To Do List 2012

Jan 12 2012

There’s never a busier day on the publishing calendar than the day after a holiday, and the first working day after New Years is the mother of them all.  Having had a nice two week break to sit and contemplate the future of music, the inadequacies of their present situation, the wealth of unexploited future classics sitting in their song catalogs, and the disturbing similarity between their circumstances this year and last, songwriters the world over wake up on the first day of the new working year with one single mission forefront in their minds:

CALL PUBLISHER!

I know this because I used to be a songwriter, and I did the same thing.  Every year.

Of course, it’s only natural to want to reassess, re-organize, and restructure in order to get a fresh start on the new year. It’s what we should be doing, whether we’re songwriters or publishers.  But often it’s too easy for songwriters to bring a list of complaints and goals to the conversation, without providing any ideas as to strategy. Likewise, too many publishers are prone to offer up a plan that’s amounts to more of the same—“keep writing, keep pitching and let’s hope we get that big break”. Both approaches leave a very good percentage chance that songwriter and publisher will be having the very same conversation next year.  And no one needs that.

So what does it take to move things ahead in 2012?  Of course, the detailed strategy will vary for every writer and publisher in every genre across every part of the world.  Nevertheless, there are a few resolutions we can almost all agree to make, that will pay off regardless of our professional level or musical market.

In lieu of a champagne toast, I offer you a no-cost kickstarter for the new year:

12 Resolutions for 2012!

1.  Get the paperwork right.

When I moved from being a songwriter to a music publisher, one of the great surprises was to see first-hand how much songwriter and publisher income vanishes every year due to paperwork errors, omissions and general sloppiness.  Settle your split disputes, check your song registrations around the world, read your royalty statements, make sure your PRO (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, PRS, etc) has your correct address.  There’s no excuse for a paperwork error in publishing. Paperwork is pretty much what publishing is.

2.  Expand your territory.

When investment-backed companies like BMG Rights make billion dollar investments in the music-publishing sector, one of the key motivators is the anticipated expansion of the global music market.  And yet many songwriters and publishers, particularly in genres like country, hip-hop, r&b, and even rock rarely think about the world outside their own borders.  Beef up your sub-pub relationships, check out internet radio to familiarize yourself with markets outside of your own territory, use YouTube and other tools to find talent all over the world. There’s almost always more than one geographical market for any type of music.

3.  Don’t demo.

Songwriters are the only ones left still using the word.  Rough work tapes for reference are fine. But when you record, make masters. That way you can license them to film & television, commercials, video games and other venues.

4.  Live the single life.

Please…. no more unknown artists making their “album”.  At this point, superstars are struggling to sell albums.  We live in a singles market, so make singles—one memorable “hit” song will move your career further than a thousand interesting album tracks.  Unless you’re Radiohead or Adele, put your focus on making singles.

5.  Tighten your belt.

The tragic truth is, there’s a lot of money that’s gone out of music publishing over the past five years, and it’s not coming back. Plummeting mechanical income, some ugly days at the bargaining table for ASCAP and BMI, the complete bungling of the negotiations for the rates on “streaming” services, and wild, cutthroat competition in the sync world all add up to one thing: less. Less money for everyone, so get used to it. We’re all going to have to cut waste, reduce overhead, and eat fewer lunches at Bice.  Let’s start with the cutting waste and reducing overhead part.

6.  Loosen your grip.

Publishers like control—it’s our nature. But with more and more of the entertainment universe being covered by blanket licenses, rather than specific song by song licenses, we’re going to have to be willing to put our music out there, with less and less control over how it will be used. Whether it’s a homemade YouTube video made by a stranger or a mix on turntable.fm, songs are being used all the time—we’re just not being asked for permission. Those uses are what keep songs alive, even if it’s not yet something remotely profitable. But squeeze those songs too tight and you’ll kill ‘em.

7.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.

In a world in which the income for publishers and songwriters has been cut drastically, we cannot continue to waste time on meaningless matters. Does the split dispute get settled at 17.5 percent or 20 percent? Unless the record goes 4x platinum, it just doesn’t matter.  Someone changed a line in the lyrics without permission? Just hope a listener is paying enough attention to notice. What matters is what makes money. All else can be ignored.

8.  Put your head in the clouds.

For better or worse, the industry is embracing new cloud-based streaming services like Spotify, which means that iTunes will soon be going the way of Tower Records.  Given that this technology didn’t exactly sneak up on us, one might have hoped that the same mistakes made with mp3s might have been avoided this time around. Incredibly, the record companies managed to get this one right, while the publisher’s income seems to be lost somewhere in the grey, murky ether.  But publishers are going to have to figure out how to turn this technology into something profitable, or the only clouds we’ll be seeing will be those we pass as we plummet to our demise.  This is the battleground for the next five years.

9.  Don’t lose that syncing feeling.

Welcome to the only game in town. In the past ten years, the focus of publishing has shifted almost entirely, from records and radio, to film, television and advertising.  At this point, the transition is complete, and the sync world is the one that every songwriter and publisher has to be a part of. Depending on the style of music you work with, it might be video games, advertisements, source music libraries, branding campaigns, television spots or web-based advertising programs. But your business has to have some strategy for licensing your music in sync uses.

10.  Get the money in.

Easier said than done. It now seems that every record label uses songs without mechanical licenses in place, theater shows routinely drop songs into a revue without clearing the dramatic rights, advertisers sign sync licenses long after ads are on the air, and everyone pays late, if at all.  It takes a new kind of tenacity to get paid, and only those who are the most persistent, the most unrelenting, and the nastiest will get their money. You can’t just put your registrations in place and wait for the payment to show up.  Those who snooze will be abused.

11.  Move your business beyond music.

Despite a slightly better year in 2011, the writing is on the wall: the music business is in an almost permanent state of contraction.  It simply is no longer the singular cultural defining force that it was 30 years ago.  The good news is, the entertainment business as a whole is growing constantly, from new cable channels to internet tv to virtual worlds to a myriad of different venues for live entertainment.  The best news is, music remains a vital element in almost every entertainment form. Sometimes it’s okay to be the supporting actor. Music publishers who rely solely on the music business can’t survive. Better to be one small part of the larger industry of show business.

12.  Move your music beyond business.

Clearly 2011 was the year of Adele. Coming out of an environment knee-deep in Dr. Luke sound-alike records and generic auto-tuned voices over a Euro dance track, “21” was a breath of fresh air that above all else, sounded honest.  Public taste always swings like a pendulum and one can be sure that whatever is popular in 2011 will change to at least some degree in 2012.  But Adele’s triumph signals a move away from things that sound blatantly contrived. Songwriters are going to have to be more subtle, more daring, and dig a little deeper. Music that sounds more like a marketing strategy than a song may be on its way out.

 

Everything always looks good at the start. I’m sure that for all of us, 2012 will have its high points and low points, and enough inspiration and frustration to keep us all battling for the next 12 months. Still, now is a moment to make some plans beyond just calling your publisher, or assuring your songwriter that this could be his or her big year.  Here’s to making, not letting, things happen in 2012. Happy weaseling in  the new year!

 

 

 

 

Recently had an opportunity to spend a very impressive evening at Berklee College of Music’s “Perfect Pitch” event, which matched student songwriters with student vocalists for a concert that gave hope to any of us planning to stick around the pop music business for the next five years. Out of a dozen or so songs, there were at least three or four songs with real radio potential, and a couple of potential stars among the performers. That’s a percentage that would satisfy any A&R person or publisher.

However, what was even more satisfying was the acknowledgement implicit in the structure of the event itself, which was that pitching songs is no longer a business of sending out mp3 files or cold-calling A&R execs.  A perfect pitch is now about artist development, finding performance opportunities, building a story and measuring results.  I took onthe same subject in my own “Perfect Pitch” event, at the New York Songwriters Collective, in October.             Songwriters sending out demos to record execs or managers because they “have a song that’s perfect for your artist” are missing the point. No one’s looking for songs.

