Believe UK MD Alex Kennedy talks taking on the majors

Believe UK MD Alex Kennedy talks taking on the majors

Believe UK managing director Alex Kennedy has spoken to Music Week about the rise of the company as a global force for independent music.

In the half-year results released earlier this month, Believe posted a year-on-year revenue increase of 35.4% to €352.2 million. The forecast for the full year is organic growth of 29%.

The company results followed the recent publication of Goldman Sachs’ influential Music In The Air report, which showed that Believe has made market share gains. The French company had a global recorded music market share of 2.6% in 2021, up from 1.5% in 2018, according to the Goldman Sachs. That compares to a 31.2% share for market leader UMG, 22.7% for Sony Music and 18.4% for Warner Music. Independents (including Believe) accounted for 27.7%.

In terms of global streaming revenues in 2021, Believe’s market share is around 5%, according to the report.

Alex Kennedy, who was recently appointed to the senior UK role, was interviewed in Music Week about Believe’s strength in services for artists/labels and competition from the majors, who are all investing in the services sector.

Here we present an extended version of the Q&A with the Believe UK MD…

Congratulations on your recent appointment - how are you enjoying your UK leadership position at Believe?

“It's a big challenging role and also incredibly varied. I think there's real global engagement with my counterparts at headquarters in Paris, but also with the other MDs and their teams in many of the countries across the world, which is getting up to about 50 different offices now. The remit is across our label and artist distribution team, the artist services team and TuneCore UK, and then working with our huge roster of artists and label clients, DSPs, D2C and other partners. It’s basically the dream job for me really. It's really good to be back closer to the music, signing artists, labels and using my creative side in collaboration with the business side.”

How is Believe UK helping to drive growth at the company?

“I think that the growth in the UK has been driven by a range of things working in tandem. Our label distribution team made some very smart strategic decisions to work with a new generation of forward-thinking, digital-first labels like House Anxiety, College Music, DMY, Crucast. Those bets that we took in the middle of the pandemic have paid off with some breakthrough success. Some of them are charting - we had a No.11 in the album charts with The Reytons from Scruff Of The Neck. The distribution side has seen huge streaming growth for our roster with labels like Marathon Artists, Communion, Shogun Audio. And with our artist distribution team, we've invested a lot in emerging independent artists - people like Wesley Joseph, Genesis Owusu. We've had Spotify Radar artists like Nia Archives and Vistas, some really good, successful people like Fumez The Engineer. 

“On the artist services side, we've had strong growth from releases [in Q2] from artists like James Morrison, whose greatest hits album charted at No.6, which is his highest charting album in 10 years. So that kind of combination across the piece of our artists distribution, label distribution and artist services has combined to really drive growth, which you're seeing globally in the figures.”

How did you achieve that Top 3 album result with UK rapper Knucks earlier this year?

“Our team is so proud of what we've achieved and the first credit goes to Knucks’ management team. He actually released a debut project on Island Records and then chose to come back to Believe after being with us originally, and do a distribution deal. We then upstreamed him into an album services deal for Alpha Place. He outsold Digga D [in terms of week one], so in a different week he might have even got to No.1. It’s crazy to think - and he had three singles in the Top 100. 

“The reason for the success was clearly the management and the artist, but then also the partnerships that we did across streaming and physical. YouTube made him their Artist On The Rise; Spotify supported with billboards, playlists covers, very strong genre playlisting and social posts; and we teamed up with Amazon to do a pop-up store to promote Knucks on their +44  playlist. We had something like 160 playlist placements on release day.”

What are the prospects for Knucks?

“After watching his show at Koko where he had Stormzy coming out and Loyle Carner - a who’s who of British rappers - it really feels like it's not going to be long before he's headlining festivals. It felt like a coronation. He's going to be a game-changer for us and for this space.”

Our ambition has to be to try and get on the heels of the majors

Alex Kennedy

Can you outline the opportunities for acts within the Believe ecosystem?

“Artists can upstream from TuneCore to distribution, from distribution to artists services, sometimes from TuneCore to our own labels as well. We pride ourselves to be able to offer that to artists and cater to them at all levels of their evolution. We've actually upstreamed something like 340 artists to Believe from TuneCore.”

How do you feel the services sector is evolving?

“We've never had a time where the palette of options available to artists and labels is broader. You've got many different make-ups of teams that can come along with different types of experience, and then plug in accordingly. Given the amount that's been invested across the board in service companies, the market clearly feels like the services sector has a lot of headroom to grow. 

“We've never been more confident about our path. Service is paramount for us, it's what we pride ourselves on. We think we offer the most joined-up, tailored services in the market. Technology is where we truly shine, we invest very heavily in the platform, and our people. And then digital, digital digital: simply put, we do digital best, and we have incredibly collaborative and fruitful partnerships with Amazon, Apple, Meta, Spotify, TikTok, YouTube and all the other DSPS and platforms that are basically helping us supercharge growth. So the sector is in rude health and I think it's only going to get better.”

How did it feel to get a UK No.1 album with rock act Don Broco?

Don Broco are signed to SharpTone, which is part of Nuclear Blast, the world famous rock and metal label that we wholly acquired in 2018. They're a great example of where we acquire a traditional label, and then basically help them use our digital expertise with their outstanding roster. We're getting amazing results. It's been a stunning year for us so far.”

Does the range of options for DIY acts give you an edge in this market?

“We like to think so. You've seen the majors dabble in that world with Spinnup [UMG] and Level [WMG] and things like that. We've seen the recent news of Spinnup now becoming invite-only. It feels like maybe they haven't done as well in those zones, whereas our strategy was to bring TuneCore in-house, integrate it and it means we've now got that complete value chain upstream ability. We think that will be a USP for us.”

How significant is the continuing growth of the DIY sector?

“It's critically important. We see the pace of growth in the DIY market, but also the indie market, really increasing globally. Artists have such an incredible range of tools and services now to avail themselves of, it feels like a completely different ecosystem is evolving. We feel like we're really well placed to take advantage of that and to help partner with artists and labels, from DIY potential stars right the way up to global stars in years to come.”

How are you focusing on TikTok for artists?

“We've got a dedicated digital marketing team who work with artists and managers to develop bespoke strategies around each platform. Two artists that have had success on TikTok and Instagram are Girli [Amelia Toomey] and Cate [Canning], who both actively create content that feels really genuine, fun and relatable. A differentiator for us is we really know it's not right for all artists to use these platforms, and especially not to use them heavily, because there's a potential toll that it can take on artists’ mental health to always be posting. So we never pressure artists to use these channels if they're not comfortable doing so. But we've got the team there to support them and share the burden if they so wish.”

Finally, what are the overall ambitions for Believe?

“If you look at it in its entirety, it's a seriously large company now. Our ambition has to be to try and get on the heels of the majors. I don't know how quickly we can do that, but I think that has to be the ambition for us. Over the next five or 10 years, we’ll be trying to pick off one of those three in terms of global size. We feel like we're in an excellent position and the message is that we're open for business.”

Click here to read our interview with ADA, winners of the Label/Artist Services category at the Music Week Awards.

Subscribers can click here to read our interview with Virgin Music Label & Artist Services UK MD Vanessa Bosåen.

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