This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Paolo díAlessandro, Chief International Officer, International Solutions.
International Solutions, a division of Amsterdam-based Union Entertainment Group (International), is the epitome of a contemporary global partner seeking to explore every opportunity available in local international markets for its clients.
International Solutions offers promotion and marketing services for music projects in Europe, North America, and Australia, covering press, radio, online and television/video promotion in each market while overseeing global coordination.
International Solutions also provides label management, and can operate as a labelís marketing office in territories to coordinate all retail marketing activities with the labelís distribution partners in individual markets.
The company, founded by Paolo díAlessandro, chief international officer, was originally designed to support independent labels that did not have an in-house international office or depended on licensees in Europe, and sought more direct handling there.
Today, International Solutions has offices in Amsterdam, London and New York with a presence in Cologne, Toronto, and Melbourne. The company has partnered with Live Nation and PledgeMusic, and its clients have included both major labels (RCA, and Epic), and independent labels (Avex Japan, Dine Alone Records Canada, Loud & Proud, and Razor & Tie).
DíAlessandro is a seasoned international label and publishing executive who has held posts at Flying Records Italy; BMG Music Publishing Italy; Arcade Music Company Holland; Universal Music Italy; and Roadrunner Records International.
In 2005 díAlessandro joined Union Entertainment Group as head of International (a position he continues to hold), and, in 2010, founded International Solutions.
Who owns International Solutions?
I am the majority share holder. Bryan Coleman and Tim Heyne are partners with me.
Do you automatically work all the acts outside North America handled by Union Entertainment Group?
Well, I still hold the position of head of international position within Union.
You have the flexibility to decide what to handle act by act?
You are exactly right. Thatís why we decided to keep the two (companies) separate. If anything leaves the shores of America that is managed by Union, it falls on my lap. Obviously, 99% of my work there nowadays falls on Nickelback because they are the biggest band that the company has. But we have worked on Kevin Costner & Modern West for a little bit of time. That came through me over here. And I could name others. Generally, I handle most ex-North America marketing and promotion for the (Union Entertainment Group) management company. But International Solutions, itís the concept of actually saying, ďGuys why should I just be doing this just for Union artists? Letís put this on the market. Iím sure there are a lot of people that could benefit from it.Ē
What offices does International Solutions have?
Our offices are in Amsterdam, London and New York. We have a preferred partner in Melbourne, Australia that we work with. Cologne, we call it our office, but we have a preferred partner there as well.
How much staff?
We are talking a total of six at this point. All of the people that we have in-house, employees if you will, are all product managers. International product managers at various levels of experience, but are all product managers. I firmly believe that a product manager--or a project managerócan handle multiple genres, and can handle a band as big as Nickelback, and a band as small as Monster Truck, or can handle a pop act like Daniel Powter, or a metal act or (American guitarist) Steve Vai. When you are talking about local promotion (doing similar marketing and promotion) I donít believe that. I believe that I need to source the right PR guy, the right publicist, and the right radio plugger, particularly if you are going, for example, into the UK.
While International Solutions doesnít do distribution, you bring marketing and promotion to the table, which is an added service with most distributors. In reality, however, thatís often one person overseeing 50 labels, and hundreds of artists. Many distributors only started offering marketing and promotion because of a demand from their clients. As well, they considered it was money being left on the table.
I know that and I have no beef with them doing that. I understand that business model.
Meanwhile, the multinationals did the same, and today often use their distribution of indie labels as a farm team system to hand pick artists for international markets.
In terms of the marketing and promotion, what does International Solutions do?
The way that we approach thisóand it doesnít matter how a record is distributed; or who the repertoire owner is whether itís a label or an artist or a manageróI will call them the repertoire owner because it doesnít matter to me who owns the musicÖ.Ö
Yes, but what do you do?
Well, we sit down with our client--and it starts with the music, thank the Lordóand we listen to what is being put in front of us; and we (consider) what we are being told has international potential. Not everything does. Part of our job, as much as it is to say, ďYes, weíd like to help you,Ē is to say, ďNo, we canít help you.Ē One of the first things that I decided when I started this business was that we werenít going to be in the business of taking peopleís money, and running because thatís going to bite you in the ass right around the corner, and itís not going to take a long time before it does.
Okay, someone brings you music that you figure you can work in certain territories. What happens next?