In the new music eco-system, there are 3 things the music industry needs, and the success or failure of any songwriter’s pitch can be predicted almost entirely on the basis of how many of those 3 things are in place.  If you can provide a clean sweep of 3 out of 3, you’ll likely be signing a deal memo before leaving the building. If you’ve got 2 out of 3, you will probably get an offer, though it might not be exactly the deal you were hoping for. Bring only one out of three and the best you can hope for is a polite invitation to come back sometime in the distant future.  Here are the three things that every weasel wants and will pay for—the essential components to a “Perfect Pitch”:

1.  Product

This just means ready-made artists and productions—records that are ready to go. In case you didn’t get the memo, major music companies are no longer in the business of developing artists or “making records”. A&R staffs have been slashed, and frankly, the track records of most A&R people were abysmal anyway.  Record labels and even publishers today are looking for people who have product in hand—artists who they’ve developed, records they’re releasing, shows they’re producing. Don’t bring demos. No one in the record business even knows what those are. Bring product.

2.  Platforms.

Every artist needs a platform—or three. A platform is a stage, but not in the obvious way. It just means a venue for exposure, a way of reaching an audience.  For about eight decades now, radio has been the dominant “platform” for breaking new artists, and while it remains important, it’s certainly no longer the only game in town. In most cases, radio is simply too limited, too expensive and too difficult to control to be the sole platform for an artist. You need some other ways to expose the artist to the public: mixtapes, club play, a television talent show, a spot on Glee, a touring spot, a YouTube video. Needless to say, songwriters and artists that can bring with them a platform, whether it’s a writer/producer like David Guetta, who also can use his status as a superstar DJ to give an artist and record exposure, or an actress/singer with a Disney show, or a band with a guest spot on a prominent tour, are bringing their labels and publishers a big head start.

3.  Proof

Not only has the internet brought a vast array of potential new platforms, it has also brought the ability to measure results in a very precise and visible way. The blather of a manager hyping the band’s live show (“you gotta see the crowd reaction—the girls go nuts for these kids…”) is now just so much white noise—much of the proof is plain to see:  How many YouTube views? Facebook friends? What are the sales figures like? How many Twitter followers?

Of course there are varying degrees of proof. As many labels have learned the hard way, 500, 000 Facebook friends, signing up free of charge, will not necessarily put gold records on the walls. Ticket sales and downloads speak much louder than YouTube views. Nevertheless, an artist or producer with a platform that delivers proven results, whether it’s a Top Ten Nielsen rating or a buzz on the key blogs, has the kind of story that A&R people want to hear, and to believe.

At the risk of raising songwriter cynicism to new levels, it’s worth noting that the actual quality of the music itself is not necessarily a predominating factor in any of these three elements.  Presumably, a badly made recording of a meaningless song performed by an uninteresting artist will not find many readily available platforms, and even if it does, it will not gather the kind of reaction that proves its suitability to the market. On the other hand, stranger stuff has happened.

The truth is, most modern music execs are neither qualified or interested in being Simon Cowell-like judges of talent. If there is a proven audience for a particular piece of product, and there is a way of getting that product to the audience, that’s enough to greenlight  a project at any record company or publisher still left in business. Whether it’s an artist like Drake, who brought a story of success from platforms like mixtapes and Degrassi, or Karmin, who signed their deal at Epic on the strength of a YouTube buzz, the contemporary songwriter needs more to their business model than just a bag full of demos, regardless of the quality of them. If the business is now about product, platforms and proof, then a songwriter has to be:

1.    Producer

Producers make product. They are talent magnets; they are people that develop talent.

This does not necessarily mean that you have to be a “producer” in the sense of being able to create records. If you’re a lyricist or a topline writer, or someone who can write but doesn’t really know anything about record making, then you’ll need to team with someone who can do those things. Your role will be to write songs that define the artist and give them a reason for existing.  Just as not every songwriter is a record-maker, not everyone who can program and mix is a producer in the sense of having a vision, drawing out and developing an artist, and giving a project a unique identity.  But however you and/or your team go about accomplishing it, the business now requires both elements, the song and the record, in order to create a product that anyone actually needs or wants.

2.   Partner

You can make product by yourself. But no one develops a platform by themselves. Syco can make records all day, but they can’t develop a TV show like X-Factor on their own. Drake can write songs and sing them, but he can’t break on a mixtape without featuring Lil Wayne, or Trey Songz, or others.  DJs need singers, singers need television talent shows, rappers need guest spots, bands need opening slots on tours. As Dean Martin put it, everybody needs somebody sometimes. If you want a platform, you have to build it by working with others.

In a larger sense, this means that songwriters need to be in the entertainment business, not in the music business. The entertainment business is growing, in areas including TV, cable, internet TV, film, games, internet content, books, fashion, and clubs.  Songs are a part of almost every entertainment form, and opportunities for music will continue to grow. But you cannot live in a music business vacuum. First, you have to create product. Then you must learn to partner, in order to build a platform. And if you want to be able to provide proof that your product and platform work, you’re going to have to be a:

3.  Promoter

In the big sense of the word.  You, or your partners, are going to have to take the initial steps to get your product into the world, at least in some limited way. Maybe it’s a local release, or a test market, or a pilot, or small tour, or a mixtape. But YOU will have to be the catalyst to make something happen and to show that what you’re doing connects with people. You can’t just write the songs, you’re going to have to pitch them and place a few—at least enough to show that they’re placeable. You will have to put your artist in a place where they can develop a following, whether it’s YouTube or a residency or a foreign release.

That’s what I liked best about Berklee’s “Perfect Pitch”. Here was a group of songwriters happily embracing each of the challenges in the creative process. Not just the challenge of writing a great song, but finding an artist to present the song, putting together a performance venue to create a platform for the music, and soliciting the reaction of a live audience and industry judges to gather some proof that the product was hitting its mark.

Even better, it showed a creative community networking amongst each other to find the singers, producers, arrangers, background vocalists, organizers and musicians needed to put the whole show together. More than any of the talent on display that night, and there was a considerable amount, that willingness to partner and collaborate will be the key to these students’ future success.  Compliments to Berklee’s Songwriting club, and to the faculty that supported them, in putting together an exciting look at what the next generation has in store for the music business…

Happy Holidays everyone!  Thanks for all your support for this blog, and I look forward to catching up with you in 2012.   Keep weaseling…

Here’s a switch— instead of an interview with another industry player like we did last summer, this week I thought I’d turn it around, and share some excerpts from an interview that I did for Songtrust.com. For those who don’t yet know, Songtrust is a fantastic new service that I believe could be a vital tool for many songwriters who are accepting my challenge to become their own music publisher.

As those who have taken my Music Publishing 101 class at Berkleemusic can attest– the business of music publishing is a challenging one, and the challenges always seem to increase the closer you get to the actual money.  Exploitation, the business of getting your songs into situations where they can earn money, whether it’s a movie, a video game, a record, or a plastic singing fish, is hard enough. But getting paid from those opportunities is even more difficult, and seemingly getting tougher all the time. That’s where Songtrust comes in– helping independent music publishers and songwriters collect their money around the world. It’s one of the most innovative business models in music publishing, and one perfectly suited to the DIY ethos of today’s music world.

http://wwww.songtrust.com

Many thanks to James Aviaz for his work on the interview– for the full text, check out the blog at songtrust.com.

What motivated your move into publishing from songwriting?

My entry into music publishing was really a case of an opportunity simply landing in my lap. Steve Lunt, who was an A&R person at Jive Records at the time (later moving on to Atlantic), had been an old songwriting partner of mine and he called me one day to suggest I might want to consider a job that had just opened up at Zomba on the publishing side. It was completely out of the blue—I was sitting at my desk working on a lyric. But I knew the company because I had been signed to Zomba back in the Eighties, and I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to do something different. It just seemed like one of those rare chances to see the other side of the industry. As it turned out, those were remarkable years at the company—I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of it. Steve and Richard Blackstone took a big chance bringing me into something for which I had minimal experience. It was one of those crazy, lucky breaks.

What are some of the key ways emerging songwriters and artists can best manage their song copyrights?

