Music News

‘We are the publisher rappers trust’ say Warner Chappell Germany chiefs

Last week, Warner Music Group opened a brand-new creative hub in Berlin, encompassing both Warner Music Central Europe and Warner Chappell Music Germany. Headliner boarded a flight to the German capital to speak with Lars Karlsson, MD, Warner Chappell Music Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and Scandinavia, and Natascha Augustin, VP, Warner Chappell Music Germany, to find out why it is the “publisher that rappers trust”, how the company has come to dominate the domestic market, and how they plan to grow their share even further.

Located in the heart of Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, Warner Music Group’s new offices are alive with the hustle and bustle of staff readying the new premises for the evening’s grand opening at the time of Headliner’s visit. In a few hours’ time, the plush new space will welcome senior leaders and executives from across the company, along with a raft of artists and media from across the globe. We are given a tour of the various meeting rooms, social areas, and immersive playback facilities before the ribbon is officially cut, as signage is positioned, and terrace bars are erected around us.

It is in the state-of-the-art playback suite that we find Karlsson and Augustin, who have taken time out of a hectic schedule to join us for a chat about what has been a period of significant success for Warner Chappell in Germany. For the past five years, the company has been the country’s No.1 music publisher, having made early inroads with the domestic rap and hip-hop scene, which has come to dominate the market.

Both Karlsson and Augustin are industry and Warner veterans. Karlsson has been in the music publishing business for 34 years, joining Warner Chappell in 2007 in the Nordics before expanding his role to encompass Germany. Meanwhile, Augustin has never worked anywhere else, having joined the company 20 years ago as an intern and going on to become an A&R assistant, then a full A&R, before rising the ranks to head up the department. “I like Warner and Warner likes me,” she smiles, recounting her time to date with the company. “We are a good team, we are successful.”

The pair are warm, welcoming, and relaxed during our time together. And while today marks the culmination of one of their busiest periods in recent memory, their tones remain calm and unhurried throughout.

“We were probably the first publisher that understood rap here,” Augustin says as we discuss Warner Chappell’s status as Germany’s No.1 publisher for the past half a decade. “We were very early to that and have such a strong standing in that scene, and that is a big part of our success story. We were the first German company to use rappers and producers as songwriters, and we’d connect them with the pop world. Now, that’s not a story today, but at the time it was a big story. We would bring different worlds together and that was our USP. And it’s still ongoing that we are the publisher who rappers trust. And if you are successful more success comes; other writers want to be published by you. But we have to constantly rethink and reinvent ourselves, we can never sit back and enjoy that success. We’re constantly thinking about what’s next.”

“In 2012 we were at No.4 on the market share charts,” adds Karlsson, highlighting the change of fortunes the company has experienced in what is a relatively short period of time, “and we knew we had to be aiming for the No.1 position, or at the very least not No.4!”

“And it’s easier to become No.1 than it is to stay No.1,” adds Augustin. “Because you have to think about your strategy and vision for staying there once you have arrived. That’s the challenge we face.”

So, what is the pair’s A&R strategy today?

“You have to look at everything around the artist,” says Augustin. “Their team, their manager, it’s very strategic. Are they doing TikTok well, what’s their social media engagement? Then obviously it has to be a feeling you have.”

“It’s also about whether this person is someone you want to sign,” Karlsson comments. “Will people like them? Are they socially capable? I’ve had signings with the most talented people in the world and no one wants to work with them, so how do you connect them with people?

It's an exciting time to be an artist. You can conquer the world.

“It’s not just about being a genius,” Augustin asserts. “You have to think about things like, do they travel? For songwriters and producers there is much more to do now than in previous times, where they would sit in their studio, send out a beat and everyone goes, ‘wow’. You have to deliver on so many fronts. It still is and always will be about art. It’s a people business, it’s about emotions and that will never change.”

Karlsson also points out that songwriters must never lose sight of the fact that they are working for the artist.

“It can be a real conflict for a songwriter, and I understand that,” he says. “You are doing this for another artist and the most successful writers and producers in the world understand that connection. Even if they think they would prefer a different sound, it is the artist who is going to perform it in the end. So you have to have lot of understanding.

“Also, it’s vital to understand each genre and culture in detail. And it is so important being a major corporation to still make sure that we feel like a family. Our signings don’t just disappear in amongst all our other signings once we have signed them. We take care of people and create a space where people want to work with us.”

The domestic rap boom in recent years has significantly boosted not only the German music market in general, but has shone a spotlight on the scene’s DIY, entrepreneurial spirit. The impact of this on major labels and publishers has been double-edged, on the one-hand serving up a savvy talent pool from which to acquire talent, but on the other a sense of independence that may be reluctant to embrace a major’s overtures.

“In the rap and hip-hop scenes they are wizards at promoting themselves, so that has a lot to do with localised success,” says Karlsson of the booming German market.

“In German rap it’s very Muslim driven, and that was ignored for various reasons by the major music industry, so they were coming up with their own social media campaigns and have this amazing fan connection, and that is part of the success,” Augustin elaborates.

“And this is our challenge. These artists are very entrepreneurial and educated and want to learn, so if a young rapper has everything on point, where do we come in? That is the challenge we are facing.”

How then does Warner Chappell appeal to those pursuing an independent route?

“Some of them we will not offer anything to because they are able to do it themselves,” Karlsson suggests as we receive the signal that our time is almost up. “But apart from the actual services we provide, we have to make sure that everything we can offer is at a better standard than what they can do for themselves. And we can expand whatever network they may already have and we can help facilitate different collaborations with artist from different genres that they wouldn’t be able to do without us.”

“Everybody needs something, so the trick is to find out what that person really needs,” Augustin concludes. “You will always find something. Breaking them internationally, there is always something. It’s not one size fits all, it’s about communication, trust and being curious. It’s an exciting time being an artist. You can conquer the world.”

You can read our interview with Warner Music Central Europe co-presidents Fabian Drebes and Doreen Schimk on what it takes to break an act here