Friday, October 19, 2012

Tronc Gives Sacem 'Shock Treatment'

(This story was initially published in One Movement for Music - Volume 2/Oct. 2012)

By Emmanuel Legrand

Jean-Noel Tronc cuts quite an unconventional figure for someone who runs one of the world's biggest authors' societies. The moment you are ushered into his office on the sixth floor of a modern building in one of the posh suburbs of Paris, the chief executive of France's Sacem starts the meeting by showing off a book about punk visual art and genuinely enthusing about some of the posters or record covers from that era. Not your expected table book in such an environment...
Jean-Noel Tronc (Picture: Jean-Baptiste Millot) 

Sacem is among the top five rights societies in the world in terms of revenues collected (€819m in 2010 or $1,062m) and it plays a central role in the French music industry. But it has the reputation of being a society slow to change and managed in quite a conservative way. So maybe having a punk attitude to drive change was part of the job description (“Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment,” would sing the Ramones!).

"Why Sacem?” reacts Tronc when asked why he took the job. “For a start I've always loved music, and working with one of the most important societies in the world, which is also at the heart of France's music eco-system, was an exciting prospect. I have utter respect for creators and publishers, and I hope that, with my background, I can contribute to a new, fresh vision to the challenges faced by authors' societies and the music industry in today's digital world."

Tronc, 46, is only the third chief executive of the society in over 50 years. The job was long held by Jean-Loup Tournier, who took over the society in 1961 and stayed at the helm until 2001 when he was replaced by diplomat Bernard Miyet, who stepped down in June 2012. Tronc held various positions in telecom and media companies such as pay-TV group Canal+ and Orange, France's leading phone operator. He also had a stint as advisor on digital issues to the Socialist then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin between 1997 and 2002.

Sacem board members who were involved in the process of searching for a new chief executive were looking for someone with experience in other fields, especially media and telecoms, who could bring a new vision. "Miyet’s eleven-year tenure coincided with a remarkable stability with regards to Sacem's income,” explained Bruno Lion, MD of peermusic France and a board member of Sacem who was involved in the search process for Miyet's successor. “But we thought the times required a high-level manager with a different background. Tronc goes fast and appears, first of all, as a problem solver and a leader. I feel he will be an asset to Sacem's members and to the music community, in France and abroad.”

Going fast is what Tronc appears to be doing, indeed. After only four months on the job, he has refigured Sacem's management structure, accepted a pay cut compared to what his predecessor was earning, and swiftly pushed the society into the digital world. It is not that Sacem had not embraced the new digital world (it has licensed more than its share of digital services, including streaming service Deezer at a very early stage), but for Tronc it is more about positioning the society to be fully competitive, digital compliant and efficient, both at the service of its members and of its users.

“Service” is a word that comes high up in Tronc's vocabulary. “My main priority is to increase the level of service that Sacem can offer to our members and to the community of users in France and elsewhere," said Tronc. "If at this stage it is too soon to be specific, suffice to say that we are engaged into deep and significant reforms.”

In addition, Sacem also has to deal with changes imposed by the European Union in the form of a Directive (a legally binding document that applies across the Union) on collective management, which is likely to impose new rules on transparency and governance, and a new approach with regards to multi-territorial licensing. Tronc is aware that the new situation will create competition among societies to attract artists and publishers - and he wants Sacem to be at the forefront of the movement.

"With the new market configuration in Europe, societies like Sacem have to be prepared to face competition from other societies,” said Tronc, “and Sacem, which is already among the leading societies in Europe, will have a lot to offer. The new framework for rights societies as outlined by Brussels is going to be challenging but will also create a new, level playing field in Europe for which I do believe that Sacem will be well-positioned.”

As OMFM was leaving, Tronc pointed to the sad, worn-out old-fashioned green visitors' seats outside of his office that have been there since the dawn of time and joked that here, too, change was in motion as his team was digging into the Ikea catalogue to find new furniture. Sometimes the revolution is in the details!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The emancipation of Lemar

By Emmanuel Legrand

If you look at the past ten years, the legacy of shows like 'Pop Idol', 'X-Factor', 'The Voice', and many others, is quite poor – regardless of the countries where TV reality shows have blossomed thanks to the gang of Simons (Cowell and Fuller).

Most of the artists that have been “revealed” by these shows have fallen into the deep abysses of show biz, sometimes after just a single, if lucky, and few have managed to make a career that would last. One of the rare examples of longevity is British R&B/pop act Lemar. It is now ten years since he graduated from the BBC's 'Fame Academy', and he is still around. A new album, his fifth studio effort, 'Invincible', is coming out this week.

Last week, at the invitation of Nanette Rigg and as part of the London City Showcase programme, I did an hour-long Q&A session/workshop with Lemar, talking about about his vision of the business of music. I had never met Lemar before and was never into his music although I did acknowledge his hits. But I was interested in meeting him because he seemed to have a can-do and work-hard approach to his craft.

Our discussion confirmed that Lemar is far more grounded than most of his peers, and also a bit more attuned to the intricacies of this business, which could explain his longevity (he certainly does not seem to have lived the same life as, say, Pete Doherty). He also has a good sense of humour. And unlike most of the other contenders that were on TV reality shows, the big machine (not Florence's) did not eat him, chew him and spit him out.

He said he owed this unusual longevity to several factors. First, the thing about Lemar is that he was not an instant success. He was 24 when he came third at the Academy (which probably saved him from the oblivion where the winner and the runner-up must currently reside), but before that, he had been in the business since the age of 17, learning the ropes, playing gigs in shitty places, building up his songwriting skills, and understanding the business he was in. And more than once, he was tempted to call it a day, but there was always something that brought him back into the game.

Secondly, he did not win, so he did not get priority treatment from Universal. He had to wait patiently for a call from them, and then they passed! Which allowed him to see elsewhere and he found in Nick Raphael at Epic the champion and the A&R executive that he needed. He was also solidly managed by Richard Griffiths at The Firm. (He no longer is managed by Griffiths)

Thirdly, he was not simply a performer of songs written by others – he was also a songwriter, who could make decisions about the direction he wanted to go. This has also earned him much valuable income from publishing (one of the things he understood from a very early age was the importance and value of publishing).

Fourth, he is a natural-born performer. He loves the stage and he's been able to build a following that went just beyond the public watching a TV show.

So today, after a hiatus to see his kids growing, Lemar is still in the loop and he wants to be there on his own terms. After a decade with a major company he's gone indie, which is at the same time commendable and dangerous. But then, these are the right times for the emancipation of artists.

He has now his own label, Angelic Media Limited, which looks more like a boutique rather than an vanity label. With his pal from the early days, Terry Brown from 2beinspired, he picked a few partners (EMI for the distribution), a plugger and a touring company, and off he went, recording and releasing new songs. He will be hitting the road in December. His music may not be cutting-edge but he makes no bones that he is in the pop business.

As he said during our conversation, being independent represents is a greater financial risk for him, but there is also a greater financial reward. His royalty share is much higher than it used to be, and, more importantly, he controls the whole process. So if he gets it wrong, he's got no one else but him to blame. Good luck to him!