The Hot Seat: Rob Lewis

Published in The Music Network


Rob Lewis’ head is in the cloud. In the constantly evolving digital marketplace, the cloud is a once mythical place where consumers can access all the music in the world wherever they are. Lewis’ UK-based Omnifone has helped make that concept a reality. After more than six years in business, Omnifone is now recognised as a leading provider of cloud-based digital content services to blue-chip consumer electronics firms. Omnifone is behind the all-you-can eat Music Station, which was named Best Mobile Music Service at the 2008 Global Mobile awards. The previous year, Lewis signed all four major labels to international licensing deals for its unlimited music offerings. Now Omnifone is on the expansion trail. TMN caught up with the tech exec, who will speak at the Music Matters conference in Hong Kong on May 26th-28th.

Mobile music has been slow to take off in Australia, but over-the-wire digital music is soaring. What’s stunting mobile music here?
If you want to get consumers to adopt mobile music on a mass-market scale, you have to make sure you create a service people really enjoy. A lot of the user experiences that were brought to the market in the early days were not that great. A lot of the platforms coming out now – particularly the Android devices – will enable a much better user experience to be delivered on mobile and will take an immense market share in a very short period of time. You have about 22 million mobile subscribers in Australia, and just over five million broadband households. There’s huge opportunity out there. But if the user experience is anything other than brilliant, then adoption will always be low.

So what do mobile consumers want?
The strongest growth factor over the next 12-24 months will see the major rights owners bundle free music services with the devices when they’re shipped, and then the consumer has the opportunity to renew (the music subscription). We’ve got to get away from the idea of filemanagement. It seems crazy to me that we live in a world of music where people spend all their time managing digital-media files, renaming them and backing them up. If you could get to a world where you just turn on the device and you immediately access channels of music, with a great way of navigating and discovering new music, that’s how you hit that main market.

You’ve appointed a new CEO, and you’ve become executive chairman. Why?
Nine months ago, I decided I’d like to focus on our strategic partnerships with major rights owners, major consumer electronics companies and stakeholders. And we needed a full-time CEO who was focused on making sure we were a well-oiled machine. We were lucky to secure the services of Jeff Hughes (former EVP and Chief Information Officer at satellite broadcaster BSkyB). The lessons Jeff has learned at Sky we’ll apply to ensure the music industry can see faster growth in subscription services globally. We’re expanding to 30 countries (up from 20) within the next year. We’ll have a very significant rollout in the US as part of a global rollout.

What is the big challenge for the mobile music market?
Over the past five to six years, there have been a lot of false dawns. What we’re seeing now is a lot of the devices out there in the market – PCs, Blu-Ray players, TVs, and car systems that are increasingly being connected and are powerful enough to have really high-quality user services. I’m a big believer of the concept of cloud-based digital music services. And that is all genuinely happening at the moment. It’s a very exciting place to be, because it still is very much the early days. Over here in Europe, 80% of consumers say they’ve never downloaded or played a single digital music track in their life, whereas 95% of consumers have bought at least one CD. The vast number of consumers have yet to adapt. There is no question that you’ll see a lot more players coming to the market over the next 12 months rolling stuff out globally.

How is the recorded music business going to get over the hump?
The most important component is providing a user experience that is better than piracy, and better than what we’re delivering today, and to do that on a massive scale. Ironically the two places that are not particularly well served are the living room and the car. That’s where we really need to get to if we want to hit the more wealthy demographics who are never going to be using an MP3 player. Behind the scenes, there is a lot of activity in both of those areas, and they are being thought out. If we can get that great user experience, then we’ll see adoption from them and revenue cascading down from it.

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Born Again

Published in Billboard Magazine

When Sia returned to the airwaves in late 2009 with the infectious track “You’ve Changed,” it was clear the quirky U.S.-based Australian singer born Sia Furler had indeed transformed, with her previous jazzy, soulful style taking a much more dance-oriented direction.

Championed by national radio network Nova, the track cracked the Australian Recording Industry Assn.’s top 20. Yet it was a song she’d initially given away to her fans last December. “She made the track available as a teaser [for new album “We Are Born”] via Twitter,” says her manager David Russell of IE Music. Russell confirms the album’s direction “marks a significant change for Sia,” but says initial media and industry response “has been enormously positive.”

