Face To Face with Pascal Nègre, founder of Label 6&7
Founder of the independent label 6&7 and a key figure in the French music industry, Pascal Nègre meets with our very own Managing Director for France, Romain Vivien face to face to give us his vision of what an independent label ought to be in 2022.
Pascal Nègre is probably the person who knows best about the nuts and bolts of the industry. Pascal, who started as a pirate radio host, has worked his way up through the ranks and held a wide range of positions: Publicist at BMG, Promotion Director at Columbia and Director of various labels and publishing companies such as Barclay, Island, Polydor. He was also President of the SCPP & SCPA ), a company that collects and distributes fees collected on behalf of music producers from users of sound recordings and music videos in France, as well as the President of the Olympia concert hall in Paris. He is certainly best known for being the CEO of Universal Music France from 1998 to 2016.
After 2016, Pascal Nègre returned to his first trade as a radio host on RFM radio station, but more importantly, he founded the 6&7 label, an independent structure that hosts artists such as Zazie, Kimberose, Jérémy Frérot, OBOY, Marie-Flore, Vanille and Lubiana.
Believe has been a partner of 6&7 since its creation, so Pascal Nègre naturally agreed to be interviewed by Romain Vivien, Managing Director France at Believe. Together, they discuss topics as varied as the advantages of being independent label, the challenges of using data in the management of artists, the creation of social content by artists and the recent innovations implemented by Believe.
Romain Vivien - Believe and 6&7 have been working together for five years now, so we know each other well. But can you present 6&7 for the people who know you, and your label, maybe a little bit less well?
Pascal Nègre - So it's an independent label, that you distribute. I'll be honest, at the time I met with all the distributors and I chose you because I thought you were the best. An independent label is a small team, there are six or seven of us, the label is called 6&7, that's pretty convenient. There are few artists that we focus on, but it's a need for expertise and I think Believe brings that.
It means that you are a real partner when it comes to all the technologies that you own. Because for me, Believe's strength is to be a record company but also an engineering company. And I think there is a big difference with majors, where majors tend to subcontract everything, you don't, and this is a strength, I think we will talk about it later.
And then there are all the tools that you have created, your expertise. You are on the lookout for everything that is going on, so you are feeding us. You allow us to have an expertise that we alone would be unable to have.
R.V - You were talking about it just now, describing yourselves as an independent label with few artists and a strong focus on your projects. According to you, what are the main differences between an independent label and a major label?
P.N - So it's stability first... You know I'm also a manager, I had the privilege to run a major label for 21 years.... I have an artist who used to be in a major label, he had five label managers in five years. That's a lot. In an independent label, you sign with people, that's the first difference, whereas with a major label, you sign with a structure and the person who signs you may not be there two months later, or 24 hours later. That means that if there is stability, there is a medium-term vision, that is to say that we can really do artist development
We can not afford to hire stars, there is so much competition today. So we take artists that we try to develop. It' s true that having a medium term vision is important, if it doesn't work right away, we have to build. And we really have a medium-term vision. My feeling is that today, unfortunately, majors sign a lot of artists, they throw them to the ceiling and they see what remains stuck. And on those who remain stuck to the ceiling, they go for it. We have few artists so we will work hard, concentrate for a long time on few. The real fundamental difference is there.
The other fundamental difference is expertise. It's the feedback that a major company with resources has, because it has so many projects. For us, the feedback comes from you, that's where you are essential. You allow us to have a lot of feedback on everything that is happening in the market, which we would be unable to do because we are too small.
And the last difference is that on an independent label, you ask yourself every Monday what's in the bank account, whereas, I'll be honest, I never asked that question when I was running a major label.
R.V - And artist development is the hardest part.
P.N - it's the toughest and longest part, it’s when you have to be concentrated. Besides, you know that we are a label that signs pop music, world music and urban music at the same time. So, we have to take our time. There is no miracle recipe but what is great is that everything is moving. What was TikTok two years ago?
R.V - There are many new ways to promote, to engage conversation, to create an audience.
P.N - There are lots of new tool, of course!
R.V - This is a bit of a logical extension, considering your experience and your ability to observe the market's evolution. According to you, what are the main solutions the digital world is providing today in 2022 for artist development?
