A Tribute in Music to Ibrahima Sylla

January 22, 2014 Artist News, Featured News Comments Off

ibrahima-syllaI had meant to do my first post of 2014 in a festive spirit: re-living the intensely fun and crazy moments I had as a jury member for The Orchard’s Got Talent at our annual get together. It was something special and the truth is that although I had meant to be sarcastic and harsh in my role, it was very difficult faced with the real talent and sheer courage of every single act that got up on stage and performed — some said I managed still and others said I was too kind so I guess I sort of walked the line.

But on my return to the Paris office, before I had put pen to paper (yes I do still need rapidly indecipherable squiggles to help me think), I heard the sad and bad news of the passing of someone I had worked with over the last twenty-five years — a great Producer of African music, Ibrahima Sylla.

It was not unexpected — he had been suffering for a while — but he had a strength that made you expect him to always come out successfully, as he had done from so many complicated situations as the key player in the most ambitious projects with the biggest stars in African music: Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, Mory Kante, Baaba Maal, Ismael Lo… just to name a few who are best known to Western audiences and who all had a respect tinged with awe for this founder of an African Motown. I first worked with his releases in physical distribution, exporting the music he was bringing out in France to as many parts of the globe that could afford to legally pay for music, and then consulted for him directly on International Sales as the “Digital” era started to become a reality. This included setting up physical and digital download distribution worldwide for his catalogue via his different deals — always feeling in deep waters but ones that he navigated with skill.

He had a catalogue that included historical treasures from the roots of Mali-Guinean music of Independence — countries are not always defined by their boundaries in this part of the world, as he helped me understand — Dance music from Congo, great voices from Senegal that needed to be shared with other cultures, and perhaps most notably a fusion of African and Latin traditions that found its epitome in the Africando project, the first African release to hit the charts in the USA .

I have made a purely subjective playlist which you can listen to on Spotify and/or Deezer. It’s comprised of recordings that he produced but also ones that he helped make possible, ones that could never have happened without his input into the development and popularization of African music worldwide and ones that probably influenced him, when as a young man he decided againts being a lawyer in favor of becoming “Sylla.”

We at The Orchard have the immense fortune of continuing to distribute the vast majority of his productions essentially through two labels: Sterns African Music and Frochot Cantos, and I continue to encourage the sharing of this musical richness through every means possible. Playlists like the one below are perfect for this since they are not restricted to any one source but encompass many different aspects of his musical vision. And though the list of must-have albums from Sylla’s catalogue can be daunting, it is a treasure trove of permanent delights and surprises.

Rest in Peace, Ibrahima Sylla. Your work will long outlive you.

WOMEX 2013: Of Playlists and Live Recordings

November 7, 2013 Marketing No Comments

header_womex13_654x130I recently had the chance to once again attend WOMEX — the World Music Expo, which took place in Cardiff this year, and which I’ve been attending regularly now practically since the conference’s beginnings (first known as the Berlin Independence days and held in what had only recently been called “East” Berlin)… As usual, I wanted to meet old friends, listen to great music and talk about and listen to how people were surviving — and they are — in these new “digital” days.

Of the top ten labels celebrated this year at WOMEX, we are working with at least half, including World Music Network, the award-winning label for 2013. Suggesting ways and means of helping these top labels make the most of developing trends is always part of our discussions, and as pioneers in this digital sphere, The Orchard is continually learning and testing new Marketing and Communications strategies.

One of these strategies which is coming to fruition and becoming scalable now despite having been available for quite some time is the creation of playlists for streaming stores. This is one of our development methods for labels who want to open up the channels of access to their music, and has since been extended beyond the original players — Spotify, Deezer, Rdio, Aspiro — with the recent launches of iTunes Radio and Google Play Music All Access. Here’s just one example of a playlist we’ve created:

I have already gone on record with how I think streaming positively affects music accessibility in parts of the world where legal, convenient, or even any kind of music consumption is not available, and we have even pulled some very interesting positive results from streaming in more “mature” markets. I continue to believe there is a lot of undiscovered potential with these services, and look forward to uncovering them.

All these discussions with our labels are ongoing, interesting and fruitful, especially so this year with the added presence of my colleagues Naomi Moran, General Manager of our European structure, and Nic Rizzi from our London office. Naomi worked for several years at World Circuit and has a great reputation in this “World,” and Nic was there representing a really cool group he is part of, Anna Phoebe, as well as showing off some of The Orchard’s most helpful tools, like real-time Analytics, Marketable Events, Social Media activity paired with sales data, and more. These advanced tools help our labels understand their business in deeper ways and help make sound decisions when it comes to promotional expenses, touring dates and places, marketing efforts, etc.

Live recordings = Lost recordings?

