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BACK CATALOG, UP FRONT
Talking Retail, Streaming and Strategy with UMe’s Bruce Resnikoff, Legacy’s Adam Block and Rhino’s Mark Pinkus

Interview by Phil Gallo

The gurus of catalog—Universal Music Enterprises President and CEO Bruce Resnikoff, Legacy Recordings President Adam Block and Rhino Entertainment President Mark Pinkus —gave us their impressions about making oldies work in the world of streaming, creating new audiences for heritage acts and the future of licensing.

In 2015, catalog sales topped new music sales for the first time. Obviously streaming is affecting the sales of new albums, but what is helping catalog items hold steady?

Bruce Resnikoff: You have all of this history at your fingertips. Music that is no longer stocked in many stores—even music that in some cases was never readily available during the hey-days of brick and mortar—is now more consumer-friendly. Sale pricing on classic records helps keep demand high and the higher priced deluxe versions have fueled a rabid collectors market.

Mark Pinkus: Great catalog albums cross generations. Whether it’s Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead or The Ramones, classic artists are being discovered on a daily basis by the next generation of music fans.

Adam Block: As playlists continue to become a bigger part of our listening experience, there are more opportunities for catalog to be exposed to the wider audience.

Is streaming building new fan bases for heritage acts or satisfying the older music fan?
MP: Streaming is a great gateway to vinyl purchases. Look at a younger-skewing retailer like Urban Outfitters and the success they are having with vinyl. In all likelihood, that is a streaming customer that is shopping there. It’s one thing to stream The DoorsL.A. Woman but at some point you’re going to want to hear it the way it was supposed to be heard—on vinyl.

AB: Ironically, at this moment in time, one could argue that—depending on the vintage or genre—streaming is building new audiences more than satisfying older ones. 

BR: So much classic music has been ingrained into the pop culture through the increased use of classic music in television shows, TV commercials and video games. And by the same token, a big part of the rise in streaming numbers for classic titles is the fact that the services are attracting a wider and older demographic as they become more consumer-friendly. We have seen great examples of both of these phenomena with the incredible success of The Beatles once their music was introduced through streaming services, as well as with the extraordinary growth in streaming numbers for Frank Sinatra during and after the celebration of his 100th birthday.

Is streaming a be-all, end-all service or can it be used to drive purchases? Any evidence/anecdotes about its role in catalog?
MP: For the artists, we are focused on marketing them via both “old” and “new” media. We’re more hands-on with our artists than ever before. And while we continue to mine the vaults for great content from the past, we are also actively signing and releasing new recordings from heritage artists. Some of our releases this year that I am the most excited about are brand new albums from Cyndi Lauper, The Monkees and Jeff Beck.

AB: We continue to defy the doom prophets by sustaining a real physical business. Is it for every title and every consumer? Absolutely not. But are there music fans out there still hungry for and appreciative of a rich, tactile, permanent experience with certain albums or recorded bodies of work? No question about it. Using streaming to remind or attract fans is one of many tactics we use to create awareness and dialog around our artists and music that can stimulate deeper discovery and/or engagement. 

BR: While it is difficult to quantify, I think the answer is that streaming still drives purchases. We know that many users of Apple Music still buy downloads, and the popularity of vinyl releases, especially among younger audiences, only reinforces this view. I think this will be proven even more so as we see the continued growth in premium subscription services. 

As catalog labels expand offerings of new recordings and new archival material, how has it affected those labels and the services they need to offer?
BR: First and foremost, the successful catalog labels need to be much more of a full-service marketing and branding company than just compilers, reissuers and distributors. To stay relevant and competitive, we have transitioned from a company that simply culls the vaults and runs sales programs to an entity that actively creates playlists, develops and markets new music and music-related products and engages directly with our consumers for both editorial and commercial purposes. We also work very closely with artists and labels to make sure everything we do with an active artist’s catalog is representative and supportive of their brand and attractive to their fans. The importance of our partnership with our labels and their artists cannot be understated.

AB: I don’t think it’s affected Legacy any differently than any other label out there, catalog or otherwise. Our job has long been to find ways to tell the best stories we can about each and reach as wide an audience as possible. That hasn’t changed. How we do that, where we do that and with whom certainly has. To that end, the skills to create compelling content in multiple formats and for many mediums as storytelling vehicles driving to our artists and music are being developed. Also and again, this isn’t unique to catalog the volume of data we now have available to us is astounding. Developing the skills to manage and effectively utilize it represents an interesting new challenge for us.

With Broadway, commercials and video games consistently mined, is there a new avenue for catalog exploitation that is poised to take off?AB: With the increasing ease of access and the growing understanding of availability, we’re hoping we see the continued growth of music as a lifestyle component. The idea of “music with...” is a compelling one. Once the broader public understands how simple it is to have music in your life any time and anywhere you want, I’d hope we’ll see the next level of creativity emerge in exposure and discovery.

BR: There is always a new avenue. Sometimes that avenue leads us to a refreshing retake on the past, as is the case with the unprecedented success of vinyl. Other times it’s about new technology that allows us to deliver higher quality music than we ever could imagine. Of course there is a renewed interest in the film community in artist-based and music-centric films that continues to drive new fans to our music.  And from a commercial standpoint, the opportunity to engage directly with our consumer opens doors we never had before and I in this regard I think the possibilities are endless.

 

For thoughts on some recent catalog offerings, visit our Critics' Choice section.

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