Interview of the Week- Charles Caldas, CEO, Merlin

“I’m definitely not retiring.”

laughed Charles Caldas when asked about his plans after stepping down from his role at Merlin.

Charles has been the CEO at Merlin, a digital rights agency for independent artists since its inception 12 years ago. He has been recognised by IMPALA, Billboard and Variety as one of the most important business executives for the independents globally.

As a non-profit organisation, Merlin helps the independents compete against the large global multinationals in the digital market place. As a digital rights agency, it offers a commercial set of rights for independent artists by ensuring licensing via a single deal, instead of hundreds of individual local deals. The organisation represents 800 global members and 20,000 Indie record labels across 63 countries in the world.

Merlin has recently started operating with organisations in India who are participating now in global and local licensing deals. Merlin has licensing agreements with the international platforms that are in the Indian market but also with local Indian streaming services.

In an exclusive interview with Music Plus, Charles Caldas talks about the global independent music market, the rise in consumption of non-film Indian music, and the opportunity that lies ahead for the Indian music industry.

How does Merlin ensure the safety and growth of independent artists and how well do you think that requirement is met in the industry today?

From the beginning, Merlin was created because a lot of independents around the world were concerned about their ability to compete in the global market-place.

The independent sector or the non-multinational sector has always been essentially a collection of local businesses connected via a global network. My previous job was running as a big distributor in Australia and we represented a lot of companies from around the world helping them sell and promote their music in the Australian market and we had partners around the world to help us do that with our Australian artists. Whether that was in the U.S., the U.K., Singapore and Japan, we required a network of people to support our business.

Obviously, the digital market-place and the emergence of platforms like Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon have created a truly, global market-place.

So, we work to make sure that, in terms of making of the deals, we bring in the best deals we possibly can that are competitive to the major labels so that artists signing to labels that are not global major labels have got the same opportunities, the same amount of revenue, and are getting the same benefit from licensing their music to these platforms as any other artist.

We also protect the rights of the artists when they are being infringed, so when we find platforms or services using our members’ music illegally, we take legal actions against them. We have been successful over the years against platforms like LimeWire and GrooveShack, in successfully reaching multi-million dollar legal settlements to return that value to our members.

In today’s industry, the market is a bit more sophisticated, it’s not so much a battle to establish value. As the independent music is becoming equivalent to the majors, now, it’s really about making sure that as the market globalises, that services and platforms are emerging in new markets or artists and labels that are distributing their music globally, are educated and aware of the realities.

How has the global independent music market changed since the advent of streaming platforms?

I think the biggest change we have seen since the advent of global streaming services is the fact that the actual shape of the music market has changed globally.
It has gone very quickly from a collection of local businesses to a truly global business.

The fact that the digital market-place allows you to track every piece of music via the metadata that is delivered around that piece of music makes the collection and distribution of royalties much simpler than it has been in the past.

In Merlin, across all the data we analyse, wherever music is produced, across the world and across all the members we represent, we’re seeing that music is being consumed in ways that are totally unexpected and new.

For example, Japanese artists who are releasing their music in Japanese, are building audiences in Latin America, Brazil, Mexico. Simultaneously, they are also finding audiences in the U.S., and the rest of Asia in ways that were never expected.

I think for Indian music and particularly the Indian diaspora is the most prevalent across the globe. I think that presents an extraordinarily exciting opportunity.
The rise of Non-Film music in India is related directly to this global change. Indian music and artists have access to the world of music to inspire and influence them and also have a global audience for their music.

I am convinced, in the years ahead, we’re going to see Indian music stake a claim in the world stage in ways we’ve never seen before. We’re seeing this already in terms of how music from Latin-America is finding an audience across North America and Europe and I don’t see India being any different.

We are seeing our Indian members achieve the majority of audio streams outside of India, and those streams are growing on a monthly basis which is an exciting thought. This underlines our view that there is enormous global potential for Indian artists and local independents.

The global market has definitely changed, what consumers listen to has changed. The fact that whether a young music fan is in London or Kolkata, is listening to the same music and has access to the same music, is a terribly exciting thought that not only will drive business perspectives to independents around the world but will actually create new music.

In what capacity is Merlin working with the Indian music industry?

