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Collective Management Organisations

Cécile Rap-Veber (SACEM): ‘We are a solutions provider to create value, a tech company, and we are less and less seen as some sort of cultural institution’



When Cécile Rap-Veber was appointed CEO of SACEM last October, replacing Jean-Noel Tronc who had been in the job for ten years, she became the first woman to run the French rights society since its creation in 1851.

Rap-Veber was not a newcomer to the society — she had been working there for the past nine years. She was hired by Tronc to as Director of Licensing. The shrewd negotiator was in charge of securing licenses for media (TV/radio) phono and video mechanicals, private copying levies, and digital. She was also handling digital mandates with US/UK publishers, such as Universal Music Publishing Group.

Two years later she added to her stripes international development, looking after reciprocal agreement, foreign collection and development. She was also Chairman of the Licensing Committee at Armonia, the digital licensing hub regrouping several European societies. Her new position allowed her to develop a significant international network.

In January 2019, she became Executive Director of Licensing, International & Operations, adding to her responsibilities documentation and distribution for members, mandates, and foreign societies. She also took charge of the development and implementation of the digital processing platform URights.

A trained lawyer, she started her career at law firm Cabinet Sylvain Jaraud where she was in charge of IP issues in the audiovisual and music sectors, working with dozens of France’s most prominent artists and filmmakers.

After almost five years she was hired in 2000 by Pascal Nègre, then CEO of Universal Music Group France, the country’s largest record company, to be Director of Legal and Business Affairs. Rap-Veber likes to share that Nègre told her he was tired of seeing her every time there was a negotiation with one of Universal’s artists and offered her to instead come and do the same job but from the other side of the table, which she accepted.

In 2009, she was promoted to Managing Director Universal Music Consulting & Content, Universal Music new business development division dedicated to brands and artists/music partnerships. “We did a lot of fun things,” she said.

In 2013, she joined SACEM and became a pivotal member of the executive board, with a reputation for being result-driven and a problem solver. These two attributes were crucial for her ascending to the top job at the society, as the board was looking for someone who would spend more time looking after the operations of the society and less with political action, which Tronc excelled at.

Six months ago, SACEM’s Board of Directors informed Tronc that they had decided to end his mandate and named Rap-Veber and Secretary General David El Sayegh as joint interim CEOs.

Six weeks later Rap-Veber was appointed Chief Executive officer, with El Sayegh as Deputy Chief Executive Officer. The Board gave her the brief to “reinvent” SACEM and “create the collective management of tomorrow.”

SACEM is one of the largest societies in the world. In 2020, it collected directly for its members €988.5 million in revenue, down 12% compared to 2019, and overall, collected €1.4 billion with the mandates it received from other rights holders (figures for 2021 have not yet been released).

Creative Industries NewsEmmanuel Legrand had a long video discussion with Rap-Veber to talk about the performances of the society since she took over in September and the challenges facing the society. (The interview was done in English)

How was 2021 for SACEM?

Cécile Rap-Veber: Better than expected, but unfortunately we suffered from a big decrease in revenues from live and public performance, something in the region of 200 million euros compared to a normal year. It was even worse than 2020, but when it comes to digital, we’ve seen a very big uptake. Digital collections will be better this year, but will not benefit all the rights owners in the same way. When it comes to digital, there is a large part that will be sent to our partners representing Anglo-American repertoire. Usually, live revenues tend to benefit our direct members, so digital will not offset the losses from live for them. We are still feeling the effects of the crisis, but we can also see some improvements. In the first quarter of 2022, there was a rebirth of live activity, focusing mainly on established acts. When it comes to newcomers, it is very difficult to make ends meet. That’s why we are going to launch mid-May a campaign with all the live music producers, the CNM [National Music Center], SACD [rights society for drama repertoire], and private theatres. The #RetrouvonsNous campaign was initiated by SACEM to explain to the public that artists are missing their public but also that we missed to be all together. We have scheduled it in May because at the moment it is too soon, as Covid is still here. When all the restrictions were removed a few weeks ago, cases have been going up so it is difficult to convince people right now to come back to concert venues. On top of that we have the economic crisis and inflation coming from the Ukrainian crisis, so it all these factors may prevent people to buy tickets when they focus on their rent, food, electricity and gas bills. It has an impact on the way people consume culture in France and also probably in Europe. To summarise, we had a better year than expected, but our direct members are still affected by the impact of the pandemic.

You’ve been in the job since September of last year. What are your plans with SACEM?

