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Utopia Music Looking for ‘Fresh Start’ With Proper Rebrand

Utopia Music Looking for ‘Fresh Start’ With Proper Rebrand

LONDON — Utopia Music is planning to rebrand as Proper Group AG, named after its core physical music distribution business, to reflect changes to the Swiss-based firm’s “strategic direction,” the company said Thursday (March 28).

The proposed name change, which needs to be approved by shareholders, comes almost two months after co-founder and former head Mattias Hjelmstedt exited Utopia Music following a shake-up of its executive ranks.

“As Utopia has evolved under new leadership, we recognize the need to align our brand with our new strategy and as a result, new market positioning,” said Michael Stebler, who was appointed CEO in January, in a statement sent to Billboard.

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“Our previous brand identity doesn’t accurately reflect who we are today and where we aim to go in the future,” said the chief executive – a former managing director of Investment Advisors Zug AG, which operated on behalf of Utopia’s majority shareholder group. Like Utopia Music, Investment Advisors Zug AG is headquartered in the scenic Swiss town of Zug, located close to Zurich.

Utopia Music acquired Proper Music Group, the United Kingdom’s biggest independent physical music distributor, which provides distribution services for nearly 6,000 indie labels and service companies, for an undisclosed sum in January 2022.

Eight months later, the company bought up the assets of U.K.-based Cinram Novum — which provides warehouse, fulfillment and distribution services to music labels and home entertainment companies, including Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and [PIAS] — and renamed it Utopia Distribution Services (UDS).  

Both acquisitions took place during a period of intense hyper-growth between 2020 and 2022 when Utopia rapidly acquired 15 companies spanning music tech, finance, publishing, marketing and distribution.

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A well-documented downsizing followed, encompassing multiple rounds of job cuts, company divestments and ongoing legal actions, eventually leading to the appointment of a new CEO and executive team at the start of the year.

Changing the company’s name to Proper Group “represents a fresh start,” said Stebler, “and reflects the changes to our strategic direction, where distribution sits at the core of the commercial value chain.”

Under the new arrangement, Billboard understands that Utopia/Proper Group will be divided into four main departments: Proper Distribution, Proper Payments, Proper Processing and Proper Music Data.

Together, the company says, they will provide clients with a “comprehensive suite of tech services” — including cross-platform analytics and royalty tracking, processing and payments — all built around the firm’s music distribution business, which has long generated the bulk of its revenue.

“By leveraging the Proper brand,” the company will “benefit from the positive and strong brand equity Proper has in the music industry,” said Stebler. 

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The company’s executive team remains unchanged with Stebler supported by deputy CEOs Alain Couttolenc and Drew Hill, a long-serving veteran of the U.K. physical music industry, who doubles as Utopia/Proper Group’s chief of distribution.

Hill’s responsibilities include overseeing the U.K.’s biggest distribution warehouse for physical music and home entertainment — a 25,000-square meter facility in the town of Bicester with handling capacity of up to 250,000 units per day — which Utopia opened last year as part of a £100 million ($125 million) long-term deal with international logistics company DP World.

More recently, Utopia successfully secured around half of a Series C funding round (understood to total more than 15 million euros)  with a second tranche of C-round funding underway. The funds will be used to drive commercial growth, enhance product development and strengthen the company’s balance sheet, Stebler told Billboard in January.

Shareholders will get to vote on the proposed name change when Utopia holds its Annual General Meeting at the start of May.

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