In addition to meeting with labels, we had a specific desire this year to reach out to WOMEX participants who focus more on concerts, festivals, touring, artist management, etc. The notion that so many live recordings were wasted — and these are recordings that are often of equivalent sound quality to studio recordings, and even more dynamic because of the presence of a live crowd — had come up in conversations we’d had with similar actors in the music sphere and we wanted to pursue the idea further. It turns out these recordings are often not contractually available for sale, either after the show for those who were in attendance or as downloads/streams for those unable to attend. I know there is a great number of concerts happening around the world by artists that I love and that I would be happy to be able to access and pay for.

Our discussions with the key players we met reinforced the feeling that these musical moments were currently lost, along with ways of re-engaging with a fan’s intense live experiences with their favorite artists and potential revenue for everyone involved: artists, labels and festival organizers. Yet again, we can and must think outside the box in this rapidly changing space and figure out the best way to develop our role as distributor — which is to make all music that can be monetized as available and accessible as possible all around the world.

Ben’s Reggae Daze – The Biopic Streaming Playlist

June 21, 2013 Uncategorized No Comments


Music is a funny thing, ‘When it hits you – you feel no pain,’ – R.N. Marley.

Having worked in the “Music Business” practically all my life, I’m completely convinced that there is nothing more satisfying in a line of work than sharing enthusiasm about a particular musical discovery. Whether it’s a song, an artist, or just a new way of having fun with the sound turned up, sharing the musical love (as we say in the trade) seems more important than the music itself.

I’ve caught myself at concerts spending most of my time looking around, usually behind me, and I can’t help myself from wanting to get as near to the stage as possible without endangering life or limb. If I have guests along for the ride (usually programmers for various stores, digital or otherwise) and I see smiles on their faces, I can only hope that they will become true fans. I’m often distracted by observing the potential of any that seem like they might become loadspeakers for the music we have invited them to experience – sometimes at the risk of missing part of the whole experience myself.

I began a self-imposed exercise that mimicked the ways we try and help our labels market their music through various mediums that doesn’t have editorial interface. I found myself back in the thick of musical recommendation myself and it had been a long time since I last made a mixtape of sorts. So I have proudly pleaded guilty to the crime of “home-taping” that, according to vinyl sleeves in the last century, has been killing music. To this day, I still play these battered cassettes in my rather old-school car stereo because of the amount of creative energy that I had invested in creating them. The right songs following each other to induce the right mood, usually as a means to a poignant end.

A streaming playlist was something that we are encouraging all of our labels to make as profusely and proficiently as possible (quality + quantity = triple the money). This is based on the principle that every point of access into their music by potential new fans is good and that every idea can spark another idea and spread your creativity like wildfire. However it is one thing to suggest these ways of ’3.0 Marketing’ when you have to try and convince a search engine to ‘love’ your music based on algo-rhythms and another to actually get down and dirty and do it. So of course I volunteered, given my long history with reggae music (for those interested, see foot note below that includes some really wicked  sound-bites) and notwithstanding the depth of our catalogue in practically every single music genre you can imagine, from Hi-Energy Bulgarian Electro Folk to South Korean Classical Music that should have been the soundtrack for Twilight Movies etc., I decided to do a Reggae Playlist.

Ben’s Reggae Daze

It was incredibly captivating and took about 3 hours to complete. It’s not finding the right tracks that is difficult, but leaving some others out that is hard. Nevertheless, it was worthwhile since it threw me right back into amateur DJ mode. The original inspiration came from the desire that we labels, Orchardites, or music fanatics share, which is to say, “Listen up people this tune is a killer sound and if you are still listening, then try this one on for size.”  I’m actually looking forward to doing Volume Two of Ben’s Reggae Daze, including other great tracks that I’m sure I forgot. But first, you have to like me, follow me and even copy me on your own playlists. It’s the best possible form of flattery.

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Saying Goodbye to HMV UK and Virgin France… A Tipping Point?

January 18, 2013 Industry Trends No Comments

HMV UK, Virgin FranceIt will always be a matter for debate as to exactly when the demise of mass consumption of Compact Discs as the dominant musical sales model became definitively irreversible — but with the recent downfall of both HMV UK and Virgin France, I would think January 2013 has a lot of arguments in its favour.

We can of course go back in time and see that the “writing was already on the wall” as far back as 2007 – by a strange coincidence the year I joined the ranks of The Orchard (no suggestion of any direct link here ;-)) — when top retail chains who already had their own high-profile public brands, faithful client bases subscribing massively to their data bases, decided that “digital” sales were an enemy to their core “physical” business and as a result they intentionally or not sabotaged their own digital services with low investments and the refusal to cross-reference their two user bases. There have been other blog posts about this — I recommend reading Mark Mulligan’s piece – and doubtless many more to come given the fallout from the nearly simultaneous filing of bankruptcy of both HMV in the UK and Virgin stores in France.