Cécile Rap-Veber: We have started a major reorganisation of the society because, as you may know, we had to put together a departure plan, mostly retirements, affecting over 150 people in the organisation. In the meantime we really want to transform the company to be more agile and more focused on members, services and innovation, as well as better collect and distribute. In addition, we want to develop new sources of revenues so we are setting up a department of development, under the responsibility of Julien Dumon, who is already in charge of phono mechanical and digital. We have set up a new entity called SACEMLab, under the responsibility of Adeline Beving and Julien Lefevre, which is focused on doing partnerships with start-ups, and developing agile tools for our members and see how we can improve our processes. The first deal in place is with La Plaine Images, based in Lille that will favour the interconnection with start-ups and delivery of new tools. And on top of that, to show how much focused we are on innovation and development, we have set up with the board a specific committee based on strategy and innovation with Jean-Michel Jarre as the “godfather” of the initiative. This committee is involved in NFTs, metaverse, all the new solutions that we hope will help us create new value for our members.

You have also restructured your international department, haven’t you?

Cécile Rap-Veber: Yes, pursuant to the retirement of Jean-Claude Chamoux, we have decided to regroup all our international activities, the relations with our sister societies and the development in foreign countries, under the responsibility of Caroline Champarnaud. We are going to be more strategic about the relationship with our sister societies, and also push for a better interaction between some societies. Caroline has been instrumental in building with me relationships with [Canada’s PRO] SOCAN or [South Korea’s rights society] KOMCA recently, for online digital collections. That’s also part of her remit because I think this is key and strategic for all of us to pool our resources when it comes to processing because we all receive, mainly for Europe, the same data and for me it makes sense to pool the processing. This will also allow us to decrease the commission for the digital exploitation for our members.

Can we go back very quickly to what happened in September and what led you to become the new CEO of SACEM?

Cécile Rap-Veber: In September, the board and Jean-Noël have decided to stop their collaboration and they asked me to take on the role of CEO.

You make it sound like it just happened like that, easy and simple. But it seems it was something that had been brewing for some time and I was wondering if that was a reflection of strategic disagreements or personal disagreements?

Cécile Rap-Veber: No, it was strategic. If you read what our chairman told the media at the time, there was a strong wish from the board — which had been renewed in June — that we should focus on operations and innovations. Because digital is key to our future, and since the deals with DSPs and GAFAs were important, it was a strategic move to ensure the future of SACEM. I think that after ten years, they were happy with what Jean-Noël had achieved, but they wanted to accelerate the transformation.

One of your board members summed it up for me as “less politics, more focus on money.”

Cécile Rap-Veber: It’s not only about money if I may say so, because our focus is also on operational issues and services so that in the end we have better collections, better distributions. We also want to consider members as the centre of society. Recently I discovered through a video I made with Fianso, a rapper, that it got a lot of reactions, more than 200,000 views. The urban music community used to say that they were not welcomed at SACEM. So I think there is on our side a transformation of the society to also show that this is their home, this is the home of creators and publishers. But we are still seen as an institutional organisation, which is not true. We are a private company, we are non-profit and we belong to our members. I come from a family of creators, 17 generations… In my family, I am the only one who’s made studies, when the others focused on creating, and from my early days as a lawyer, I have always been surrounded by creators and artists. They are my family and I think this relationship is important in the new way we want to see SACEM evolving in the coming years.

How would you describe your management style versus your predecessor’s?

Cécile Rap-Veber: The thing that makes the difference, for me, is that I am super operational, and I am still involved in deals — for example there is an important negotiation with a major broadcaster, and I am directly involved. I am personally involved to attract new mandates and building new partnerships. My chance is that I have been working with the team for nine years so they already know me, they know my management style and they know that they can rely on me for operational matters and not simply for management issues. I am close to them but when you become CEO, you are sometimes seen differently by your team. I think we still have a close relationship and I must admit that we have unbelievable exchanges at the executive board every two weeks — it is enriching and fun at the same time. I think we are creating a new mood. I really have trust in collective intelligence, with the board, with David [El Sayegh] my deputy, with my executive team and all the rest of the employees. I love to manage in sharing advices/strategy or gathering innovative ideas from the team to the point that I have implemented a new “shadow executive board”, formed by young employees who are 25 to 33 years old. This shadow executive board have submitted specific topics they’ve analysed as been instrumental for our future in the next years and will work on solutions and answers to implement. From the youngest to the most experienced ones, everybody is involved in the strategy and participate in its elaboration and execution. In a way, like web3, we are more decentralised and collective.

