At one point in this MBW interview with Ditto co-founder and CEO Lee Parsons, it sounds like he says, “The long-term plan is to build Ditto into a major; it always has been.”
But he can’t have done. He’s just been, not exactly bashing the big labels, but explaining why Ditto is based and built on a different culture and different priorities.
Something doesn’t tally. Until the clarification: “When I say a ‘major’, I don’t mean anything like the current models; I mean a better choice on the same scale.”
Now it makes sense. Ditto is no longer (if it ever was) content to be perceived as a starting point, or stepping stone. It isn’t a route to the majors; it’s an alternative to the majors.
And with a growing worldwide presence, now in 20 countries, the UK-born distribution and services company is consistently helping to break globally significant acts – having recently worked with artists including Chance The Rapper, Ian Brown, Flohio, The Ting Tings, P Money, Dave and Tash Sultana.
Parsons claims: “If you want to have the same level setup that a major label has, from playlist influence to graphic designers and digital marketing to radio pluggers and press, we have all that – but we’ll also give you a better deal than any major label will, plus we’ll work harder and we’ll work smarter.
“The main difference between Ditto and a major label is that if you sign a domestic deal with a major in your market, then you often aren’t promoted outside of that market, especially if you sign outside the US. We work as a global team and have local reps in each country, so we are pushing releases internationally as well as domestically.”
“We work as a global team and have local reps in each country, so we are pushing releases internationally as well as domestically.”
He adds: “It’s competitive, of course, because a major label will always rock up and offer 10-times what a song’s worth, just to buy that market share. Our focus is more long term.”
He says that he hears similar thoughts and concerns from artists. “What happens is, they take the [record company] advance and then discover that what their label really wants is market share. The artists go for meetings and they say, ‘We talked about the back-catalog and their tails were wagging the whole time, but nobody asked me about what I wanted to do for the next 10 years; that didn’t seem as important.’
“If you’re an artist that thinks long-term and you want to work with a team who are dedicated to actively growing your music, we think Ditto’s for you.”
That philosophy, and the suite of services behind it, was given a name last year, with the launch of Ditto Plus.
With an eye on attracting independent labels and larger management companies, Ditto Plus offers the full array of Ditto’s global services – including PR, social media support, creative design, digital marketing, radio promotion and playlist pitching – all under one roof.
“We’ve always had these options and done these deals all over the world. Up to now we have only worked from recommendation,” says Parsons. “Usually managers or labels that know we do a great job. But now we want to open the service up to more people including not only labels and managers, but also to Ditto subscription clients who may be ready for that extra support.”
One recent example of moving the needle for an artist came in partnership with 21 year-old US rapper/singer Yung Pinch.
“He’s probably got about 3.5 million listeners, but he hadn’t really had any playlisting outside of the US,” says Parsons. “So, we re-released his album and we were able to get him on New Music Friday in South Africa, Japan, about 16 or 17 countries in total. The management are massively happy with that, needless to say.”
Such stories, says Parsons, are common at Ditto – and they add up to something significant.
“2018 was up 30% in terms of [Ditto’s] label service revenues; subscriptions were up 24%. Whichever bit of the business you drill down into, there’s growth. In fact, we were the fourth biggest provider of content to Apple Music UK after the three major labels.”
Back to the major label comparisons – and the major level ambition.
“All my staff are either ex-heads of A&R or ex-heads of labels,” says Parsons. “They came to Ditto because they are passionate about music and they can do things here that they couldn’t do where they were previously – which is, primarily, develop artists and build careers.”
“We are the fourth biggest provider of content to Apple Music UK after the three major labels.”
On a more deliciously scurrilous note, Parsons tells the comic tale of “putting a single out on a Friday, then on Monday being shown an emailed offer from a major label – with the artist’s name spelled wrong”.
So, no, being a major isn’t part of Ditto’s plans. Challenging them is (both in terms of scale, and also in questioning their culture).
Parsons concludes: “What we want is for anyone who signs for Ditto to have a clear path for their career. We can offer the right level of support for whatever stage you’re at and whatever stage you want to get to, internationally as well as domestically.
“Not only that, but we’re going to give you a much better deal than the majors – and help you to build a long-term career in the process.”Music Business Worldwide