Women in Music 2016

PIAS Acquires Classical Specialist Label Harmonia Mundi

Photo Credit: Christophe Beauregard
Eva Coutaz of Harmonia Mundi and (left) and Kenny Gates of PIAS. 

European independent PIAS has acquired historic classical, jazz and world music label Harmonia Mundi for an undisclosed sum.

Effective Oct. 1, the deal comprises the company's music assets and catalog, but does not include its book publishing or retail interests. Founded in 1958 by Bernard Coutaz, France-based Harmonia Mundi has over 100 staff working across its record label, music publishing and distribution divisions, with international offices in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, the U.K. and U.S. 

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Labels within its roster include Ambronay, Discograph, Le Chant du Monde and World Village, while renowned conductor René Jacobs, countertenor Dominique Visse and American-born William Christie are among the big name contemporary artists associated with the classical specialist.

Coutaz passed away in 2010, leaving his widow Eva Coutaz in charge of the company, which like many in the record business has struggled with falling sales in recent years. Following PIAS's acquisition, she will remain a consultant to the board and, in a statement, called the independent "the right home for our legacy." Coutaz went on to say that the deal leaves "Harmonia Mundi is in safe hands and [we] are confident that there is an exciting future ahead."

"It's the perfect supplement to what we do," PIAS co-founder Kenny Gates told Billboard. "It doesn't cannibalize any of our existing roster or labels and adds another dimension to the company and its offering. Together we are stronger, so therefore we are more powerful and can sell more records."

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According to Gates, Harmonia Mundi currently generates revenues of around €30 million per annum ($33 million), although he is confident that by integrating its operations into PIAS's international marketing and distribution network the company can "blossom and grow."

"Harmonia Mundi is a hidden gem which inherited a culture of not really wanting to do much marketing. Founder [Bernard Coutaz] was a purist and believed that people should love the music simply because it's great. I believe that with the right tweaks in how the music is presented to the public we can market records in a successful way to grow the fan base of classical music and Harmonia Mundi artists and labels," said Gates, who doesn't envisage any job losses as a result of the acquisition. Instead, he predicts steady growth in the still nascent classical music streaming sector, which he believes to be "two or three years behind the rock and pop market."   

"We haven't really scratched the surface with streaming services and classical music because streaming services are primarily designed to sell pop music." That is likely to change in the near future, he said, as platforms such as Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music begin to "embrace what classical fans really need."

Despite his hopes for the genre and Harmonia Mundi, which is PIAS's first excursion into the classical music business, further acquisitions are not on the horizon, said Gates.

"This is not about industrial growth. This is about keeping quality music within an independent framework," he said. "We have no plans to further expand apart from growing Harmonia Mundi up from where it is."