Your predecessor was a political animal, both in Paris and Brussels. How are you going to be dealing with the policy issues that come with the job?

Cécile Rap-Veber: I’ve already started. I want to highlight the fact that I was a lawyer, and when you see how many politicians and Presidents in France were former lawyers, I think I am able to talk to people at that levelI have a team with David, Blaise [Mistler, Director of institutional relations] and Héloïse [Fontanel, Head of European and International Public Affairs], and they have been introducing me to a number of deputies, senators, the ministry of culture. These people need real information to make good decisions when it comes to legislation. We have a lot of good meaningful exchanges about the cultural aspect of our activities. We do have concerns about presidential candidates like [Emmanuel] Macron who wants to put an end to the television license, which will create funding problems. We are really focused on that. Despite my new experience in that field, we already had concrete result in the way people listen to us.

If you were to do a SWOT analysis of SACEM — strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats — what you you list?

Cécile Rap-Veber: First, that we are in a better position this year than last year. You could really see that during the pandemic, we were very dependent on the economic activity, but you can also see that other businesses have not suffered from the crisis. On our side, it was really tough, but we are now more agile, we are investing in tech, we have people that are really committed to make it happen, meaning that we are committed to collect more, and provide better services. We have threats that I would identify as coming from GAFAs. Compared to the United States or China, Europe is lagging behind when it comes to the new digital revolution. That’s why with others I am fighting to have a real European metaverse because this where creation and creators will be better protected compared to the metaverse in China.. But we have to secure that environment. We have to be cautious every day. As long as we protect our environment, I mean, we are in a better situation. If you look at what happened last year about the private copying levies, with refurbished mobile phones [which ended up paying 40% less than new phones], we are constantly under threat. We are trying to better communicate. We are trying to enlarge the scope of clients and partners, to better welcome our members coming from all around the world, and try to improve collective management in other countries where we can help them. This is the case with some local societies in Africa or in the Middle East where governments have asked us to provide some information and analysis about the implementation of CMOs. When I see what we have been able to achieve in a short period of time, the SWOT I would have made last year would have been very different.

Molly Neuman from Songtrust told us a few weeks ago, “We can talk about web3 but we are still trying to fix web1 problems.” Do you agree?

Cécile Rap-Veber: I am not going to say that I disagree with Molly. However, I would have a different view. I think we are already ready for web3, and I can tell you that we are going to release a solution for protecting works with blockchain, and we are also working on a solution for NFTs. I understand that everything is not fixed yet in web2 — because web1 was a long time ago —, and we have a lot of things to fix and improve. You can jump to the new environment even if you also still need to fix the old one. Trains are still late and yet we can go to the moon, but we can work on trying to get the trains to arrive on time.

You referred to an increase of revenues from digital but do you believe that digital revenues are where they should be?

Cécile Rap-Veber: The short answer is no. I still have a lot of concern about freemium exploitation; I still have concern about the level of monetisation for these free services; I have concern about very big tech companies that can sell very expensive devices, but they don’t increase the price for their subscriptions. So yes, I think there is still value to be created and extracted for the benefit of all rights holders. I am not saying that the sharing of the value should be split differently because there is a lot to say about that, but I would rather focus on how we can increase the overall value. When you see that subscription rates have not increased in over ten years, despite the inflation, it’s a concern. Netflix has been able to achieve great things and regularly increase their subscription rates. I agree that they have exclusive content but take music streaming services. When they started they were able to provide access to, say, five million tracks. And now they provide access to over 70 million tracks, podcasts, and other content, and they still charge the same amount! It’s a joke! So something needs to happen here. If we were able to implement a minimum per stream for all platforms, it would force them to seek better monetisation and value. In addition, it would make it easier for our members and artists to better understand the value of their works.

Switching to the US, what do you think of the creation of the MLC?

Cécile Rap-Veber: Well, we can already see revenue coming from the MLC, so that’s good news. Compared to the situation before, without any proper and systematic management of mechanical rights in the United States, it’s a vast improvement. We have participated in the analysis of the unclaimed royalties — we work with Muserk in that field — so we saw revenue from the unclaimed pot coming from YouTube, and our relationship with Muserk will also help us with the unclaimed royalties from pure players. The only thing that should be fixed — in particular in the context of web3 that Molly was talking about — is the quality of the documentation. There is still room for improvement.

