sometimes get amazed by my old self and our old selves, and remembering where we were coming from. It’s like there's some magic there.” How has the Warpaint sound developed over the intervening years? "I think we've got to a softer place: maybe a little more sensitive, possibly a little less angular. A little more succinct. We used to have so many different parts for a song in there, and we'd have hard time ditching any of the parts that we liked, and so songs would end up being very long – like three songs in one. Over time we’ve got more streamlined in the way that we put a song together. It's a nice experiment. It's fun for us to progress that way and to explore." What do you think is the future of indie rock? “I feel like from about 2011 to 2013, electronic music really took over and it seemed like rock was dead. That is really funny to me: of course it's not gonna die! We are just in a phase where everyone's obsessed and fascinated by electronic sounds being added to live elements. I think that’s an amazing combination of sounds, and I really get off on it. We've always played to drum machines in the past – for a while, before we had a drummer, a drum machine was our drummer. So it's always been a part of us, and we’ve slowly been adding it more and more over the years. Everyone's listening to everything nowadays – you don't often find people that only listen to one type of music.” We need to remember that we're all coming from the same place, as opposed to nitpicking at each other constantly Theresa Wayman You recently moved to Virgin. How has the support been there? “I think we did three albums on Rough Trade. But we wanted to see what it was like in a different scenario. It was the kind of move that makes sense, and it seems like it’s working well. I do miss our friends at Rough Trade; it was an intimate situation over there. But we just need to get to know our people [at Virgin] a little better.” How do you feel about being a woman in the music industry at the moment? “I think things are moving and progressing. It's different to when we started. You see a lot more women coming through on the technical side, doing things like mixing, engineering, behind-the-scenes stuff. All perspectives are important, but women have a unique way of seeing the world. They deserve to be like players in all aspects of the field.” You've said that lead single Champion is about being a champion to yourself and to others. What prompted this message? “Champion was actually written before the pandemic, and before the protests and civil rights movements and awakenings. So it just feels serendipitous how perfect the message came to be. We need to remember to pick each other up. We need to remember that we're all coming from the same place, as opposed to nitpicking at each other constantly, trying to find where someone slipped up. We're all gonna slip up. It’s such an important reminder, isn’t it?”

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