Business

How We Work Now: SoundExchange President/CEO Mike Huppe

Michael Huppe
Courtesy of SoundExchange

Michael Huppe

In a new series launching amid the coronavirus pandemic, Billboard is asking individuals from all sectors of the music business to share stories of how they work now, with much of the world quarantined at home and unable to take in-person meetings, attend conferences or even go into the office. Submissions for the series can be sent to HowWeWorkNow@Billboard.com. Read the full series here

This installment is with Mike Huppe, president/CEO of SoundExchange, the nonprofit rights organization that collects and distributes digital performance royalties around the world.

Mike Huppe: I’m in Virginia where the governor announced a lockdown through June 10 — but it’s Virginia, so the golf courses are still open.

SoundExchange is digital native. We were already pretty tech-savvy. We’re already in the cloud. I suspect us going fully remote was not the leap it is for some other companies. But even being digitally advanced and having a pretty young, astute and adept culture, to go fully remote has its challenges.

We started working remotely a little earlier than others, because I wanted to make sure if there were any challenges we worked them out before our royalty distribution started to run. We were remote a full week before our distribution ran and I think that was last week we did it -- God, it seems like a month ago.

Our No. 1 goal was to not interrupt the payment flow and we succeeded by paying $114 million to almost 30,000 payees. Working remotely, you’ve got to think about money going out, how and where the checks are cut. You’ve got to think about incoming payments. You have to make sure they translate to working remotely so you can keep up your monthly payments. We didn’t house them in our offices. We needed to make sure those banking relationships and the process and the interaction with our payment vendors can still happen remotely.

We’re all going to come back different people and come back different companies. After this emergency experiment, people will use video more and travel less. Relationships will always be critical in this industry. But I think when it’s a close call whether to make that trip or not, people are more often going to do it by video. I’ve already decided our June board meeting in New York will be virtual instead in person.

This situation is forcing us to be much more strategic about the meetings we do and don’t have. Maybe the greater challenge of having a video meeting puts into stark contrast the number of meetings we all have. Slack used to be the place to do quick hits where you don’t need emails and you need an immediate answer. But I will definitely be doing Slack video more. On one hand, video will probably replace what would otherwise have been in-person meetings. But I think it’ll also replace what used to be just a phone call.

From a business perspective, there’s very little that you can’t do that you did in the office. The question is, how efficient is this? For example, we have collaborative events where being in the same room is crucial. There are tools to do that online, such as white boarding technology, but those creative environments with a certain chemistry in the room are a bit harder to translate online.

We’re social creatures, right? There’s a million non-strictly business benefits that come from being in an office space. It’s the ability to bump into somebody coming off the elevator and strike up the informal conversation. That’s what I miss the most.

Recreating the real world is difficult, but I’ve tried to expand and think creatively to replace the unscheduled interactions that don’t happen online. I do one-off phone calls or video calls with people throughout the company just to check in with people on the executive team and people I might otherwise bump into in the hallway or see when we’re getting coffee. I encourage the executive team and everyone down the line to do that type of thing.

I did a virtual town hall the other day with the whole staff. It’s technically the same thing -- I was speaking to them and they were submitting questions through the app and I could answer and engage with them.

And I’m in the process of scheduling a couple virtual happy hours with people on the staff where everyone gets online and you have your beverage of choice. Rather than being an agenda-driven meeting, it’s just a chance to get together and connect on as human a level as you can on video.

We had a spring all-staff team-building event we had to cancel. We have other department events and team-building events that had to be canceled. I would add that to the list of what’s missing. Once we’re all back together, I’d definitely like to do something to commemorate the reunion of real people in a real office setting again.

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