Letís put down some names, talk about some figures, and make it real. It will be easier to understand the mechanism. One morning Ryan Spalding (marketing and promotions manager) from Dine Alone Records (in Toronto) called me. He was referred to me by a publicist in the UK. Heís got this band Monster Truck that is starting to do well in Canada, and Dine Alone is thinking, ďThis an act that we want to take internationally.Ē So Ryan called me up and said, ďHi, weíre Dine Alone Records. We have this band called Monster Truck that we want to develop internationally. We have a distribution set-upĒóand he explained to me how it was distributedóďCan you help us with the marketing and the promotion?Ē
So you and your team get sent Monster Truckís album ďFuriosity.Ē
We fall in love with it. We think that this band is awesome. I got back to Ryan, and said, ďI think that this band could do very, very well in Germany. The UK is an obvious choice. Germany, and the UK being the two most important markets in Europe. Letís start talking about other markets, other territories, and what we can achieve there.Ē This conversation takes a little bit of time. At the end of this conversation, what we have is an idea of a development plan for a band. Thatís for a debut act. We will talk about bigger acts that come to us at another level. But at this level, we develop a marketing plan. Then we put the marketing plan, and a marketing budget in front of the label and tell them, ďThis is what we think that you can achieve during this cycle. This is what I think we need to do, and this is what I think it is going to cost.Ē We put a plan, and a budget in front of them (Dine Alone Records) and we discussed the strategy. Based on what they wanted to achieve versus what they could they afford versus what we thought was the necessary investment, we came to a point where they pulled the trigger, and we started working on Monster Truck.
We put together the promotional and marketing teams in the countries that we picked to work. In Monster Truckís case, we have worked the UK, Germany, France and Sweden. We concentrated on those markets because we felt that those were the markets where the band could have an impact. We did the same in the U.S. with Monster Truck so you know because we also work the American market.
Within such plans how do you approach marketing and promotion?
Well, we have all of the tools in front of us that we would have if we were a label. So we understand publicity. We understand radio. We understand digital marketing. We understand all of these things. We have teams that we work with. We have specialists in every country. We are big believers in local specialists.
I think you have tapped into a demand for international co-ordination in the marketplace.
The necessity for this has always been there. I think that Iím just the one who picked up the ball, and said, ďIím going to organize this, and put it out there.Ē
The reality is that majors and indie distributors arenít able to cope with things like they used to. Now itís one person and 50 labels.
A fair assessment that you saw a hole in the marketplace?
I think it is on one hand because I really thought that there was something there. But having done international my entire life, this hole that you are talking about has always been there. It has actually become a gaping hole, an unavoidable black hole these days, and you are absolutely right. My catch phrase is always that labels at large, particularly majors, have four people doing the work of 44 at this point. The need for international co-ordination has always been there, and people like myself--I donít know--thereís got to be like 50 people in the entire industry because it is so specialized. You need to understand that itís just not about talking to some guy in Germany, itís understanding what the German market means if you are going to be effective for your artist. Whether you are a management company or whether you are a record label or whatever your position is. If you are going to be effective for the music that you are representing, and for the artist that you are trying to grow, you have to understand what the individual markets require; how they work; and how they function. When you get to Europe, itís so fragmented. I live in Amsterdam and if I drive three hours, I cross three countries. Belgium and France to the south, and Germany to the east. Each of these three countries have their different sets of cultures; their different sets of media; and their different idiosyncrasies.
What personal attributes do you have that qualify you to work in the different territories?
Iíve done international my entire career. I was poised to do that from day one just because of the sheer fact that I speak six languages. I am the son of a diplomat. I traveled all my life. Every three years, we used to change countries. As a kid, I picked up languages along the way. If you think my English is good, you should here my French because I am French born. That (fluency with languages) made my entry into the (music) industry simple because in the late Ď80s and early Ď90s when I started getting my first jobs, it wasnít as common as today to have fluency in multiple languages. It was something that labels were particularly interested in.
Is anyone else doing what you are doing on an international scale?
Not that I know of. If they are, Iím not aware of them. Iím sure at some point somebody else will. Iím not one that shies away from competition. So bring it on.
[INgrooves Music Group, in fact, provides independent labels, artists, managers and other content owners with a one-stop customizable service suite, including global music distribution, customized marketing and promotion, sync licensing, music publishing, and administrative support.]
