Overnight sensations are largely a myth in the music business, and Brookfield Asset Management’s surprise emergence in early October as one of the biggest players in the song-catalog investment and management market was no exception.
Angelo Rufino, the managing partner behind the company’s $2 billion investment in music publisher Primary Wave, says the deal “was a real creative endeavor that took many twists and turns over six months until we both said, ‘We’ve got it. This makes complete sense.’ ”
The 41-year-old East Fishkill, N.Y., native is referring to Primary Wave founder/CEO Larry Mestel, whose business model, he says, convinced Brookfield it was time to make its first foray into the music industry. “We found, after a very long search, the manager who really spoke to how we invest as a company. Larry doesn’t buy an asset, then sit back and say, ‘Well, streaming’s growing at 18% this year. I’m going to get my beta just participating alongside that industry growth.’ He’s got a massive team of branding experts, content experts to proactively drive growth.”
Rufino predicts that strategy will be crucial to future success. “As more money comes in and as things become more competitive,” he says, “we think the ability to grow and compound these assets with a value-added component will be the single differentiator between the winners and losers.”
Rufino and Mestel worked together to craft a three-pronged structure without outside help — unusual in today’s world where investment bankers are often relied-upon go-betweens. They set up a permanent capital vehicle, which they filled partly by buying out some of the investors in Primary Wave’s first and second funds. They rolled $700 million in assets from those funds into the new structure. Brookfield threw another $1 billion on top, and Creative Artists Agency (CAA) joined as a strategic partner and minority shareholder. The result: one of the biggest single funds aimed at catalog acquisitions in the music industry.
Rufino, who holds a seat on the company’s newly formed board, sees the music intellectual-property (IP) asset class eventually becoming a $100 billion market and Primary Wave doubling or even tripling in size — while generating returns exceeding 20% — through movies, gaming partnerships and international expansion.
“It just so happens that Brookfield is the largest private investor in Brazil — a country that has an enormous music culture,” Rufino says. “We’ve also made strong footholds in India as a company, and it’s a market we are interested in exploring with Primary Wave.”
That’s not all. Brookfield’s limited partners — clients on the side of Brookfield’s business that manages money for a fee — remain extremely interested in investing in artists’ rights, especially now that some of the frenzied buying of last year has calmed, Rufino says. “We believe music [IP] as an asset class is still in the very early innings.”
Brookfield’s investment in Primary Wave is its first in the music industry. What should people unfamiliar with your firm know about Brookfield and how it invests?
We are a 100-year-old asset manager that has its roots in a Canadian holding company. We always take a contrarian view to value investing. We want to own things that we view as the backbone of the global economy. We began as a company that owned and operated assets, as opposed to just invested in them from a financial perspective. We started in real estate [and] very quickly branched out into infrastructure, renewables, corporate private equity. We’ve ticked every box of the global ecosystem of asset classes while [building on] our heritage as owner-operator with the best of both worlds — permanent capital and third party-managed money.
Where does Primary Wave fit in Brookfield’s $750 billion portfolio of assets?
Our CEO, Bruce Flatt, wants us to own the backbone of the economy. With Primary Wave, we own the backbone of the music industry with a super-long tail and very stable cash flows. When you own Bob Marley, Whitney Houston, James Brown, these are brands. He’s the best I’ve ever seen at leveraging brand extensions to supercharge the growth of these assets. When we saw the catalogs, we said, “These are the types of assets we can own forever if we so choose.”
Who brought in CAA?
That was Larry’s relationship. He introduced us to [CAA president] Jim Burston, and it became very obvious very quickly that they would supercharge Larry’s core competency. There is an absolute grab for content at this point. Netflix, Hulu and 30 others need to keep us engaged. We are going to keep seeing these artists weave their way into our lives, and CAA has the relationships to help us do that across many entertainment venues while also providing intros to artists.
The market for investing in song catalogs and other intellectual property has grown crowded over the last two years. What’s your outlook for this asset class?
I’d actually argue it’s not that crowded. Somewhere around $7 billion has been raised to go after this asset class, and we think the total addressable market is well in excess of $100 billion. We think there’s going to be a massive opportunity over the next three to four years to acquire these rights. The other thing is that the opportunity set will become much more nuanced. These are really emotional, sensitive transactions for artists, and Larry has emerged as somebody whom artists trust, and that’s important when you are selling something as incredibly important as your life’s work. We wanted to buttress that by saying, “What would be better than partnering with the best steward for my assets and a financial partner that understands this asset class and has an ability to hold the asset forever?”
Why do this deal now?
I was resigned to thinking we wouldn’t get something done in the space until we met Larry earlier this year. What we knew was that 2021 didn’t feel like a good time to do this type of transaction. 2021 was a year of madness in the markets — sky-high valuations across anything you could look at. Brookfield is patient and has the capital base and buy-in from our CEO and investors to wait until opportunities are ripe and fit our organization. So we continued studying the space, gaining conviction in the asset class and understanding that the macro environment would eventually present the opportunity to acquire these assets at a good value.
Do you expect to deploy additional capital beyond what was already committed?
If the business model plays out the way we expect, yes, this entity will just keep receiving capital from us.
As you look to scale Primary Wave, what other companies might make sense to buy?
There are many things we can look at. There are going to be things that touch future mediums of how music is disseminated. Maybe it’s channels of distribution that might make sense for us. Maybe it’s song-catalog managers — people who are doing what we’re doing but need assistance with the value-added component. It could be international opportunities where we are looking at companies that could help us fully brand some of these artists in areas outside of their home country.
What kind of return does Brookfield expect to earn?
We have a 20-year history of compounding at 20%-plus in our public top company. We think returns for this asset class can be at that level and for a very long duration.
Where do you see opportunities for growth?
There are so many ways to monetize music. Think about movies, video games. Music is going to be like the Marvel and DC comic catalogs. We started with Batman and Superman. Then Justice League and Wonder Woman and Black Panther. You think about Rocket Man, Bohemian Rhapsody, Elvis. Now Larry is bringing Whitney Houston to Hollywood. I look at our portfolio of musicians and say we’re going to have movies made on each of them. Prince, Whitney, Bob Marley.
The ability to scale streaming penetration globally is enormous, and the number of vectors that are going to occur with YouTube, TikTok, Peloton are not going to only drive music penetration and pricing, but growth in areas that we haven’t begun to realize.
If there was one biopic you want Primary Wave to make, what would it be?
Prince. I’m a big Prince fan.
What other music do you like?
Classic rock. I love all things ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. I’m a massive Talking Heads fan. I’ve always been into music and sang a cappella at Skidmore College and for many years in New York, including in a group called The Invisible Men. We disbanded when we all started having kids. My two sons, who are 3 and 4, love Tom Petty. We don’t own that catalog. Larry’s going to have to buy it.