On the licensing side, Merlin has licensing agreements, obviously with the international platforms that are in the Indian market but also with local Indian streaming services like JioSaavn.

We’ve been, as we are with any market, very interested and engaged in understanding how our members’ music performs in the market. We think India, at least the early signs from what we’re seeing of the evolution of the streaming market in India is very exciting. In terms of how we’re working with the Indian music industry, we already have a number of Indian members who are participating now in global and local licensing deals.

We’re working with Indian members in the same way we work with global membership. We make sure that they have access to all the tools and opportunities that we negotiated with the global platforms that they’re getting the data they need to be able to do better business.
But it’s very early days for us because Merlin is a very different organisation to aggregate as distributors. For example, we’re not in the market just to grab the rights that we can distribute. Merlin only works with companies that have the capacity and the capability to distribute themselves and that requires a level of market maturity that India is probably still building towards.

However, that does not mean that we’re not committed or excited by the opportunities to work with Indian labels alongside the labels and distributors we work with around the world.

To reiterate, I am convinced that Indian music is going to be incredibly successful globally especially the independent Indian music and Merlin looks forward to playing a part in that in the same way we have in the last decade with all the other labels and distributors we represent from around the world.

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According to you, what are the challenges that the Indian music industry faces?

The challenge that I think India faces is that the labels really need to try and work with the streaming platforms to get people to consume their music on the highest value parts of the market.

I understand, YouTube has had a huge rise in India because its free to the consumers and gives an incredible reach to the labels in an instant way. But the video platforms as compared to the audio platforms deliver really low royalties.

The real challenge in the industry is to make sure that the consumer offerings on either of the platforms are as attractive and compelling to the consumers and to continue the use of the video platforms for reach and to market their music.

The industry in India has a similar potential of evolving in the way we have seen it evolve in other markets in the world. For example, Brazil. Brazil was a market with a very challenged physical music business. It was heavily reliant on the free platforms as well. As we have seen in the last five or six years, there has been an enormous amount of value created in the Brazilian music industry through consumption and through paid consumption particularly. So, I think that’s one of the challenges.

The other challenge is for the independents and any music producer in India is to start thinking about the global impact of their music and how they’re putting their music into the global market-place.

Indian music started to pollinate in unexpected ways into the global market-place. The more international success that Indian music can have, the more excitement it will create locally. The broadening of the genres that are consumed by Indian and global consumers are changing the perception of Indian music from just Indian film music to music that is as innovative, creative and attractive to the music market from anywhere else is the creative challenge.

Twelve years since you associated yourself with Merlin, what prompted you to step down as the CEO of Merlin? What do you plan to do after this?

I’m definitely not retiring. I have announced that I am moving on from my role at Merlin after my 12 years here. Nothing, in particular, prompted my decision other than the fact that it felt for me; for the organisation; on a personal level for my family; was time for a new adventure, for new leadership for Merlin and there was nothing really more than this.

I feel so proud and so happy with what we have achieved in the last 12 years. Leaving the organisation at the time when I am still excited about the business should be positive for everyone.

And for my plans, I am excited about where the music market is heading, in terms of the global market-place. I am sure that next year after the break I am taking with my family, I will be coming back and exploring how I can contribute to that, maybe in a different way.

I am looking forward to seeing what that is. So, I am certainly not going to be fishing or playing golf. I am looking forward to continuing my journey in music in a different way. I really hope and trust that Merlin will continue to be healthy and grow in my absence.

I hope to find great ways to be involved in this part of the market and hopefully with the Indian market as well. I have a real passion and a personal interest in the Indian culture and what’s happening there so I would love to find ways to continue to be involved in that market.

If there was one thing you could do differently, what would that be?

I think one of the things I would definitely do differently is that I wouldn’t wait so long to come to India, to have a look, to explore what was happening in the market there.

When I first came to India from a business purpose, I was so struck and inspired by the level of energy, innovation, and the entrepreneurship. The excitement that I saw at All About Music made me wish that I had the time to explore that market a little bit earlier.

Of course, I knew some of the market executives from the Indian business that I would see at various other conferences around the world, but I really wish I had jumped into learning more on the business side of music in the industry a little bit earlier.

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