Among your indie clients have been Razor and Tie, and Loud & Proud.
Those two are very interesting models for us. Loud & Proud has a label licensing deal with edelís earMusic label. So you would think, ďWhy would they need International Solutions?Ē Well, they do because, yes, they have done an ex-North American licensing deal with a label, but who is going to handle the day to day on each individual artist? Whether itís from a production standpoint or handling parts, promotion, or liaisoning with the manager. You still need an international office. Thatís why I said that it doesnít matter to me what kind of deal they (the repertoire owners) have for their acts. Whether they are going to be the repertoire owner and they have a deal with Caroline who distributes, and they are funding the marketing and promotion, or if they have given someone a license, they are still going to need somebody over here with the boots on the ground understanding each individual market. I understand every single market. For an American label, thereís no way that they can have that access to the individual markets unless they have somebody over here.
Tell me about your relationship with Razor & Tie.
Razor & Tie has done very well for itself in America, but has never had an operation out here. They had been trying to figure out the best to take that (next) step and become a more global player, and be able to sign acts from more than just the United States. And better and bigger acts. They need an infrastructure over here. But you know how expensive that is.
We are for all intents and purposes Razor & Tieís European office. So we handle the relationship with the local distributor. We have the local marketing and promotional teams. We are the ones that are putting out the records, and deciding along with the label in the U.S. which markets to invest in and which not to. We are a fully operational Razor & Tie office. Thatís another part of the service. Thatís why I like what we do. Itís very diverse. We can hire the promo people for a client if they need them or we can work with their licensee or we can represent their label and be their full office. Itís all encompassing into the international work.
When I started International Solutions it was very clear to me that we were going to cater to the independent world.
Because I initially saw the benefit of having an international office for somebody who didnít have one. Simply because they couldnít afford to hire an international manager in their office that was going to cost them 200 grand a year. Or they were just too small to even think about that. Traditionally, what they would do is try and look for a license for that one record that had international potential. They knew back in the day that there was going to be somebody who was going to license it. But with licensing comes loss of control, obviously. Now there are opportunities to go and do the distribution deal. So I knew that we were going to be talking to a lot of the independents because they have a little bit more freedom to move if you will.
We have since started working for major labels This wasnít a surprise to me because I knew that they were going to come to the table. I just didnít think that they would come to the table as quickly as they did.
You have worked for Sony across several labels, including RCA and Epic.
We started with RCA in New York with Daughtry We are now working for Epic Germany (Sony Music Entertainment Germany, Epic label) for a project that we are handling for them for the United States with a band called In Flames that they have signed to a worldwide deal.
Let me just give you the sense of why I found the Daughtry deal between ourselves and RCA groundbreaking. It addresses what you were saying at the beginning of this (conversation). Traditionally, record labels domestically have hired independents to do their promotions jobs. it is the way that it works everywhere. My bet was that this (international co-ordination) could be done on an international level as well. And hereís RCA, which is a major label corporation, who has decided to play ball with us. I will never be thankful enough to (RCA president/COO) Tom Corson and John Fleckenstein (EVP, International at Sony Music Entertainment), Not just because they hired us, and gave us money to do a job but because they believed in this model.
I sat with Tom and John and we had a very frank conversation. The conversation was roughly along these lines. Hereís a band that is going to have a big record in the United States. Itís going to do 500,000, 6000,000, or 700,000 (units). itís going to be there. Hopefully, it makes it to platinum. But itís a big record for RCA. Internationally, itís a big problem. They cannot impose on the Sony companies across the world to release the record let alone make the investment in terms of marketing and promotion that needs to be made to elevate the act. The local companies have their own set of priorities.
Still this was going to be a big album by a band in the Sony Music Entertainment family.
The problem a lot of the countries were having with Daughtry wasnít because they didnít think that Daughtry couldnít do well or wasnít because they didnít like the record (ďBaptizedĒ) or that they felt it was too American centric or ďWho cares about Daughtry?Ē The issue was almost technical. Youíve got Sony International who was not going to be driving this record because they have other things to do. And you know what? They are right. They need to be taking care of Beyoncť. They donít need to be taking care of Daughtry because the international departments need to be where the big stuff is. So who is going to drive this? Who is going to go and talk to the individual countries? Someone who understand what the potential in that market is. What is possible? Will discuss the plans. Who understand the dynamics. Look at a touring plan which is in place. We knew that Daughtry was going to do a four week tour in Europe. Who was going to set up the promotion? Who was going to champion each country and say, ďGuys what are we going to do with this?Ē Nobody was going to be there to do it.
