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?