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Music group Believe advises clients how to work around Russia sanctions | Music industry

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The French music group Believe, which has worked with artists including Björk, La Roux and Slayer, has pledged to keep its operations open in Russia and is advising partners how to work around sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine.

The company, one of France’s biggest tech businesses valued at €1.1bn (£920m) on the Paris stock exchange, sent a newsletter on Friday to its partners in Russia, including record labels and artists, updating them on its operations in the region.

The update, which the Guardian has reviewed in both the original Russian and an English translation, assures its partners that it continues to operate and will continue to make scheduled payments, except to those whose accounts are with banks that have imposed sanctions.

The letter then goes on to offer solutions to legally circumvent the banking ban by advising opening a new account with a restriction-free bank and then linking it to Believe.

Believe works with artists and labels including La Roux. Photograph: David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns

The translation says the company will continue to “promptly adapt our solutions in accordance with ongoing changes”.

The position adopted by Believe, which serves artists and independent music labels around the world to build popularity via social media and put their work on streaming platforms such as Apple Music, is in stark contrast to leading players in the music industry.

The world’s biggest record companies – Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music – have suspended or closed their operations in Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine, as have the streaming services Spotify, YouTube, Deezer and TikTok.

Thrash metal band Slayer have also used Believe’s services. Photograph: António Lacerda/EPA

Believe has almost 1,500 staff working in 50 countries and claims to provide artists and repertoire (A&R) and management services to 850,000 acts worldwide. Its UK operation lists La Roux, the singer of hits including Bulletproof whose real name is Elly Jackson, Girli, Fumez the Engineer and The Plug as acts on its books.

Believe was founded in 2005 and floated on Euronext last year, making it the first flotation of a tech company in Paris since 2014.

Late last year, Believe made management appointments to strengthen its business in Russia and eastern Europe, where is estimated to make about 10% of global revenues.

“Russia and eastern Europe have long been high priorities for Believe as the company was the first international music company to establish a presence in the region in 2013,” the company said late last year.

As of November, Believe said it had a team of 50 in Russia and was also active in 15 eastern European territories, with a team of 25, and had more than 1,000 clients in the region.

“They are a public company and they are watching every other business – including the music industry – suspend or shut operations because of what is happening in Ukraine,” said one music industry executive. “Believe has gone in the opposite direction and is not just promoting that they are still in the marketplace but are also actively working to show partners how to get around sanctions.”

The company owns brands including New York-based music distribution platform TuneCore and in 2018 bought a controlling stake in Germany’s Nuclear Blast, one of the biggest labels in rock and metal music home to acts including Slayer, Sepultura and Machinehead.

Other music labels listed on Believe’s brands page include: Allpoints France, which has worked with Björk; AFM records, which has Anvil and Lordi on its roster; and Naive, home to French acts M83 and Youssou N’Dour.

Earlier this month, Björk tweeted to her almost 800,000 followers that she was cancelling a show in Moscow after the invasion.

Companies and artists who work with Believe outside Russia were not party to the memo and are not connected with its stance on continuing operations and payments in the country.

David Bianchi, global chief executive of Various Artists Management, which represents La Roux and other artists that have worked with Believe, said: “We were unaware of this situation and are holding urgent talks with Believe to ascertain all the facts in this matter.

“Various Artists and the artists we represent stand in full solidarity with Ukraine. We will not be undertaking any commercial or cultural activities that involve Russia or with companies and individuals who are connected to Russia moving forward.”

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Bianchi said that he had asked Believe UK to remove all marketing and promotional imagery relating to La Roux from its website.

Believe did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

However, on the situation in Russia the company has previously said its “priority is to ensure the safety of our team members, artists and labels and that of their families in the region, support humanitarian efforts for Ukrainian refugees and adapt our activity in compliance with global sanctions”.


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