My challenge to Tom was, ďYou can release this record in the U.S. and have international be the gravy. Whatever happens happens. Or you can let me handle this, and let me sew this back together. Let me rebuild the connections between your local territories, and your artist. Let me find the places that are going to want to champion this. There are going to be some countries that are going to tell me, ĎItís not for us. Itís not going to work. We are not going to do it.í We are going to accept that. But there are going to be countries that are going to say, ĎWe can work with this.íĒ And thatís exactly what happened.
But the point here is that for RCA, it was going to be too complicated for them (Sony Music Entertainment) to put the resources behind this band that were necessary to make all of this happen. RCA in America, who is the repertoire owner, is the one who ended up putting the resources behind this band by deciding to hire us so that they would have an international team dedicated to Daughtry.
And I said this straight up to Tom Corson. ďIf we can elevate this in the countries to a point where your teams donít need us anymore itís job well done for me. Itís a medal on the jacket. I am going to move on to the next project.Ē I donít have an ego (with the project).
This isnít about ego.
Iím in the B to B business. Nobody needs to know that I exist. Iím here to create solutions, to generate connections. To make sure that the people in the local territories have somebody that is going to have their back. Larry, as simple as it seems, in the grand schemes of things with reduced staffs, with reduced sales, targets now being quarterly, people being scared of the next round of restructuring, a lot of people (at major labels) spend most of their time thinking about other things than what they should be thinking about. We have the luxury of not being in that position. It shows a great sense of understanding on their part--Tom Corson and John Fleckenstein--that a band like Daughtry needed a full on dedicated international marketing team to coordinate the local Sony offices globally. So they hired out of house to complement their internal team and secure the additional resources that were necessary ďad hocĒ for this project.
Up until we showed up in the market, if you couldnít do it in house that was it (at a multinational). We offer a solution for international project management. We come on board, we do the job, we go away. And we come back next time we are needed.
How did Daughtryís ďBaptizedĒ roll out internationally?
So here we are working with the individual Sony company in every single country. I will give you one example which I thought was marvelous. I had a meeting with the people at Sony Music Sweden. The product and the promotion managers. They were absolutely ecstatic (with our involvement). They said, ďSo you are going to give us all of the tools that we need? You are going to get us phoners when we need them? We can talk about a promo day with you in Stockholm? You have direct access to the artist?Ē I said ďYes. I work for the label. So I am your colleague on this project, and I have a direct line into management.Ē That was the start of Sony Music Sweden not only deciding to put the record out, but investing time and money into promoting Daughtry. And it did really really well in Sweden.
Not to bash the majors but an artist signed them traditionally has always needed a believer to break internationally.
Thatís very true.
Outside the major label system, there has long been indie promotion and marketing in domestic markets but international co-ordination was often spotty. With the internet, international markets have somewhat shrunk and major and independent labels, facing dwindling sales from their home market, need sales from whatever territory they can get them.
Thatís exactly right.
Decades ago, artists didnít visit international markets for promotion and marketing or touring as frequently as today. We live and work in a global context now
You hit the nail on the head. Itís a combination of things that make it so that we have a business. I think we have a solid business that is going to grow in the years to come. Itís a combination of things. And I agree with you that this is not about bashing anybody. This is just about recognizing the change in this industry, and stop whining about it, and doing something about it. As far as we are concerned, we have created a business around that, and we are happy that (change) is there for us. But really what we are trying to do is that we are trying to narrow the gap, close the gap, between all of the things that used to be there for artists, managers and labels who really didnít have to think much about it (marketing and promotion) because it was all within the system. Now you have to create that. When you were saying you need a bigger market to play in because the domestic markets have shrunk, you are absolutely right. But the point of the matter is that the market has not only shrunk but it has changed in good ways as well. Back in the day, you needed to be signed to a major label to have an international career, and you needed to break your domestic market first. Nowadays, one of the good things about this whole label servicing thing is that you now have access. You can buy yourself access whereas back in the day you needed someone to make the investment. You needed to convince somebody that you were good enough. The entry barrier was a lot higher than it is today.
