Utopia divests again, as Absolute Label Services gets reacquired by original leadership team

Pictured: [L-R]: Henry Semmence, Simon Wills, Mark Dowling, Debs Cutting.

Between September 2021 and February 2022, Switzerland-headquartered music company Utopia made seven acquisitions.

Amongst the firms it bought during this acquisition spree were Liverpool-based music publisher and publishing administration company Sentric Music Group, US-based music industry directory ROSTR, and Absolute Label Services, a UK-based distribution and services provider to independent artists and record labels.

In February, we learned that Utopia had decided to sell ROSTR back to its founders Mark Williamson and Adam Watson.

In March, Utopia sold Sentric to Paris-headquartered Believe in a transaction Believe said values Sentric at €47 million ($51m).

Now, Utopia has divested yet again, with Absolute Label Services’ original leadership team regaining ownership of the company, just 18 months after their business was acquired by Utopia Music.

Absolute was acquired by Utopia in February 2022. The company says that it maintained its original, long-standing team, infrastructure and client base while under Utopia’s ownership.

Absolute’s original shareholders, Henry Semmence, Simon Wills (the company’s founders), Debs Cutting and Mark Dowling have now reacquired 100% of the company from Utopia.

Absolute Label Services is a UK-based distribution and services provider to independent artists and record labels. Founded in 1998, Absolute’s current and recent client base ranges from developing talent such as Jake Isaac, edbl and Au-Ra to established names including Deep Purple, Beverly Knight and McFly.

Services offered by Absolute to clients include both digital and physical distribution, in addition to marketing, direct-to-consumer operations, administration and promotion across streaming and radio.

Absolute says it has “recently seen significant growth”, with revenues up 25% year-on-year across its business – including both its label services and neighboring rights operations.

The company’s projects lined up for the rest of the year and into 2024 include the likes of Kula Shaker, Busted, James McVey (The Vamps), Kaiser Chiefs, Delta Goodrem and Tokio Myers, and emerging talent such as Barney Artist, edbl, Eljé and Frankie Stew and Harvey Gunn.

“Our primary focus for the last 28 years has been delivering success and growth for our artists and labels. We look forward to continuing our relationship with all of them, and providing the dedicated support, resources, and innovative solutions they deserve.”

Henry Semmence, Simon Wills, Debs Cutting and Mark Dowling

In a statement issued on Monday (July 17), Semmence, Wills, Cutting and Dowling said: “Absolute’s management team is excited to announce our decision to move forward independently. The decision to revert the full ownership of the company, and to preserve its vision and direction, was fuelled by our unwavering commitment to continue providing exceptional label services.

“Our primary focus for the last 28 years has been delivering success and growth for our artists and labels. We look forward to continuing our relationship with all of them, and providing the dedicated support, resources, and innovative solutions they deserve.”

They added: “We are committed to exploring new collaborations, forging strategic partnerships, and harnessing cutting-edge technologies to elevate our label services to even greater commercial growth and success. Our dedication to investment and expansion remains resolute.

“Our incredible staff, brimming with talent and expertise, will remain at the core of our success, and we will continue to ensure they have the tools and knowledge to drive unparalleled results for our artists and labels.”

UPDATE: In a statement issued to MBW,  Mattias Hjelmstedt, Executive Chairman and Founder of Utopia Music, said: “In Utopia’s relentless pursuit of neutrality and robust partnership with digital distributors and the music industry, we acquired Absolute Label Services in February 2022.”

He added: “Our aim was to connect with more labels and creators. Now, as part of a strategic evolution, we are refining our focus. Utopia is doubling down on its core service offerings: Physical Distribution, Radio Monitoring, TrackNClaim, Enhance & Discover, HeartBeat, and Accelerate.

“In line with this refined focus, and in an effort to ensure the continued delivery of exceptional services in all aspects of our business, we believe it’s most beneficial for the Absolute team, led by founders Henry Semmence and Simon Wills, to reacquire the company.

“This move is a testament to our ongoing commitment to excellence and efficiency. It reflects our belief that Absolute Label Services will continue to deliver outstanding digital distribution services to the music industry under the leadership of its original stewards. Utopia is excited about this strategic shift and looks forward to continuing its mission with an even stronger focus on its core services.”

News of Absolute’s founders buying their company back from Utopia marks the third time this year that Utopia has offloaded a company that it previously acquired within the past 18 months.

Meanwhile, Utopia is also reportedly being sued by US music technology company SourceAudio, with the latter firm accusing the former of reneging on an agreed acquisition deal.

Elsewhere at Utopia, in November, the company laid off a segment of its global staff (believed to have affected 20% of its headcount), and on January 31 the firm’s founder, Mattias Hjelmstedt, announced a major restructure which he said represented “an exciting next step in Utopia’s journey”, and proved that his company was “optimizing for the future”.

The restructure saw Utopia’s long-time CEO, Markku Mäkeläinen, depart the firm, while Hjelmstedt assumed responsibility for the day-to-day running of the company.

At the time, Utopia was split into two distinct divisions: (i) ‘Music Services’ (including acquired businesses such as the UK-based trio of Sentric Music GroupAbsolute Label Services, and Proper, which it acquired in January 2022); and (ii) ‘Royalty Platform’, under which sat Utopia’s in-house tech platform.

Former Downtown executive Roberto Neri, who joined Utopia as its COO in 2021, was confirmed as the new CEO of Utopia’s ‘Music Services’ division, but on April 3, just 62 days after that announcement, Neri confirmed he was leaving Utopia to become CEO of the new global publishing division of Believe.

Following today’s news, two of those companies that formed Utopia’s ‘Music Services’ division, Absolute Label Services and Sentric, are no longer owned by Utopia.

MBW heard rumors back in March that Utopia was also considering a quick sale for two more of its UK-based acquisitions: Proper and Cinram Novum. (At the time, a Utopia spokesperson strongly denied this suggestion.)

In May, Utopia Music entered into a “long-term” £100 million-plus ($125m) contract with DP World, a multinational UAE-headquartered logistics company, to provide warehousing and logistics for physical music in the UK.

As part of the deal, DP World is fitting out a new warehouse in Bicester, in the UK for Utopia’s distribution unit, Utopia Distribution Services (UDS).

Utopia said that stock will be moving from UDS’ warehouse in Aylesbury, UK (which it says it “inherited” from UK warehouse, fulfillment and distribution firm Cinram Novum, whose assets Utopia acquired in 2022.)

Last week, MBW listened in to and reported on an interview with Utopia founder Mattias Hjelmstedt on the Dealmakers podcast with Alejandro Cremades, where he dropped some hints as to what has been happening with the company of late.

Other companies acquired by Utopia include, in October 2022, Nashville-based financial services company, Lyric Financial and in September, 2022 Utopia bought Quincy Jones-backed emotional data enrichment company Musimap.

Music Business Worldwide

Related Posts