And why is that? 20 years ago it was already the case. Why are we still talking about these issues?

Cécile Rap-Veber: If I understand correctly, the basis for the documentation was coming from HFA and HFA apparently had not been updated for a while. And, in the meantime, there was a massive increase in catalogues. Even in the 90s, HFA were not known for the quality of their documentation, so today we are dealing with that. I don’t blame the MLC because they have been able to achieve in two years something that we were not expecting. As a foreign society, it is a good starting point. I am more concerned by the CRB [Copyright Royalty Board] discussions. I mean, if we have been able to increase the rates in Europe, it is important that the rates are at the same level elsewhere. It is really weird for me to see that platforms in the United States would pay rates that are lower than what they pay in the rest of the world. I also saw that the CRB judges have decided to dismiss the settlement that would have frozen mechanicals on physical products and downloads. When you see the amount of money that some companies invest in music publishing rights, it shows that there is a real value attached to musical works. I am talking about compositions. So that should be reflected worldwide in how much songwriters and publishers get paid.

What are your views about making the music industry more diverse? After all, there are not that many like you who are CEO of big music organisations.

Cécile Rap-Veber: There are more and more women at the executive level, but not enough. I think that for us, at SACEM, it is vital to promote more women right now, at the level of the executive board, because the more you expose women with responsibilities, the more you recognise their value. On my executive board we have 45% of women, so we are getting close to parity. My role is also to have SACEM perceive as more than just a CEO, and therefore expose more the diversity and the profiles of our leaders. And if I were to leave the company, there would be already within the company a number of women who could potentially replace me as CEO. Diversity is key for me. Going back to that conversation I had with Fianso on YouTube, I said that my priority was to implement more diversity at SACEM , and you know why: How can you claim to represent one of the most diverse repertoire in the world if all the employees look the same? We must reflect the diversity of our members. We have hired a company that will do an audit and help us identify where there is a lack of diversity and by diversity I mean everything from gender to race, background or origin, and more generally CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] topics. We need to reflect our cultural environment. Why do we have the second most exported repertoire after the Anglo-American repertoire? It’s because of all the foreign creators that have joined SACEM. This is our force. We represent the first Arabic repertoire in the world, the first African repertoire in the world, we have a very strong representation of Brazilian creators, and so on. This is our chance. For me, diversity is one of the pillars of democracy.

What’s the rest of the year going to be like for SACEM?

Cécile Rap-Veber: As for the business, we are going to see more concerts, the digital growth will continue and we will announce soon an important partnership with a very big repertoire. We have a lot of partnerships already in place, with Universal Music Group, Warner Chappell, or IMPEL. IMPEL keeps growing, which is great. Overall, we now have mandates from over 50 different publishers. We are going to continue to improve our data platform. At the moment, we process more than 170 trillion lines of data, so we have to keep pace with the continuous growth of data. We are going to bring new tools to our members such as Musicstart, a 100% digital work protection service in the blockchain for our members and creators all around the world. We have a lot of expectations with our new development department under Julien [Dumon] to help grow our business. We have new sources of collections — for example we are trying to implement licenses to capture revenue from addressable advertising. We have also implemented a new CMO in France for the neighbouring rights for press publishers to collect their rights from Google, Facebook and Microsoft. Also, thanks to the implementation of the SMA Directive in France, we expect a rise in the local production of audiovisual products on SVoD platforms, which is good for our members. There are also uncertainties about what will be the policies of the next President of France, so we have to be cautious. There are some indications that innovation and creating value could be central to the policy in the future political landscape and we will be part of it. We are a solutions provider to create value, we are a tech company, and we are less and less seen as some sort of cultural institution but rather a real partner bringing value to creators and publishers and help the development of France’s cultural sovereignty in the world. Collective management will be one of the pillars of the new, decentralised and collaborative web3.0 environment. We need to be there to help our creators to be in a better place in this new environment, and create value directly with the audience, without having to be in a centralised GAFA solution. SACEM will be a key player in the coming years in that environment.

(Credit picture: Jean-Baptiste Millot)

Emmanuel is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist, blogger and media consultant, specialising in the entertainment business and cultural trends. He was the US editor for British music industry trade publication Music Week. Previously, he was the editor of Impact, a magazine for the music publishing community (2007-2009), the global editor of US trade publication Billboard (2003-2006), and the editor in chief of Billboard’s sister publication Music & Media (1997-2003).

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