Meet The Team: Merlin

While the independent label community are out discovering and promoting music, Merlin is fighting for our rights.

The commercial recorded music body ensures that its more than 700 members – representing 20,000+ labels and distributors across 47 countries – get a fair price from digital Goliaths who wish to use their music to build billion-dollar businesses.

Most of the time, this means reaching a mutually agreeable royalty rate.

But sometimes, Merlin has to show its teeth, like when it won an out-of-court settlement with P2P platform Limewire in 2012 following an aggressive lawsuit – a result believed to be worth somewhere around $10m for its members.

The Independent Echo caught up with the Merlin team to ask what’s special about their job, and what working at the company means to them…


Charles Caldas, CEO

* What’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to you at Merlin?

Having the opportunity to work with our incredible board of global leaders, (including Michel Lambot of PIAS who has been on the board of Merlin since we started) is cool. Having our collective work validated by the people we represent is also great. But to reflect on the fact that we have built an organisation that is actually achieving what it set out to do, protecting and adding value to our members digital business, having delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to an ever-increasing number of members at an ever-decreasing cost to them, that makes every day cool!

* What does Merlin mean to you and why are you proud to work there?

I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work with our team and the incredible group of global independent companies that Merlin represents; it is in equal measure an enormous responsibility and pleasure. Merlin is a great symbol of the creativity, vision and commonality of purpose of the most important sector in the industry, and the ongoing success of that sector in the digital market should make us all proud.

* What do you hope to achieve at Merlin in the future?

I am confident that despite the challenges of a concentrated market dominated by major players on both sides, the future is bright for Merlin’s members. I look forward to Merlin being an integral part of that future.


Charlie Lexton, General Counsel and Head of Business Affairs

* What’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to you at Merlin?

I’m not sure I’d classify this as “cool” but sitting in a judge’s chambers in New York settling the LimeWire infringement case on behalf of our members was a landmark. Nothing on that scale had been done previously in the independent sector.

* What does Merlin mean to you and why are you proud to work there?

Merlin means the independent sector taking its destiny into its own hands. I’m proud that we’ve built an organisation from the ground up doing something entirely new.

* What do you hope to achieve at Merlin in the future?

A five-a-side football team.


Becky Bishop, Head of Finance

* What’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to you at Merlin?

Two years ago the Merlin team attended the AIM awards.  I saw Rene from Daughter perform, it was really nice as I knew him when he was studying at ICMP. It’s really special when you get to see people you know succeed in the indie community.

* What does Merlin mean to you and why are you proud to work there?

To me Merlin is an umbrella that offers the smaller labels a collective voice and a chance to actually influence their market place. The deals that we are able to negotiate as a collective are a testament to why Merlin is so important. The reporting and finance support we offer also allows our members more time to focus on the important bit – the Music.

* What do you hope to achieve at Merlin in the future?

As our membership grows and with it our ability to shape the Digital Age of Music, so does our workload. In the day-to-day, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of why we are here, to continue improving the service and support we are able to offer, and I’m proud that my work contributes to that.


Tom Deakin, Head of Operations & Member Services Manager

* What’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to you at Merlin?

Attending the A2IM Libby awards in New York where after Merlin was presented the “Indie Champion” award. Charles Bradley came off stage after his incredible set and shook my hand, and then hugged practically the entire room. That made a memorable night even better.

* What does Merlin mean to you and why are you proud to work there?

Having worked at Merlin since its earliest days, I am proud to see how the Indie community has embraced and taken advantage of the collective benefits that we work hard to bring them. Support from our members has been incredible over the eight years I have worked here, and I have loved playing a part in helping the organisation grow from strength to strength, and in meeting our members at events and conferences around the world. In 2008 we had 304 members. Today we represent 720 members representing tens of thousands of labels and distributors from over 40 countries, and we’re still growing.

* What do you hope to achieve at Merlin in the future?

I hope to continue growing Merlin’s Membership – which is accelerating in emerging markets such as Asia and South America. I’m working hard to increase awareness of Merlin around the world, ensuring everyone fully understands what we do and how we can help.


Liza Dickson, Head of Royalties

* What’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to you at Merlin?

As a royalties person it is incredibly gratifying to be able to hand over to a member every bit of information we have received from a DSP and to be able to say – there’s all the information that we have received. Transparency has become an over used ‘buzz’ word in the industry but in the case of Merlin is it totally applicable.

Our motivation is to give back to the independent sector what we have received. At Merlin I get to have great conversations with members who are really happy that somebody out there is really looking after them. I get to sleep at night. Highlight – a recent conversation with a potential member who was so incredibly grateful about how we could assist saying ‘you are what I’ve always been looking for’. I decided to take that one personally.

