Charles Caldas is back in business. The independent music business, that is.
The ex-pat Australian executive led Merlin, the independent music community’s digital rights agency, from its inception back in 2008 through to the end of 2019, when he handed over the keys to former Facebook Music exec Jeremy Sirota.
With Caldas at the helm, Merlin distributed well over US$2 billion to members, and counted almost 900 members from 63 countries, with its membership accounting for more than 12% of the world’s digital music market.
Caldas is there at the very birth of a new independent music venture, Exceleration Music.
Started by former Concord Music Group CEO Glen Barros, the enterprise has an MO to “invest in the future of independent labels and artists”.
Caldas is a member of Exceleration’s foundation team of indie heavyweights, which also includes Dave Hansen (former General Manager of Epitaph Records and Executive Chairman of Merlin), Amy Dietz (previous GM of Ingrooves) and John Burk (former President of Concord Records).
TIO caught up with Caldas for a look back at his time with Merlin, and a look forward to his work with Exceleration Music.
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TIO: Charles, welcome back to the industry. How did you kill time since your departure from Merlin?
Charles Caldas: Thank you Lars. My time post-Merlin obviously hasn’t exactly been what I planned it to be. But it has turned out to be a very valuable and inspiring time in different ways.
Like everyone, I had to adjust to new ways to be, which was both challenging and inspiring. I very much appreciated the time to slow down, to reflect on what was important.
I had the ultimate luxury of spending time my family and the space to observe what was happening in the industry with a little bit of distance.
I hopefully learnt some new things, both about myself and what I want from work and life, and have found my way into new ventures for the future, which I find exciting.
Looking back, what are you proudest achievements there?
My time at Merlin was an incredible journey, and I could not have done what I did without the support of the remarkable team I had, and of the independents from around the world that supported us.
When we started, just as the market started to globalise and legitimate streaming services emerged, independents were in danger of being pushed down the value chain to the edges of the market.
Over the years we managed to invert that, with independents around the world, including those from Australia, now front and centre in the market and achieving unprecedented success.
By forming Merlin and sticking with the challenge, we injected enormous value to the sector, whether that was from our deals, the sale of our Spotify shares and from the Warner/Parlophone divestment process.
We changed the shape of the market, and it’s hard not to be proud of being a part of that.
With the benefit of distance, what are the toughest challenges for Australia’s indies in the months and years ahead?
Clearly, the loss of revenue streams that have been shut down during the pandemic have created fundamental challenges for artists and labels.
It’s been an awful time for many artists in our sector, and that will take some time to recover from. But as we emerge from that, I’m feeling optimistic.
During the pandemic we have seen incredibly positive signs that underline how much music means to people, and how much they are willing to support their favourite artists.
The ongoing growth in subscriber numbers on streaming platforms brings more revenues into the industry, the booming of physical sales, the success of live streaming events, the importance of services like Bandcamp in allowing fans to directly support artists; all of these are cause for optimism.
I hope we will see new ways for artists to make digital revenues and to connect with more fans than ever before. I hope that market plays out well for Australian acts.
We have already seen a boom in the exporting of Australian music, and with help of government, of the entrepreneurs who believe in great Australian music, of great organisations like Sounds Australia, of digital services, and of fans I sense we will see that continue to be the case.
You’re now on board with Exceleration Music. What’s your role there?
I’m excited to be involved in this company. We have a great a team of respected people who share similar values and care deeply about the independent sector.
With all of the market consolidation we are seeing, we felt there was a room for a venture like ours that can invest in music, but in a better way than by simply amassing music as an “asset class”, which is frankly an anathema to us.
We have a team of experts who understand the independent culture and who will work to enhance and protect the legacies of the people we work with.
All of the founders have slightly different backgrounds, and we cover a lot of bases.
My role is to contribute the knowledge and experience I have amassed in the global streaming market, and across the independent sector to ensure we create a truly global offering.
At our heart we care about keeping independent companies independent and the independent sector healthy.
What are your plans for 2021, and does a return to Australia’s music industry figure?
We are very busy with getting Exceleration off the ground so I expect a busy but productive year ahead and look forward to announcing some new deals soon.
Mostly, I’m looking forward to seeing people and exchanging ideas across a table rather than on a screen.
On a personal level, whilst my family has roots in London, Portugal and Melbourne, we are definitely feeling the pull of Australia.
Given the events of the past year we are thinking a lot about where we want to spend the next stage of our lives, and I think that will inevitably include re-planting deeper roots back in Australia.
I’d love to find ways for Exceleration to be involved in the Australian industry, so that I can have more reasons to be back often!