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Why Concord’s Round Hill Deal Marks a Major Moment for the Music Market, Affirms the ‘Underlying Value of Copyrights’

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Concord announced the completion of its $468 million acquisition of the Round Hill Music Royalty Fund on Thursday (Nov. 2), officially completing the year’s biggest catalog deal. The deal includes over 150,000 songs, among them works by The Beatles and tunes recorded by Elvis Presley, Meatloaf, James Brown and Billie Holiday, but also marked a pivotal moment for publicly traded royalty funds and Concord’s scale of business.

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Concord CEO Scott Valentine, who succeeded Scott Pascucci in February, spoke to Billboard about the deal, what it says about the state of the music royalties market and how Concord plans to deal with the headwinds that currently face the music industry.

On Oct. 31, you closed the acquisition of Round Hill Music Royalty Fund. Why was it attractive to Concord and what does it say about the state of the song catalog market?

When you look at the landscape of acquisitions of scale and quality, [Round Hill’s] assets had been on our radar for a while. Our view was that the stock price of the company wasn’t giving the appropriate fair value to what the assets were worth. Josh was one of the early proponents of the notion of music assets as financial assets. We have similar backgrounds, having started in investment banking. The quality of assets that Round Hill had accumulated was remarkable, in terms of the breadth, the genres and the ability for these assets to be used in film and television. There are Beatles songs in here for God’s sake. I’m referring to these things as assets. They’re works of art, really, that have stood the test of time from a revenue perspective.

You’ve indicated that this deal counters the broader narrative that the music royalty market has deflated over the last year or so. Why?

Our deal proves that from an institutional perspective the underlying value of copyrights is still there. We’ve just gone through the first-ever cycle of price increases at the DSPs. It seems, knock on wood, that the impact on churn has been within the tolerance levels [of customers]. You have continued growth in countries around the world that have never in the history of the music business been significant sources of legitimate revenue. We are now expecting fairly regular price increases [by the DSPs] in mature markets. So, if you believe in the long-term trends that suggest the value of music should increase over the mid-term. Then, as institutional investors, it comes down to what is your time horizon?

But with Concord acquiring one publicly listed music royalty fund, and Hipgnosis investors voting to possibly wind up the Hipgnosis Songs Fund, doesn’t this spell the end of the publicly traded music royalty fund experiment?

The story isn’t written yet on Hipgnosis. Their shareholders and board still have time to [explore options]. The thing that strikes me about the commentary around Hipgnosis has been the fundamental belief by shareholders in the underlying value of the assets it owns. Shareholders rejected the sale of those assets because they seemed to fundamentally believe the value of those assets was greater than [what they could get in that) proposed in the sale.

The question is whether a publicly traded fund is or isn’t the right vehicle to access returns. We’ve tapped the asset-backed securities space and have done very well. There is certainly private investment happening and it continues to happen. I still see significant institutional interest in this space. We are still getting inbound requests from artists, managers, etcetera, asking us to look at assets for sale. The underlying market for assets is robust. Because interest rates have gone up, the high end of the price scale has come down. But there is still plenty of activity where the prices make sense.

How do you view Concord’s creative mission and direction?

We built the company over time around our catalog. We have an extraordinary catalog of works that span over a century. Because we’ve been financed by pension funds and institutional investors, the cash flow of the catalog and investing in catalogs has been part of how we grow the company. But I’m keenly focused on the notion that we are not a fund. We are a fully functional organic music company. You can’t be a music company without creating new art and discovering new artists and exposing those new artists to the world. They will create the next remarkable piece of art that 50 years from now people talk about buying. Concord has the scale now and the relationships to be a leader in catalog acquisition and exploitation but also front-line investment. And on the music publishing side, we have really grown that business over the last three to four years. We have the writers of some of the largest songs in the world. One of ours co-wrote most of the last two Harry Styles records. On the recorded side, we’ve always been in more niche genres — jazz, bluegrass, adult contemporary. We have not been in the front-line pop business or R&B or hip-hop. Those genres have always been the domain of the majors. It’s because it takes a significant amount of marketing expenditure and recording…. That said, we’re now the size that we can compete occasionally to get a few artists in those genres. I think it’s important to grow that business.

We have seen layoffs hit different music companies over the last 18 months. Do you feel your team is in good shape? Are you looking to make any pivots in strategy or structure?

From a senior exec position, [former chief label officer] Tom Whalley stepped back, so we had to find a replacement. That’s why we got Tom Becci. Because he is taking on this new role, there is a little bit of tweaking that will go on — the integration of frontline and catalog. How people report up through the recorded music division and how people spend their time may take some tweaking. But it’s a structural shift —reporting changes. I feel like we’ve always thought about the business and growth in a careful way so that we hopefully did not over hire or put people in situations where, if there was a retrenchment in the business, we had challenges. I don’t see the need for wholesale changes or layoffs in the near term.

What is the thinking behind putting frontline and catalog under the same roof?

From our perspective, the issue with catalog versus frontline is you’re really talking about a relationship with an artist. If we have an artist on one of our frontline labels who also has catalog, having two different divisions working that artists’ life work creates some weird, unintended division when the artist is hoping to have one team of people. So, it’s an alignment to get into the way the artist is thinking about their own work. There is an industry tendency to spend a lot of work on an artist’s latest album for good reason. But in the world we live in today, an artist’s older works can be reactivated very quickly in tandem with the release of a new album. We hired Tom largely because he’s had a little bit of everything. He has worked in catalog, frontline at Universal, in management. He’s got perspective from all these different angles.

What is happening with Concord’s theatrical division?

We own Rodgers and Hammerstein. We rep 30,000 theatrical rights. It’s a sneaky, large part of our business. It’s a very interesting corner of our business that we’ve built through acquisitions in the last five years. We did those acquisitions [starting in] 2018, and the challenge has been that a lot of our business is licensing to schools and universities that were impacted during Covid. We were also a producer in Hadestown, and an investor in Some Like It Hot. We are continuing to invest in new shows on Broadway and repping works that are going out on tour. There is a fair amount of investment going on there.

What are revenues going to come in at this year?

I think we’re going to come in around the mid-$600 million range. We’ve been growing pretty consistently.

How much debt does the company carry?

The ABS was $1.8 billion and then we just did the separate tranche with Apollo for $500 million. We have a revolver as well with a consortium of banks. I don’t remember that balance, but we did not use up all of our dry powder [on the Round Hill deal]. One of the reasons we wanted to do the initial bond offering with Apollo was that we thought there was an opportunity to go back to the market when we wanted to finance acquisitions. We think there is going to be a rinse and repeat component to our access to that market.

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