This is a challenging time for songwriters to find music publishing deals—most of the time, songwriters have to get something going on their own, to show that their songs can generate income, before they can expect offers from a larger publisher. Many publishers are in transitional periods where they’re being bought or sold, and attention to administering and protecting their copyrights may be missing. I think many songwriters can benefit from either trying to operate their own publishing entity, or perhaps partnering with another larger company to administer their copyrights—which is to say that the administering publisher handles a lot of the registrations and collects the money from around the world.

I do think that Songtrust is one of the most innovative models along these lines, as it allows songwriters to continue to control and own their own material, but at the same time, gives them the support they need in order to administer their copyrights. It is not easy to register songs around the world and collect the money—especially these days. Realistically, I think most songwriters will need a partner in that area. Songtrust is a very good option in that respect.

What inspired you to start teaching at Berklee? Who should sign up for the class, and what can they expect to learn?

Music Publishing 101, the class I designed for Berkleemusic, grew out of my book,Making Music Make Money, which was published by Hal Leonard and Berklee Press. After completing the book, Berklee asked me if I’d be interested in designing a course for the online school, and it seemed a logical extension of what I’d started doing with the book. One of the core principles of the class is that anyone in the music industry who is a songwriter, or who regularly comes into contact with songwriters and artists, from studio owners to record producers to managers, should have a music publishing component to their business.  The course really is designed to take students through the step-by-step process of creating their own music publishing company, and helping them understand the issues and challenges that they’ll face.

Why would a student want to start her own music publishing company today? 

What most songwriters don’t realize is that if they’ve written a song, they already are a music publisher. They automatically control their own publishing on that song as soon as it’s created. The question then becomes how to be an effective music publisher. As I always say, songwriting is not actually a business. There’s no financial element to songwriting—it’s just something you do. It’s the job of the music publisher to turn songs into something that can generate income. That’s why my book was called Making Music Make Money. For people who want to write songs for a living, it’s also a reason that songwriters need to learn to be effective music publishers.

What advice would you have for a young songwriter afraid that a business-oriented mindset could obscure a clear creative vision?

Songwriters need to learn to wear more than one “hat”. Of course you need a certain amount of isolation to create, but you also need some reality checks to look at your own music objectively and to figure out where the music fits in the market. In the end, that alternative perspective will actually help the creative vision, at least on a commercial level, by raising the quality of the writing and focusing it in a way that makes it easier for audiences to grasp. For myself, and I think for most professional songwriters or music publishers, it’s always a battle to balance the time demands of running a business with those of creating music— they’re both full-time jobs, and the more you do of one, the more work there is to do on the other. It’s never a completely comfortable fit, but the tension between the two is a big part of what pushes us to do our best work.

The book also places a heavy emphasis on the “exploitation process” of music. Can you explain this term?

Exploitation is one of those things that sounds bad—but in fact, it’s the essential component that makes all of music publishing and songwriting work. Without it, nothing happens. Exploitation just means getting your music into places where people can hear it, and where someone can pay you for it—whether it’s on television, on radio, in an advertisement or from “Billy Bass” the plastic singing fish. Most songwriters want their song exploited as much as possible.

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned about the music industry since starting out?

In general, it’s very important that songwriters not put themselves in a position of always relying on others—they need to understand the business of music and be able to take a pro-active role in their own career.

*******

That sense of independence, of taking control of your own career is really the fundamental principle behind all that I try to do with this blog, with Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic, and with my books, Making Music Make Money and The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs that Sell. It’s always what I’m hoping to talk about at Guitar Center this week– if you’re in NYC, drop by and see me at 7pm on November 9, 25 West 14th Street.  Look forward to seeing you there!

This Year's Model

Jun 14 2011

It’s all about songwriters and publishers in NYC this week, with the AIMP (Association of Independent Music Publishers) annual lunch on Wednesday, followed by the NMPA (National Music Publishers Association) annual meeting that afternoon—then if all that wasn’t quite exciting enough, some real star power with the annual Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner on Thursday evening. But amidst the rubber chicken meals, the cocktail chatter and the endless self-congratulation, it’s probably worth taking a minute to try and tackle the tougher questions, like considering what lies ahead for those who want to be in the business of making music.

Clearly, this is not the same business as it was for many of the writers being inducted on Thursday into the Hall of Fame. That’s not to say it’s harder— it’s never been an easy road, after all. But at a time when the role of the record company is evolving (or perhaps evaporating), sales are plummeting, and at least two of the four major publishers are laying on the “For Sale” shelf like tchotchkes at a bargain garage sale, there’s no reason to plod blindly down a career path with a detour sign set in the middle of the road.

I had a couple of A&R meetings at the major labels this week, and it was clear that regardless of who stays and who goes—which is the only real topic of discussion at any of the four major companies these days—the needs of a music company in the 21st century are pretty much the same across the industry. Falling revenues, reduced A&R staff, a singles-oriented market, and an audience with an attention span barely sufficient for a twitter posting are the realities that everybody has to face. Across the board, the companies that sell music on a national or global level are all looking for the same three things:

1. Ready-made artists
Record labels are no more in the business of developing artists than Wal-mart is in the business of growing apples or raising cattle. The A&R people who once brought some amount of expertise (meager as it may have been) to making records, choosing songs, or helping an artist define his or her sound have either been downsized into the role of an occasional consultant, or upsized into being label presidents, which of course means they don’t have the time to spend making records, choosing songs, or helping define an artist’s sound. Labels need a product that is ready to sell, but they are no longer in the business of making that product. That’s someone else’s job.

2. Marketing platforms
Even with allowances made for the impact of file-sharing and free YouTube music videos, it’s hard to deny that music, by itself, no longer packs the entertainment punch that it once did for the general public. Today, music competes with video games, social networking, and homemade movies of someone’s funny cat—and at the moment, we’re losing the game. As one A&R veteran bluntly told me, it’s simply not enough to try to get a song on the radio and hope that it will cut through the pop cultural clutter. This is why Columbia has just done a deal with the upcoming TV show “Smash”, that they hope will be the next “Glee” (another Sony Music project). It’s why Universal signed on for not one, but two, talent contests, with “American Idol” and “The Voice”. It’s why Bono and the Edge are spending endless hours reworking “Spiderman”. To be effective in the present entertainment economy, music needs to be teamed with some other entertainment or marketing element, whether it’s theater, live performance, television, brands, video games, books, or nightclubs. Music is becoming like sugar—it’s part of everything on the plate, but it’s not really a meal in and of itself.

3. Machines that are already up and running
They don’t have to be Big Machine’s, like Taylor Swift’s. But in the same way that a record label’s A&R department is not looking to develop an artist, a marketing department is not looking to create a marketing plan from scratch. Everyone wants to be part of something that is already happening. A marketing plan is a theory, which often looks good on paper, but doesn’t play out quite as expected. A marketing campaign, even on a very small, local scale, is already generating a response, showing what strategies work, which ones don’t, and whether or not there is an active audience passionate about the artist. Whether it’s artists selling their own downloads, YouTube videos getting seven figure responses, hot mixtapes generating a buzz, or high-profile guest spots with established stars, music companies are looking for artists with a story—and they’re looking to enter that story on page 50, not on page 1.

In an environment like this, it’s interesting to see that the Songwriters Hall of Fame has chosen to give this year’s Hal David Starlight Award (usually handed out to relatively young talent—young being anyone under the age of Hal David himself) to Drake. Here’s an artist who was already on the charts before locking in his label deal, who used marketing platforms from “Degrassi” to mixtapes to features with artists like Lil Wayne to launch a career that seemed almost a fait accompli from the moment he first emerged onto the scene. Whether Drake’s actual music warrants a Songwriters Hall of Fame award is arguable. But there’s no question that his business model is, quite literally, state of the art.

Drake


Where does this leave the isolated songwriter who spends his day making demos to send out to the strangers listed on tipsheets, hoping for that one big cover? Or the singer/songwriter recording her own album with the hopes of finding someone to distribute it? Most likely, it leaves them endlessly behind—forever chasing an industry that has changed, one which demands new skills to play a new kind of game.