Often the entry barrier to an international release was down to a person in the local region going, ďYay or nay.Ē
Itís still like thatÖ
I agree but their decision back then was an absolute. It came down to one person green-lighting an act for a territory.
Itís still like that. The idea nowadays, however, is that you can get yourself an international distribution setup. You can do it through Caroline. You can do it through ADA. You can do it through independent networks of independent distributors from Rough Trade and Essential in the UK, Wagram in France, and Playground in Scandinavia, There are a handful of people that can provide that (distribution) system. Whether you want to do it in major label corporation world, ŗ la ADA, Caroline or the independent sector. But what that does is that it gives you an infrastructure to distribute your record, and most of people do the digital supply chain for you if you are not doing it centrally, and they can supply physical to whatever retail infrastructure that is in place in each country.
Distributors work on high volume, and tend to only really work their priorities. All they really offer is distribution with some added-on promotion and marketing. What makes you any different?
Focus. Iím in a position where my priorities are set by my clients. They are not set by my business model. If you are a distributor, and letís say that you are Caroline. Iím going to pick Caroline because I think that they are a great distributor. I know the people inside and I respect them. Caroline has a wonderful distribution set-up. They do sales and distribution really, really well, but the downside of Caroline is that they are paid a percentage. So exactly to what you were saying, what are they going to do? They are going to give all of their efforts and timeóand there are only 24 hours in a day and, again, 4 people doing the job of 44; they are going to put their efforts into the bigger sellers because those are going to yield more money for (their) percentage. I donít get paid percentage. I donít need to do that.
All distributors work on percentage.
Correct. Yes, they do, and the whole added service, the whole label services concept which I completely understand, and probably I would have done the same if I had been Lucian Grainge (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Universal Music Group) or any one of these people I would have done the same because the concept is, ďHey, we are sitting on an organization that has all this infrastructure, and we built that infrastructure for our repertoire.Ē I worked for Universal for a very brief time, and I remember that the rule was that you would not sub-license. You were in the business of owning rights and, for whatever reason, if a record A was not ready to be released in country X, then you just didnít release it there. You werenít going to license it out to somebody else.
As well, major label staff are told to first break their own records and if they are providing marketing and promotion for an outside label that will be a secondary priority. It will not supersede an in-house priority.
Yeah, thatís totally true. I remember reading an article a few months back about ADA who had announced that they were going to start using less indies (for marketing and promotion) and they were going to use internal Warner Music resources for their ADA product. That worries me for the reason that you just pointed out. But along the same line, Caroline puts teams together, and has hired a very substantial amount of (marketing or promotional) people throughout Europe. They are trying to do things in-house as well. They have a mix of in-house promotion and external promotion. But the bottom line, Larry, is that with all these companies, they are distributors. Thatís who they are, and thatís what they do best.
Now because everybody is trying to scrape a buck, I am; everybody is; a downsized market levels the playing field in a way. Caroline is hungry for the same buck that Iím hungry for. We are all competing and chasing that same buck. What we bring to the table is a solutionóand thereís no pun intended. Thatís really how the name (of the company) came about. It is really what we want to do. We want to provide a solution to the many facets of working a record internationally. It doesnít matter to me how you distribute your record. You can go through Caroline, Thatís fine. You can go through a local distributor. Also fine. You can license your record. We have clients that have licensing deals.
Of course, itís advantageous for you if you have a touring artist as well.
Oh, itís part of the marketing strategy. It changes (the strategy) whether an artist tours or not. Thatís one of the first questions we ask our clients. ďWhat are the touring plans?Ē If the touring plan is within a certain time frame, we will create a strategy that will take that into account. Sometimes we donít see the bands until very late into the (album) cycle. We need to know that because the spend and the focus in what we do will very much depend on that as we need to have the act in the market. Absolutely.
Labels overseas have long complained about not having access to North American acts. An act should be in international territories 6-8 weeks before the release of music as well as a year later as the record builds.
I couldnít agree more. As a matter of fact, I just had this conversation with Stirling Mcilwaine, Daughtryís manager. The result of that is that they are coming back (to Europe) for a round of dates in October.
Black Eyed Peas, Nickelback, and Michael Bublť are examples of successful global acts that first established themselves abroad by going deep into international markets early on for promotion and touring. Only a handful of acts have done that in recent years.
