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The music business is going to need a minute to get used to Patrick Moxey no longer being associated with Ultra Records.
For over 25 years, Moxey has led the legendary dance music label he founded in the mid-nineties. During that time, Ultra has released music from a who’s who of dance/electronic music, from Steve Aoki to Roger Sanchez, Kygo, Deadmau5, Benny Benassi and many, many more.
Last week, Sony confirmed that it now owns 100% of Ultra Records, having acquired the remaining shares in the business from Moxey himself. (Moxey tells MBW that the 2013 deal with Sony Music was a 50/50 agreement, which would mean that Sony has just acquired the other 50%, for an undisclosed fee.)
As a result, Moxey has exited Ultra Records, though he maintains ownership of its sister publishing company, which owns some 35,000 copyrights.
On the latest MBW Podcast (listen above), Moxey talks us through his reasons for selling up to Sony, and why he became hungry to exit the major record company system for a return to independence.
He also discusses the growth in NFTs, the health of the dance music sector in 2022, and his plans for his new, as-yet-officially-unnamed independent label.
He’s not limiting his ambitions. “I hope to make a company that’s much bigger than my last company within the next five years,” says Moxey.
Take a listen to MBW’s podcast interview with Moxey above, and/or read an edited transcript of our discussion below.
There was some big news from you, Ultra and Sony, last week. Can you give us clarity on how Sony became part of Ultra’s world back in 2013, and what’s taken place in the past few months to see you exit and Sony take full control?
Absolutely. I started Ultra in 1996, and it [was] always successful, for the reason that when you start a company without investment, it’s got to be successful.
In the beginning of 2013, Sony came in as an investor, a 50% partner. I continued to run every aspect of the operation, and they were a passive partner, let’s say, in the business.
Ultimately, it came to a place where I really wanted to get back to my independent roots. And I’m super excited to be 100% independent again.
It’s always hard when [an indie label] is in any kind of a relationship with a major.
“Rob Stringer is very good at what he does… But a big major [record company] is always industrializing music. And I want the creativity of my artists to shine; I want my artists to have priority.”
Rob Stringer is very good at what he does, and under Rob’s guidance, Sony is a powerful and effective machine. But a big major [record company] is always industrializing music. And I want the creativity of my artists to shine; I want my artists to have priority.
For an [Ultra] artist to be shoved into 1,000 records a week, 1,500 records a week [being released globally by a major record company] and to not have priority, that is something I don’t want to happen.
That’s why I’m excited to be back in the independent sector where I can really prioritize my artists, and really give them all the attention and priority with the DSPS that they deserve.
That’s a well-worn story: independent label founders going into major record company situations and struggling a little with the fact that – as you put it – the majors industrialize music; they release 1,000 records a week or whatever the number is, and you have to find your place within that. Do you find that situation (i.e. the sheer volume of releases coming out, and the difficulty for one record finding priority above another) has gotten worse in the streaming age, where that sort of weekly market share for a major record company is so paramount?
Yes; the number of releases from the majors has increased. And so the amount of focus that [individual] artists are getting has decreased.
I’m very excited to get a handful of artists a great amount of priority as an independent.
Does it mean anything to you to see the Ultra Records name live on at Sony?
I think it’s fantastic that I was able to run Ultra Records for 25 years: I did a 25th anniversary [celebration] of the label last year, knowing in the back of my mind that I was about to sell. It felt like wrapping that box and putting a bow on it, like closing that chapter. That was great, but that chapter is finished; it’s on to the new.
“that chapter is finished; it’s on to the new.”
What’s super exciting to me is the fact that the independent sector is growing 1% per year [in terms of global record distribution market share]. This is a business decision, to be 100% independent; it’s where the artists are going to have the best success.
It’s interesting, the ‘independent sector’ used to mean these king-making indie record companies – Beggars Group, XL etc. and a lot more I could mention. But what being independent means today is a more complex picture. An independent artist can go through a very basic TuneCore situation, they can have a label services partner, they can even own their own copyrights and partner with a major record company. What does being ‘independent’ mean to you in 2022?
It means having the muscle to get your artists in front of people in all the major markets, with reps on the ground in those major markets.
Thirty-eight people are with me in the new venture; I have people in the US, Canada, UK, many other markets. We have the power to really make a difference for an independent artist.
