LONDON — Indie digital rights organization Merlin has promoted Charlie Lexton to chief operating officer, responsible for overseeing licensing negotiations with digital partners and increasing revenues for its labels and distributors.
Merlin, which is head quartered in London and has distributed more than $2 billion to its almost 900 members since launching in 2008, has also announced two new hires: Shrina Patel as director of business and legal affairs and Katie Eckett as manager of the same division.
In line with the executive reshuffle, Ryan McWhinnie has been promoted to senior director of business and legal affairs. All appointments are London-based and effective immediately.
“We’re significantly enhancing our deal-making capacity,” Lexton tells Billboard. “Part of it is addressing the organic growth of the business. And part of it is to address the number of new opportunities that are out there in the market and get to deals as quickly as humanly possible.”
The newly-installed COO says that one of his priorities going forward will be expanding Merlin’s data analytics capabilities by merging it with the commercial and business affairs division to drive and inform new deals.
“We have an enormous catalog of recordings and around 15% market share [of the global digital recorded-music market] and when you have access to granular data at that scale, you can start analyzing not just what’s happened, but what’s going to happen,” Lexton tells Billboard. “You can start to see trends and that informs how you behave going into the future… it’s about leveraging that collective intelligence.”
Lexton joined Merlin as head of business affairs in 2008 when the organization first launched. He was named general counsel in 2010 and chief commercial officer/general counsel in 2018. The exec — who held senior roles at Universal and EMI before joining Merlin and was named among Billboard’s Digital Power Players in 2019 — played a key role in Merlin striking licensing deals with a range of digital services, including recent worldwide agreements with TikTok and Africa’s Boomplay.
Merlin also has licensing agreements in place with Alibaba, Deezer, Facebook/Instagram, JioSaavn, NetEase, Pandora, SoundCloud, Spotify, Tencent and YouTube Music.
“Charlie is part of Merlin’s founding team and has been pivotal to Merlin’s success,” said Merlin CEO Jeremy Sirota. “His promotion to COO ensures he remains central to our future.”
Referencing the disruption that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the music industry, Sirota said “continuity is especially important” at a time when digital revenues provided a much-needed lifeline to independent musicians, labels and distributors.
“Charlie’s long-standing commercial expertise will enable our members to adapt and thrive in these challenging times,” said Sirota, who took over from inaugural CEO Charles Caldas in January.
Just a few months into Sirota’s reign the coronavirus outbreak spread rapidly across the globe. Reflecting on how the public health crisis has impacted Merlin, Lexton says the organization, which also has offices in New York and Tokyo, has not been adversely affected so far and has been looking at ways to assist members, including distributing revenues as quickly as possible and providing them with data to help assess what’s happening in the marketplace.
“Certainly on the subscription side of the business, we’ve not identified any dramatic problems, but we’re tracking this on a weekly basis so we can advise our members” Lexton says. “On the ad-supported side, obviously there are challenges there, but the positive is that the core of the industry is now subscription.
“Merlin is in a really privileged position in the sense that it’s a purely digital business, so, in theory and probably in practice, the least affected by the current crisis,” he continues. “But we are very conscious of the fact that a large number of our members are in a different position and we’re here to do everything that we can to help them and address the challenges that we all face.”