Today, we are running a special episode of Business Breakdowns on our Invest Like the Best feed. When we launched Breakdowns, we hoped to cover industries and businesses that we were “well known but poorly understood.” This deep-dive on UMG and the music industry is just that - you will walk away with a whole new appreciation for artists, labels, and what streaming technology has done for a historic industry. If you enjoy this episode, please be sure to subscribe on your preferred podcast player and check out our growing catalog of episodes.
Today we’re breaking down Universal Music Group. As one of the largest music businesses in the world, UMG is home to many of the world’s greatest artists, including Taylor Swift, U2, and The Beatles catalog. A discussion on UMG requires a deep dive into the history of music itself, how it was historically monetized, the shift from physical to digital, and what streaming has meant for the various pieces of the ecosystem. Our guest, Arman Gokgol-Kline, a partner and investor at Ruane, Cunniff & Goldfarb, walks us through that evolution of the music industry before we dive in on UMG.
In our discussion, we first break down the industry pre and post Napster, looking at the ways music was sold historically, and how that led to both record profits and a consumer revolution. We then assess streaming’s impact on the industry and how, contrary to what you might think, labels may be more important in a marketplace where it’s easier than ever for creators to record and release music. Finally, we finish with UMG’s place in the ecosystem. The primary drivers of the business, how they’re able to attract the world’s superstars, and how they think about deploying dollars to acquire new artists and timeless catalogs.
Please enjoy this fantastic breakdown of Universal Music Group.
For the full show notes, transcript, and links to the best content to learn more, check out the episode page here.
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[00:04:01] - [First question] - How technology disrupted the music business and it’s evolving history
[00:12:44] - What the industry of music labels looks like from the 90s to today
[00:21:19] - How it feels as a high-tier artist to engage with a label directly today
[00:28:20] - The revenue and business model of an artist akin to Taylor Swift
[00:30:44] - The differences between UMG's main sources of revenue; music publishing and recording
[00:35:08] - General margins and trends for music publishing
[00:36:22] - Ownership and mechanics of monetizing an artist’s Intellectual Property
[00:40:57] - How streaming revenues are divided among stakeholders
[00:46:23] - History of the bargaining power of labels and streaming platforms
[00:51:25] - Capital allocation, ROI, and acquiring IP and catalogs
[00:57:39] - Thoughts on the growth profile of the industry as an investor
[01:02:23] - Potential risks to UMG in emerging technology and new creator trends
[01:08:50] - Reasons why an artist would pick UMG over other major labels
[01:12:42] - Diversity and how artists are sometimes treated by labels
[01:14:02] - A growing increase in music consumption across the world