The Hot Seat: Willard Ahdritz

Published in The Music Network


We chat to Willard Ahdritz, Founder and CEO of Kobalt Music Group about setting up an Australian branch, their deal with Mushroom and new revenue streams.

Willard, why have you set-up an affiliate Down Under?
We’ve been looking at Australia for a couple of years. We have quite a strong Anglo-US catalogue, and Australia is high up there on that list. We took a strategic decision at Kobalt to go from 30 to 40 direct territories in the world. We set the company up 10 years ago and we now collect money from 100 territories and reach 90 employees, but we felt it was a natural expansion for Kobalt to continue pushing on.

It makes sense for us to invest in the Australian market, to expand our local representation, and to develop new creative opportunities and revenue streams. It’s part of a big strategic expansion plan for us.

And you’ll be active in the New Zealand market?
New Zealand is definitely a big focus. We’re excited about the New Zealand market, and what can be achieved there for the current international roster, as well as the potential there is with the artists and writers there. We’ll be putting in place staff and key alliances which will enable us to offer a full-service publishing company in Australia and New Zealand.

What shape will the new Sydney office take?
Simon Moor (managing director of Kobalt Music Publishing Australia and New Zealand) will have the key creative and certain licensing and functions. He’ll be finding sync opportunities for our global clients, and developing new opportunities for all our writers and artists and working with Kobalt’s international roster. We already have eight people working across the Australian business, rolling out our centralised technology. I want people on my team who are passionate, people who like change, who are curious about Kobalt.

We waited to find the right person to lead that expansion, and we were introduced to Simon through a mutual colleague. Simon, I felt, is that person and we pushed the button. When it comes to our creative signings, we have a very boutique approach to it. And when a writer or an artist or a publishing catalogue is brought into the Kobalt system, it has a global team behind it. We have a global approach.

What does Kobalt bring to the Australian market?
Simon (Moor) will launch the next generation of our Digital 3.0 digital collection platform. Songwriters and publishers will now have a simple matrix, which enables them to see what they will receive on each song from each digital service provider in each territory.

The portal provides unprecedented data on global digital music revenue streams, data on products tracked and audiovideo performance royalties collected from licensed content in global film and TV productions.

It’s an enormous step forward in transparency. It’s a model that wasn’t present in Australia. I saw a real opportunity for Kobalt not only bring more to the writers and artists we’ve signed already internationally, but to bring these opportunities to the local artists and writers. Our system and business model is transparent and efficient, and it increases writer revenues. We’ve revolutionised the entire music publishing industry.

And where does this leave your longterm sub-publishing arrangement with Mushroom Music Publishing?
Mushroom has given us great service with will iard ahdritz over the past nine years. I know (Mushroom Music Publishing) MD Ian James and (Mushroom Group Chairman) Michael Gudinski very well, but we both understand that this is a natural evolution for Kobalt. (Our arrangement) concludes at the end of the year.

Simon became MD of the Australasian company on September 1. Are there any new signings?
Not yet, but it is in the pipe. Australia and NZ are very exciting markets for us. There’s something in Australia that makes people positive. The people are friendly and the music is great.

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