Producers have to be talent magnets—finding artists, defining their sound, and making records that break through the white noise of a thousand other entertainment options. Lyricists have to be able to capture, or in many cases, give an artist an identity, with a provocative, reactive message. Artists need to be multi-faceted—singers, dancers, actors, DJs, fashion or lifestyle icons, or all of the above.

Every music creator has to be in the entertainment business, not just the music biz. Producer/writers like David Guetta, Will.i.am, or Dr. Dre, artists like Lady Gaga and Rihanna, and topliners like Kara DioGuardi are not simply songwriters. They’re entertainers on multiple different levels. And in many cases, successful songwriters have to be catalysts—capable of getting something started on their own. It’s not enough to put together great songs, or even great records. In order to build that initial momentum, songwriters have to be able to pull together the right team, network to find the key relationships, strategize a street-level marketing campaign and invest the effort to get the whole thing started.

To hear a hit on the radio and blithely announce “I could have written that song” is to miss the big picture. Could you have found the artist? Developed the artist and defined their musical, visual and lyrical persona? Identified the other marketing platforms that could be the initial springboard to launch their career? Welcome to the big leagues, kid. There’s more to it than meets the ear. With the understanding that no one can do everything well, and it’s not only advisable, but essential to bring others into the process, here are five things you can do to be a songwriter for the here and now:

1. Start looking for artists to develop. Or start looking at yourself.
Remember, you’re not the only one out there searching for stars. You’d better be looking as hard or harder than any A&R person. On the other hand, if you are an artist/writer, then put yourself to the A&R test. Do you have the look? If you’re an urban/pop artist, can you dance, act or rap, as well as sing? If you’re a singer/songwriter, are you a musician and performer at the level of a John Mayer or Alicia Keys? If you’re investing your songwriting in your artist career, you have to be realistic about that investment.

2. Write singles
You’ll never break an artist, whether it’s yourself or someone you found, with a collection of album cuts. So don’t bother writing them. Focus on songs that are mid to up-tempo, fit into a radio format, and have a lyrical idea exciting or provocative enough to cut through the clutter and define the artist.

3. Know your audience
Who are the people who will buy this music? What do they look like? Where do they live? Why do they listen to music? What are they doing when they listen? What’s important in their lives? If you don’t know who will like this music, then neither will a record company, or a radio station, or the press. Successful songwriters hit the target consistently because they aim.

4. Find the platforms
Once you know your audience, it’s not that hard to find the other marketing platforms that might reach them. Classical crossover acts appeal to an older, somewhat sophisticated audience—consequently, you look to land a special on PBS. With a dance artist, you look for a song placement in a video game or Jersey Shore.

5. Do something. Don’t wait until you can do everything. Just do what you can.
Now that you have your artist, your single, a clear picture of your audience and the marketing platforms that can be used to reach them, what will it take to get something started? What could you do on a local level? What can you do for nothing on the internet? Who do you need on your team?

Not many of us are strictly songwriters. Think about your other skills and how you can use them to support your project. If you’re a great musician, can you put together a band for the artist? If you’re a DJ, can you get the artist a few track dates or play the record in your club? If you’re a studio owner, can you shoot a great YouTube video? If you write jingles, can you introduce the artist to some of the advertising agencies you work with?

Perhaps there once was a time when you could make a living writing songs in the secluded privacy of your living room and sending them out to artists around the world to cover. I don’t know—I wasn’t there. I’m old, but not that old. But just as a contemporary author has to be a media personality, talk show guest, and public speaker, or a modern soldier is expected to fill roles ranging from technician to policeman to community organizer, the job requirements for songwriters have expanded. Times change. The good news is, this new model songwriter has a lot more power and influence in the industry than his or her counterpart from even a decade before. At least if you build the machine, you control it.

So what better way to celebrate the end of a week spent celebrating songwriters and publishers than New York Songwriting Day 2011, a songwriting clinic aimed at jump-starting your songwriting in one day! Put together by well-known songwriter and producer Tony Connif, and with a variety of speakers that includes Berklee professor John Stevens, my buddy Alex Forbes, and myself, this should be a great educational and networking opportunity. It’s held on Saturday, June 18 from 12-6pm, at The Collective School of Music Performance Space, 123 West 18th Street. Contact tonysmusic@earthlink.net for more info.

Hope to see you there!

I’m beginning to think that “independent” is becoming the most over-used and abused word in the music biz vocabulary.

What used to simply mean: anything other than one of the six, then five, now four and counting major music companies (EMI, Universal, Warner, Sony), now also describes a particular business approach, and even identifies a particular style of music (“indie pop” or “indie rock” as opposed, I suppose, to big, corporate pop or rock). No band is unsigned—they’re “independent”. No one is simply putting out the record themselves—it’s an “independent” release. Of course, I have my own part in all of this, as my book “Making Music Make Money” was aimed at encouraging songwriters to take control of their own publishing company. This means creating a new breed of “independent” publisher, which has a writer roster of one, a creative management team of one, an administration staff of one, and all the same one.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Especially as the major players in the industry either implode (like EMI), grow themselves into a beast that cannot be tamed (like BMG Rights ) or sink in their own swamp of political vitriol and incompetence (like Sony), there’s much to be said for bands, songwriters, management companies and others stepping into the void and creating some lean, mean machines with a willingness to fight for their own place in the market. I’m all for it.

But I’ve also been a songwriter and musician myself, and I know the dark side to the “independent” mindset. Too many hours in the formative years of our youth spent noodling around on our musical instrument of choice or searching for a lyric to express what we would never be able to actually say out loud can lead to an independent spirit that’s just a little too self-reliant. Running a record company and publishing entity out of your bedroom in a town with no music scene whatsoever, making music in which you write all the songs, play every instrument, sing, engineer, and mix,, and then distributing that music by yourself through the internet doesn’t necessarily make you “independent”. It makes you a recluse.

It’s worthwhile remembering that Howard Hughes struck it rich before he became a hermit, not after. And the truth is, despite all the wonders of technology and the internet, despite the fact that you can make music all on your own in your bedroom and sell it to invisible fans without ever having any actual human interaction, this kind of “hyper-independence” is not an effective business model. In fact, I’ll even go a little further. To those who dream of making it all on their own, with no help from anyone, no industry ties, no schmoozing and no compromises, I offer a prediction:

It will never work.

In twenty-plus years in the music business, I have never seen a single successful artist who didn’t have at least one major contact in the industry who opened doors and then brought in other allies and supporters to join the campaign. Even a quick glance at the Top Ten makes it obvious. Ke$sha has Dr. Luke; Luke had Max Martin; Max Martin had Swedish producer Denniz Pop. Rihanna had producers Carl Sturken and Evan Rodgers. Eminem had Dr. Dre. Some of these affiliations are obvious—of course, many artists and songwriters have much lower-profile supporters, whether it’s managers, lawyers, publishers, or other songwriters. Certainly, most successful artists and songwriters have not one, but dozens of key people who came on board at any given point to help move them from unknown, to buzzing, to the hot new thing, to superstar. There are virtually no examples of people who have done it alone.

I thought of this recently, as I had an opportunity to meet with several great young musicians who are using the “independent” model, but in a very “inter-dependent” way. At the company I work for, we have the good fortune to represent a fantastic Brooklyn, yes “indie” band called Savoir Adore, which features Paul Hammer and Deidre Muro. Paul and Deidre both attended NYU, where they became part of a diverse music community that has fostered a particularly “collective” approach to music-making. In addition to Savoir Adore, both Paul and Deidre are part of a variety of side projects, ranging from solo records, to writing, producing, or performing with other former NYU cohorts like singer/songwriter Ron Pope, The District, or the very buzzy electronica act French Horn Rebellion,. These are independent musicians, but not isolated ones. As a result, an upward move for any of the musicians within the circle only opens up more opportunities for everyone else.