My piece here is meant to concentrate on the future as it might be accelerated by this phenomena and offer some hints as to the means and methods that we at The Orchard — in association with our labels — can use to help “le développement durable” or “sustainable growth” of the production space in which we exist and to which we are all personally attached.

Diversification of revenue sources for all to share is key in my opinion here — and luckily it is more and more the reality of our “digital” world. When I started marketing to retail here in France in 2006, there were only four really operational digital stores (iTunes, Fnac, Virgin Mega and Starzik) — all offering à la carte downloads at very much the same prices in a very similar consumer environment alongside an already declining mobile sector with telephone companies offering ringtones from Top 50 artists.

Now we are dealing with more than thirty local businesses — and a wide variety of business models that include streaming services of many different types, an incredibly large choice of ways of possessing or gaining access to music (and video) with practically every combination currently imaginable — although I am sure more will come (and when this happens we will be amongst the first to be contacted given the variety and strength of our labels catalogues). This diversity of revenue is culturally driven too — models that work in France do not necessarily do so in the Benelux, and within the Benelux some do better in Holland than in Belgium. Very often we notice that the different models feed off each other and encourage the growth of other services providing a different type of customer with a different sort of access to the music they want. We have for example noticed that the arrival of a very strong streaming service in The Netherlands was actually accompanied by a higher increase in download sales in that territory compared to its neighbours… which would tend to show that the “cannibalisation” of one method of access by another is not currently true.

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Music of The World Meets The World of Music

October 17, 2012 Marketing 1 Comment

The Orchard Offices around the WorldAs I am making the last preparations for my next participation in a Trade Fair, representing The Orchard at WOMEX 2012 in Thessaloniki, Greece, even I can’t try to pretend that “it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it.”

I’ve had a long and enjoyable relationship with WOMEX through my work with various World Music distributors, labels and artists over the last 20 years, starting with WOMEX’s precursor, the “Berlin Independence Days,” which were held in East Berlin just after the fall of the Wall. In those “physical” days — lasting well into this new “digital” century developing the international sales of Cesaria Evora, Lucky Dube, Salif Keita, Toure Kunda or The Skatalites (yes I insist that Reggae also fall in the scope of “World Music,” as does Electro Cumbia or Hungarian Speed-Folk) — involved mainly finding the right distribution partners distribution, promotional activities (via key media outlets and actors of the live scene) and developing solid mutually advantageous business relationships. A lot of these relationships have become friendships and despite changes in companies, some industrial disasters and difficult financial moments, many of these people are still strong players in the very tight-knit World Music community.

The tools that I will be bringing this year are only materially different. Instead of lugging around boxes of CDs, I’ve got a few presentations, pre-prepared collectively to be shown on a computer as to how best use our Sales Analytics, Interactive Marketing, or maximize results from Social Media Advertising. The goal of developing a mutually profitable network of relationships between the various actors of this sector stays essentially the same however, just more detailed, especially since the changing nature of the methods and means of consumption of music worldwide means that more and more world inhabitants are gaining access to their own cultures and those of others.

To quote from memory from an article that appeared in the Berlin Independence Days guide, World Music is also Bob Marley or Rod Stewart blasting from a battery-powered cassette player in Nairobi. However, in those days there was no realistic way of monitoring this usage such that all parties involved got paid. The mobile phone has become the essential vector of this progression in the controllable growth in access to music that we presented on The Daily Rind already a while ago. The main model is streaming via Telco bundles that includes Internet access with the possibility of listening to music.

These kinds of offers are spreading like wildfire across the world. Telephone operators have understood that musical content is a primary attraction within the Internet. For our labels and their artists, this specific source of revenue breeds additional sources of revenue, creating new uses and relationships with fans that can also be monetized. As I always say in my posts: music is contagious, and these models bring in lasting and growing financial returns.  This ecosystem exemplifies sustainable development — recontextualized!

So though we have already developed tactics on all of this in association with some of the most prestigious World Music labels around — Lusafrica (selected as World Music Label of the Year for 2012), World Circuit, World Music Network, Sterns African Records, Cantos/Frochot, World Village, Mr Bongo, Stonetree Records, ZZK, etc. — we are always looking for ways to improve these collaborations and build others by involving our teams in 26 different countries around the world. Each team demonstrates its expert knowledge and understanding of its local market and gives each of our partners the possibility of simplifying some of their work in order to focus on the essential point: discovering, producing and sharing great music from everywhere.

About The Orchard

The Orchard is a pioneering music, video and film distribution company and top-ranked Multi Channel Network operating in more than 25 global markets. Founded in 1997, we empower businesses and creators in the entertainment industry.

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