Paris-headquartered Believe is one of the biggest players in the global record industry.
A specialist in both distribution and services for independent artists and labels, Believe also owns DIY platform TuneCore and works with its own family of labels, including All Points, Naïve, Nuclear Blast and Tôt ou tard. To give you an idea of Believe’s magnitude, the company tells MBW that it employs over 1,200 people worldwide, and realized around $700m in digital revenues last year. The firm has seen an average 40% annual growth in group turnover across the past three years.
The CEO of Believe, Denis Ladegaillerie (pictured inset), has agreed to pen a series of dispatches, exclusively for MBW, giving insights into what’s happening to the industry during the global COVID-19 pandemic – offering specific advice for artists and managers. (Believe’s own, recently-released Creative Marketing Playbook is packed with further guidance for artists right now, and we recommend you check it out.)
Here, in his third blog for MBW, Ladegaillerie discusses what Believe is doing for its staff and artists during COVID-19 lockdown – and his philosophy on running a business during a crisis…
Believe’s mission is to be the best at serving and developing artists at all stages of their career. So the question we have been asking ourselves now is: What does that mean in times of crisis?
Before Believe, I managed the entire portfolio of digital businesses for Vivendi between 2001 and 2004 – a period that saw the burst of the first internet bubble. Ultimately the lesson I learned, which we’re now applying in how we manage Believe during the current crisis, is that the success of a company is made by its people.
Believe employs approximately 1,500 people around the world in 45 offices. On March 13th, we moved everybody to working from home, and within 48 hours, I would say we were back to at least 90% of our usual capacity; everyone was talking to the services, talking to the artists, releasing new music and re-activating back catalog.
The first thing we did was simply to reassure our global team. We’re lucky as a business in that we’re digital-heavy, and that much of our digital revenue sources are being preserved through this crisis: yes, we’re going to take a hit on YouTube advertising, but streaming subscription income is holding up. Overall, our profitability will be reduced a little bit this year, but we will still remain a profitable company.
We have two hearts at Believe: one is our people, and the second is the artists; in periods like this pandemic, we must support both.
In the first two weeks of confinement, we made sure our people were well taken care of, could work from home, could access yoga classes online, had psychological support, and we communicated that we weren’t going to lay anyone off – just trying to relieve that level of stress.
“Before Believe, I managed the entire portfolio of digital businesses for Vivendi between 2001 and 2004 – a period that saw the burst of the first internet bubble. Ultimately the lesson I learned, which we’re now applying in how we manage Believe during the current crisis, is that the success of a company is made by its people.”
Ultimately our people, our human capital, is the most important asset of our business, and we need to take care of it.
A run of pay raises was anticipated at the end of March, and we maintained it; we also maintained bonus payouts. We’ve also largely avoided furloughing, with the exception of a handful of people working in warehouses at Nuclear Blast and Groove Attack in Germany – but we’ve guaranteed that we will go beyond what the government is paying to make sure they maintain 100% of their salary in that period.
It’s the same thing from a financial standpoint for the artists – making sure we keep signing new artists, paying advances, extending our deals… it’s all part of the responsibility we owe artists for putting their faith in us.
The last thing I want, after this is over, is our people or our artists to come back feeling that we’ve not been as loyal to them as they’ve been to us.
We are also continuing to invest: we hire 20 or 30 new people in a typical week at Believe, and we are continuing to make these hires. The recruitment challenge now is a practical one – how to on-board new people virtually – which we have figured out.
We want to send a message that says: ‘Yes, this is a bad period of time, but we’re in this for the long run. Let’s accept that these costs are all part of the investment in great people, which we make in order to continue sustaining the artists.’
Once again, at the end of the day, we feel pretty confident that this pandemic, for all the bad things it’s bringing, is accelerating the digital transformation of the music business.
That in itself isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity – and it’s our job to prepare and support our artists and our teams for the world that’s coming after this.
You can read Denis’s first blog for MBW (on his advice for independent artists during COVID-19 lockdown) here; his second blog, on how the current crisis will change the music business, is available here.
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