As we learned this month, the company opened its Paris office in a year in which the French music publishing sector saw 7% year-on-year growth and was worth over $450 million.
Downtown’s Paris-based team tells MBW that it’s off to a flying start in France, having already licensed songs for major campaigns with Louis Vuitton, Lancôme, McDonalds and YSL, among others.
It’s also made several key signings, including rapper Luidji (MCA/Universal Music France), electronic producers Fakear and Ouai Stéphane, French songwriters Victor Le Masne and David Spinelli, rising Belgian rapper Green Montana and rising songwriter Adrien Soleiman.
The Paris-based team consists of Senior Creative Manager Laura Bedikian (pictured), Head of Sync Charles Braud and Copyright Coordinator Armel Bernard, who are based in the trendy Paris district of Le Marais with an on-site studio space for clients.
Here, following the news of the sector’s growth in 2018 and as Downtown celebrates its first year in Paris, Bedikian and Braud give MBW an insight into the music publishing business in France, in addition to the company’s strategy and positioning in the market.
Downtown has been in Paris for just over a year now. Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced expanding into the market?
Laura Bedikian: In France, publishers can have a reputation for simply being administrators with dusty offices filled with paperwork. I wanted to import into France the culture that publishers have developed worldwide, as important, creative partners to the writers. That is certainly our approach at Downtown.
“I wanted to import into France the culture that publishers have developed worldwide, as important, creative partners to the writers. That is certainly our approach at Downtown.
On the other side, as a French publisher working for an international company, I find I often need to provide my colleagues outside of France with additional context about the French market and explain our habits. Having offices in so many different countries forces all of us to keep an open mind and understand the uniqueness of every market.
How is Downtown currently positioned in the market?
Charles Braud: In France, Downtown is positioned as a fast-growing international independent publisher. The recent acquisition of Strictly Confidential, one of the largest European music publishing catalogs, certainly [helped to] lift our profile locally.
People now realize we have not only the international structure and catalog, but also the financial resources to compete with any local indie or major.
What differentiates Downtown from other players in the market and what makes it an attractive proposition for songwriters?
LB: For one, I’d say that our creative approach is truly unique. Not only are we globally-minded when it comes to the talent we work with and sign in our individual markets, we are especially unified and communicative with our writers and offices across borders — which is not as common for French publishers, from my experience.
At least half of our French roster has visited one or more of our international offices and worked with their local teams to set up writing sessions. For example, our writer Victor le Masne alone has collaborated with our teams or writers in New York, LA, London, and Tokyo.
By design, we also keep a low ratio of writers to creative executives to ensure that they each get the attention they deserve. We offer the specialized care of a boutique agency, but on a global scale — with the resources to match.
CB: Downtown is an ideal combination of technology and creativity, with an international mindset built in its DNA. Thanks to our admin platform — Songtrust, our sister company under Downtown Music Holdings — we’re able to collect royalties directly throughout the world, so our songwriters get paid more and faster, with greater transparency.
Another asset is the way our international creative team collaborates, using internal tools and apps to share ideas, briefs, and opportunities, whatever territory they originate from.
Our French writers not only get better chances of getting their music placed in films, ads, TV series and video games on a global level, but we are also connecting them across the world with other writers, artists, and producers through our Songwriters Without Borders initiative for cowriting opportunities.
Could you tell us about your choice of recent signings and how they reflect Downtown’s strategy in the market?
LB: As a new publisher in the market, I felt that we needed to make some noise right out of the gate. For our first signings, I wanted to highlight our global position — which is why I signed Victor le Masne and producer David Spinelli, who are both working on some amazing projects for other artists, and quickly sent them abroad (creating a new type of opportunity for them). Word got around and the market quickly recognized our strong international network.
“As a new publisher in the market, I felt that we needed to make some noise right out of the gate.”
This opened our doors to writers and artists signed to major labels in France, and now Downtown represents the famous electronic producer Fakear, French rapper Luidji, and Belgian rapper Green Montana.
In 2020, at least half of our roster will have albums coming out, and we are doing all that we can to build a creative and safe environment for our writers to continue growing and become recognized around the world.
Another important aspect of Downtown’s vision is our commitment to preserving and growing the legacies of our amazing back catalog. Over the years, our team has brought in some extraordinary catalogs — and it’s our role to keep them alive.
I am very pleased that the well-respected singer-songwriter and producer Keren Ann joined us, and that we now represent her entire catalog which is filled with so many incredible songs that she’s written throughout her career.
Could you tell us about any trends in the music publishing business in France that Downtown has identified and is currently capitalizing on?
LB: Like a lot of markets, urban music has taken off in France for the last four years. If you look at most streaming platforms’ top 50 songs in the country, you’ll likely find that about the first 30 or so artists are by French-speaking rappers.
If artists like Drake or Ariana Grande release a new single, they’ll probably be sandwiched in there too — but most of the time, it’s dominated by local hip-hop.
Both of our urban signings felt like natural choices for me and the team. We were looking for talent through our global lens. Luidji has already been to London to work with local producers for his next album, and recently released a song with Canadian hitmaker producer WondaGurl as part of a project with Red Bull. We are also sending Green Montana to Atlanta in the spring, so that he can experience the lifestyle that first pushed him to do music first-hand.
‘French chanson’ or French pop is currently the second biggest genre in the country, which are typically singer-songwriter projects. France and Belgium are usually the main markets for these projects, but I like to see the singer-songwriter for more than just their artist project.
That being said, our latest signing is a singer, writer, and saxophonist named Adrien Soleiman, who created his new album using only his own vocals and a saxophone. It’s filled with beautiful songs that showcase his amazing talents as a musician, skills that can also be applied elsewhere.
Electronic music is also very popular in France, which is known for its exceptional electronic scene. As a traditionally more instrumental-based music, which often incorporates English lyrics, its global appeal really interests me. It enables me to bring in opportunities from everywhere. Between Fakear, David Spinelli and more recently Ouai Stéphane, we have a strong presence in that community — and I’m excited to help introduce them to new markets around the world.
“Heavily consolidated industries sometimes lose the incentive to be innovative, and this is certainly true for the music publishing business in France.”
CB: Heavily consolidated industries sometimes lose the incentive to be innovative, and this is certainly true for the music publishing business in France. Downtown is bringing a fresh perspective, by shaking the structures of deals and making them more flexible and competitive.
In terms of market trends, CSDEM’s latest report showed that French publishers’ 2018 revenues grew by 7% YOY, driven by a 33% growth in sync.
This boost is mostly a reflection of our thriving luxury industry, which is licensing a lot of music from Paris for campaigns across the world. Downtown is certainly following this trend as we have placed music with a dozen luxury brands, becoming a privileged partner for this sector.Music Business Worldwide