Two months ago, Utopia, the Switzerland-headquartered tech company, had a defiant message for the music industry.
Having laid off a segment of its global staff (believed to have affected 20% of its headcount), on January 31 the firm’s founder, Mattias Hjelmstedt, announced a major restructure which he said represented “an exciting next step in Utopia’s journey”, and proved that his company was “optimizing for the future”.
The restructure saw Utopia’s long-time CEO, Markku Mäkeläinen, depart the firm, while Hjelmstedt assumed responsibility for the day-to-day running of the company.
Meanwhile, Utopia was split into two distinct divisions: (i) ‘Music Services’ (including acquired businesses such as the UK-based trio of Sentric Music Group, Absolute Label Services, and Proper);and (ii) ‘Royalty Platform’, under which sat Utopia’s in-house tech platform.
The centerpiece of Utopia’s “exciting next step” announcement in January? Former Downtown executive Roberto Neri, who joined Utopia as its COO in 2021, was confirmed as the new CEO of Utopia’s ‘Music Services’ division.
Today (April 3), a mere 62 days after that announcement, Neri has confirmed he’s leaving Utopia to become CEO of the global publishing division of Believe.
As MBW revealed last week, Believe has just acquired publishing company Sentric Music Group (in a deal valued at $51 million) from Utopia – a year after Utopia itself acquired Sentric.
In a post on LinkedIn today, Neri confirmed: “I am proud to announce that I have joined Believe as CEO of Believe Publishing. The acquisition of Sentric acts as a first step for Believe in rolling out a global and comprehensive publishing business.
“Alongside [Sentric founder] Chris Meehan and the team, we will develop a comprehensive solution for songwriters and publishers at all levels.”
At Utopia, Neri leaves behind a company with question marks hanging over its future.
As MBW reported last week, Sentric is not the only recently-acquired property that Utopia has divested this year; it also sold music industry directory platform ROSTR back to its founders in January.
Meanwhile, a report from news outlet Breakit last week revealed that Utopia’s Swedish company is carrying a substantial unpaid tax debt, as employees in the region claimed their pension premiums (and in one case, even their salary) have gone unpaid.
Meanwhile, Utopia is reportedly being sued by US music technology company SourceAudio, with the latter firm accusing the former of reneging on an agreed acquisition deal.
MBW has also heard high-level rumors that Utopia’s management is now considering the sale of two more recently-acquired companies in the world of music distribution: UK-based Cinram and Proper.
(Utopia strongly denies that either company is up for sale.)
On Friday (March 31), a Utopia spokesperson sent a fresh statement to MBW RE: the sale of Sentric to Believe.
It read: “We have successfully navigated Utopia through a strategic transition following the current changes in the market landscape, like many others within Music and Tech. Our new and experienced management team has cleaned up legacy issues and has – in a remarkably short time – shifted focus to profitability and sustainable growth.
“It has not been an easy journey, but we are very positive about Utopia’s future and look forward to continuing what we are here to do — support the music industry with digital solutions for managing, monitoring, and processing royalties, and distributing the music we all love to listen to.
“We believe that the music industry as a whole would gain from digital tools and services, provided by an independent partner such as Utopia.”
“It has not been an easy journey, but we are very positive about Utopia’s future and look forward to continuing what we are here to do.”
Utopia spokesperson (March 31, 2023)
That statement followed a separate statement sent to MBW last week, in the wake of the Breakit report, in which a Utopia spokesperson said: “Utopia has grown extremely fast in two years. Our Swedish entity alone grew 5x in employees, which is one out of several of our development offices.
“We handled more than €300 million last year, and continue to grow very fast. Now we’re adapting our organization to market shifts to ensure that we can continue to evolve our business in a sustainable manner.
“All payments mentioned in the post have already been identified and are being resolved. We have set up processes and structures to ensure that this won’t happen again.”Music Business Worldwide