Re-energizing Greece’s music industry

Tall, beautiful and young, Anna-Maria Antippas looks straight out of the pages of a fashion magazine. In fact, the executive recently took over the management of a new music label, Cobalt Music, a record company established following Universal’s takeover of EMI.

At a time when the Greek music industry appears to be on the brink of collapse, Universal Music Greece was recently purchased by a company controlled by the young executive’s father, investor and high-ranking global music industry executive, Victor Antippas.

After changing name and ownership several times, the company has finally come back into the hands of the family which established the label over half a century ago, says Anna-Maria Antippas. And although she considers her father to be her mentor, the young executive readily describes how in the 1950s, her grandfather, Nikos Antippas, managed Helladisc, which was subsequently renamed a number of times before its latest incarnation.

Cobalt Music currently represents a roster of acts including Alkinoos Ioannidis, Nikos Portokaloglou, Eleftheria Arvanitaki, Michalis Hatzigiannis, Notis Sfakianakis, Nikos Vertis, Panos Kiamos, Melisses and Dimos Anastasiadis, among others. Meanwhile, the company’s catalogs also include established names such as Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis, Nikos Gatsos, Mimis Plessas, Yiannis Markopoulos, Dionysis Savvopoulos and Stamatis Kraounakis.

Antippas appears calms, despite the magnitude of the task that lies ahead of her. The number one problem facing the industry, she says, is piracy.

“Nevertheless, no matter what’s going on on the Internet, the recording business is not going to fade away,” she said. “It’s a one-stop shop with the kind of know-how that will get you there.”

How is Antippas planning on working the market at a time when it seems that there is no tangible product? “That’s not what the figures show. The CD market is alive in Greece because the country has yet to enter the digital age. We are trying to introduce streaming, which will put an end to piracy, but Greeks are not ready to embrace this quite yet.”

In the meantime, there is plenty of talk in artistic circles regarding the sort of risks the new manager is willing to take: Will she be throwing her support behind fresh trends and faces? How will she treat the more established names?

“Recording albums is a business. Only in this case the product happens to be people, artists in particular, as opposed to soap, for example. So it requires passion, energy and young people to run after them,” said Antippas.

Should management intervene at the creative level?

“I have never asked an artist to avoid working on a song in a particular way. Our job has to do with culture, but it’s also a business,” she said.

Antippas is planning on working with international acts and investing in new blood.

“We have already established a new generation of artists. They might not be of the caliber of Hadjidakis and Theodorakis, for instance, but they are broadly recognized. Think of Melisses, Dimos Anastasiadis and Giorgos Sambanis,” she noted.

Born in 1984, Antippas spent her childhood years in her native Greece, before moving to Switzerland in 1996 when her father’s career took off internationally. “It was a major shock, just like bullying at school. They had different codes. For example they thought that everyone had to wear jeans, while I adored color. They called me ‘Big Bird,’ but the following year they accepted me the way I was,” she said.

In 2002 she enrolled at Brown University, majoring initially in biology, before turning to financial sociology. She moved to Milan four years later and started working in the fashion industry, before the music bug urged her to return to her native city. “I’ve always loved music but I also felt the need to settle down somewhere,” she said.

Antippas joined the new artist department at Heaven before moving onto Universal. Right from the start she observed that the local recording business lacked renewal.

“I realized when I came back that there was neither a new [Haris] Alexiou nor a new [Sakis] Rouvas.”

Living abroad, she says, led her to listening to absolutely everything under the musical sun.

“As a child I loved listening to Alexiou’s ‘Nefeli,’ to [Costas] Haritodiplomenos, Alexia and Rouvas. But I also listened to Metallica, Kiss, Bryan Adams and opera,” said Antippas.

“While I may wish to develop new blood and take risks, the financial capabilities of the past no longer exist. The young ones will work on their tunes on their own and we will provide the know-how. In the middle to major artists range we will cover the cost as we wish to develop our catalog. But the kind of money that artists got paid back in the 1990s – huge advances and spending large sums on music videos – that’s all over. The company is not a bank,” said Antippas.

At the same time more and more record stores are closing their doors, a fact which does not seem to deter her. “Public outlets are still going,” she said.

What about the joy of discovering a great new album?

“That pleasure disappeared when CDs became rather insignificant products,” she noted. “Record companies kept consumers hostage by forcing them to purchase entire albums containing one good-quality and 10 low-quality tunes. Consumers got angry at one point. Nowadays artists must work real hard and come up with good songs,” said Antippas. “My grandfather created Helladisc with artists who ventured beyond local borders. There was Vangelis, Nana Mouskouri, Demis Roussos, Vicky Leandros, all passionate and hardworking, the kind of people I’d like to discover. It will require plenty of hard work to construct the new Greece.”