TAYLOR SWIFT’s feud with her record label reveals a little-known fact about the entertainment business: the outsized role private equity plays in funding its biggest stars.
Swift asked Carlyle Group in a tweet on Thursday to help her as she battles to secure ownership of albums she recorded with her previous label. The Washington-based buyout firm helped finance celebrity manager Scooter Braun’s acquisition of Big Machine Label Group LLC.
Carlyle found itself in the middle of the spat because, along with alternative asset managers including TPG and Blackstone Group Inc., it has extended its reach into show business in recent years. The industry, known for acquiring staid corporations, has been taking stakes in everything from record producers to major talent agencies.
There’s a lot for buyout firms to do in music as the industry recovers from decades of decline. The value of song libraries has jumped in recent years, buoyed by major labels making acquisitions and private investors buying in, and spending on music has increased thanks to subscription streaming services like Spotify Technology SA.
Blackstone owns Sesac Holding and The Harry Fox Agency Inc., two groups that disburse royalties, while TPG was an investor in Spotify.
One of the biggest deals last year was Sony Corp.’s purchase of EMI Music Publishing for $2 billion. The seller was a consortium led by Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Co. The deal allowed Sony to get its hands on a catalog of 2.1 million songs from Beyoncé, Carole King and other artists.
And firms are interested in entertainment far beyond music.
TPG owns a large stake in Creative Artists Agency LLC, the talent agency and show business packaging firm whose clients include Will Smith and Jennifer Aniston, and has also invested in Vice Media Inc. and STX Entertainment, the studio behind Hustlers. Silver Lake owns part of Endeavor Group Holdings, the parent company of talent agency WME and operator of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Blackstone, the world’s biggest alternative asset manager, bought into the TV network YES, as well as Merlin Entertainment, the owner of Legoland. The latter deals point to the firm’s interest in the events business.
“We’re also a big fan around live entertainment because even though many things are moving online, people still need physical activities, things they want to do,” Blackstone President Jon Gray said on an earnings call last month. Endeavor called off a planned initial public offering in September.
Carlyle has been involved with Braun since at least 2017, when it bought a minority stake in his Ithaca Holdings. Carlyle then helped finance Braun’s acquisition of Big Machine in June with an additional equity investment. The firm has no operational control. A representative for Carlyle declined to comment.
Carlyle also owns an array of entertainment-related companies. They include Content Partners LLC, an asset management firm and investment fund that helps finance film, television and music companies by purchasing their cash flows, and Apex Parks Group, the operator of U.S. amusement parks.
The pop star didn’t criticize Carlyle, only appealing for its help. But her conspicuous mention of the company put a spotlight on an industry her legions of young fans normally wouldn’t have reason to pay attention to. Google searches for Carlyle Group surged after her tweet.
And critics of private equity — among them Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat — seized on the tweet as further evidence of the industry’s harm to society.
Her tweet reads: “Private equity groups’ predatory practices actively hurt millions of Americans. Their leveraged buyouts have destroyed the lives of retail workers across the country, scrapping 1+ million jobs. Now they’re holding @taylorswift13’s own music hostage. They need to be reigned in.”
It also drew the ire of Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic candidate for president, who responded on Saturday and said she has a plan to rein in private equity firms.
Her tweet read: “Unfortunately, @TaylorSwift13 is one of many whose work has been threatened by a private equity firm. They’re gobbling up more and more of our economy, costing jobs and crushing entire industries. It’s time to rein in private equity firms — and I’ve got a plan for that.” — Bloomberg