Merlin, the independents’ global digital rights agency, quietly announced earlier this month that it had sold its entire equity stake in Spotify and the proceeds, according to its CEO Charles Caldas, have already been distributed to its members.
“If you look at the nature of Merlin’s organisation, we passed all of the money we make back to the members and the fact ultimately this is the members’ money,” Caldas tells TIO.
“Those shares were being held on their behalf. We felt that we needed to get that money into the members’ hands immediately, which we’ve done.”
The three major music companies, Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music, plus Merlin were all granted shares in Spotify as part of their respective licensing arrangements with the streaming giant.
The majors bought subsequent rounds of shares as investments and, to date, Sony Music and Warner Music have sold some of their equity after Spotify went public April 3 via a direct listing on the New York stock exchange.
Caldas wouldn’t discuss the amount of money generated by Merlin’s stake, though informed sources tell TIO the sale produced a windfall of US$125-$140 million.
Selling Merlin’s shares “reasonably early in the piece” has nothing to do with confidence in the Spotify business, says Caldas.
“For us that’s nothing to do with our belief in the potential of Spotify and where the business goes and how it’s continuing to grow. For us the decision was based on what Merlin is and how we operate and our responsibility to our members.”
The cash injection means “there’s more money in those companies to do more music, innovate, sign more artists do whatever they want to do with that money,” he notes.
According to reports, Sony will record a gain of more than $700 million for shifting half of its 5.707 percent stake, while Warner Music earned about $400 million for selling 75% of its stake, and both have announced they will share that cash. Universal Music hasn’t revealed whether it plans to sell any of its Spotify stake.
Keep an eye out for TIO’s interview with Caldas as the Australian-born executive looks back at Merlin’s first 10 years, the emerging digital territories and the state of Australia’s music market.