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Merck Mercuriadis, the man who has spent $1bn on old hits


By Mark Savage

BBC music reporter


image copyrightJill Furmanovsky

image captionMerck Mercuriadis managed artists adore Elton John and Iron Maiden ahead of launching his most modern enterprise

Did you remember that the Church of England is a co-owner of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies folks, Rihanna’s Umbrella and Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack?

It sounds strange – nonetheless the church is one of hundreds of investors in an organization called Hipgnosis, which, for the previous three years, has been hungrily snapping up the rights to thousands of hit songs.

Up to now, it has spent bigger than $1bn (£776m) on music by Mark Ronson, Chic, Barry Manilow and Blondie. Its most modern acquisition is the song catalogue of LA Reid, meaning it has a share in tracks adore Boyz II Men’s End Of The Boulevard, Whitney Houston’s I am Your Puny one Tonight and Bobby Brown’s Construct no longer Be Cruel.

When these songs bag played on the radio or positioned in a movie or TV show, Hipgnosis makes money. And so, by association, does the Church of England, alongside with completely different investors adore Aviva, Investec and Axa.

‘More treasured than gold’

Per Hipgnosis founder Merck Mercuriadis, the music he’s supplied is “extra treasured than gold or oil”.

“These colossal, proven songs are very predictable and superior of their profits streams,” he explains.

“In case you take hang of a song adore the Eurythmics’ Sweet Aims or Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, you can too very neatly be speaking three to four decades of superior profits.”

He says hit songs are a bag funding because their earnings is now not in any appreciate times struggling from fluctuations in the economic system.

“If folk dwell their most attractive lives, they’re doing it to a soundtrack of songs,” he explains. “Nonetheless equally, in the occasion that they are experiencing the form of challenges we now delight in skilled over the closing six months, they’re taking comfort and escaping in colossal songs.

“So music is continually being consumed and it is most steadily producing profits.”

image copyrightLAYTON THOMPSON

image captionHipgnosis was launched on the London Stock Change in 2018 by Mercuriadis and Hipgnosis adviser Nile Rodgers of Chic

Truly, with Spotify users increasing by a month-to-month common of 22% between March and July, streaming royalties delight in increased in the future of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a end result, Hipgnosis’ share ticket has largely withstood the turmoil that has affected worthy of the enterprise world.

Mercuriadis, from Quebec, Canada, acquired into the music enterprise after calling the Toronto place of work of Virgin Records each day for months until they gave him a job in the advertising and marketing and marketing department, where he worked with acts adore UB40, The Human League and XTC.

In 1986, he joined the Sanctuary Neighborhood, in the extinguish becoming its CEO, where he managed the careers of Elton John, Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses, Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, as well to working on the relaunch of Morrissey’s occupation in 2004.

‘Fired for telling the truth’

“I’ve been very fortunate to work with all americans I’ve ever wished to work with,” says Mercuriadis.

He says the main to managing any a hit artist is to “strive in opposition to onerous for them” and “suppose the truth”, even when it is sorrowful.

“The thing that most folk compose no longer realise is that, in the occasion you can too delight in a occupation that is the length of Elton’s, you can too very neatly be going to be the final note artist in the realm seven cases over. Equally, you can too very neatly be going to be basically the most uncool artist seven cases over.

“Precise lifestyles is pronouncing, ‘Right here’s where we at show are, this is where we are searching to be, and this is what we now delight in to compose to bag there. So let’s roll our sleeves up and bag our hands soiled and bag caught in.'”

He admits he’s been “fired for telling the truth” in the previous – even though he could per chance seemingly also no longer name names.

“It happens most steadily,” is all he’s going to speak. “In fact one thing few folk are searching to suppose. Or no longer it is debatable that even fewer are searching to hear it.”

image copyrightGetty Photos

image captionHipgnosis has acquired the rights to hits by Dave Stewart, Blondie and Barry Manilow, among others

The root for Hipgnosis came to Mercuriadis in 2009, all around the time Spotify launched in the UK.

“I could per chance seemingly also look that streaming was going to exchange the landscape, and was going to scheme the music enterprise very a hit in each place as soon as more,” he says.

He factors out that the enterprise’s feeble benchmark for success is the platinum file – which, in the US, represents 1,000,000 sales. It sounds spectacular, he says, until you realise that a success film adore Toy Story 4 supplied 43 million tickets.