Just to be clear: you sold Ultra Records to Sony Music. But you also own Ultra Music Publishing. Have you still got a publishing company?
Absolutely. I’ve been quietly and organically building a music publishing company for the last 20 years. That publishing company now has 35,000 copyrights.
We even have 10 Grammy nominated writers this year, including Shenseea, who’s on Album of the Year [nominee Donda] with Kanye West, [as well as nominees] in many other categories: in dance, in reggae, in R&B. We have an absolute powerhouse publishing company.
It’s a global operation based in LA, New York, London, and Stockholm [and] it’s also a backbone for the new recordings operation.
You built this legendary name, Ultra Records, in electronic and dance circles but now – to borrow the vernacular from the tech world – you have exited. Where are you getting the get-up-and-go to do it all again with your new indie label?
I’m completely re-inspired and reinvigorated to be working with artists and delivering those artists to the highest level in the independent sector.
It was not an easy exit, let’s say, with the last operation.
“It was not an easy exit, let’s say, with the last operation.”
It took maybe three, four years [to come to an exit agreement with Sony]. So there wasn’t that much inspiration from me on the recorded side in the last three, four years.
Now, I’m completely recharged… I’m going to make sure that my artists are very much promoted in this digital world, and will also have a very strong NFT and art direction orientation to this too.
Whether it’s 3LAU or Steve Aoki, these headline music stories about successful NFT projects often seem to have been attached to artists from a dance music background. So you think there’s a particular synergy between NF Ts and that world?
Absolutely. Electronic music, consumers and artists are very savvy with technology. So it’s a natural spillover, that electronic artists will be at the forefront.
We did a very successful NFT [drop] with our artist NGHTMRE recently, that grossed USD $1.3 million in three hours. I made sure that Ultra Records was a part of that. And there’s so much more to be done on that front.
“We did a very successful NFT [drop] with our artist NGHTMRE recently, that grossed USD $1.3 million in three hours.”
With NFT’s, we saw those big, early spectacular sales. Now, I think there’s going to be a lot more smaller, boutique types of transactions coming up. It’s definitely a medium that’s not going to disappear.
It’s so amazing to me to see how things like virtual real estate is getting bought and sold in virtual world. NFTs for music are something we’re excited to pursue.
What do you make of this idea that audiences can start buying fractional ownership of an artist’s music by purchasing certain types of NFTs – owning nought-point-something percent of Nas’s streaming royalties for his new album, that kind of thing. Do you think that’s an exciting proposition or more of a fad?
I think it’s exciting. It might have been you who wrote about it, but I saw something recently about [these trends] harking back to the Bowie Bonds.
It’s a great thing, this idea that you are part of an artist’s trajectory and a part of their art.
You said you have 38 staff working on this new record company. It’s obviously not just a sideline; you’re taking it seriously. What’s fuelling your ambition?
I want to be able to take the artists’ vision and push it further, faster and make it more of a priority in what I would call the jungle of 250,000 releases [hitting streaming platforms each week].
I want a handful of great artists to be by my side and to really push their vision and project their vision around the world. That is very exciting to me. And I hope to make a company that’s much bigger than my last company within the next five years.
Electronic music had a real commercial high point during the EDM era – when the likes of David Guetta and Avicii took over mainstream pop charts globally. It’s since retracted into being more of a fan genre, with the occasional breakout hit. Do you anticipate another age where electronic music is going to reach those kinds of commercial heights again?
Dance music always has ebbs and flows. We can go back to you know, George McCrae, in the pre-disco era, then you got disco… then you got the commercialization of disco… then after that, you had Snap and the wave of German early ’90s music. Then you can look at commercial EDM, perhaps peaking in 2013.
But now, if you notice, dance is right back in a great place, because dance music can travel; dance goes from territory to territory.
“Dance is on the rise – it’s perfect timing to be coming with this new label.”
A lot of the music that’s being made now is almost regional hip-hop. When the best-selling rap record in the UK of the last 10 years is [British novelty hit] Man’s Not Hot, that says to me that UK rap needs to work more to get into Europe [and] to get into the US. And it’s great now to see some of the [leading UK hip-hop] artists starting to tour the US.
Dance music just doesn’t have that issue. And if you look at the charts, if you look at Spotify, there are a number of dance records right there right now. So I’m excited that again, dance is on the rise – and it’s perfect timing to be coming with this new label.
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