Chrysalis Music/Blue Raincoat CEO Jeremy Lascelles Talks U.S. Plans & Reviving An 'Unloved And Abandoned' Catalog
Blue Raincoat Music was founded in 2014 by former Chrysalis Music CEO Jeremy Lascelles and Grammy-winning record producer Robin Millar, with backing from Chrysalis Records co-founder Chris Wright and Robert Devereux, best known for partnering Richard Branson in the formation of the Virgin Entertainment group.
Initially specializing in artist management and publishing, the London-based company acquired Chrysalis Records from Warner Music Group in 2016. Artists on the roster include The Specials, Sinead O'Connor, The Waterboys, Ten Years After, Grant Lee Buffalo, Lucinda Williams, Fun Lovin' Criminals, Steve Harley, Fun Boy Three, Athlete, Ultravox and Everything But The Girl, who licensed their catalog to Chrysalis last year.
The acquisition has proved shrewd business with the Chrysalis catalog generating revenues of £3.7 million ($4.8 million) in the first half of 2018, according to its latest financial results, compared to just over £200,000 ($260,000) in the nine months prior to the sale.
In the meantime, Blue Raincoat's artist management business has been steadily growing its footprint in the U.S. through the additions of New York-based Ed Harris, whose clients include Cigarettes After Sex, and L.A.-based Darin Harmon, who represents Phoebe Bridgers.
"We've got the scope and the facilities now to bring in other artists and other artist managers," says Lascelles, reflecting on a successful start to the company and eying future growth on a global scale.
Billboard: You spent 17 years at Chrysalis, from 1994 to 2011, after which it was virtually mothballed. Was it always your intention to one day acquire and return the label to independent ownership?
Jeremy Lascelles: If it hadn't been Chrysalis it would have been something else, but Chrysalis was a particularly lovely catalog for us to acquire. It filled all the criteria I was looking for, which was strong classic repertoire from across the eras. It was a key moment for us. It gave us the ability to expand to the level where we could provide comprehensive services across artist management, publishing and records. When I first conceived of what this business might look like I always pictured a company that was not just a record company. Not just a publishing company. Not just a management company. But all of the above. We try and keep the walls between who works for the publishing, record and management business very thin.
After acquiring the label, how did you go about reviving it?
Without pointing fingers, Chrysalis had been an unloved orphan for many years. When we got our hands on it, it needed some extensive house cleaning and tender loving care. We needed to clean up all the metadata and how the catalog was positioned on streaming and digital platforms. We needed to take all the cheap unattractive physical reissues out of the market. We had to focus on the sync opportunities and we had to engage with the artists. When we reached out to them shortly after the acquisition most of them said, ‘We didn't even know who our record company was for our catalogue. It's changed hands so many times.'
How bad a state was the catalog in at this point?
A good example is the Specials' "Ghost Town." If you searched for it on Spotify you landed on a 1980s compilation, which is not a very rewarding experience for the customer and is not good for the artist or label because it generates half-rate royalties. There was also a Steve Harley live album that featured studio recordings instead of the live versions. Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" wasn't available to stream as [the song's writer] Prince had withdrawn all his rights from all digital platforms apart from Tidal. I had to do a lot of work behind the scenes with the Prince estate to get that back on streaming services. So we had to do a lot of tidying up to make sure that with all our key songs you ended up in the right place on the platforms. It was a very labour intensive operation, but the catalog is now in a very healthy state and now gets around one million streams per day, compared to 250,000 when we bought it.
You've also begun a programme of physical catalog reissues. How important is that to the overall business?
They're all important parts of the business. There's still a strong physical business and when you put out high quality physical product that has a knock-on effect on increasing your streaming numbers. We now only put into the market high quality, beautifully packaged physical product that the artists approve of and that carries the appropriate price.
Are you looking to sign new artists to Chrysalis?
We made a very conscious decision that, for the time being, Chrysalis is going to be a catalog label. When we bring new artists into the team it's either signing them for publishing or bringing them in as managed clients. It's a simple economic decision. Signing a new act to release records and committing the sort of money that you need to break an act is a very high risk strategy.
How significant is the addition of U.S.-based managers Darin Harmon and Ed Harris to the company in terms of your global plans?
What we've done with Darin and Ed is bring in two managers who are sole operators, managing great artists, but finding that there are not enough hours in the day to do all that needs to be done. By bringing them into our organization I can offer them a team of people to assist them in all the key areas: logistics, digital marketing, administrative and financial support, boosting sync opportunities. I'm extremely excited about how we will now grow that business. Both Darin and Ed have got the capacity to bring in other artists, which is something they are actively looking at doing. I'm extremely proud that both Ed and Darin have committed themselves to Blue Raincoat and I think that Cigarettes After Sex and Phoebe Bridgers are two of the most brilliant artists to have emerged out of the alternative music scene in the past few years.
What are your future ambitions for Blue Raincoat Music and Chrysalis?
There's room for growth in all areas. There's room to buy more catalog to add to the Chrysalis repertoire. We're constantly looking at signing new artists to our publishing company and we're looking at lots of different ways at expanding our management business. We're always looking for smart managers with his or her acts to come and join us. Equally, we're building a team of managers where we can attract clients directly. I feel extremely confident that we've got a team, resource and international presence that can provide all the services an artist requires.
What do you and Robin Millar bring to Blue Raincoat that helps distinguish it from other music companies?
If you've been around for a while and you haven't been booted out of the industry, you pick up that important thing called experience. Having said that, in some areas you still know nothing. There are so many new aspects of the business I'm learning from the 20-year-olds in my team. Hopefully what Robin and I can bring is an overview of how a business can work and assist our artists in whichever way is appropriate. The important thing is that we're having fun. We think we've got a very attractive vibrant new business and we're looking forward to keeping on doing it until it stops being fun.