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Music Industry Moves: Zara Larsson Launches Her Own Label and Acquires Back Catalog Masters

Zara Larsson
Courtesy of Epic Records

Activist Artists Management has announced an expansion into Asia. The Activist roster includes such acts as the Lumineers, Alec Benjamin, Empire of the Sun, Grateful Dead, Dead & Company* (co-managed with Azoff/Moir), Bob Weir, Dwight Yoakam, Brittney Spencer and Michael Franti and Spearhead, along with entertainment brands and companies like All Elite Wrestling and Lion Forge Animation. Its clients extend to film and television as well, with actors Ken Watanabe and David Alan Grier represented.

Jonathan Heeter will head up the Asia operation, maximizing opportunities for the firm’s clients on the continent, and especially greater China, where he lived for more than 20 years. Prior to Activist, he ran the international department at Warner Music China; worked for Dentsu as a senior strategist helping implement branding campaigns across China and the Asia Pacific region; and with Fender to build a direct-to-consumer and wholesale business in China. He also ran his own boutique marketing consultancy.

He will be based out of Los Angeles but will travel to the region as part of his new role.

Said Bernie Cahill, founding partner of Activist: “Jonathan has over 20 years of first-hand experience in China, where he built significant businesses and brands. He has a proven track record in Asia and has maintained deep, high-level relationships throughout the region which makes him the perfect person to identify, support and expand our business.”

“I’m thrilled to join the Activist team and help provide value for our clients in one of the most exciting entertainment markets in the world,” said Heeter. “The growth potential throughout the region, including China, Korea and Southeast Asia, is tremendous and I’m looking forward to bringing expanded opportunities to our entire roster and a few select new clients.”

Wednesday, June 8

Zara Larsson (pictured) has announced the commencement of her own new record label, Sommer House. Sommer House will be licensed through Epic USA and distributed by Sony Sweden for all of the singer’s forthcoming releases.

Having been signed to the independent Ten Music Group since 2011, Larsson also takes control of her entire recording catalog in a unique agreement with the Swedish label and its CEO Ola Håkansson — who originally signed Larsson.

“This is a natural and exciting development in Zara’s continuing music career,” Håkansson said in a statement. “We have worked together for more than 10 fantastic, eventful years and Zara is, despite her young age, an established and respected international artist with extensive experience of the international music scene today. It is going to be really exciting to follow Zara’s ongoing music career. I wish her the best of luck, and I am convinced that she is going to achieve all her musical dreams and get to show her amazing artistry on the world’s biggest stages.”

Epic CEO Sylvia Rhone, meanwhile, added: “Zara has been a cornerstone artist for Epic Records, and we are privileged and excited to be involved in the next chapter in her luscious career.”

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Fount Lynch and Wes Vause Robby Klein (Lynch); Conner Dwyer( Vause)

+ The planned successions happening at Warner Music Nashville this year are extending to the publicity realm, as one veteran Nashville PR specialist, Fount Lynch, joins the label to move into the top role in that department, while another long-established publicity figure, Wes Vause, steps out of his longtime label role to set up his own shingle.

Lynch will join Warner Nashville as senior VP of publicity on June 13, reporting to Ben Kline, who just got upped to co-president. Lynch had recently been in multiple roles, operating his own PR company while serving at Red Light Management as an artist manager and part of the marketing team. Prior to Red Light, Lynch had done publicity at Sony Music Nashville and ran PR for Universal Music’s Lost Highway label.

“Fount came in when I left Sony, and now he’s coming in when I’m leaving Warner Music Nashville… I’m grateful that he’s always there to clean up my messes!” kidded Vause.

“We are thrilled to welcome Fount to Warner Music Nashville,” Kline said. “He has the experience and enthusiasm to help develop new strategies that will serve the changing media landscape. Fount, along with the three dedicated and forward-thinking members of his team, will take our publicity department into the future. … All of us at WMN thank our friend Wes Vause for his many contributions to the company, its people and our artists over the past eight years. We wish him the best of luck on his new venture.”

Lynch promised that he’s not leaving his former company completely behind: “I will miss my Red Light Management family, but I look forward to continued collaboration in my new role.”

Vause, who as outgoing SVP at WMN has been instrumental in the recent careers of Blake Shelton, Dan + Shay and Kenny Chesney, is planning a July 1 startup for his own Press On Publicity. “I started as an independent publicist, and now with 20-plus years of label experience, I’m ready to bring all that knowledge and strategy full circle into this new venture,” he said.

Vause added that he is establishing a strategic partnership with another one of Nashville’s top independent publicists, Ebie McFarland, working with her on some of her clients at Essential Broadcast Media. “Over the years, at both Sony and at Warner, Ebie and I have always collaborated so well. When it came time to make this leap, I wanted to do it with a trusted friend and colleague,” Vause said. “While talking it over one afternoon, we realized partnerships don’t have to mirror an existing model. We decided to make it up as we go, while continuing the creativity and camaraderie we’ve enjoyed and shared for 15 years.”

Vause had held his position at WMN since 2014, when he succeeded Tree Paine, who left to work full-time for Taylor Swift. Previously, he’d been Sony Music Nashville’s VP of media, having been at that company from 2000-2014, getting in some time working for one mogul, Joe Galante, before moving on to work with another top mover and shaker, John “Espo” Esposito, who just announced he will move into an emeritus role at the end of 2022. Vause began his career working with another Nashville legend, publicist Evelyn Shriver.

