Music

Utopia Music Co-Founder Mattias Hjelmstedt Exits Company

LONDON — Mattias Hjelmstedt, the co-founder and former head of Utopia Music, has exited the company following a shake-up of the Swiss-based firm’s executive ranks earlier this year.

Hjelmstedt departure from Utopia was announced in a memo to staff on Thursday (Feb. 1) sent by recently appointed CEO Michael Stebler and the board of directors.

The memo, which has been viewed by Billboard, states that Hjelmstedt handed in his resignation after “long discussions” with board members because he wanted to dedicate more time towards pursuing “new projects and challenges.”

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“The board and I are, as I’m sure you are too, extremely grateful to Mattias for creating and running this amazing company for significant periods of time,” Stebler, who represents the majority shareholder group behind Utopia Music, told staff. 

Referring to the company’s well-documented past struggles, which included multiple rounds of job cuts, company divestments and ongoing legal actions, Stebler said he was grateful for the “tough but necessary decisions” that Hjelmstedt began implementing in late 2022.

“I can say with absolute certainty that this was necessary for the company’s survival,” said Stebler, who has been at the helm of Utopia Music since mid-January.

In the memo, Hjelmstedt said the decision to step down from his roles with Utopia “was not taken lightly, but it comes with a deep belief that it’s the right thing to do.”

He went on to say that he firmly believed the company “will continue to grow and succeed” said the new management team means that the firm, which is headquartered in the Swiss-town of Zug, is “in capable hands.”

“As I move forward, I am excited to see how Utopia will evolve and I am cheering you all on, as I will always be one of Utopia’s biggest fans,” the co-founder told staff.

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Swedish entrepreneur Hjelmstedt co-founded Utopia Music in 2016 with Thomas Gullberg and led the company through a period of intense hyper-growth between 2020 and 2022 when it rapidly bought up 15 companies.

Acquisitions in that time included music tech company Musimap; Lyric Financial, a Nashville-based provider of royalty-backed cash advances; and Proper Music Group, the United Kingdom’s leading independent physical music distributor, which provides distribution services for over 5,800 indie labels and service companies.

A just-as-quick downsizing swiftly followed, beginning with the axing of around 230 jobs in late 2022 and the subsequent offloading of three of Utopia’s businesses — Absolute Label Services, U.S.-based music database platform ROSTR and U.K.-based publisher Sentric.

During this rocky period, Hjelmstedt served as interim chief executive — taking over from Markku Mäkeläinen — and stayed at the helm of the company up until the appointment of Alain Couttolenc as chief exec last October. (Couttolenc switched roles to deputy CEO earlier this year when Stebler was appointed to the top job).

More recently, Hjelmstedt held the post of Utopia executive’s chairman and, since December, served as a member of the board.

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The company he co-founded and which counts the United Kingdom and United States among its biggest revenue markets provides music companies with a range of financial and tech product services, including royalty tracking and processing, as well as its core U.K. physical distribution business operated through Proper Music Group and Utopia Distribution Services (formerly Cinram Novum). The latter’s clients include Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and [PIAS].

Speaking to Billboard in January in a rare interview, Hjelmstedt said the ethos behind Utopia Music, whose motto is “Fair pay for every play,” has always been to use technology to help artists, creators and rights holders receive higher returns. 

“We have never been about disrupting or taking over the industry,” said Hjelmstedt. “It’s always been about helping the industry be better and grow.

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