The Union Fund’s new mu­sic plan

Could an in­vest­ment ve­hi­cle be the start of a fresh chap­ter for find­ing new acts in the mu­sic in­dus­try?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - Jim Car­roll

It’s likely that you’ve not come across the Uni­son Fund yet. It’s also likely that you’re won­der­ing what a story about a new US in­vest­ment fund is do­ing in The Ticket.

For mu­sic fans, the newly launched fi­nan­cial ve­hi­cle is some­thing worth not­ing even at this early junc­ture. Put to­gether by a con­sor­tium in­volv­ing the Windish Agency, artist man­age­ment com­pany Tmwrk, mu­sic con­sul­tants Mthe­ory and in­vest­ment man­agers AGI Part­ners, the aim is to fi­nance al­bums, tours, mu­sic videos and other work by emerg­ing artists. Ac­cord­ing to the Wall Street

Jour­nal, $25 mil­lion has been raised for its ini­tial fund and it’s hoped to raise around $250 mil­lion more in the com­ing months

“Emerg­ing artists” is prob­a­bly the most eye-catch­ing phrase in this. Usu­ally it’s es­tab­lished acts who are the tar­get when you get fresh in­vest­ment in the mu­sic game. It makes sense: fi­nan­cial par­ties want a re­turn on their in­vest­ment and the best way to do this is part­ner with an act who’ve al­ready done the heavy lift­ing to es­tab­lish an au­di­ence and pro­file for them­selves.

Few funds want to work with new acts be­cause it’s a far riskier propo­si­tion. You don’t know if the act will ac­tu­ally have hits or even get to the stage where they can suc­cess­fully tour in their own or any other coun­try. Record la­bels used to al­ways do this, but few oth­ers have the ex­per­tise, patience, knowl­edge or largesse to do the same, hence why many would-be mu­sic business play­ers have placed rel­a­tively safe bets on her­itage acts.

It’s in­ter­est­ing too that this new fund in­volves a sig­nif­i­cant player from the live-mu­sic business. Many in the live sec­tor have been lazy when it comes to de­vel­op­ing new acts. His­tor­i­cally, they’ve al­ways leaned on oth­ers to pro­duce their head­lin­ers and that hasn’t changed as the record la­bels have gone through their tor­tur­ous twists and turns over the last decade.

It’s telling that many of the new acts who are cited as fu­ture head­lin­ers, such as Ox­ford in­die rock­ers Foals (above), have ben­e­fited from the at­ten­tion of a sup­port­ive record la­bel. Sure, they may tour and tour and tour un­til they drop, but the pres­ence of a record la­bel that ac­tu­ally knows what its do­ing is hugely telling.

Ku­dos then to su­per-agent Tom Windish for buck­ing the trend and tak­ing a punt on this new fund. Windish is some­one who has built his com­pany on the back of spot­ting new tal­ent and work­ing out how to help them make a liv­ing from their mu­sic. While the agency has of­ten been crit­i­cised for hav­ing too many bands on its books, the acts they have worked with are prob­a­bly glad they went with Windish.

Of course, the Uni­son Fund won’t re­strict it­self to just new acts; the Wall Street Jour­nal re­ports that the fund is weigh­ing up the bits and pieces owned by bank­rupt dance mu­sic pro­moter SFX En­ter­tain­ment. But it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how it op­er­ates as it goes for­ward in this re­gard.

There have been many new business mod­els pitched for the mu­sic in­dus­try in the past while and some have been more suc­cess­ful than oth­ers. One of the low points was per­haps when equity group Terra Firma Cap­i­tal Part­ners bought EMI for ¤4.2 bil­lion in 2007. Sev­eral ma­jor acts then walked away from the la­bel, which was re­struc­tured. The com­pany was bro­ken up in 2012 and it is still the sub­ject of on­go­ing le­gal cases.

Should the Uni­son Fund forge a way for new acts to de­velop out­side the tra­di­tional sys­tems, that will be some­thing worth not­ing even be­yond the business pages.

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