+ In another move at the top of a major Nashville label group, Meg Kehoe has been named head of media at Sony Music Nashville, where she’ll start on July 5. Kehoe will be relocating to the city after spending the last 14 years at RCA Records, where in senior roles she was responsible for media campaigns for Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix, Ray LaMontagne, Tate McRae, Jimmy Eat World and other artists in the pop and rock arenas.

“Meg is a dynamic leader and one of the most diligent media executives I’ve ever known,” said SMN senior VP of marketing Jennifer Way, to whom Kehoe will report. “She is highly respected and trusted by her artists, managers, industry colleagues and partners alike. I am confident that her passion for country music combined with her diverse experience and knowledge across multiple genres will serve our team and artists well, and I’m thrilled to welcome her to the Sony Nashville family.”

In April, Allen Brown, currently the senior VP of media and corporate communications at SMN, announced that he would be retiring after 43 years in the industry, most of those at Sony.

Said Kehoe, “I’ve been a fan of country music for as long as I can remember. I’m excited to further expand the profiles and reach of the company’s artist roster and am grateful to Sony Music for supporting my career growth with this new role as part of the team in Nashville.” Kehoe had worked on the campaigns for some country artists as well in her previous position at RCA, including Kane Brown, Tenille Townes, Elle King and Cam, and had been behind the handling submissions for the CMA Awards and ACMs as well as Grammys.

+ Lex Borrero’s Neon16 and Tainy have officially launched their producer, songwriter management and publishing division. Borrero also announced the promotion of Juan Pablo “JP” Victoria to vice president and appointed him to lead the new division.

According to the announcement statement, the purpose of the expansion is to “solely focus on the industry’s need to better service the producers and songwriter sector, with a strategy to develop their business and name into mainstream worldwide brands.”

Colombian-born Victoria’s promotion to vice president gives him the reigns of all producer, songwriter management and publishing operations.

“From intern to a boss! JP has shown that his work ethic and strategy can lead his clients to success. I am proud of his growth and excited to have him be an intricate part of this next chapter of our business,” said Borrero, Neon16 co-founder and CEO.

Monday, June 6

+ Julian Casablancas, frontman and main songwriter of the Strokes, has sold a stake in his renowned Strokes catalog to Primary Wave.

Primary Wave confirmed the purchase but declined to specify exactly how much of a stake in the catalog it had purchased or how much it paid in the deal. The sale gives the company access to tracks including platinum-certified hits “Last Nite,” “Someday” and “Reptilia.” The company also bought a stake in Casablancas’ publishing rights as well as the songs’ master rights. It was also said that the deal only includes Casablancas’s rights from the Strokes, not his other projects (the Voidz).

“Primary Wave is thrilled to partner with Julian Casablancas for his works in the Strokes,” said David Weitzman, a partner at Primary Wave. “Julian’s extraordinary talents as a songwriter, singer, and leader infuse the magic that is the Strokes. The Strokes are one of the most important bands of this century and are beloved by a multi-generational audience who have made them a global festival headliner.”

+ Capitol Records has signed DJ/producer Acraze in a partnership with Thrive Music, the independent label founded by Ricardo Vinas. The move follows the release of Acraze’s hit “Do It To It” through Thrive’s deal with Capitol Music Group’s Virgin Music label.

According to Michelle Jubelirer, CMG chair-CEO, and CMG president of A&R Jeremy Vuernick, “We are thrilled to be expanding upon our relationship with Acraze and Thrive Music after embarking on such a successful journey with them through Virgin with the global smash ‘Do It To It.’ Acraze is an incredibly talented artist and performer, Ricardo, Carlos and their team at Thrive are great label partners, and we look forward to achieving so much more together in the coming months and years.”

“It’s always been a dream of mine to have a team that has believed in me from the start,” added Acraze. “I’m glad I get to work with Capitol and Thrive to make my vision come to life. Having two powerhouse labels by my side is so motivating, can’t wait to show you guys what’s in store.”

Michelle Nigro has been tapped as label manager for the small but growing label known as Wharf Cat. As the former sales and production manager of Domino Recording Company, Nigro has previously worked on release campaigns for artists such as Wet Leg, Sasami, and Animal Collective.

Nigro will assume label manager duties from cofounder Doug Warner, who will focus on broader label and business strategy moving forward. Her responsibilities will include managing key artist and strategic partner relationships, spearheading A&R efforts, and executing both release-specific and label-wide marketing campaigns. Additionally, she will oversee all day-to-day functions of the label.

“Michelle interned for Wharf Cat right when we started out as a label and it quickly became apparent that she was extremely overqualified for the job,” said Warner. “She transitioned seamlessly into a product management role and worked on some of our most important releases before eventually moving on to Domino. We feel incredibly fortunate to have her back and leading the way as we continue to grow as a label.”

+ Audiomack has announced the launch of Audiomack Punjabi — a new vertical focused on amplifying the renowned folk genre, introducing the music to new audiences and featuring versatile playlists highlighting the region’s most popular contemporary artists.

As part of the move, Punjabi will appear alongside hip-hop, Afrobeats, Latin, Caribbean and more of the streaming service’s popular genres. The newly introduced playlists will include Punjabi Verified, 808 Pind (Village), Ishq, Party Pataka, Punjab to Canada, Punjabi Duets and more, ad will be updated weekly.

Amrit Maan, the PropheC, Himmat Sandhu and Ezu along with the late, great Sidhu Moose Wala will serve as the inaugural cover stars of Audiomack’s playlists.