Now that Warner Music Group chairman/CEO Robert Kyncl has had a full year at the helm of the major label, he has released a New Year’s note to staff, obtained by Billboard, outlining a plan to kick into gear and set the company up for the next 10 years of changes in the music business.
In the note, Kyncl says he’s referring to the year 2024 as “The Year of the Next 10 — the year when we move at velocity to set ourselves up for a winning decade in the new world.”
“As we start the new year, one thing I’d like us all to remember is that our world has fundamentally changed… the music business is in a very different place than it was 10 years ago,” Kyncl writes. “Now, we’re in a position of strength. That is the time to get ahead for the future.”
He then emphasizes three key areas that he sees as crucial for the next year: growing the engagement with music; increasing the value of music; and evolving how the team works together.
On the first point, Kyncl breaks it down into four main focus points. The first, he writes, is about focusing A&R more on capturing opportunity, including geographically (“based on where artists and songwriters come from and where their streams are going”) and looking forward, as with identifying genres that will grow in the future. The second, in marketing, he emphasizes the partnership between marketing, A&R, tech and business intelligence to better focus efforts and better use the data available. The third, in catalog, emphasizes the ability to market and promote WMG’s extensive catalog on the same lines as it does its frontline music, particularly in digital optimization, given that catalog is driving some 70% of consumption in the current market. And finally, he emphasizes distribution and administration, in beefing up both the services available to the “middle class of artists” and in the major’s publishing admin business, which he wants to scale up further.
The second point, focusing on value, is about solving in 2024 for some of the conversations that rose up and started to dominate in 2023: namely, the value of artists and music on streaming platforms, as well as the issues surrounding the dilution of the royalty pool from the likes of functional music and white-noise tracks. Kyncl has previously spoken about the importance of streaming services raising prices, which many did in the past year, which he stresses as well. And finally, he stresses the need to further develop artist-to-superfan relationships, which he calls “relatively untapped and under-monetized,” though notes that WMG has initiatives in the works in many of these areas already.
The final point, on working together, is about reorienting how the WMG team works, including through leaning into expertise, transparency, flexibility, collaboration across departments and within teams, relying on metrics and not being afraid to lead rather than follow the industry.
Kyncl also takes time to point out some of WMG’s successes in the past year, including big years by the likes of Zach Bryan, Jack Harlow and Gunna; returns from Dua Lipa, David Guetta and Ed Sheeran; and catalog victories for the music of David Bowie, Madonna and Talking Heads, among others, while looking forward to new music from Gabby Barrett, Maria Becerra, Green Day and more.
Looking at the past several decades in 10-year chunks is a useful way of catching snapshots of how markedly things have changed. In 2004, the CD boom had decidedly stalled, as piracy began to take chunks out of the record industry and the business was in the midst of its protracted struggle with piracy and the digital revolution. By 2014, the industry had effectively bottomed out, with recorded revenues hitting their nadir as streaming had been introduced but had yet to catch on as a viable, much less dominant, format for the business. Now, in 2024, with streaming far and away the biggest source of revenue for a booming business, the revenue model is being hotly scrutinized, as new technologies and increasing fraud and volume threaten to overwhelm the now-established status quo.
In that respect, Kyncl sees this year as a pivotal one to answer several of these big questions, and set WMG up for the next decade of challenges and opportunities in the business. “We’re going to fuel the growth of this company using the same resourcefulness and determination with which we develop our artists and songwriters,” he writes. “Because ultimately that’s what will serve them best.”