* What does Merlin mean to you and why are you proud to work there?

  •  That its motivation is to look after its members. They are why we exist.
  •  That we are a democracy.
  •  We all sit in an open office – share our love for music and laugh at each others’ appalling (or fabulous – in my case) musical taste. That when there is something big to discuss we do it as a team over pizza in our office and everybody has a voice.
  •  That we all do the dishes. Including Charles.
  •  That everyone here has a great love of music and cares about their job.

* What do you hope to achieve at Merlin in the future?

I have worked in the independent music sector for nearly half my life and over the past decade in the midst of the ever changing physical to digital landscape, I watched with pleasure the rise of Merlin through the white noise to fight the corner of the independent, to fight for the small guy.

Merlin just grew from strength to strength, championing independent labels, some struggling to survive, as opposed to the secretive grasping that some of the larger companies were engaged in. So, more of that.


Ryan McWhinnie, Director, Legal and Business Affairs

 * What’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to you at Merlin?

I peaked early. We attended the AIM Awards during my first week at Merlin, I had Richie Hawtin on one side and Sophie Ellis-Bextor on the other. Can’t get better than that, surely.

* What does Merlin mean to you and why are you proud to work there?

We have a fun, hardworking, slightly eccentric team that I’m proud to be part of. And being able to help support and grow the digital businesses of our members, many of whose artists and labels I love as a fan, is incredibly rewarding.

* What do you hope to achieve at Merlin in the future?

We’re constantly looking at innovative new services, and I’d love to continue bringing deals to our members that make positive and long-lasting contributions to their businesses. I’d also be thrilled to make the CMU “Thrilled List” for 2016, does that count as an aspiration?


Sarah Johnston, Admin and Member Services Coordinator

* What’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to you at Merlin?

It may sound silly, but the coolest thing that happened to me at Merlin was moving from my internship there to a full time job. Almost three years on I’m still here and enjoying every moment.

* What does Merlin mean to you and why are you proud to work there?

Merlin means to me what it means to our members – shared prosperity and a sustainable, fairer music industry. I am proud to be part of something that can achieve this.

* What do you hope to achieve at Merlin in the future?

I see myself here for the long haul and I hope to grow with Merlin and continue to assist in the growth of our membership.


Christopher Tarbet, Technical Operations Manager

 * What’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to you at Merlin?

The several times a day when I’m trawling through long lists of label metadata (…wait for it!) and come across music that I have obsessed over at some stage in my life, that now passes through Merlin’s repertoire.

We work with the most amazing independent labels, distributors and rights holders so getting to speak to them every day is such a pleasure, but meeting some of the label heads that have been instrumental in shaping the community and hearing their stories is always pretty cool…particularly if it’s tales about Arthur Russell.

* What does Merlin mean to you and why are you proud to work there?

Breadth, diversity and true independence. Everybody here, from my colleagues to the Merlin members, are so knowledgeable in their own fields, I’m proud to work with them at the forefront of something I’m passionate about, that is not-for-profit, and somewhere that will continue to have tangible impact in helping to grow and protect independent music.

* What do you hope to achieve at Merlin in the future?

Working within a relatively small team in such a fast-paced industry, we are witness to all the complexities of digital rights and digital services, so I will never stop learning. In the grand scheme of things, Merlin has got a really exciting year ahead with the ever developing landscape of streaming platforms, and we’ll continue to make it a stronger place for independent rights holders of all sizes.


Jim Mahoney, General Manager, Merlin USA

* What’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to you at Merlin?

I find it very cool to meet and to be a part of heady discussions about the shape and future of the music business with so many owners of independent labels and distributors who are Merlin members, in particular with our board members. I’ve spent my adult life working for or running independent labels and have so much respect for the passion and effort that it takes to be successful at it. Merlin is fueled by these members and that energy is palpable.

* What does Merlin mean to you and why are you proud to work there?

Merlin is a vehicle designed to let the very best independent labels and distributors – and their artists – thrive. We know that independent labels support new genres, invest in amazing talent and are vital to musical growth and innovation.

Too often, however, unnatural marketplace inequities have stifled some fantastic independents. To contribute to Merlin’s efforts, providing independents a weapon in their arsenal against unfair or unequal treatment, is something I’m tremendously proud of.

* What do you hope to achieve at Merlin in the future?

I have many things to accomplish at Merlin US, but to pick one: In the U.S., in particular, the major labels have an unusually strong hold on the distribution of independent label music. In recent years, a number of great independent distributors have had growing success in the U.S. and, I think, some of that is attributable to Merlin.

I’d like to see that continue and for U.S. Independent labels to have a very healthy (long) list of independent companies to consider when selecting a distributor.