Ex-BMG UK President Alexi Cory-Smith launches acquisitive firm with €30m fund (update)

Alexi Cory-Smith (credit: Dolly Clew)

Alexi Cory-Smith, who exited BMG UK in December 2017, has launched what she describes as “a music company for the digital age,” Bella Figura Music.

Cory-Smith will lead the company as its CEO, alongside co-founder and Head of Investments, Neelesh Prabhu, who previously led the global investments division of BMG.

“I’ve always wanted to have my own music company and after years in corporates the timing to take an entrepreneurial path felt right,” Cory-Smith said in a press release on Tuesday (February 14).

According to a profile in The Times, Cory-Smith and Prabhu launch their company with upwards of EUR €30 million in backing from Freshstream, a London-based private equity firm.

With backing from Freshstream, Bella Figura has been able to acquire Guy Chambers’ publishing catalog, including Robbie Williams hits such as ‘Angels’, ‘Feel’ and ‘Let Me Entertain You,’  in addition to David Gray’s record label IHT, which controls all of his albums from the breakthrough 1998 ‘White Ladder’ to the 2019 hit ‘Gold In A Brass Age.’

Gray, a British singer-songwriter, is closely involved with Bella Figura Music, the new company said.

“I view David Gray and Guy Chambers as the founding blocks on which we build the business. One is records, the other is publishing – both top quality catalogues,” said Cory-Smith.

David Gray commented on his deal with Bella Figura, saying: “I’ve been looking for a new partner for my music for quite some time, so when I heard about Alexi and Bella Figura I thought it had the potential to be a good fit.

“They struck me as a company with serious ambitions, an eye for detail and a point to prove, and the fact that I had a good relationship with Alexi from her time at Chrysalis/BMG was definitely a major positive too. The world of music and technology is in a state of constant flux and it’s vital to work with people who are not only attentive to its challenges, but also alert to its opportunities. I feel very optimistic that with Bella Figura I’ve found just that.”

Chambers, best known for his work with Robbie Williams, said: “I’m so pleased to be working with Bella Figura. I think Alexi is one of the most dynamic executives working in the music industry. Having Alexi at the helm of Bella Figura is an exciting prospect for what is a new and vital area for songwriters in the industry today.”

Update: In addition, Bella Figura says it has acquired a portfolio of rights from Kobalt Music Copyrights (KMC). (An earlier version of this report noted that Bella Figura had said that these rights had been acquired from AWAL, the ex-Kobalt recorded music services company that was sold to Sony Music by Kobalt in a $430 million deal last year. Bella Figura has now clarified that said rights were in fact acquired from KMC.)

These KMC-divested rights, says Bella Figura, include shares in recordings by Placebo, David Gray, Wombats, Dashboard Confessional and more, plus US songwriter/producer Darrell Brown’s publishing shares in 25 songs including hits for LeAnn Rimes and Keith Urban.

Freshstream, according to its website, invests in growing businesses based in Western Europe, particularly in the UK and Benelux markets. The company says it has €30 million to €100 million in equity investment and typically buys majority stakes, “but with flexibility to take minority positions and invest across the capital structure.”

Last year, Freshstream invested in Nafinco, a Dutch full-service partner for independent pharmacies and UK-based omni-channel for secondhand cars, Big Motoring World. 

Cory-Smith is a prominent figure in the UK music industry. She joined BMG UK in January 2011, becoming SVP of BMG UK before transitioning to EVP of the combined BMG Chrysalis UK in 2013. She was later promoted to President, Repertoire and Marketing of BMG UK, in 2016, leading the label’s Repertoire business across both publishing and records.

At BMG, she helped manage some of the group’s key mergers and acquisitions including Chrysalis (publishing), Union Square (master catalogue marketing and licensing), ‘Rosetta’ (the Virgin/ Famous Music publishing catalogue divestment by EMI) Mute and Sanctuary (Master Catalogue divestments by UMG), Infectious (frontline Record Label) and production companies Altitude Music and Beds & Beats. She also supported the integration of Bug (Publishing) and the acquisition of UK publisher Minder Music.

Cory-Smith also helped sign The Rolling Stones and Roger Waters, two of the highest earning international acts in the BMG roster.

Meanwhile, Prabhu also served a seven-year stint at BMG from 2011, working alongside Cory-Smith in BMG’s global investments / M&A department and looking after teams in Berlin, LA, NYC, and London. Prabhu recently co-founded Singapore-based startup Insurtech.

Most recently, the duo launched Bella Figura Music, which aims to be a “purpose-built, artist-centric music company,” that brings together leading technology and a relentless focus on creative excellence.

“I am very proud of what we have achieved in Bella Figura Music’s first year of business,” Cory-Smith added.

The executive said the idea for Bella Figura Music’s name came to her at an Italian deli when the waiter pointed out it would not be good for the ‘Bella Figura’ if she had ordered some cake.

“At that exact moment, one of our advisors called asking for the company name. And Bella Figura just stuck. It makes a lot more sense now when you consider that our company is focused on delivering beautiful numbers and figures!

“I suppose I could have called it Lemon Ricotta Cake. Or not. Because as it turned out, I left the deli with just a black coffee.”

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