‘Nearly 3 out of every 4 on-demand audio streams is coming from music that’s 10 years old or younger.’

Kevin Gore

Catalog music eating into frontline music’s market share has become one of the music industry’s bigger talking points these past few years.

The industry has historically defined ‘frontline’ as any release younger than 18 months old, while ‘catalog’ has counted as any music older than 18 months.

But is ‘old’ music really getting that much more popular? Or does the definition of catalog need an adjustment in today’s streaming-led music industry – where audiences appear to be playing (and replaying) hit songs for far longer than they might once have done?

Kevin Gore is the President of Global Catalog at Warner Music Group, whose repertoire happens to hold two tracks, Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush, and Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, that have particularly grabbed headlines as ‘old’ tracks with ‘new’ hit status in recent times.

Gore doubts that the traditional 18-month-old catalog definition is doing the modern music business many favors.

“With things being much less about transactions and more about consumption [today], is an 18-month timeline for catalog the right metric? I would say it’s not.”

Kevin Gore, Warner Music Group

He asks: “At 18 months, is that really catalog, or are we still in a cycle of release? With things being much less about transactions and more about consumption [today], is that timeline the right metric? I would say it’s not.”

He points to Parlophone/Atlantic-signed Coldplay, whose 2021 hit Higher Power, (250m+ streams on Spotify) recently became ‘catalog’ by virtue of being released more than 18 months ago. Yet Gore says that the band is still getting millions of streams each week and will resume their worldwide tour in March for their 2021 album, Music of the Spheres.

“This still feels ‘in-cycle’,” says Gore of the record. “It’s not what one would consider to be ‘traditional’ catalog.”

Gore refers to music that is 10 years old or younger, as “shallow catalog”, a subset that Bloomberg recently suggested is the “fastest growing business in music”.

“Traditional catalog” – i.e. music older than 10 years – instead falls under the “deep catalog” descriptor, according to Gore.

Gore is well-versed on this topic. After a successful spell running WMG-owned Arts Music,  he was named President of Warner’s Global Catalog division in recorded music in 2019.

Traditionally, that division has worked across “deep catalog”, but, under Gore, since 2020 has expanded its remit to include more ‘shallow catalog’ – including records from ‘on-roster’ artists whose music happens to be more than 18 months old.

For example, Gore’s team recently:

  • Worked with Atlantic, HipHopDX, and WMX to create a 30-minute documentary on Wiz Khalifa’s Rolling Papers to celebrate its 10th anniversary;
  • Got Kehlani’s Cloud19 debut mixtape up on streaming for the first time; and
  • Celebrated birthday and anniversary milestones for The Notorious B.I.G.. This campaign featured box sets, live events (including an Empire State lighting ceremony), and a collaboration with Atlantic artist Ty Dolla $ign for the single G.O.A.T. that reimagined and included verses from Biggie classic I Love The Dough.

Gore explains that these days his division treats “current” artists (and their more recent catalog) with the same care and attention it previously exclusively applied to the “icons and heroes” of WMG’s ‘deep catalog’.

Commenting on this shift, Max Lousada, CEO, Recorded Music at Warner Music Group, tells MBW that “the opportunities in catalog are more layered and more exciting than ever before”. 

“Under Kevin’s leadership, I’m confident that the catalogs we nurture will continue to sit at the forefront of the cultural conversation and remain at the core of our global artistic heritage.” 

Max Lousada, Warner Music Group

Lousada adds: “We’re on a constant mission to keep timeless music relevant and vibrant across multiple generations – from the young discoverer to the long-time fan. 

“But no matter the market or the platform, our priority is always to be thoughtful, protective, and creative stewards of the extraordinary music we represent.

“Under Kevin’s leadership, I’m confident that the catalogs we nurture will continue to sit at the forefront of the cultural conversation and remain at the core of our global artistic heritage.”

Some of the icons that Warner controls the catalogs for include Madonna, with whom the company struck a “career-spanning global partnership” in 2021.

Madonna’s Finally Enough Love: 50 Number Ones, via Warner, has since debuted at No.8 on the Billboard Top 200 and Top 10 in key markets around the world.

Then there’s David Bowie. Warner announced in 2021, that as of this year (2023), it will be representing the legendary artist’s entire post-1968 recordings catalog worldwide.

Bowie’s more recent recordings (2000-2016), originally released by Columbia/Sony Music (albums like Blackstar, Heathen, Reality, and The Next Day), will become part of Warner’s repertoire as a result.

These albums join Bowie’s 1968 to 1999 recordings – which Warner has represented since 2013, when the company acquired Parlophone Label Group. (Warner also acquired the global music publishing rights to David Bowie’s song catalog in January 2022).

Bowie’s 75th birthday celebrations last year saw WMG work with the late superstar’s representatives on a number of initiatives including the Moonage Daydream film and soundtrack and archival releases like the Divine Symmetry boxset, plus pop-up stores, and a partnership with Peloton.

