Business

eOne Music's Chris Taylor On New Owner Hasbro, Rapid Expansion and Why They Won't Sell Death Row

Chris Taylor
Damon Casarez

Chris Taylor photographed at eOne Music in Santa Monica, Calif., on Feb. 21, 2020.

From the Desk Of: Chris Taylor, global president of Entertainment One Music

When Chris Taylor talks about Entertainment One Music (also known as eOne) becoming Hasbro's new plug-and-play music team, he sounds like a kid in a toy store.

"The amount of opportunity that I was hoping would result from this deal is crystallizing now," says the global president of the New York-, London- and Los Angeles-based music company, speaking from a car en route to Hasbro's Pawtucket, R.I., headquarters. Later that day, Taylor and a group of eOne executives met with Hasbro management and presented a portfolio of music assets, from music supervision and soundtrack production to synch licensing and a production music library, created through eOne's $215 million acquisition of the United Kingdom-based Audio Network in April 2019.

"Hasbro didn't have a music department previous to our arrival," says Taylor. "So we're a really great fit."

Hasbro's $4 billion all-cash acquisition of eOne -- an independent studio that does business in film and TV as well as music -- closed at the end of last year. Since then, Taylor, 54, and his music team have begun to explore the synergistic possibilities with its new owner. Although Hasbro is primarily known as a toy manufacturer, it has developed some of its more popular brands (such as G.I. Joe and Transformers) into lucrative film and TV franchises and is now hashing out how eOne will assist with music for Hasbro's upcoming My Little Pony movie and promotional materials for Dungeons & Dragons, among other projects.

A graduate of Toronto's Osgoode Hall Law School -- Canada's oldest -- the Windsor, Ontario native grew up listening to Detroit radio, founded the rock-reggae band One, which signed to Virgin Records, released a number of albums and toured from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. In 1997, he began practicing entertainment law (his clients included Nelly Furtado, Sum 41, Avril Lavigne and Drake) and in 2004 started his own label and artist management company, Last Gang Entertainment, where he signed Metric, Death From Above 1979 and Crystal Castles. In 2016, Taylor sold Last Gang to eOne and joined the company in his current position, where he has led the music division through a period of aggressive expansion and diversification that helped generate revenue of $121 million ($37.7 million of it from Audio Network) in fiscal year 2019, up from $69 million the previous year.

Damon Casarez
Left: “In the past four years, I’ve traveled three weeks out of every month — I know too many Air Canada and Star Alliance staff by name.” Right: EOne’s TV team and HBO collaborated on the Sharp Objects soundtrack.

He spoke to Billboard about eOne's quest to become "an end-to-end solution" for artists, companies and people that are looking for music and how that dovetails with its new owner's plans.

At this point, has eOne been tapped for any of Hasbro's movie franchises, like Transformers or G.I. Joe?

We're in discussions across the board with respect to music needs. They are doing a feature-length CGI-animated My Little Pony that comes out in 2021, and we've been talking about song and composer ideas. We've spoken with the Wizards of the Coast Dungeons & Dragons team about their music needs for trailers and commercials for their games. Hasbro also has Cake Mix Studios, an in-house department that produces 100 to 150 commercials a year. All of those commercials use music, and we've been having some great discussions with them about their needs.

Since you came to eOne in 2016, you've emphasized diversification. How did you manage to grow the music division so quickly?

I was fortunate in that I joined the music team around the time streaming started to take hold. We had a No. 1 record with The Lumineers that year and streaming set our catalog on fire, so we were able to use some of that revenue, and the enthusiasm of the board and the executive team, to invest in the business. I had a business plan when I arrived that they allowed me to execute, and as we put more results on the scoreboard, they gave me more rope to keep moving forward. There was always a plan to build a management business, to build a music publishing business and to bring in a live division.

Damon Casarez
“We’re the owners of some of the most iconic recordings in history,” says Taylor. “And we have an extensive merchandise program around this legendary brand.”

Is full service the business model to follow now? Today's music industry mantra seems to be, "We want to be a one-stop shop for artists."

We do look at it that way, although maybe not in the same way that it's spoken about in the press. We're an end-to-end solution for people that are looking for music. So if you are producing movies, TV programming, commercials or video games and you are looking for music, we have a whole creative hub that's set up for that. With respect to recording, we don't sell artists on having us do everything for them. We like to say that if we are your manager, we want to be your manager forever. If we need to be the record label or provide more traditional record company or music publishing services, we'll do that -- but that's not our MO. If we're managing you, we are happy to work with great record labels and music publishers. The same applies to somebody who has signed to our label. We're not necessarily looking to get into the manager's chair.

So when one sector of the business is down, another is up?

That -- and having a diverse strategy can also be valuable when you're providing services to management clients. If you are managing a developing artist that's signed to an outside label, the label may not be doing everything you need them to be doing. We have the option to lean on some of the record label service teams that we have, such as in-house radio, press and marketing.

Damon Casarez
“It’s our job to familiarize ourselves with Hasbro’s brands, starting with Dungeons & Dragons [to] Magic: The Gathering to Transformers to Monopoly — what a job!”

Does your label services team also work with artists signed to other labels?

Yep. If we have someone who's the head of radio in a certain genre, they've got a slate of artists and priorities, so they can't run a campaign for an artist who is managed by us but signed elsewhere. But our head of radio can certainly review plans, make a couple of calls, help to oversee the strategy and provide advice to the managers. For example, we're in the middle of that right now with a band we manage called Arkells. Caroline is the record label in the U.S. However, we are looking at radio strategies. We're tapping into our synch team to find opportunities for them. Their single "Years in the Making" came out Feb. 25, and we are having conversations and emails on that right now. The label is signing the checks, spending the money and quarterbacking the strategy. We try to be complementary to that.

Where do you see eOne in relation to the other mini majors?

We're in that Concord, BMG, AWAL kind of universe, but we're a bit of a different animal in that we do records in a real traditional way. I know that's a bit of a dirty word for some people, but we're proud of the expertise that we have in-house, and it's not available to 1,000 artists. We sign less, and we're going to really dig in and roll up our sleeves for the ones that we believe in. We'll let other people sign 1,000 artists and take credit for the one or two that work -- we'd rather sign 50 and have 40 of them making money.

Damon Casarez
“These buses remind us where we came from: selling music around the streets of Toronto in the ’90s.”


How did your $215 million acquisition of Audio Network last April fit into your diversification strategy?

It really added significant scale and gave us a significant publishing catalog. It also provided us with an administrative backbone that enables us to administer [publishing] in-house.

When eOne was acquired, the media made much of the company behind My Little Pony and Sesame Street toys also owning Death Row Records. Does Hasbro plan to hang on to the label?

Yes, it does. I always say that's like owning the original recordings of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry. The Death Row recordings are seminal hip-hop recordings. We do amazing business with them — and there are no plans to sell. It's an important part of our business. And who doesn't love Snoop Dogg? Everybody loves Uncle Snoop.

This article originally appeared in the March 14, 2020 issue of Billboard.