Furler’s fourth album, “We Are Born” follows 2008 set “Some People Have Real Problems,” which hit No. 26 on the Billboard 200. “We Are Born” streets June 18 in Australia on Monkey Puzzle/Inertia, June 21 in Continental Europe on RCA/Sony, June 22 in the United States on Jive and July 5 in the United Kingdom on RCA.

After winding up U.S. shows booked by Paradigm May 8, Furler plays European dates booked by X-Ray Touring that end May 27 with a sold-out London Roundhouse show. In August, Furler will play four U.S. dates on the Lilith Fair tour. The artist is published by EMI Music Publishing.

The Hot Seat: Terry McBride

Published in The Music Network


Terry McBride is Canada’s definitive music industry networker. The entrepreneur is CEO of the aptly-named Nettwerk Music Group, a company he founded and operated from his bedroom back in 1984. Now, the business is an international empire with seven offices on both sides of the Atlantic and more than 130 staff on its books.

The Vancouver-based group’s assets include Nettwerk Management (Sarah McLachlan, Dido, Katherine Jenkins), Nettwerk Asia, music publisher Nettwerk One and recording division Nettwerk Records, which boasts sales upwards of 150 million units.
This year, McBride is revisiting the popular all-girl Lilith Fair, and he continues to oversee the development of Polyphonic, a venture which provides funding for artists and their management to run their own businesses. The exec will take a place on the speakers’ podium at the Music Matters conference May 26-28 in Hong Kong, where he will opine on future models of the music business. TMN caught up with him.

How is the Lilith tour shaping up?

It is up to 37 dates and we’ll go through about 100 artists in those shows. So you can only imagine the logistical nightmare that it is. We held Lilith in north America from 1997-1999 and when we ran it was the biggest-grossing festival tour in the world (taking almost US$53 million and raising US$10 million for charity). It obviously resonated. I’m actually surprised no-one took that concept and ran with it. Although they probably realised it’s a shit-load of work.

Why did it go back on shelf for so many years?

Because it was a shit-load of work. We’re not concert promoters. At a certain point, we were like ‘three years is more than long enough. We want to get our lives back’. It’s a great festival, it has great causes behind it and it’s going to have great music. There’s obviously great upside to it. We are hoping to bring Lilith to Australia in late September or October. We’re still working it out.

You don’t have an office in Australia. Is that on the cards?

We always looked at it. But we’ve got so much going here. We have to amplify things that we’re really good at. We have some great partnerships over there, but you’ve got to have the passion to go do it. And we just don’t the passion. It’s easier to work with local partners.

You launched Polyphonic in 2009 with former Mama Group co-CEO Adam Driscoll and Brian Message of ATC and Courtyard. Any news?

Polyphonic is a venture fund which invests in artists that we think have very smart business plans. The whole concept is to allow those artists to have the best services around them. It’s a very simple model, but it’s way, way too early to see the fruits of it.

The IFPI’s latest Recording Industry In Numbers handbook indicated 13 markets returned to growth in 2009, Australia being one of them. Do you see a real return to growth or was last year just a kink?

We will feel a bit more pain, definitely within North America. But we’re not far from the bottom. Although it’s been in recession now for 11 years, I’m actually quite optimistic about the business.

What sort of sophisticated branding partnerships do you see happening?

Where I come from, artists are brands. It’s really a matter of what verticals they feel comfortable with and how we can maximise them. Very smart management has to look at those alignments and understand how to market them. Each situation is unique. Have I seen anything out there that has blown me away, I can’t say I have.

In recent years, you’ve had Avril Lavigne and Barenaked Ladies leave your stable. What did you learn from those experiences?

Artists always leave. Probably 95% of all artists are not with the managers that they started with. It’s the nature of artists. Avril moves down to L.A., she wants an LA manager. In the case of the Barenaked Ladies, the band had a drug bust and one of the main singer-songwriters left. That was not what I signed on for. I tend to view the world differently. My sense is that managers don’t hang out with artists, even if the artists want them to. That’s because managers have to market artists from a world-wide point of view.

Have you identified areas of the music business you’d like to move in to?

Not really. You can get your fingers in so many things and completely forget about what really drives you and what you’re really passionate about. I’d rather spend a lot of my time clarifying things that I do well and the things that I love.

What are those things?

Music, management and creatively working with artists to market music. I just love doing that. But that’s just me. This is a whole company, not just me.

So what is the future direction of Nettwerk.

That changes everyday. It’s about being nimble, to release music that we love. To understand that the right answer kills all creativity and there’s no such thing as the right answer. To take those points of view, ditch the ego and just be really passionate about what we do.


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