06 July 2016
by Jessica Gardner

AC/DC's founding music label Alberts has sold to BMG

The family-owned music publishing and recording business behind classic acts like AC/DC, John Paul Young and The Easybeats, and contemporary hit makers like Urthboy and the Cat Empire, has sold to German music giant BMG.

Alberts, which Swiss immigrant Jacques Albert set up 131 years ago as J Albert & Son originally as a clock, watch and violin-repair shop in inner Sydney, has passed through five generations. Chief executive David Albert said the company had to adapt amid the onslaught of digital disruption.

"It's so much less a territorial world than it once was," he said, noting the regular pilgrimages Jacques would make to New York to buy the Australian publishing rights for sheet music in the early 1900s.

"With the digitalisation of the industry a lot of those boundaries have come down and globalisation is a key part of the business."

The fifth generation – Mr Albert, his two sisters and four cousins – decided Alberts would best prosper under the BMG umbrella given the influence big technologies are having on the music industry, not to mention "the sheer amount of data" from streaming and download services that publishing houses needed to crunch.

Mr Albert declined to name a sale price but in 2009 when the Albert family was last on the BRW Rich List, with wealth of $160 million, its valuable back catalogue was estimated to be worth $20 million to $30 million.

Mr Albert said his fondest memory was going to music industry events as a teenager with his late uncle Ted, who is credited with moving the company to recording and producing albums by bands like The Easybeats. Uncle Ted remained "a low-key, dignified man" despite hanging out with rockstars like AC/DC's Angus and Malcolm Young, and Rose Tattoo's Angry Anderson, he said.

The Albert family will retain its stake in the back catalogues of AC/DC and The Easybeats songwriters Harry Vanda, George Young and Stevie Wright. BMG will administer the music publishing catalogues worldwide on behalf of the family.

Ringing register
Former Alberts chair, Robert Albert, David's father, once joked that there was an imaginary cash register in the office that rang every time one of the music label's hits, like John Paul Young's Love is in the Air, was used in an advertisement. The song, which Alberts recorded in 1978 was given a fresh airing in Baz Luhrmann's hit movie Strictly Ballroom, which the family also funded.

Mr Albert said other massive hits like AC/DC singles It's a Long Way to the Top and Thunderstruck have also proved lucrative.

Despite making the "challenging" decision to sell the company, Mr Albert is enthusiastic about the future of the music business. He said streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music "are the future of our business" and industry-wide royalty revenue is growing again.

And the demand of Australian acts overseas is strong, he said, noting the success of acts like Flume and Sia. "I can't remember a time when there has been as much Australian talent [touring] the UK and US."

BMG, which claims to be the world's fourth biggest music publisher, was set up in 2008 when 150 master recordings were held back from the sale of Bertelsmann's share of the Sony BMG merger to Sony. It opened an Australian office in March and appointed as managing director former Universal Publishing A&R [artist and repertoire] director Heath Johns, who has already lured across Aussie acts like The Living End and Wolfmother.

Mr Johns said BMG sensed a significant opportunity to grow in Australia. "Eyeballs and ears are all facing Australia from internationally at the moment."