“In scream that staunch away tells you that, while the overwhelming majority of the population could per chance seemingly also ride music, completely about a of them set up their hand of their pocket and pull out a tenner and pay for it.”

Streaming modified that, he says, because beforehand passive customers had been willing to pay a month-to-month subscription. “Moderately than the focal point being that one in 350 folk would if truth be told pay for music, the focal point is on all of them.”

An estimated 88 million folk subscribe to streaming services in the US, bigger than a quarter of the population.

Now not like most music companies, Hipgnosis is now not in any appreciate times centered on finding the “subsequent big thing”. A third of the songs it owns are bigger than 10 years aged, and 59% are between three and 10 years aged. Fewer than 10% are more recent releases.

“The one thing that all of them delight in in basic is that they are culturally valuable,” says Mercuriadis.

‘Every song is a mini ticket’

The root of investing in an artist’s future earnings is now not in any appreciate times sleek. In 1997, David Bowie supplied asset-backed securities, dubbed “Bowie bonds”, which awarded investors a share in the royalties of songs adore Lifestyles On Mars and Heroes.

The down side was that it was with out a doubt a loan. If Bowie did now not scheme as worthy money as predicted, he’d delight in had to give up the rights to his songs.

Mercuriadis says his deals are “extra sophisticated”, with artists paid 15 years of royalties up entrance. Taking tax relief into memoir, many scoot away with “about 25 years value of money in one fell swoop”, he says. In return, Hipgnosis owns the songs in perpetuity.

For artists, the enchantment is now not in any appreciate times factual the money, nonetheless that Hipgnosis acts as a “song administration company” as a replacement of simply exploiting a success to underwrite sleek music (which is how most labels and publishers work).

“Or no longer it is about taking a seek for at every song as a mini ticket in itself,” acknowledged the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart after promoting his catalogue to the company closing year.

“Other folks all around the realm singing ‘Sweet goals are made of this’ could per chance seemingly also no longer know who I am, or the Eurythmics, nonetheless they are going to speak the following line. [Merck’s] complete scheme is take hang of these basic songs and care for them alive and scheme small worlds spherical them.

“Effectively, that is okay by me because… after I exit and play these songs, I want folk to know them. He’s very proactive.”

image copyrightCAITLIN MOGRIDGE

image captionMercuriadis and Rodgers signed their cope with The Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart closing year

For an organization that has essentially based completely its strategy on future earnings, Mercuriadis wants to be responsive to the criticism of royalty charges paid to artists by streaming services. Does he toughen the present #BrokenRecord and #FixStreaming campaigns, which argue for a extra equitable charge of return?

“Yes, streaming services delight in to pay songwriters additional money,” he says. Nonetheless he adds: “The build I judge the #BrokenRecord advertising and marketing and marketing campaign is tainted is that their focal point is on the streaming services [when] the staunch villains are the main file companies that are taking the lion’s share of the money.

“The design the business mannequin works is that Apple, Amazon and Spotify care for 30% of the money for themselves and so they pay 70% to the rights holders. As it at show stands, 58.5p out of that closing 70p is going to the file company. The artist is getting, at most attractive, one sixth of that [meaning] 11.5p is going to the song.

“We judge it is time that the file companies stepped up and recognised that there is a staunch imbalance between what’s being paid for recorded music versus what’s being paid for the song.”

Interestingly, he says the extra valuable job is to scheme bigger the realm subscriber infamous of streaming services from 450 million to 2 billion by the tip of the decade – “because if that turns into truth then the earnings of the songwriters will likely be very valuable”.

By then, he hopes Hipgnosis can delight in an inventory of spherical 60,000 songs, at which point they are going to bag out of the acquisition enterprise and focal point on inserting their hits in video video games or TV reveals, getting sleek artists to veil them, and guaranteeing they’re featured on indispensable playlists.

“These colossal songs are the energy that makes the realm traipse spherical,” he says.

Earlier than then, even though, is there a song catalogue he’d take hang of to bag his hands on?

“All americans wants The Beatles,” he smiles. “Or no longer it is basically the most attractive situation of songs ever written.

“I compose no longer judge I would are searching to dwell if The Beatles weren’t section of this world.”

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