BMG Acquires Legendary Australian Indie Alberts

BMG has landed one of its most significant acquisitions to date in buying J Albert & Son Pty Ltd, the great Australian independent recording and publishing company which launched the careers of AC/DC and the Easybeats and many others.

Through the new deal, the 131-year-old Alberts will form part of BMG Australia, the Sydney-based operation of BMG which launched just three months ago with former Universal Publishing A&R executive Heath Johns at the helm. Financial terms of the pact were not disclosed. 

“This is an incredible opportunity to create a new leader in Australian music, combining Alberts’ strengths with BMG’s 21st century approach to the music business,” notes BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch in a statement. “As of today, Australian artists and songwriters wishing to tap into the world market have a genuine alternative to the established majors. BMG is very serious about the Australian market and this deal is an indication of our commitment.”

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Alberts' roots date back to 1885, when Swiss watchmaker and musician Jacques Albert opened what was then a watch and clock repair shop. The company expanded quickly to sell musical instruments and sheet music and, later, became active in music publishing, recording, recording studios, and artist management.

Today, its HQ in central Sydney is a castle of Aussie rock royalty. The family business has published songs and released records from some of the leading figures in Australian music, from Easybeats and their songwriters Harry Vanda, George Young and Stevie Wright, to AC/DC, John Paul Young, Rose Tattoo and contemporary artists Megan Washington, Josh Pyke, Urthboy, the Cat Empire and San Cisco, among many others.

The Alberts family retains its rights in the AC/DC and Vanda and Young catalogs, though BMG will administer the works on Alberts’ behalf. 

Alberts' outgoing CEO David Albert admits the decision to sell was a difficult one to make. "It’s positive for the business and for the future," he tells Billboard. "But the other emotion is, all the family feels there’s a sense of sadness that it’s the end of a 131-year era. What makes it a bit easier from the family’s perspective is we made it together. But there couldn’t be more mixed emotions." 

Johns, who will run the newly-enlarged company in his role as BMG Australia managing director, says the acquisition represents a “big vote of confidence in Australian talent and a recognition of Australia’s status as the biggest international exporter of recording talent after the U.S. and U.K."  He adds, "One of the core focuses on this deal is the huge amount of belief in the contemporary writer and artist roster of Alberts. We’ll be welcoming them with open arms."

It's too early to talk job losses, Albert and Johns explain. One thing is certain: Albert will be stepping away from the business. Johns, however, notes there will be "significant opportunity" within BMG for a number of Alberts staffers."There's been a concerted effort to delay a number of key hires knowing there was a strong possibility this deal would materialize," he explains. 

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Since late 2008, Masuch has built Bertelsmann Rights Management into one of the largest music companies in the world (BMG has recently claimed to be the world’s fourth biggest music publisher).

The company began with about 150 master recordings held back from the sale of Bertelsmann’s share of the Sony BMG merger to Sony. BMG currently represents more than 2 million songs and recordings, including the catalogs of Chrysalis, Bug, Virgin, Mute, Sanctuary, Primary Wave and Talpa Music. Masuch has boasted in recent years a mission to put "BMG on the map for recorded music in the same way it is for music publishing." 

Though its still in its infancy, BMG’s Australian affiliate has signed up such Australian artists as Peking Duk, Wolfmother, LDRU, The Living End’s Chris Cheney and Wave Racer. "We have a small and healthy roster, but it's not a fully-formed roster," Johns tells Billboard. "There’s plenty of room to accommodate the entire contemporary Alberts roster." 

Albert reflects on the closing of an important chapter in Australian music. "This was not about going around and finding someone willing to pay the highest amount, we never contemplated putting the business on the open market," he says. "BMG had been looking to get into this market and we have been contemplating the macro environment and the changes happening in our industry. It has nothing to do with the current performance of the business, but it was looking to the future and it was BMG coming into this market. The timing was perfect."