Believe's Alex Kennedy on UK growth, TikTok's role in artist discovery and the indie rock revival

Believe's Alex Kennedy on UK growth, TikTok's role in artist discovery and the indie rock revival

Believe’s UK MD Alex Kennedy has spoken to Music Week about the ambitions for the digital-focused company following strong growth in the British market.

In its Q1 financial results, Believe reported quarterly adjusted organic growth of 16.1% across the global company.

During the quarter, the company implemented a regional organisation, with Romain Vivien promoted to the new role of global head of music and president Europe, covering France, Germany and the UK. 

Paris-based Believe is developing tech solutions to promote the development of artists and their engagement with their fans. A recent example is the launch of The Girliverse in the UK, a new interactive online experience for fans of alt-pop artist Girli.

The British arm of the business is marking its 15th anniversary this year. Kennedy is interviewed in the latest edition of Music Week.

Believe’s UK roster amassed 35 billion streams globally last year

Kennedy said their close relationships with DSPs, social media and TikTok have been crucial to their market growth.

“Being a tech-forward business, we see huge value in the way those platforms operate,” he said. “We like to partner with them at a very early stage on new products or concepts they have.” 

While TikTok has been in a licensing dispute with Universal Music Group, which prompted other companies and organisations to voice support for the major, Believe (and its subsidiaries including Tunecore) continues to work closely with the short-form video platform. Chloe Adams is one of the company’s UK artists who’s gone viral on TikTok.

“From our perspective, our mission is essentially to support artist development at all stages, and I think TikTok are an excellent partner for us in how we do that,” said Kennedy. “The partnership that we've had with them has helped us accelerate the discovery of countless artists that we've been able to bring through. That help and support on discovery means we can then transfer that listenership over to Spotify and other areas and then, fingers crossed, turn those people into superfans in the future. So it's all part of the funnel.”

Believe is defending its Label/Artist Services Company title at the Music Week Awards on Thursday (May 2), along with nods in Music & Brand Partnership, Sales Team and for Believe-owned Sentric.

“The UK is really moving forward to be a key territory for Believe,” said Kennedy. “The level of competition is extremely high with the majors having big offices here. But we’ve been able to break through, especially over the last two or three years, and create a stable of labels we work with that are some of the cream of the crop of the independent label community.”

“We’ve really managed to develop the artist business as well in the last few years,” he added. “We are having real breakthroughs across multiple genres on the artist side.”

The UK is really moving forward to be a key territory for Believe

Alex Kennedy

As well as albums chart Top 10 results in recent years for acts including Knucks, Don Broco, Feeder, James Morrison, The Reytons and While She Sleeps, the Believe UK office is seeing streaming success for Novo Amor, Blanco, Hayla and Royal Otis.

Based on the Official Charts Company’s All Music All Albums measurement for 2023, Believe’s consumption soared by 394% to make them the 10th biggest corporate label group by share.

Kennedy said their performance was even stronger based on digital distribution across all Believe artist and label partners.

“We think there’s still good headroom for growth – we’re only really getting going now in the UK,” said Kennedy.

“With the signings that we’re making on the label front with people like Bella Union, Hospital Records and Rinse, that’s helping us get up to another level to be probably the key label distributor in the UK now on the independent side. It’s very gratifying that we’re able to now take a seat at the top table.”

Distribution imprint b:electronic has been central to Believe’s strategy for the dance/electronic genre for labels such as Cr2. 

Believe also works with indie labels including Scruff Of The Neck and Communion, as well as directly with guitar bands such as Sea Girls.

“Whisper it, but I think guitar music is definitely back,” said Kennedy. “We've got an amazing artist called Royel Otis, an Australian indie band that we've signed. They had a bit of a viral hit recently with their cover of Murder On The Dancefloor. Sophie Ellis-Bextor's version got taken down from TikTok, and these guys coincidentally did a cover off the back of the Saltburn sync and that's gone mad – they've just hit five million monthly listeners on Spotify. They've got an excellent chance of really going through to the next level from an indie perspective.”

In the US, Luminate data for 2023 showed alt-rock as the largest growing sub-genre based on on-demand audio streams. An increase of 15.9 billion streams represented year-on-year growth of more than 60%, compared to market growth of 12.7%.

On the UK albums chart so far this year, there have been strong results for established guitar bands such as The Libertines (EMI) and debut album acts like The K’s (LAB Records/ADA).

“I think for the first time in a long time, indie music is really coming back,” said Kennedy. “That’s a belated transition to the levels of streams that maybe the other genres have been able to benefit from. It's not that indie and alternative artists aren't still selling physical, they still are. It's more that their fans are listening to digital more, and, also, that more fans are listening to indie/alternative."

He added: “The current younger generation of listeners are less genre-divisive, they're more agnostic, and they're listening to lots of different things. And indie/alternative is just coming to the fore a little bit, it feels, in terms of general listenership. The Luminate figures are a great sign. We're focusing very heavily on indie/alternative from an artist signing perspective and definitely from a label signing perspective this year.”

Subscribers can read the Music Week interview here.


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