Itís amazing, Larry, isnít it, that in the internet age that what is going to break an act is them getting their asses into places. I love that, and thatís why we exist. Thatís why we are here. And thatís why we need to create the infrastructure for all these people, and get them the opportunities that they are not going to be able to get sitting 10,000 miles away. Nickelback is something that I know very well because I have working with them 14 years now. I took office at Roadrunner in Holland the first week of January 2001. The first time I met (Nickelback members) Chad (Kroeger) and Ryan Peake was in February. They came on a European promo trip for ďThe State.Ē That same year in September, Roadrunner released ďSilver Side Up.Ē From working with this band, I can tell you that you are absolutely right. Coming over here time and time again constantly, relentlessly year after year is something that has made Nickelback who they are. We have been able two years in a row--in 2012 and 2013óto do tremendous business touring over here. A four week tour with 20 shows across Europe in 2012. The smallest arena was an 8,000 seater. And the year after that we repeated it.
While, you may have access, acts have their own priorities. If they are breaking in the U.S. and you want them for three days of promotion in Sweden, it likely isnít going to happen.
I know exactly what you are saying and it works the other way around. In Flames, for example, is the Epic Germany record that we are now working in the United States The reason that we are working it in the United States is because the local label didnít feel that it was a record that they could champion. So Epic Germany, who is the repertoire owner, and who signed the band to the world, put it through RED which is fine. It stays within Sony. Epic Germany hired us to product manage the record, and work with RED, and the people inside RED to make sure that the marketing and promotion is done effectively with this band in the United States. Talking about having the band in the territory, we are having that exact issue in the United States. We are now talking to management to insure we have the band in America around the release cycle before they come back touring. So it works the other way around too.
Give me an example where you sourced the right PR guy, the right publicist, and the right radio plugger.
We did this in the UK with Daniel Powter with ďTurn On The LightsĒ (2012) which was a straight up pop thing. Daniel Powterís record was going to live or die by us being able to take the song to Radio 2.
How did the record fare?
I will tell you straight up that it wasnít very successful from a sales perspective. Daniel was signed by Avex (Group), the Japanese company, which did not have any infrastructure outside of Japan, and Southeast Asia. They came to us, and we did a distribution deal for them with Caroline, and they came to us for marketing and promotion. So in the UK, we set up the strategy. We hired a specific radio plugger that we knew had the best chance to bring Daniel to the BBC Radio 2 playlist meeting, and be successful with it. Lo and behold, we succeeded. It was a very frustrating experience because that record peaked at #16 on the UK airplay chart, and we were played by BBC Radio 2 for almost five weeks. But it didnít connect with the audience.
[In 2009, Daniel Powter was named as the decade's top One-Hit Wonder by Billboard. The magazine described one-hit wonders as acts whose second hit did not reach the Top 25; they only included acts from 2000 to 2007. "Bad Day,Ē released in 2005, is Powter only hit in North America, and Europe.]
Daniel Powter had been so maligned and off the radar for so long that itís going to take more than one record to bring him back.
I agree. I can tell you from a promotional stand point I think that we did the job. We took the guy to Radio 2; got him on the playlist; we were play listed for 5 week; we peaked at #16. If the record doesnít connect with the audience, and doesnít sell, well we did what we needed to do. Obviously, thereís only so much that you need to do and then the record needs to click. And sometimes it doesnít no matter how much effort you put behind it.
For Daniel Powter the success you did have may have been a career resurrection of sorts. Now you have a good idea where to go.
No kidding because if the guy wasnít around for awhile, and it peaked at #16 in the UK, itís not such a bad thing.
Obviously, you report the good and the bad news back to clients.
Our reports will blow you away. I drive my team crazy. They hate me. Iím a slave driver when it comes to reporting because I find that with most promotion, and PR companies their reports are inexistent at best. I thought this had to be something that we needed to have at the forefront of this because, for crying out loud, they (clients) are giving you their money to promote their artist. I need to be telling them what Iím doing. They need to be seeing whatís going on. I need to give them the bad news as well as the good news because the bad news is probably going to help them steer their strategy.
How do you support the social media activities of your clients?
