Music Industry Moves: Oaktree Invests $375 Million in Primary Wave Music; IFPI Chief Gets MBE From the Queen

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Primary Wave Music has secured an investment of “up to“ $375 million from Oaktree Capital Management in exchange for a minority interest in the company, which owns catalogs by Whitney Houston, Bob Marley, Prince, Stevie Nicks, Smokey Robinson, the Four Seasons, Olivia Newton-John, Ray Charles, Burt Bacharach and many others.

According to the announcement, Oaktree will help strengthen Primary Wave’s financial positioning as an asset manager of music, and its investment will aid future catalog acquisitions. After completing this partnership, Primary Wave now manages $1.5 billion in cash and assets. The deal was finalized by Primary Wave’s Founder & CEO Larry Mestel and Oaktree’s Co-Chairman & Chief Investment Officer Bruce Karsh and Managing Director & Co-Head of North America Brian Laibow.

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“The Primary Wave team is honored to have such a respected financial institution and talented team supporting our efforts. Bruce Karsh and I have had a working relationship for over 15 years and he has the unusual combination of business savvy and creative sensibility towards music,” said Mestel. “I’ve long admired the business model and success that Larry has built for Primary Wave and saw this Partnership as a unique opportunity to diversify our investment portfolio in a growing and uncorrelated asset class,” said Karsh.

+ Frances Moore, chief executive of the global recording industry trade organization IFPI since 2010, has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List. (Yes, that is the same honor the Beatles received in 1965.) Moore joins the Members of the Order of the British Empire and is recognized for her services to the music industry.

Commenting on her inclusion in the list, Moore said with classic British modesty: “I am really pleased that the role of the recording industry and its contribution to our culture and economy has been recognized and honored in this way.”

+ Def Jam has named Chelsea Blythe senior VP of A&R. Based in Santa Monica, she will report directly to the label’s interim chairman/CEO, Jeff Harleston. Blythe began her career in music with the A&R Depart­ment at Interscope Records in 2012 and moved over to Columbia Records in 2016.

“I’m excited to welcome Chelsea to the Def Jam family,” said Harleston. “I’m confident her instincts and acumen will immediately be felt within the A&R team and the company as a whole.”

Wednesday, June 9

UTA is officially open for business in its new historic Nashville locale, the former Carnegie Library downtown at 225 Polk Avenue, in the culmination of a two-year renovation process first reported in Variety in Sept. 2019.

The building had been Nashville’s main library for 35 years after its completion in 1965. Hastings Architecture purchased the three-story building in 2017 and began redesigning it at that time with a mixture of the existing mid-century elements and 21st-century flourishes in what UTA describes as “an impressive feat of modern expression.” Included in the revamp are a performance space and a suitable-for-parties rooftop deck with views of downtown and the state capitol. Nashville old-timers may enjoy touches that remain from the site’s historic usage, including a book drop.

“We are thrilled to open the doors to our new Nashville headquarters and bring new life to this historic space that will now serve as a gathering place for colleagues, artists and storytellers across the community,” said David Zedeck, partner and co-head of worldwide music at the agency. “Nashville’s music roots run deep and these new offices are meant to reflect UTA’s commitment to sharing this city’s powerful creativity with the world.”

In the past year, new hires at UTA Music Nashville have included Jeffrey Hasson,Jenny DeLoach, Brett Saliba, Matt Korn and Emily Wright. Recent client acquisitions have included Sam Williams (whose deal with UMG Nashville was reported in Variety Tuesday), Midland, Brittney Spencer, Reyna Roberts and Billy Ray Cyrus, on top of longer-standing clients like Toby Keith, Jimmie Allen and Blanco Brown.

+ [PIAS], the Europe-based independent music company, and Universal Music Group announced a strategic global alliance on Wednesday (June 9). According to the announcement, under the new initiative, UMG will have access to [PIAS]’ international distribution network and expertise in providing services to the independent music community through its recently rebranded, long-standing services division [Integral]. In return [PIAS] will be able to tap into resources and funding provided by UMG to further grow its global offering and strengthen its position as a leading independent services provider.

The announcement stresses that “[PIAS] remains fully independent and its founders Kenny Gates and Michel Lambot will retain full control of the company.” The new partnership with UMG will not affect the arrangements [PIAS] has in place with any of its existing partners. The company currently has offices in all major territories around the world and over 250 employees.

Gates said, “Almost 40 years since Michel Lambot and I launched [PIAS] we are as eager and driven as we ever were and remain wholly committed to providing independent labels and artists with a platform to reach a global audience. This new, somewhat unconventional, strategic agreement with UMG will help both companies maximize the many opportunities we know are available, while not compromising our independence whatsoever.”