And just last week, Warner struck a deal with iconic British prog rock band Yes to acquire the recorded music rights and income streams from the band’s “complete” Atlantic Records era catalog. The purchase included 12 studio albums, as well as live recordings and compilations.

Gore contends that these relationships, “rooted in a genuine care for the artists and the music,” are what differentiates WMG in the competitive catalog space.

He adds, “We have deep knowledge of how to curate, develop and work the catalog and attract new audiences in ways that stay true to the artist’s creative vision.”

On this subject, he confirms that WMG’s Global Catalog Division has now partnered with another legendary prog rock band, Genesis, on a new licensing deal for worldwide rights to the band’s recorded music catalog.

According to Gore, the new agreement expands a longstanding relationship between Genesis and Warner that started in 1973, when Atlantic Records took on North American distribution of the UK-based Charisma Records. 

This move significantly expands Warner’s master licensing rights beyond a previous agreement, which was limited to North America. (The ex-North America licensing rights were previously with Universal Music Group.)

Genesis members Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford recently sold their share of the band’s publishing and recorded music rights to Concord in a deal that the Wall Street Journal reported was valued at over $300 million.

Gore says some big-money catalog headlines can create confusion around what’s really happening with rights: “When Concord acquired the Genesis catalog, people assumed Warner Music was no longer in business with the band, when in fact, we’d just completed this expanded [licensing] deal.”

In an interview with MBW, Gore argues that an obsession with the value of catalog brings with it a risk that “the heart of what our team does as curators, fans and marketers getting lost in the narrative around the financials”.

“I know [the money] is interesting; it’s business. But for those of us who are in the business of providing value to artists, it’s a bit of a bummer that after these big deals are announced, what happens next isn’t talked about more.”

So let’s talk about it…

Generally speaking, How do you keep consumer engagement with catalog releases high in the streaming age?

You look for opportunities to enhance those trends: anniversaries, trending moments, tours, new album cycles, things that can happen in the market.

Some you can instigate, some are about time, [like] anniversaries. That’s a good rallying point. But with the opportunities for engaging across deep and shallow catalog, they’re not that different in a sense.

They come in various initiatives, but you can apply to a fifth anniversary of a song or an album, similar things you can apply to a 50th anniversary.

Some companies suggest the narrative around catalog music’s growing market share will lead to less investment in new artists. What’s your view?

That’s not our recorded music strategy [at WMG], as our investments are placed in lots of different places.

In 2019, when I came to do this job, we determined the real upside [vs. how things were done before] was managing, curating and putting our arms around the shallow catalog.

If you don’t feed your shallow catalog, you will be challenged to grow your business. Nearly three out of every four on-demand audio streams is coming from content that’s 10 years and younger, including new releases.

There’s this narrative around the continued creep of catalog eating a greater share of consumption. Well, every day a song or an album turns 18 months old, and [therefore] moves into that 18 months and older bucket.

“Over the last couple years, especially during the pandemic, we’ve had some very favorable growth curves on deeper catalog. I will tell you, as someone who has spent a significant portion of their career working in catalog, it was a feel good moment to read those headlines.”

Over the last couple years, especially during the pandemic, we’ve had some very favorable growth curves on deeper catalog. I will tell you, as someone who has spent a significant portion of their career working in catalog, it was a feel-good moment to read those headlines.

But at the end of the day, as a business person, I believe that nurturing new artists to [be successful enough to] move into viable long-term catalog acts is exactly what we want. We want more heroes. We want more icons. It keeps our business healthy, and the fan bases will continue to support those artists across many records, reissues and tours.

I’ve talked a lot about the shallow catalog opportunity with the frontline labels, our partners and with [WMG CEO, Recorded Music] Max [Lousada]. I’m pleased with the growth that we’ve had, but that continued investment needs to happen.

You mentioned that 75% of on-demand audio streams are tracks from the last 10 years. What does that tell us about consumer behavior around music?

It tells us that music that’s 10 years and older is just 25% of on-demand audio streams. So when you think about how we were previously pointing our resources and efforts as a catalog division [i.e exclusively. at ‘deep catalog’], we were only focused on a small piece of the pie.

It’s a wonderful, amazing, piece of the pie, but there was also an opportunity there.

As the demographics that are really engaged with [deep catalog] music moved towards streaming platforms, which they certainly did over the pandemic, we saw significant growth in those vintages. Has that growth peaked? Probably not, but it’s not what it was in the early to mid-days of the pandemic.

If there was one thing you could change about the music industry today, what would it be and why?

If I could change anything, from a cultural perspective, it would be that ‘vintage’ becomes less of a defining way of how music is presented to listeners. 

You know, a music supervisor will certainly adhere to the timing of a show, or a film, but many music supervisors are vintage-agnostic if [the fact a song is of an era] is not plot-related.

The conversation around vintage is not important to the listener, so why should it be important to the people who sit in the middle?Music Business Worldwide

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