We put a ďspoke teamĒ together for every single project. Again, because I have such a big awareness of the individual markets, I know that social media is very tricky. There are a few big things that you can do from anywhere. As long as you have a good internet line, you could be sitting almost anywhere, and doing a Facebook campaign or Google AdWords or that kind of thing. Or you could manage a YouTube channel. You can do all of these things. Thatís all well and fine. And the socials are there. It has become a standard practice. The bands needs to co-operate a lot because, obviously, the artists themselves have to do a lot of work but we help them with that.
We coach them. We tell them what are the things that they really need to do, and tell them the things that they can slack on. We help them out with all that. My point about digital marketing is that itís not just that. Itís not because you have a promotional post on Facebook that you are going to be selling hundreds of thousands of records all of a sudden. What you need to do is go deep down in the fabric of the individual markets. Like building yourself a re-skin of a major website--particularly in the rock and metal communities.
All of a sudden, you have a big promotion. You have a band coming around to tour, and you want to start spending some digital marketing money, but itís not going to be enough. I need to go in and, for example, re-skin the website of the most important website of that community for that demographic. Iím not going to know, if Iím not French, which one is the French one. The right one. I know Loudwire, and Blabbermouth if Iím American and I know I know that Iím going to want to do that. If Iím British I know that itís Kerrang! But then whatís the (French) equivalent of that? I will tell you that the French metal fan, Iím sure that heís going to be looking at Kerrang! because a lot of people there speak English and itís a trendsetter and what not, but thereís an equivalent in France called Metal Obs Magazine which stands for Metal Observer. Nobody know that if you are not French.
So many artists and managers so focus on social media that they overlook personal contact within the industry.
This is a people business for Christ sake. This is an art. A lot of us, and Iím as guilty as everybody else, but we really have forgotten that this is about art and music and emotions and people. Itís a people business. The internet is great and fantastic. Iís a wonderful medium and itís brought us a million problems, and a million great things, but we seem to have forgotten that it still has to be about music.
And picking up the effing phone.
And picking up the effing phone. Absolutely. Itís funny that you mention this because we worked a small Japanese band, the Vamps, that had a couple of shows in the U.S. They are on Sony going through RED in America. If you go on our testimonial page, you will see a note from their manager (Jason Reese, manager, Vamprose Global Management) which I thought was the cutest thing ever. The guy praised the fact that we were always responsive on email and on the phone. Can you imagine that? When I saw (senior VP of North America) Elias Chios, who is another ex-Road Runner colleague, I said, ďElias, really? We asked this guy for a quote, and his quote is that these guys are awesome because they always answer their emails?Ē We had a chuckle about it. But you are right. Itís about answering the damn phone, making a phone call, and writing and answering emails.
An intriguing trend in recent years is the declining presence of American repertoire in international markets coupled with the rise of domestic music in markets like Germany and the UK. Nationalism on the rise?
Iím not sure that I entirely agree with that. I donít think itís down to nationalism. My take is this. Itís always down to the local company and to the stock risk because thatís how they (the multinationals) are set up. A major label system is nothing but a group of companies that are tied together by a inter-company licensing agreement. But there is no mechanism that guarantees an international release anywhere. I will go even further that that. Thereís no mechanism that can force the chief executive of any of these companies, Sony France or Sony Germany or Sony whatever, they are under no obligation to release a record that is signed by RCA in the United States for the world.
That traditionally has always been the case.
Exactly. The difference is that back in the day when the market conditions generally were a lot better, and companies were making a lot more money, they would try out a lot more things because it didnít really matter. Nowadays the stock risk is humongous because to get any type of visibility, and especially if you are a major label, and you are going to do a certain type of work, you are going to need to put out a certain stock. If the record doesnít sell, and if it bombs, you are going to be sitting on an incredible amount of stock which is going to cost you a lot of money.
Mainstream American rock has rarely fared well outside of North America. Companies overseas are very reluctant to champion artists they deem as American centric.
Yes and no, Larry. The problem isÖYes, you are right. Iím not going to deny that but there has been a lot of breaking ground. I had the privilege to work with one of the bands that has broken the ground which is Nickelback.
Despite Nickelbackís breakthrough, many North American rock bands over the years failed to break in Europe. Itís easier to break pop, dance music or heavy metal acts there.