UMG chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge said, “At UMG, we understand that a vibrant independent sector is essential to a thriving music ecosystem. After all, we are a company built by — and for — entrepreneurs and today serve as an accelerator for so many independent creative voices, which is why we are delighted to provide [PIAS] the support and resources to bolster their company as a fiercely independent force in music. I have known Kenny and Michel for more than 30 years and have deep respect for their passion for music as well their openness and authenticity.”

+ Kevin Holiday has been promoted to executive VP of Black music promotion at Atlantic Records. In his new post, Holiday will oversee the company’s Black music radio promotion strategy and campaigns as well as head up the label’s national and regional Black music promo team. Holiday, who joined Atlantic in 2004, was most recently SVP of Urban Promotion. Based at the company’s New York headquarters, he reports to Mike Kyser, Atlantic’s president of Black music.

Holiday has spent his entire career with the Warner Music Group family, starting at Elektra Records in 2000 and then moving to Atlantic when the two labels merged in 2004.

“Kevin literally grew up at this company,” said Atlantic Chairman & COO Julie Greenwald. “From day one, he’s been a passionate advocate for our artists, who love him and his relentless devotion to their music and their long-term careers. Kevin’s played a pivotal role in taking our prominence in Black Music to new heights, and I’m thrilled to be able to announce this richly deserved promotion for one of our own.”

+ Madison Beer has signed a global publishing deal with Kobalt that includes a full range of creative, synch, and administration services for catalog and future works, according to the announcement. Via her management First Access, the singer has racked up four RIAA gold-certified singles and recently released her debut album, “Life Support.”

Sas Metcalfe, chief creative officer at Kobalt said, “We are thrilled to have Madison join us at Kobalt. She is an exceptional talent and we are extremely excited to work with her and the First Access team.”

Beer said, “I’m so happy to partner with Dominique [Keegan, VP creative], Sas and the Kobalt family. The whole team is so passionate and aligned with my vision as an artist and my creative process. I am very excited for this relationship to grow with this new part of my team in place.”

Tuesday, June 8

+ Nick Petropoulos, who joined Arista Records early last year after an 11-year run at Glassnote Records, has been upped by Arista to oversee the label’s promotion department. He takes on the new role of senior VP and head of promotion, overseeing promotion strategy across all radio formats as well as working with digital partners and streaming services.

Said CEO-president David Massey, to whom the New York-based Petropoulos will report, “Nick has made an immediate impact since joining Arista, and his vision has been a crucial element in developing and executing our promotion strategy. We have great confidence that he will continue to find unique and engaging ways to help elevate our roster globally.”

“I am thrilled to be stepping into this new role,” Petropoulos said in a statement, “and look forward to leading an incredible team as we create strategic moments and exciting opportunities for our artists to break through around the world.”

Since joining the Arista promo team in early 2021, Petropoulos worked on promotion strategy for artists including Carolesdaughter, KennyHoopla, Sigala, Tai Verdes and Tom Grennan. In his previous gig as head of promotion at Glassnote, he developed strategy for such acts as Mumford & Sons, Childish Gambino, Phoenix, CHVRCHES, the Strumbellas and Two Door Cinema Club.

+ Rising country star Jimmie Allen has signed the first songwriter to join his new publishing company, Bettie James Music Publishing, in partnership with Sony Music Publishing Nashville. The debut signing is Tate Howell, who’s been one of Allen’s key collaborators, as his bass player as well as a frequent co-writer. Recent Allen-Howell collaborations include “Why Things Happen,” which had Allen sharing vocals with Charley Pride and Darius Rucker.

Said Allen in a statement, “From the first time I met Tate, he showed me he was motivated and willing to work. Not only is he one of my best friends, but he is also one of the hardest working and kindest people I know. I feel like when a person comes along as talented as Tate, it’s easy to want to build a business around him. I’m honored to have him as the first signing to Bettie James Music Publishing, and I look forward to watching his career grow as a songwriter.”

“It’s truly surreal to get to work with such a distinct and historic company like Sony Music Publishing,” added Howell. “I am so grateful for Anna Weisband and my team over at Sony, my road boss Mr. Jimmie Allen, and my manager Melissa Spillman for working so hard to help me make music and live out my dreams.”

Said Weisband, VP of creative at Sony Publishing, “I have been impressed by Tate’s songwriting from the very first song Jimmie ever played for me. His work ethic, talent, and drive are unstoppable and inspiring.” (Weisband is pictured above with [l-r] Allen, Howell and Rusty Gaston, CEO of Sony/ATV Music Publishing.)

Allen, whose latest single is “Freedom Was a Highway,” a duet with Brad Paisley, named Bettie James Music Publishing after his late grandmother, Bettie Snead, and his late father, James Allen. The singer also named the recent EP on which he worked with Howell “Bettie James.”

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