In the same way, I had a meeting last week with a group of songwriters from Berklee College of Music, all of whom are determined to break into the writing & production world before—not after—they graduate. They’re drawing upon the wealth of talent around them to build a real independent publishing entity, with a roster of songwriters and producers who all interact with each other. They’ve even enlisted some music business majors who are able to pitch songs. The model is an independent one, but the spirit is “collective”. That makes all the difference.

Of course, no one has utilized this approach more effectively than the hip-hop community, in which the “collective” spirit is so strong that it’s almost impossible for a rapper to succeed without being part of a particular “clique”, based either on style and genre, or geographical region. Every successful hip-hop artist brings with him or her a group of young developing artists, producers, and executives who then in turn, begin to develop a circle of up and comers underneath them. There is no way for those working in isolation to compete effectively from the outside. In this world, you have to become an insider within a group of like-minded creative people. As far back as the Renaissance or Tin Pan Alley, it’s the way that careers in art have been made.

When I first moved to New York, I was very fortunate to become part of a circle of songwriters who would gather once a month for what we called “Song Party”. Alexandra Forbes, who went on to write hits for everyone from Alisha to Taylor Dayne to Joey Lawrence (with yours truly), was the catalyst, and she brought together a group of songwriters, as well as the occasional A&R person, artist, or producer to listen to new songs, critique each other’s work, make plans to collaborate in various combinations, and trade industry tips and gossip. It was casual, completely unstructured, and always good fun.

It also worked. Within the core group of “Song Party” regulars was Alex, Jeff Franzel (who wrote the Taylor Dayne hit “Don’t Rush Me” with Alex, and has since written for everyone from *NSYNC to Shawn Colvin to Placido Domingo), Shelly Peiken (one of LA’s top writers, with hits like “What A Girl Wants” for Christina Aguilera and “Bitch” for Meredith Brooks), Barbara Jordan (who later founded the television and film music company Heavy Hitters Music), Nina Ossoff (who just recently had a single with Daughtry) and myself.

If ten random songwriters moved to New York, the odds would clearly dictate that the chances for success, even if you define success as simply sustaining a career in music, would be remarkably low. To suppose that even three out of ten would somehow find a life-long profession in music would be a statistical stretch. But what the odds don’t take into account is the power of a collective approach. Because we were able to work together, and pool our talent, and share our experience through things like “Song Party”, six out of ten people managed to build a successful music career. The same will undoubtedly be true of the NYU crew from which Savoir Adore has emerged, as well as the group of aspiring writer-producers at Berklee.

These opportunities are all around. I see it happening among some of the writers that work with the Songwriters Hall of Fame, thanks in part to the leader of the SongHall’s education program, Peter Bliss. I see it among many of the top writer-producers, like Dr. Luke, who are putting together teams of songwriters within their organizations to help deal with the growing workload. When I was at Sony ATV Music in New York, I saw it among the crew of writers and artists that grew out of clubs like the Living Room—people like Jesse Harris, Norah Jones, Richard Julian and others all interacting, working on each other’s projects, forming side projects and finding new acts to develop together. Wherever it happens, sooner or later you always see a success story.

The fact is that this kind of interaction is not so much a matter of opportunity as it is a mindset. It’s a determination not to go it alone, but instead to build a community of people that can play a part in your career, and to whom you can also contribute something valuable. If you make that your goal, you’ll find places and chances to do it. Independence is over-rated. It takes a village to make a superstar.

The Best Laid Plans

Dec 30 2010

It’s as reliable as catching a cold at Christmas. As the glow of the festivities fades away, this time of post-holiday leisure brings on that old inevitable urge… to re-evaluate, re-examine, re-assess and re-formulate what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and where were headed in the upcoming year. It’s business strategy season again, where hope springs eternal, everything is possible, and for one shining moment, nothing can go wrong. Because of course, we’re not actually doing anything. We’re only planning to do stuff, and it all looks good on paper.

I just did it myself actually. While I was stranded in an airport with the rest of America, I spent a couple of hours breaking down the whole year into nice manageable chunks, setting goals and strategies for each songwriter on my roster, delegating all the things that take up the time that I need to do those other more important things which I never do, and making a list of all the potential opportunities I should be cashing in on before it’s too late. If all goes according to experience, the plan will be falling apart by the time Midem rolls around at the end of January, and forgotten soon after. What can I say? I try.

I’m not making excuses—I’m well aware that much of the problem is me. Like most music business weasels, I’m better at seeing potential than realizing it, and better at making promises than delivering.

But part of the problem is also the nature of the music industry. Tied as it is to the fickle, ever-changing tastes of the public, and dependent as it is on the sudden magic of inspiration to create hit songs or turn ordinary aspiring artists into superstars, it just isn’t a business that rewards a rigid adherence to strategy. Of course, you want to know where you’re going. But you need to be a kind of human GPS, re-calibrating at every missed turn to find a new route to the destination.

In my book, “Making Music Make Money”, I addressed the challenge of formulating a business plan in an ever-shifting terrain—the equivalent of building a house during an earthquake. The key is to remain flexible. In the book, instead of a formal business plan, I offered up a little drill called “The Music Business Weasel’s Pop Quiz”. It’s not a plan, but rather a series of questions to help you focus your mind on:
….what you’re trying to do
…what your challenges are
….and what resources you have, or will need to have, in order to overcome those challenges.

Because it’s not a specific strategy, it’s not something that you toss to the wind as soon as something changes. It’s also not something you only do once a year. In fact, it’s worth doing every 3-4 months, updating and reconsidering your answers as your life and your career progress.

A lot of the readers of “Making Music Make Money” have commented that the Pop Quiz was one of the most helpful things in the book—so many in fact that I decided to incorporate it into my class, Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic.com. I’ve walked dozens of students through it, helping them to start analyzing their market, acknowledging their potential network of contacts, and recognizing the opportunities that they have in front of them. Just because we live in the highly unpredictable and volatile world of show business doesn’t mean we can’t think intelligently about our business. We simply can’t do the same kind of long-term planning as people in a steadier line of work.

So to ease you into the new year, and to save you the frustration of a January business plan that’s disintegrating by Valentine’s Day, here’s an abbreviated version of “The Music Business Weasel’s Pop Quiz”. It might seem simple, but be forewarned—you’ll get out of it as much as you put in. The more time you spend researching, contemplating and developing detailed answers to the tough questions, the more likely it is that you’ll stumble on that one big idea that transforms your business.

If it seems easy, you’re not thinking hard enough—especially these days. Nothing in the music business is easy right now—so don’t fool yourself with quick, simple answers like “I just have to make music that’s better than everyone else” or “My market is growing”. Everyone thinks they make better music than everyone else, and, at present, no one’s market is growing. The challenge is to make a plan that addresses that reality.

Good luck, both for the quiz and for the new year. Here’s to Happy Weaseling in 2011!!!

The Music Business Weasel’s Pop Quiz

1. What is your primary market?

2. Who is your competition?

3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the leading companies in your particular market? How can you imitate those strengths?
How can you exploit the weaknesses?

4. What strategies have been used successfully in this market previously?

5. What does your target audience look like?

6. Is your market growing or shrinking?

7. In what city or cities are most of the companies in your market based?

8. What are the advantages and disadvantages or your current location?

9. What segment of the market is the most crowded with competition?

10. What is the most under-served part of the market?

11. What reactions are you getting to your songs? What part of the market is reacting most positively? Which is reacting with the least enthusiasm?

12. What are the musical strengths and weaknesses of your catalog?

13. What are your strength and weaknesses as a business? How can you best utilize your strengths? How can you best compensate for your weaknesses?

14. What information do you need to compete in your market? How can you get that information?

15. More importantly, what relationships do you need to have in order to compete?

16. How can you meet those key people, or people that know the key people?

17. What relationships do you already have?

18. What equipment or supplies do you need in order to operate effectively?

19. How much money do you have to spend on your business?

And finally, one multiple choice. This one counts double.

20. At present, what is the biggest obstacle to your success? Is it:

(a) Creative—Weakness in the catalog or demo presentation
(b) Financial—Lack of capital for business expenditures
(c) Social—Shortage of productive personal relationships and industry contacts
(d) Technical—Need for musical or office equipment or technology
(e) Informational—Lack of knowledge regarding the industry or business in general
(f) Structural—Are you in a declining or nonexistent market?

