Ole Obermann in surprise exit from Warner Music Group

Ole Obermann, Warner’s Chief Digital Officer and one of CEO Steve Cooper’s top lieutenants, is leaving the company, MBW has learned.

New York-based Obermann and Cooper both sent memos to Warner Music Group staff today.

Sources say that business development exec Obermann declined to renew his contract, writing in his email that “these decisions are never easy” and thanking “Steve, Max and everyone at WMG for your support over the last few years.”

When we contacted Warner for comment, we were told there’d be an “interim head for the team until a permanent leader is decided.”

Cooper spoke highly of the popular exec: “He’s accomplished much over the past three years – including leading the renewals for all of our major digital partnerships, helping to expand the scope of our commercial activities, and overseeing the creation of WMG Boost, our seed-stage investment fund.”

He added “[Ole’s] also enhanced and strengthened the capabilities of our Business Development team”, referring to the numerous key hires the exec has made since 2016.”

Obermann responded by saying his exit came with “mixed emotions” and that the company is “filled with some amazing people and incredible music”.

Obermann and his team have navigated their fair share of sticky situations with various digital services during his time at Warner (take, for example, the contentious YouTube renewal.

Obermann joined WMG in 2016, following a decade at Sony Music. His note today claimed “we’ve found a great balance between accelerating global streaming growth and championing the next wave of change” and struck a forward-looking tone with “the thoughtful and principled work we’ve done during this critical inflection point will help ensure a bright future for the entire music ecosystem.”

It’s rare that a senior exec’s exit is all plain sailing, however – and it leaves us to wonder what’s going on beneath the hood here.

Cooper recently set industry tongues wagging with his stance on the “devaluation of our artists’ and songwriters’ music from freemium models, mismanaged family plans and other customer acquisition strategies employed by streaming platforms”.

That, in addition to the fact that Warner is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Spotify in India is symptomatic of a tough, line-the-sand approach.

From their respective notes, it’s clear Cooper and Obermann respect each other, but what’s left unsaid is whether there was a divergence of opinion regarding digital strategy.

Warner is due to re-negotiate its global licensing deals with both Spotify and Apple Music in the coming months.

With both of those deals up for renewal imminently, this latest news adds an interesting dimension to those talks.Music Business Worldwide

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