WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 22: Thomas Scherer speaks onstage during the BMG Pre-Grammy … [+]
Throughout 2022, music giant BMG has been on a spending spree when it comes to the catalogs of some major musical stars. The Berlin-based powerhouse has reportedly set aside some $1 billion to purchase the rights to well-known songs and albums and administer them around the globe. This year alone, the rights management/record label has acquired the catalogs of talents such as Harry Nilsson, Jean-Michel Jarre, Simple Minds, Chris Rea, and most recently (and perhaps most notably), the legendary Peter Frampton.
The company’s latest buy has grabbed headlines, as it is the latest in a long line of massive purchases by some of the top players in the music industry. Lately, those with the financial resources have been snapping up high-profile catalogs with the hope of earning money from streaming, placements in film and TV, covers, and more for decades to come. While Frampton’s catalog didn’t come with a publicly-shared price tag, recent purchases on a similar scale suggest it was easily worth tens of millions, and that the final sum may have included nine digits.
I spoke with BMG President of Repertoire & Marketing Thomas Scherer about how this notable deal came together and how BMG intends to introduce Frampton’s beloved body of work to a new generation.
Hugh McIntyre: Let me congratulate you on not just a sizable acquisition, one of the better catalogs in music history.
Thomas Scherer: I absolutely agree. We are very grateful that we have the chance now to work with this legacy. Of course, you know, it goes back to Humble Pie. “Show Me the Way” everyone knows. “Baby, I Love Your Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do,” these classics. And then when I think about what he has done as a guitarist. I recognized it not before we were talking about it, I was not aware that Peter Frampton has worked with George Harrison. We have George Harrison…we administer [his music]. The same with Ringo Starr. We also acquired Harry Nilsson. These are all artists that he worked with. And the list goes on. B.B. King. The Steve Miller Band, of course. Donovan. Bowie!
McIntyre: Tell me a bit about when this conversation began and how long was the process from the first mention to the announcement?
Scherer: I think it’s almost like two years ago when we started the first conversation. Then, of course, they took the chance to see who else is out there, what are the other offers? We continued with the evaluation and so on and so on. I think what was really convincing is, first of all, when you look at our roster, we have a couple of his colleagues that he used to play with.
When I look at the landscape right now, you have the majors with these acquisitions, and they’re focused on maximizing their existing roster, right? You have Bruce Springsteen, you have Sting, and so on. They maximize what they have on their roster. I’m not aware that they’ve done any sort of outside their roster acquisitions. They keep it within their existing deals, artists and the roster they have. So then you have all the other players, right? You have the boutique players, and then you have investment companies.
BMG is exactly that combination. We have our own cash flow with Bertelsmann, so we don’t need the funding that other players need. We are a real music company with 20 offices and 1,100 people. So Bowie is a very good example of the added value that we bring into the conversation. So what else can we explore in the case of Peter Frampton? It’s the publishing that we are talking about, so what else can we bring to the table with our global licensing team and sync marketing team? What are our ideas? This is how we pitch it every single time when we have these conversations with artists or an estate.
So what, what’s the added value? What is BMG actually able to bring to the table? It’s the different services that we have.
In this case it’s 100% of the rights, but sometimes when we have 50% or 70%, then it’s important to also have income tracking. So it’s important really to, on a global scale, go after the money to increase the value of the assets. In this particular case, after all the different conversations, they decided to proceed and to go into due diligence. And from that moment on, I think it took them between three or four months, and then we closed it.
McIntyre: How did the conversation begin? Did Frampton’s team come to you? Was this something you were pursuing?
Scherer: They came to us.
McIntyre: Wow. That’s a great call to get.
Scherer: You’re right. In this particular case, we have other business with the manager. They went through a list, of course, you know, these are the ones that we definitely want to call. We were one of them, I’m sure, in the first place. Of course, it was not only BMG. I like competition—we can prove ourselves. What’s the differentiator? Why BMG and not one of the other players?
McIntyre: You mentioned earlier that when you’re acquiring Frampton’s catalog, it’s not just Frampton. It’s Humble Pie, and I’m sure he has various songwriting stakes in other tracks by other artists. Was this a particularly complicated deal to finish?
Scherer: Very good question. Not really complicated. I compare it with really complicated ones. For example, when you don’t have contracts…sometimes they don’t find contracts, you know?
Scherer: Yeah, exactly. In this case, it was not. Everything was in really good shape, so therefore it was not complicated. And it also didn’t take too long. I could tell you other acquisitions where we were nine months in due diligence, easily. In the end, we found solutions.
