Kobalt CEO Laurent Hubert has told Music Week of his desire for the independent giant to be considered "the only alternative to the majors".
Hubert, who joined the company six years ago from BMG and succeeded founder Willard Ahdritz in the hot seat in 2020, and led Kobalt to the first profit-making year in its history, as it generated $48.5 million EBITDA in 2021, growing gross collections by 15%.
Speaking in the Music Week Interview in our latest issue, the US-based executive set out his big picture thinking for the next phase of the famous disruptor, whose UK sync department won at this year's Music Week Awards.
“We want to be the only alternative to the majors,” he said. “We want to be that company where you don’t have to make compromises. When you go to Kobalt, you get the benefits of scale, transparency and a service-oriented organisation.
"We understand the landscape is very rich and you have big, strong majors that are entrenched and successful. You also have some remarkable independent companies that have a real role in the ecosystem. But there is really no one like Kobalt that has the scale, the resources and the brand to be that true alternative.”
The trailblazing publisher serves more than 700,000 songs across 13 offices worldwide and represents talent including Max Martin, Finneas, Andrew Watt, Stevie Nicks, Roddy Ricch, Phoebe Bridgers, Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney. Recent signings include UK breakout star Cat Burns and Nigerian Afrobeat artist Omah Lay, who both put pen to paper on worldwide publishing administration agreements.
"We have repertoire across genres and we support developing writer-producers all the way to superstar level," said Hubert. "Of course I’m biased, but we believe our brand is the most trusted in the marketplace. If you look at a number of our signings this year, it shows Kobalt is at the table for every deal. It doesn't mean Kobalt always gets the deal, but at least it is in consideration."
Last month, it was announced that global technology and media-focused investment firm Francisco Partners (FP) had acquired a majority stake in Kobalt, which has continued to be led by its existing management team of Hubert, president and COO Jeannette Perez, CFO Catrin Drabble and CTO Nuno Guerreiro.
“We had a shareholder base that was quite diffuse, so it made sense for us to have simplified governance and FP was an interesting opportunity on different levels,” said Hubert. “It was fundamental for us to have [people] that understood music. We’ve built an aspirational brand; a creative destination and music is what drives our business, so the interest in music was critical."
He continued: "FP brings ambitions of its own and we have some pieces inside of our ecosystem that we can do a lot with. [Kobalt's global digital collection society] AMRA is one of those – I think it is a gem that we can put to work for the betterment of the industry and, of course, the benefit of Kobalt as well.
"AMRA is a fairly new business that has grown quite significantly in the past 24 months as the digital transformation of music has accelerated. We think that AMRA’s business can be quadrupled in a fairly short amount of time.”
MUSIC and Dundee Partners have also invested in Kobalt, with MUSIC CEO Matt Pincus - whose Songs Music Publishing was previously acquired by Kobalt in 2017 - joining the board upon the completion of the deal.
"Matt Pincus has a great track record in the industry and is also somebody that I've known for a long time," noted Hubert. "We both serve on the NMPA and ASCAP board, and I always looked at Matt as a thought leader, a thought provoker and also a good problem solver, so bringing that expertise to the company is a benefit. He is somebody that had also made some interesting investments in the music space, especially around tech-enabled companies, so it all made sense for us.
"What you will find across all these people is a common core around that passion for music and creators, and making that environment better and more sustainable. That is fully aligned with our philosophy from day one."
"It simplified our ecosystem," he said. "The reality is that neighbouring rights, AWAL and the publishing business have little [crossover] from an operational standpoint. You may have revenue synergies - which we somewhat benefited from, although not enormously - but we didn’t have much of an operational synergy. So the idea of separating those businesses from the core Kobalt business has actually been positive.
“We went from five businesses to two businesses, so by definition, that is an opportunity for us to excel at what we believe we do best."
Read the full interview with Hubert in the new issue of Music Week.