P.N - Well, it's the variety of tools. I mean that today, whether it's with DSPs, whether it's all the work with playlists, referencing, whether it's everything we can do on social media, whether it's, and here for me this is magic, because I've always believed that in the success of an artist there is a part of miracle. When all of a sudden you post something on TikTok and Boom, you end up with 100 000, 200 000, 2 million, 30 million views in a few days, when all of a sudden you start to have 100,000 to 150,000 followers in a few weeks, it's all these tools that are quite exciting. The other fundamental thing, the big difference, is that we now know our consumers.
R.V - You're right.
P.N - And on this topic, it is obvious that the help with data is also one of your strengths. Data is great, but it's still very complicated, very vague, and you have simple analysis tools that allow us to make decisions. This is extremely important, meaning that you are able to provide us with dashboards that allow us to understand what is going on. You mix the data to provide us with information.
R.V - And therefore to be able to make investment decisions.
P.N - Exactly, investment decisions. And also the places where we communicate, how we communicate, and with who we communicate.
R.V - We live in a digital market, which I think is evolving much faster than the physical market of ten or fifteen years ago, with trends and tools that are also changing extremely fast: you were talking about TikTok earlier, it hardly existed a year and a half, two years ago and it is now completely unavoidable in the strategy of artists, and the development and production of content. When you are an independent label associated with Believe as 6&7 is, how do you manage to organize and manage these tools to make your artists benefit from them?
P.N - I think you just said the right word: it's using your skills and being able to translate it into the language of the artist, who will then translate it into its own TikTok creation. It’s clear that people don't realize the fundamental work that independent labels have to inform and support artists. Sure, some of them are naturally Tiktokers...
R.V - Very comfortable with the tool...
P.N - Very comfortable with the tool, yes - in fact we have just signed a young artist who is a huge hit on TikTok - but others are not naturally on TikTok, and suddenly we bring them there and that's what's extremely exciting: to think about how we can create with the artist, in cohesion with the artist's image, content for TikTok, which will suddenly make the artist known and recognized.
R.V - A content that tells the story of the artist, in a legitimate way for the artist and that does not misrepresent him or her...
P.N - Exactly.
R.V - We use the tool to tell our story...
P.N - It's always been an obsession even in the old world: use the media and don't let the media use you. Well, that's what you have to do with TikTok: there are TikTok codes, but at some point, having your own universe that makes the person who is going to follow you understand who you are, what you give off, what your songs and your universe give off, that's super important.
R.V - As you know, we've been a privileged partner of Spotify for a couple of years now, and for the past year we've been beta testers, and now users, of a new service called Discovery Mode. What do you think of it and what does it bring to your artists?
P.N - The idea is great: in fact, we're not working on new releases, we're working on 3, 4, 5 or even more months old catalogs. All of a sudden, we put them on Spotify radio and the guy listening to Spotify radio will think "Oh my God, this track is great". What is he going to do? He's going to stream it and put it in his library. I see the effect on the tracks that I have on my label, it's plus 100, plus 200, plus 300, plus 400 percent increase in streaming, and at the same time you increase the community on Spotify and the fan community
R.V - And unique users.
P.N - And unique users! It’s great, it's absolutely great. I think you’re the only ones doing this?
R.V - We are the only ones, yes.
P.N - Well, I hope it lasts! That's great, congratulations!
R.V - It is about discovery, indeed. We can say that it is a discovery and once you like it, you put it in your library and there you are paid again at 100%.
P.N - Right, it's a discovery or a rediscovery.
R.V - So it works for you, and you can see a concrete impact on your projects?
P.N - It's a tangible impact, +100%, 150, 200... It's extraordinary.
R.V - For some of the artists on your label, especially Kimberose, Jérémy Frérot or Vanille, we have used Discovery mode and we have seen an impact on the engagement of the audiences of these artists What do you think about it and what does it tell you about the opportunities it triggers?
P.N - Obviously you're increasing the artist's community and engagement. So it means that at the same time you showcase a track, it creates streaming in the short term. But in the medium term it develops the fan base. And that's the goal, that's the goal of developing an artist. So it's a great thing.
R.V - When we talk about engagement, when we talk about promoting artists, when we talk about building audiences, there's also something that's important, and that's shortening the sales path. We've created a tool called Backstage Links, which allows you to post on all social networks - or in the artists' own Internet environment - a link to take fans directly to the store of their choice, where they are users or subscribers. Is this a tool that you use, is it something that is well perceived by artists, and also do you see any positive impact in your ability to develop audiences or better monetize your content?