McIntyre: In this era that we’re in, it’s almost like an arms race of companies acquiring rights and price tags growing higher and higher. I can only imagine what this one cost. So, if BMG is going to make a big purchase, that can be a difficult choice to make. You can have Peter Frampton or you can have these 10 other catalogs. So how do you go about deciding you’re going to invest the resources in just one?
Scherer: In this particular case, it fits absolutely. As I said before, George Harrison, Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, David Bowie… It fits BMG, it fits the services we have that work with these catalogs, from the publishing to digital marketing to digital sales and so on. It fits perfectly. And I guess this was also the decision from Peter Frampton’s management to say, “You know what? That’s for me and for my music, the best place to be.” We can make the best out of it financially, so therefore we decided we needed to go for it.
We have to make these decisions between the different sorts of opportunities which come to our desk. In this case, it was an easy decision to go for this one. We didn’t have to make a trade off. If it’s [a catalog] very current, something in the past five to six years, you have the evaluation of the decay and the different elements to it, then it’s not really meant for us. For example, if there is a catalog—it doesn’t matter if it’s on the publishing or on the recorded side—and it is a package of hits from the past five, six, seven years, that’s not really for us.
McIntyre: BMG has a diverse roster. So, when everyone is looking for that next acquisition, and especially the headline-grabbing one, what, what entices you and what are you specifically drawn to?
Scherer: Absolutely drawn to evergreens. That’s basically it. And honestly, the other players as well. This is where you have a chance for your sync department on the licensing side. [It] gets the requests for your sync marketing team on a global scale, because it’s an evergreen work. [We can] be creative with it, create different cover versions. A Spanish version or a Portuguese version, whatever. You can be creative with it, you can rework it. You don’t have to stretch so far, and you don’t have to, you know, make a huge effort. So, definitely drawn to evergreens, to these copyrights where you can make the best out of them. And of course, it’s also a real honor to work with these songs.
McIntyre: A lot of this conversation has been about the hits and things from decades past. While he is not touring, Frampton is still doing it. He still makes music. How much did that factor into this decision?
Scherer: To be honest, not so much. If you have an acquisition, like Mötley Crüe, then you cater to the specific fan base, and when they tour, you can see the numbers go up. You see how the catalog gets a boost on the streaming numbers. Other genres don’t get a huge boost through live performances. On the other hand—this is why I said not so much—it’s great to have him working and out there and performing and getting the media attention. So it is good, to a certain extent, but it’s not a big portion of it.
McIntyre: You’ve acquired this great catalog. There’s so much that could be done with it. What areas are you looking at?
Scherer: We have a chance, first of all, with the sync department to see where the opportunities are in the U.S. Where are the opportunities then in the European territories? Where are key territories according to streaming numbers outside of Europe and North America. To exploit it in territories where there is not much happening. We absolutely can do cover versions, territory language versions, we can create digital marketing, and short content creation as well. We will do a nice little EP for the music supervisors in Hollywood. Vinyl is always something interesting, and it fits Peter and it’s helped us in the past. It’s not rocket science, the music industry. So it’s not rocket science to do that. Those are the first things that are already in motion.
McIntyre: In conversations I’ve had regarding other acquisitions, those companies seemed to be focusing on bringing catalogs to a new generation. Can I assume that bringing Frampton to teenagers and Gen Z is part of the conversation too?
Scherer: Thank you for bringing that up. That is what I meant about the audio visual and digital marketing part of it. Exactly. To see how we can get in contact with the next generations. It has happened already in the past with influencers on TikTok. Can we get a viral moment? What I like about all these viral moments is it has to be authentic. You can’t push it. The old school music industry was so much about marketing, power, distribution… That’s gone. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it. You can pay influencers to do it, but no one picks it up. And I think this is great. This is good for all of us. It really humbles us.
McIntyre: Is there anything else you’d like to say about this deal or the future, or anything relating to Frampton?
Scherer: I think we have done about 30 acquisitions now. 30, 32. We will close a couple of more. Three big ones. And very interesting ones. We [will be] very active when it comes to acquisitions in 2023, that’s for sure.
McIntyre: I can’t wait to see Peter Frampton go viral on TikTok and 13 year olds dancing to him.
Scherer: I want to see that as well. If they start with one, then they want to know more. Fantastic! Go deeper, dig into this rabbit hole!