The Gifted Songwriter

Dec 18 2010

While it may be more blessed to give than to receive, it’s also a lot more work. Anyone stressing about where and when to find that last elusive holiday gift will understand what I mean. I came to the realization last week that it’s a very dangerous thing to be at the end of my Christmas gift list– it’s like being named Zucker at a college graduation ceremony that’s proceeding in alphabetical order. By the time your name finally comes up, everyone’s lost interest and moved on to the reception. At this point, if I haven’t figured out what gift to buy for you, I’m likely to just give up and vow to do better next year.

The bottom line is: it’s crunch time. So in the interest of public service (and of course, being a music business weasel, some self service as well), I’m offering up a bag full of gift ideas for your songwriter friends or relatives. Or, with the understanding that songwriters tend toward the reclusive, buy these for yourself and save your family from buying you the scarf with musical notes on it, or the new edition of the rhyming dictionary.

Here’s the Songwriters Gift List (or “What To Get the Guy Who Gets Only 9 cents Each Time Someone Buys a $20 dollar CD”):

1. A spot at the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo

http://www.ascap.com/eventsawards/events/expo/

Granted it ain’t a cheap gift, but at this time of year, there’s some deep discounts on the cost of the registrations for an event that takes place April 28-30. And all things considered, there’s no conference as rich in educational, mentoring and networking opportunities for aspiring songwriters, whether they’re producers, performers, composers or lyricists. The Expo covers every corner of the songwriting business, virtually every genre, and brings superstars like Quincy Jones, Justin Timberlake, Dr. Luke and Bill Withers together with writers just beginning their journey in the music industry. There’s no other event quite like it.

2. A subscription to Billboard magazine.

http://www.billboard.com/

This one is pretty generous as well, but it represents a world of opportunity for whoever receives it. My first gig in the music industry came from reading an article in Billboard, so I’m a true believer. There is no way to survive in this business without knowing what’s happening– it’s how you discover the openings in the marketplace, jump on the trends, find your business model, or identify the people who you need to turn into contacts. Whether it’s online or in print, every songwriter needs to be looking at Billboard each week.

3. “What They’ll Never Tell You About The Music Business” by Peter Thall

Peter is one of New York’s top music business lawyers, a clear and insightful author, and one of my favorite people to run into on the weasel Habitrail– he’s always dapper, funny and leaves me with one piece of knowledge that I didn’t have before. If you need a guide to the contractual, legal and practical realities of building a music career, this new update of his classic book is a great place to start.

4. “The Hit Factory”: Making Your Music Make Money”, a one-day workshop at Songwriters Hall of Fame.

http://www.songhall.org/news/entry/939

I told you there was a little bit of self-interest at work here. This is my own one-day, six-hour, intensive class at the Songhall in NY, which I led last year as well. It’s a chance for me to help those songwriters attending the workshop to develop a strategic approach to their career– it’s part lecture, part song-critique session, and part open discussion, and I love doing it. Last year’s class was sold out, and we had people from all around the country. I’m looking forward to doing it again, and have a lot of new material to cover. The cost includes both of my books, “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell” and “Making Music Make Money”, so it’s not a bad bargain. I think all of us from the last session, myself included, felt that it was a day full of discovery, good music and valuable new contacts.

5. A Tip Sheet of choice: Songlink International or myhitonline.com
http://www.myhitonline.com/
or

http://www.songlink.com/

There’s no greater challenge for most songwriters in getting their music out into the market than trying to figure out who’s looking for songs and where to send them. These are both very well put-together “tip sheets” that can clue you into both big and small projects around the world. It doesn’t mean your songs are going to get cut. But at least they might be heard. Every little lead helps…

6. The T.A.M.I. Show Collectors Edition DVD

It’s hard to imagine any pop songwriter or musician who couldn’t find something to love here. Filmed at a live performance in Santa Monica Auditorium in 1964, then lost for decades to legal disputes, this has just recently become available– it is a brilliant document of the energy and variety that made music the defining element of pop culture in that time. The mix of acts is simply a representation of what was, in the early 60′s, a Top 40 playlist. Now it reads like the roster of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. This was a time when you could have a concert bill that included: Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys (with Brian Wilson), Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Lesley Gore,the Supremes, The Rolling Stones, and James Brown, who gives what most consider his greatest performance of all time. The most remarkable thing is the consistency of the live performances. No lip syncing, very little rehearsal, and yet, no train wrecks. It’s a long way from Katy Perry or Britney Spears.

7. “Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting: The Book” by Ralph Murphy

http://www.murphyslawsofsongwriting.com/index.php/buy-the-book

A legendary country songwriter and publisher, Ralph is both one of the most astute students of songwriting and one of the most engaging teachers. He has analyzed hundreds of popular country and pop hits to understand the nuances of what makes them work, figured out what audiences want to hear, and what radio needs to play. Then he’s able to actually explain it– and be funny as hell at the same time. I’ve recommended his classes and workshops before, but now he’s got a book coming out, just in time for Christmas. Definitely worth studying and sharing with every other songwriter…

Ralph Murphy


8. A consulting session with “Ask The Music Business Weasel”

www.ericbeall.com/consulting

So guess who the weasel is? This is my own hourly consulting service that I launched this year– it’s available to songwriters, publishers, or artists looking for specific advice for a career situation, some overall strategy, or detailed feedback about their work. Happily, it’s been a big success, not just on my end, but for the writers involved– there have been management deals, record contracts, and business partnerships that have grown, in least in part, from some of the discussions. I love the opportunity to really dive into someone’s business, rather than just offering up cursory observations or song critiques. If you don’t have a weasel on call, now you do…

As the phones in the office have gone eerily silent of late, I think we can safely say that the music biz is shutting down for the remainder of 2010, and I’m about ready to join everyone else in cueing up in the airport security line. So here’s wishing you a great holiday and all the best for 2011. It’s not always been easy out here this year for anyone, but the weasel’s greatest qualities are perseverance and resilience. You can’t kill this beast. I’ll see you all next year…

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

Thanks, but no thanks

Dec 04 2010

Now that the glow of the Thanksgiving holiday has worn off (although the extra five pounds remains), the mind turns inevitably to slightly darker topics. Like things that really !@#$*F! me off. Maybe that’s a little strong— but when I start thinking of all the nice things that I’m thankful for, I can’t help but also contemplate the stuff I really can’t stand. So as a brief, but inevitable rejoinder to last week’s grace-full meditation on all things good and positive in the music biz, here’s a brief blast of negativity and bile. ‘Tis the season.

FIVE THINGS NOT TO BE THANKFUL FOR:

1. Myspace Music.

Maybe it’s your space– it’s not my space. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s space anymore. In a new record of corporate bungling, within what seemed like only months of having purchased Myspace for $580 million, Rupert Murdoch had turned the once-essential site into the most awkward, slow, cumbersome, ugly, ad-heavy and useless social network of them all. Then, over the course of several years, after several revamps and corporate upheavals, the wizards who were going to make Myspace the hub of the music world actually managed to make it worse. At this point, any A&R guy faced with the prospect of having to search through Myspace to source talent should receive hazard pay. The time it takes to load, the number of pop-up ads, and the generally ghastly design make it a mind-numbing experience (and most A&R’s minds are pretty numb already). Plus, it’s just not cool.

Rupert Murdoch

The point is: If you’re sending a link to an A&R guy, make it to your own website, or YouTube, or SonicBids, or any other music site– but please, no Myspace. No one has that kind of time.

2. YouSendIt and other file-hosting sites with expiration dates and pop-up ads.

So you send it. Then it arrives in an A&R person’s box. But they’re out of town for three days. Then it’s the weekend. Then they come back and listen to the 15 things that their boss or their artists are screaming about. Then, on the seventh day, they open your email and go to listen to your music. But alas, the link has expired, and now the A&R person must email you back, and start the whole process all over again. There are plenty of file-sharing services, like Box.net, that do not carry a time limit on them. Go with those, or don’t send it–instead you can provide a link to your website, or YouTube, or anything but Myspace.