P.N - At the beginning we had something called Linkfire, which we all used, and which we still use from time to time. What do you bring to it? First of all, it's an internal solution. But what's great about this link is that all of a sudden it's not just "the record is out, let's make it easier for the customer". It's "the music isn't out yet but you can do a pre-save". You can enter your email address and say "let me know and send me a push mail when it comes out". With this link, you can actually pre-save a release directly on your DSP. That's what's pretty cool about it. And finally, it also directs you to all of the artist's social networks.
I believe in facilitating the customer's journey, and what is great here is that not only do we facilitate the customer's journey for a release, but above all we can already reserve what is not yet released, and that is something great. And it allows you to reach all the artists' social networks. So it's actually a very rich, versatile customer journey, which allows fans to go to all the places very quickly and make their choices.
R.V - We talked about new releases but there is also an extremely important issue when you are a producer and especially when you own Masters like you, who mainly sign in production or in artist contracts: it is the work on the catalogue. So how do you see this in the digital world, and how do you work on it, and how do you think we can help you work on it in the digital world?
P.N - It's true that there are a lot of opportunities in this area as well. We talked about it earlier, all the operations that you have set up on Spotify radios, are also a way to work on the real back catalog by increasing the number of streams and by strengthening the communities. TikTok, with whom you have privileged partnerships, is a way to get tracks discovered.
R.V - And there are new generations.
P.N - Absolutely! Because an old title is a novelty for the new generation.
R.V - Exactly!
P.N - We can see it in the stream rankings, by the way. All of a sudden, there are tracks that are getting rediscovered with TikTok and blowing up again on streaming. On YouTube too, you do quite a lot of things with it. So there are a lot of opportunities. Then there are more structured things like re-releases and so on. But I think that the basic work is indeed to use the new channels, so to speak, to reach out to the new generations.
R.V - And with songs that are permanently available, which was not the case in the physical world.
P.N - And globally available as well!
R.V - You were talking about it earlier, data is for me one of the big differences between the physical world and the digital world. In fact, it is a better knowledge of the consumer and of the people who are interested in the music of your artists. Today, with the way we give you data, the way we make data available to you in our tools, what do you get out of it and what do you think is important and relevant from this point of view?
P.N - First of all, transparency. We get real-time information, we don't need to wait 18 months to get it. And then, , the way you've processed this data: we have meters with pointers that make it easy to decide. We are really on the dashboard.
R.V - Exactly, that's exactly how we thought of it, a dashboard.
P.N - It's a very easy way to analyze data and make decisions. But I think that transparency, speed and ergonomics are a great strength that Believe has over its competitors.
R.V - Because I think that today you have to make decisions very quickly.
P.N - Exactly, and even if it means changing, moving or accelerating or reinforcing afterwards.
R.V - Thank you so much for all this. Can you tell us what are your news for 2022 ? What are you preparing with your artists, what will we have on 6&7 this year?
P.N - On 6&7 this year we will have Marie Flore. There is a first single that is starting to play on radios, we have a great reception so it's very exciting. We started Marie Flore's development... You can' t develop an artist if there is no stage. We started touring, the Covid came, and it was over. But now she is coming back with a new album and I think we have something very powerful.
We have signed Ehla, she released a first single last year, which has been used in a commercial around the world. There is an album coming out. It's a clever, interesting, different kind of French pop.
We also signed a young French-Chinese artist called Sheng. She's a hip-hop/pop rapper, she's great, she's intelligent, she lives in France but she has also lived in China. So she creates songs with choruses in Mandarin. It's so interesting, the girl is smart and brilliant, I love her.
And I was also told that Zazie was working, so we'll see what happens.
R.V - Now that venues are reopeing, do you have any artists who are coming back on stage, who will be on tour or who will be doing concerts by the end of the year?
R.N - Jérémy Frérot is on tour, and Lubiana is also going on tour. I think that the stage will really help her to grow. We are in the world music field, she is the first woman who plays the Kora. So there you have it, we have a lot of very exciting projects.
R.V - There’s a new EP from OBOY?
P.N - Yes, there's a re-release of OBOY that should be out before the summer, I think.
R.V - Well, great, lots of things in very different genres.
P.N - Completely different yes, but I think it is important.
R.V - Yes, of course, it’s fundamental.
P.N - Diversity is the battle.