Chrysalis Recordings, the recording arm of Blue Raincoat Music, has acquired the catalogs of Lucinda Williams, Grant Lee Buffalo, Dario G, The Swinging Blue Jeans and Toumani Diabaté from Warner Music Group.
As first reported by Music Week, the deal is part of a divestment agreement that WMG signed with trade bodies IMPALA and Merlin in February 2013, in response to the major’s $765 million acquisition of Parlophone Label Group (which included the original U.K. Chrysalis catalog). As part of the agreement, WMG allowed independent music companies to buy, license or distribute the revenue equivalent of 25 percent to 33 percent of Parlophone’s total sales in WMG assets.
Blue Raincoat acquired Chrysalis back from WMG in June 2016 and brought one of its original co-founders Chris Wright back on board as chairman to revamp the business. In a statement at the time, Wright expressed his excitement not only to “run [Chrysalis] as an independent,” but also to “revitaliz[e] the catalogue for the digital age.”
“The Chrysalis catalogue changed hands three times in the last five years, so no one could really curate and mine down into what’s there,” Robin Millar, executive group chairman and chief creative officer of Chrysalis, told Billboard in an email. “It’s an amazing body of work. There are also literally thousands of associated assets, from artwork to videos to unreleased music, that has never seen the light of day.”
Today’s announced acquisitions seem to be pointing in the right direction. Williams’ continued success points in part to the power of film and TV in enduring catalog sales: while the singer has been actively recording for nearly 40 years, she appeared on the Rock Digital Songs chart for the first time in February 2015 — thanks to a sync placement in the Showtime series The Affair — and embarked on a two-month national tour in spring 2016.
“She’s just as relevant now as she ever was,” Blue Raincoat CEO Jeremy Lascelles told Music Week. “She’s a very active current artist … the idea is to work very closely with her and her manager on how we can help them to tie in with different campaigns. For us, it’s great to be in the Lucinda Williams business.”
Diabaté marks Chrysalis’ first world music acquisition, signaling the company’s increasingly global ambitions. The kora virtuoso last hit No. 8 on the World Albums chart in 2014 with Toumani & Sidiki, the album he recorded in collaboration with his son Sidiki Diabaté.
“Jeremy [Lascelles’] and my association with world music, and African music in particular, goes right back to the early ’80s when Jeremy was at Virgin,” said Millar. “I was bringing the first wave of Kenyan and Tanzanian bands music to the U.K., and Virgin was the first label to release them commercially.”
In contrast, both Grant Lee Buffalo and Dario G last charted in the ’90s, and The Swinging Blue Jeans haven’t charted since the ’60s. This hasn’t deterred the Chrysalis team, which sees powerful potential in high-quality reissues and catalog revivals amidst the continued rise of streaming and sync revenue.
“I think those albums have been kind of neglected,” said Lascelles, adding that the members of Grant Lee Buffalo in particular were “excited at the idea of getting into business with someone who pays those records some attention and gets them reissued in nice formats, to remind people of what an important band they are.”
“It’s not just about fans,” added Millar. “The great thing about streaming platforms is that a listener may be hearing tracks with an age span of sixty years — Jake Bugg next to Bob Dylan. The gatekeepers are off. As long as you care about the music and the people who made it, then creativity, imagination and thinking outside the box can be very rewarding.”
Editor’s note: this article has been modified since publication to include exclusive commentary from Robin Millar, executive group chairman and chief creative officer at Chrysalis Recordings.