The point is: To songwriters and artists submitting material, a week may seem like a long time. To people that receive dozens of submissions a day, a week is not a long time. Your time-frame is not their time-frame. These arbitrary deadlines are not realistic.

3. Sendspace and other file-hosting sites supported by advertising.

This is not a sending space. It is advertising space. It is free for you– but for the person receiving the email, it is not free. It is cheap and tacky. Give one misguided click on any of the half-dozen pop-ups invading your computer screen, and suddenly up flashes “Congratulations! You’ve won!” . But of course, you haven’t won. You’ve merely been trapped into a whole other burst of online advertising.

The point is: you’re running a business. You’re trying to establish a brand. Businesses and brands do not send out emails filled with cheesy advertisements. Use something that looks clean and professional.

4. American Idol

I admit, I never liked it from the start. By combining the aesthetic quality of karaoke with the overwrought emotion of reality television and the B-level production values of a cut-rate beauty pageant, this show has always managed to both offend and depress me at the same time. Still, I have to admit it– over the years, it has launched some genuine stars, like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Fantasia, and maybe even Adam Lambert. And, as sad as this is, it has kept the music industry, and especially the songwriting and publishing business afloat at a time when there was very little else that caught the public’s interest.

Kris Allen

But now it’s dead. We all know it. So please– spare us the revival with J-Lo and Steven Tyler. Spare us the “new” “bigger and better” version. For all the stars launched by American Idol, it has killed dozens of other potentially interesting new artists, who simply couldn’t compete with a karaoke singer already seen weekly by 20 million people. In fact, most labels have all but ceased signing mainstream pop artists, with the knowledge that American Idol has essentially owned that particular market. To call the show a mixed blessing is to be generous.

The point is: Simon is gone. The fat lady has sung, again and again. This game is over. Let’s stab it with our steely knife and kill this damn beast.

5. Walmart, Best Buy, and other false friends.

A major label A&R guy recently explained to me Walmart’s new innovation in music retailing– downloading stations where you can compile your own six-song collection for a dollar a song. Of course, this is one more effort to reduce the amount of retail space given to music and to kill off the 10 song CD altogether. Given Walmart’s position as the leading mass retailer of music product, it will almost inevitably work to do exactly that. If you have any attachment to the “album” format, sound quality that exceeds an mp3, or some kind of old-fashioned, perverse pleasure in actual physical product, you’d better buy what you want now. Because music retailing is going to disappear entirely, to make way for a greater selection of jumbo shampoos and paper towel 20-packs.

For this, the music industry has no one to thank but themselves. By chasing after Walmarts, Best Buy, and other large chain mass retailers, often offering them better pricing or exclusive promotional programs, or even exclusive rights to superstar product, the industry managed in one decade to kill off both the small and large music-specific retailers. These business-owners, most of whom were genuinely passionate music fans, and most of whom knew far more about music than most of the people at the record labels, have been replaced by people who have absolutely no inherent interest in music, and no vested interest in the music industry. We killed our friends, and sold our souls to the bean-counters. In these retail environments, whoever sells the most, gets the space. It’s not hard to see where this is going.

The point is: When you make decisions as an industry to diversify the way you sell product or to support new outlets, you have to think about how it will affect your business partners. This is particularly important as we now see the pressure to support new “free” music spaces like Spotify. While we all want to find new ways to create income, we’d better stop to think how “cloud-based” businesses will affect our current partners like iTunes, who actually do manage to sell alot of music– even if it is for a dollar a song. We don’t want to kill off iTunes before we know if these ad-supported services can actually make us more money.

Okay– I know it’s a lot of negativity in one big blast. I think of it as a sort of pre-holiday purging. Now that all that’s off my chest, I can face the holiday party rounds next week with a smiling face and the good cheer one expects of a Music Weasel at an open bar. Hope you all have a great holiday season!

Alright—as I mentioned last week, I’m getting on a plane tomorrow for two crazy weeks of international travel, including a three day stint at the Amsterdam Dance Event. So this blog may be the last you hear from me until sometime around Halloween. But that’s alright, because I’m leaving you with plenty of food for thought…

If you’ve been following the blog (you have been following the blog, haven’t you? ), you’ll know that last week’s posting was on the topic of sub-publishing, which is the process through which you allow another publisher to represent your catalog in a foreign territory (or territories), or through which someone else allows you to represent their foreign catalog in your territory. These deals are some of the most important ones you’ll do as a publisher, and the relationships between you and your sub-publishers are crucial in helping you build your company on a worldwide basis.

That’s why I’m heading off to Europe next week—so that I can meet and greet with our sub-publishers, and potential sub-publishing partners. It’s also why I spent last week’s blog offering five quick tips on how to foster an effective, positive working relationship with your sub-publishers. Given the cultural gaps, the differences in business environments, the language barriers, and the varying musical tastes in each territory, there are more than a few barriers that can get in the way of good international relations between publishing partners.

So this week, I have five more tips for making the cross-border, cross-cultural marriage a happy one:

1. Share good news.
Everyone likes to be on a winning team. Remember—not only have you made an investment in your sub-publisher, they’ve also put time and occasionally money into you. So keep them in the loop as to what’s happening with your company and catalog, whether it’s through monthly mailings, a newsletter, a monthly touch-base on the telephone or Skype. Include chart positions, reviews, press, awards, and upcoming releases. One rave review in the UK or a #1 single in Belgium might give your German sub-publisher the story they need to set up a key co-write for your writer in their territory. Good news somewhere builds momentum everywhere.

2. Build bridges. Inter-marry. Keep it all in the family.
When two companies in different territories are of similar size or orientation, many sub-publishing deals can be done on a reciprocal basis, in which one company represents your catalog in their territory, while you represent their catalog in yours. Sometimes this is a great deal—sometimes, not so much. But the principle is a good one:

Find ways to interact with the roster of your sub-publishing partner. See if there are co-writers on their roster that might be good collaborators with your people. Find out if one of your songs might benefit from a translation into the local language, then see if the sub-publisher has a writer who can do it. That gives you have a jointly owned copyright, and a big incentive for the sub-publisher to make something happen. In the same way, if they have artists signed to their roster, perhaps one act could create a new contemporary cover of your song for the local market. You will own the song, but the sub-publisher can own the master recording.

3. Put a face to a name.
There’s a reason I’m getting on a plane this week, and flying halfway across the world—and a reason my company will pay for it. Sometimes the only way to get on the radar screen of your sub-publishers is to get off of the phone and get into their office. There are relationships and understandings that can only be forged in person. Given the differences in cultural behaviors, sometimes the only real way to gauge a Creative Director’s enthusiasm for your songs is to see it (or not) for yourself. Certainly, there are strategies that grow out of casual, relaxed conversations that no one would think of when the long-distance timer is clicking.

I think it’s wise to see your sub-publishers at least twice a year—maybe once at an event like Midem, ADE, or SXSW, and again with an actual office visit. Onstage at the Grammy Awards, Ivor Novellos, or at a photo op holding a multi-platinum album plaque are also good places to see each other. Remember tip #6. If you score big, make sure that you all celebrate together.

4. Don’t be persistent. Be consistent.
Persistent people are usually a pain. They don’t listen, adapt or change—they just keep beating the proverbial dead horse. No one benefits from a dreaded weekly phone call that merely reiterates the same priority projects, or the need for a sync on one particular song, or demands a report on where and to whom music was sent.

But consistency is a positive approach to making sure you get what you need. If you set up a monthly phone touch-base, make sure it happens. If you say you’ll send over a song, do it. If your writer is supposed to go to your sub-publisher’s territory for a writing trip, don’t cancel at the last minute. Human nature being what it is, and the demands on a Creative Director’s time being what they are, if your sub-publisher thinks you’ll just forget about something, or that you’ll never follow-up, whatever you’re asking for will never happen. On the other hand, if consistency is your calling card, people will take you seriously. You don’t need to nag or torture people. Just never let anything fall through the cracks.

