New to the music biz? There’s a $250m investment fund looking for you
The aim of Unison Fund is to finance albums, tours, music videos and other work by emerging artists
It’s likely that you’ve not come across the Unison Fund yet. It’s also likely that you’re wondering what a story about a new US investment fund is doing in the Culture section.
For music fans, the newly launched financial vehicle is something worth noting even at this early juncture. Put together by a consortium involving the Windish Agency, artist management company Tmwrk, music consultants Mtheory and investment managers AGI Partners, the aim is to finance albums, tours, music videos and other work by emerging artists.
According to the Wall Street Journal, $25 million has been raised for its initial fund and it’s hoped to raise around $250 million more in the coming months
“Emerging artists” is probably the most eye-catching phrase in this. Usually it’s established acts who are the target when you get fresh investment in the music game. It makes sense: financial parties want a return on their investment and the best way to do this is partner with an act who’ve already done the heavy lifting to establish an audience and profile for themselves.
Few funds want to work with new acts because it’s a far riskier proposition. You don’t know if the act will actually have hits or even get to the stage where they can successfully tour in their own or any other country. Record labels used to always do this, but few others have the expertise, patience, knowledge or largesse to do the same, hence why many would-be music business players have placed relatively safe bets on heritage acts.
It’s interesting too that this new fund involves a significant player from the live-music business. Many in the live sector have been lazy when it comes to developing new acts. Historically, they’ve always leaned on others to produce their headliners and that hasn’t changed as the record labels have gone through their torturous twists and turns over the last decade.
It’s telling that many of the new acts who are cited as future headliners, such as Oxford indie rockers Foals, have benefited from the attention of a supportive record label. Sure, they may tour and tour and tour until they drop, but the presence of a record label that actually knows what its doing is hugely telling.
Kudos then to super-agent Tom Windish for bucking the trend and taking a punt on this new fund. Windish is someone who has built his company on the back of spotting new talent and working out how to help them make a living from their music. While the agency has often been criticised for having too many bands on its books, the acts they have worked with are probably glad they went with Windish.
Of course, the Unison Fund won’t restrict itself to just new acts; the Wall Street Journal reports that the fund is weighing up the bits and pieces owned by bankrupt dance music promoter SFX Entertainment. But it will be interesting to see how it operates as it goes forward in this regard.
There have been many new business models pitched for the music industry in the past while and some have been more successful than others. One of the low points was perhaps when equity group Terra Firma Capital Partners bought EMI for €4.2 billion in 2007. Several major acts then walked away from the label, which was restructured. The company was broken up in 2012 and it is still the subject of ongoing legal cases.
Should the Unison Fund forge a way for new acts to develop outside the traditional systems, that will be something worth noting even beyond the business pages.