How We Work Now: Reservoir President/COO Rell Lafargue

Rell Lafargue
Steve Blackburn

Rell Lafargue

In a new series 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 Rell Lafargue, president/COO of Reservoir.

Rell Lafargue: We’re a company that started small in the digital age. We were born at a time where streaming was not even really here yet, and piracy and Napster was everywhere and CD sales were sliding. We never had a huge Tuesday where 1.4 million units of an *NSYNC CD were sold, or stuff like that. So the way we started the company was completely digital. We only have one filing cabinet in the whole office, and it’s just because it has a bunch of cool stickers on it. We only hand-write one check a year, for one particular royalty recipient that just refuses to take an ACH. We’re built like that.

We’re very fortunate to be music publishers where, you know, touring cancellations are not going to crush us. We have two different management companies that we own that are going to have a tough year. But music publishing is really the anchor. And the reality is, for music publishing, we’re not going to see dips for probably nine months, maybe 12 months out in income. So we have plenty of time to prepare for what’s going to happen.

But on a day to day basis, it’s dramatically different, because we’re on one constant Zoom meeting from 8am to 8pm. It starts early in the morning with London -- we have Chrysalis Records in London as part of our group of companies, and a Reservoir office there as well -- so I start the morning off with them. Then my six-year-old starts his first Zoom call at 8:45. So I go from phone calls to cooking breakfast with my wife, to getting my first-grader set up on his first Zoom lesson, and then my three-year-old has a Zoom call that starts between 10 and 11. The grocery stores here are only open from nine to six, so you’ve got to schedule time to go and get things that you need to live. And probably before we hang up this call you’ll hear one of my children in the background screaming about something. That’s just the reality. Everyone’s dealing with it. We’re still trying to figure it out.

The one funny thing that I’ve taken away from this is the virtual background for Zoom. It’s really important to me, because I have a photo of the background of my desk that I put up, and then I can be anywhere in the house. So I can actually be standing at a changing table in my three-year-old’s bedroom with a virtual background, and nobody knows that I’m actually in a child’s room with Peppa Pig things going on around me, you know?

Our two management companies -- Big Life Management in London and Blue Raincoat Artists -- immediately their tours got canceled. So that’s somewhat devastating. Chrysalis Records, the catalog took a dip in streaming in March, but it’s kind of leveled off to where it was and seems to be pretty steady and back to normal, where consumption has picked up again. It’s not so dramatic there. But the physical products that we release are just not happening anymore. We had a fantastic Record Store Day set up with eight different releases that were really cool, and they’re going to come out at some point. So we’re taking the approach that the hit to the physical business is just going to be a timing issue. By the time we get to the end of 2021, we hope things will be about where they should have been to begin with, just a little bit later.

What I’m seeing from the synch team is that the briefs are completely different from what they were. Lots of the briefs that are coming in will be slow songs that build, themes like, "We’re going to be back stronger." Where you would normally see Black Keys or Imagine Dragons, they’re going more towards emotional things that are trying to strike an upbeat tone, have some hope, things like that.

We just had two placements go live [last] week. One is an Intel spot featuring one of our writers, Jordan Mackampa, who has a song called "Battle Cry." Then there’s another one with Frontier Communications with "What Did You Learn In School Today?" which is an old Tom Paxton song. There are some more that are still in the works. But in publishing, a lot of people believe synch is going to be hit by ad dollars going away. Which may be true. But we’re seeing video consumption go up, which is good, and more subscribers to video platforms. So I don’t think all hope is lost there. And here we are with some of these placements that are paying like normal synchs and ads do. So I think the jury is still out on how synch is going to be impacted this year.

Reservoir has seats on all the major [industry trade] boards. I personally sit on the Music Publishers Canada board, and on the board of the MLC. We also have people on the NMPA board and the MPA board, which is the U.K. version. In Canada, it’s really about sounding off to the government about what the industry needs and making sure that the people in the industry know where to get the aid. I’m also on the board of the AIMP, the New York chapter, and I think from the day we shut the office down -- it’s chaired by Alisa Coleman from ABKCO -- she was on with the Mayor’s office and city officials talking about what the indie publishers need. It’s really about getting government aid to companies and trying to keep businesses afloat right now.

I think we may see people never come back to the office, that appreciate working from home and think it’s a quality of life improvement. And then other people may value the office a lot more. I value the office, working with people and being in a team and putting things together, working together to make things happen. You can do a lot of that over the phone, you can write songs over Zoom, but getting together and creating together and doing good business together is something that I’m going to continue to value.

Coronavirus

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