That was true for a long time, but a very important rock market has developed in Europe. It just took a little bit of time. I think that the first month I was there (at Roadrunner) they sent me to Montreal where the band was playing. Mike Kroeger was upset about how the international development was going. They sent me over there and I was new on the job, and Iím facing Mike, and heís complaining that the international set-up for his band wasnít good enough. I remember telling him, ďLook, Iím new on the job. Do you want to kick my ass? Give me six months.Ē He looked at me and said, ďFair enough.Ē From that moment on we became really close, and became good friends. Itís been an incredible roller coast for me with them and I feel blessed and thankful to sill be involved with them.
People donít realize that once a major label artist turns up in another territory itís the local affiliateís responsibility to handle any costs of outside promotion, publicity, marketing, and even tour shortfalls unless the repertoire owner or the actís manager agree to cover the costs.
Thatís exactly right. But to go back to your point, ultimately thatís the reason that I believe that a lot more domestic repertoire in the countries that have traditionally been very prone to domestic language, Italy France, Germany, Spainóthe Europeans have a lot of that. Their domestic markets have grown because itís less of a risk for a Euro local domestic company. Itís easier to manage, and itís less expensive, and itís less of a risk. The point that you make about international touring is really international promotion and, in terms of touring, yes you are right. When a band is going to tour, and thereís a short fall they are going to turn around to the label there, and ask for tour support. But thatís a little easier to deal with than promotion trips or promotional tours.
Your career has been eclectic. In the mid-90s, you were an international business affairs manager at Flying Records, which was Italyís leading dance label and distributor.
I was. Thatís where I started. That was my first job in the business.. I was out of the Naples office. Then they opened a Rome office which I began managing.
Didnít you start at radio at RAI earlier?
I did some shows and some freelancing there while I was trying to find my entry into a label. I always wanted to work for labels. Iím a record guy. Thatís what Iíve always wanted to do.
How did you come to team up with Union Entertainment Group? From your time working at Roadrunner?
That is correct. I was VP of international marketing ex-North America. I started my tenure there in early 2001.
In 2001, Roadrunner bought Arcade Music Company in Holland where you had been working.
That is correct. I came from the Arcade side. I worked for Arcade since 1996, I believe.
You were also GM of domestic at Universal Music Italy in 2004.
Yes I was. It happened between Roadrunner and me going back to work with Nickelback and Bryan Coleman. I imagine you will remember when Roadrunner sold half of its equity to Island/Def Jam, and the company became a Universal label through the Island/Def Jam connection. My job became, on the one hand, continuing the Nickelback thing, and just doing the traditional international job. I also had to integrate the Roadrunner label into the Universal companies, particularly where the company didnít have offices. Roadrunner had offices in London, Paris and Cologne, but that was it. So in every other country, it was up to me to find the product manager, train them, and to integrate the two companies. As a result of that I spent a time in the various markets.
What a great template for launching International Solutions.
Yes indeed. Universal offered me the (international) job but it just didnít work out.
What plans does International Solutions have to expand?
Our next big market is Canada. We have hired (veteran Canadian label executive) Matt Smallwood. We want to build a big presence in Canada. You canít do that unless you have somebody on the ground. Canada has a special place in my heart for a multitude of reason. I lived in Ottawa for four years as a kid. My dad was posted at the Italian Embassy in Ottawa. I absolutely adored Canada
What position did your dad hold at the time?
I donít know what position he was in. I was too small. It was age 8 to 12 which are really important years.
Was he an ambassador?
He was, but not at the time. He became an ambassador later on in his career. He was in that line of business.
So your family moved around.
We moved every three or four years.
How did you come to be born in France?
Well, my dad was posted at the Italian embassy in Paris when I was born in 1963. We were there for about 3 1/2 years.
You are an Italian citizen?
I hold an Italian passport, yes.
What plans does International Solutions have for working in Canada?
Canada, to me, is the promised land. I have had the privilege of working with big Canadian artists. I now have good clients in Canada. Itís one of the few countries in the world that has this incredible infrastructure for its artists and musicians with the support that the Canadian government through FACTOR, and through The Radio Starmaker Fund which is private funding, Those things are so important (to developing internationally). We stand for export, and excellence in export opportunities. We are actively working to invest time and effort in the Canadian market. We want to champion that market. We want to bring Canadian talent to the world. There is such an amazing array of talent in that country, and we have some fans there. Ralph James (president, The Agency Group in Toronto) is a wonderful friend.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book ďMusic From Far And Wide.Ē
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.
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