5. Try not to mix music and money.
I know—it’s pretty hard, since that’s ultimately what we’re talking about. We’re trying to make music make money. But when it comes to sub-publishing, do your best to keep the music discussions (ideas for the catalog, collaborations, song pitches, translations) separate from the money talk (royalty collections, payments, accountings and audits). In most sub-publishing relationships, there will be plenty of both to hash through.

If you can, try not to speak to the Creative staff about money or administration issues—they won’t know much that’s useful anyway. If your company is big enough, try to have separate people make the music and money calls. If you’re a one-person operation, then make sure you talk songs with the song pluggers and accounting with the accountants. Almost inevitably, there will be financial issues and questions that have to be worked through— and it’s not always pretty. You don’t want to damage a creative relationship over a late statement or a mistake in the math.

If you work in the dance genre and are looking for sub-publishers to help you grow your company, Amsterdam Dance Event and Winter Music Conference in Miami (in March) are two of the premier events during the year. For music of every genre, including some that you never, ever imagined, MIDEM (held in Cannes every January) is the mother of all international networking events. Traditionally, many publishers go and do all their sub-publishing deals for around the globe in that one week. If you’ve got hits somewhere in the world, or if you feel like you have material that would be of interest to people in other markets, it’s worth a trip to one of these conventions to at least start some conversations.

What makes events like ADE and MIDEM something more than just a place to find over-priced drinks and a new DJ bag is that they remind you of the global nature of our industry, and the value of having relationships with people around the world. In looking at my calendar and my contact list over the past year, I realized that I now do as much business across Europe as I do in the United States—and last year, several of the biggest hits I brought in originated abroad. Doing business around the world just increases your chances for finding that elusive lucky break; it spreads your risk across a greater area; it makes you less vulnerable to the ups and downs of any one particular market or genre, and less of a slave to the tastes of US Top 40 radio. Plus, you meet a lot of cool people from around the world. Weasels do love company, after all.

I gotta go get packed…

A show business maxim:

If you have a business partner and things are not going the way you’d like, all of the problems in the business are his or her fault. If you get a new business partner and the problems persist, you clearly need to pick better partners. If you try twenty partners and the problems won’t go away…

You may have problems.

I’m about to head off to Europe for a visit to the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), and an opportunity to share a few ideas about the business of songwriting at “Buma On Tour” sponsored by Dutch royalty collection society BUMA STEMRA, with stop-offs in Milan and London as well. This warm-up for MIDEM is an opportunity to catch up on what’s happening in the international music business, check out the latest fashions in dance music, and of course meet other weasels and scream introductions over crashingly loud trance music in packed nightclubs.

But even better (if that could be possible), this trip is a chance to talk sub-publishing—to find new companies that our company can sub-publish in North America, to talk with our own European sub-publishers, and to meet with the companies in Europe whom we already represent in the United States or elsewhere. Particularly as a small to medium-sized independent music publisher, sub-publishing is one of the most important aspects of the business, both as a means of extending your own catalog’s reach into other territories, and as a way to supplement your own cash flow by representing other companies looking to break into your territory.

At Shapiro Bernstein, where I work, we’re fortunate enough to represent top international companies like Good Groove Music (which brought us shares in “Put Your Records On” and “Trouble Sleeping” by Corinne Bailey Rae) and What A Publishing Ltd. (which is the original publisher for DJ superstar David Guetta and his co-writer Frederic Riesterer, who did “I Gotta Feeling”, “When Love Takes Over” and “Club Can’t Handle Me”, among many other recent hits). When sub-publishing works right, it’s a beautiful, profitable, global exchange of creativity and culture. And all the weasels join hands and sing “Kumbaya”.

DJ, Songwriter & Producer David Guetta

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work right all the time. In fact, anytime publishers get together to talk sub-publishing , it’s clear that most sub-publishing relationships are a source of frustration, disappointment, and suspicion. Not unlike most of the other relationships among people in the music business. Ironically, the situation isn’t much different, and certainly no better, in the major companies, which generally don’t do sub-publishing deals, but rather work through their company’s own affiliated offices in the various territories. As anyone who has worked with a major publisher will tell you, the relationships between the New York, London, Paris, Stockholm, and Australia office can contain so many political issues that one would need a UN negotiator to work through them all—if you could get the various divisions to actually speak with each other. It’s tough to get the LA and Nashville offices to talk, and they speak the same language (sort of).

So why does something so good so often go so wrong? Besides the obvious cultural, language, and even timezone differences that can present barriers to building an effective relationship, many sub-publishing deals are undone by the very nature of the deals themselves—which can often mean very different things to different people.

These agreements generally provide for the sub-publisher to represent your catalog, or a part of your catalog, in the foreign territory for a set period of time—somewhere between three to five years is common. During that time, the sub-publisher essentially acts as the publisher in that territory—registering the copyrights at the local society, negotiating licenses for uses of the songs, watching for infringements, and collecting the money earned. At the same time, sub-publishers are usually encouraged by those they represent to look for local exploitation opportunities—to obtain film, television, and advertising placements, covers by local artists, and even to coordinate writing trips for your writers in the foreign territory.

Herein lies the rub.

Many sub-publishers view these agreements as being “administration deals”, in which the primary function is to make sure money is collected accurately and paid out in a timely fashion. On the other side, many companies entering into sub-publishing agreements do so with the hopes of finding a “creative” partner, who will help them establish their songs and their songwriters in a new part of the world. The gulf between those two functions can sometimes be as great as the physical distance that separates you from your sub-publisher. What started out so good at MIDEM in January can turn ugly by the time you all meet up again at ADE in October.

Like any happy marriage, it takes a little finesse on both sides to make it all work. In the interest of helping me prepare for my upcoming trip, helping those of you who have (or hope to have) representation outside of your own territory, and in the general name of good international relations and world peace, here are some quick tips for making your sub-publishing relationship work to everyone’s benefit:

1. Know who you’re dealing with. Know what you want. Cast illusions aside.
Some publishers are very picky about who they sub-publish; others buy in bulk. In certain territories, there will be several good options, each with strengths and weaknesses; in others, there might be only one or two reputable companies, and those will have far more business than they can reasonably handle. If you’re looking for support with songplugging and writer development, you won’t get that from a company that represents dozens of other companies larger and more successful than yours. If you only need administration, a larger company might be more effective. Do your homework and know what to expect from your partner. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your sub-publisher’s business model will change to accommodate you.

2. Give a little to get a little.
The terms of sub-publishing vary widely, with some working on an administration-type percentage like 15%;, others may take a fee of 20, 30, or even 50%. In many cases, the percentage will change for covers obtained in the local market, or for sync placements by the sub-publisher (25-50%). Especially in smaller territories, you have to give some incentive for a sub-publisher to take an active role. Have some flexibility in the percentages you’ll accept and dangle a carrot out there to get people interested.

3. Get to know each other gradually.
Whether you have a massive catalog that spans decades or two years worth of songwriting output, you don’t have to send all the music to your sub-publisher in the first week. Taking on even a modest-sized catalog can be a daunting task for the company on the other side—try to give them a fighting chance. I recommend you start by sending only those songs which have been released in the sub-publisher’s local territory. Those are the ones that will need to be registered right away. If there aren’t many of those, then you can expand the first mailing to include all of the songs you’ve had released in other territories. If you’re still under thirty songs, then include what you feel are the strongest or most representative songs in your catalog. But thirty songs is a good limit. Once you get some creative feedback as to what styles or writers are most viable in that territory, then you can send more music, a little at a time.

4. COMMUNICATE. Often. Clearly. Accurately.
Most sub-publishing arrangements deteriorate due to communications breakdowns. Information about upcoming releases, changes in the writer roster, or registration information is too little or too late. The information that does arrive comes in a flurry of emails, each more confusing than the last. Ownership percentages, credits, or the spellings of writers’ names are incorrect. When it comes to sub-publishing, little misunderstandings have big ramifications.

Never send a song to your sub-publisher without including the names of all of the writers, the ownership percentages, the publisher information for each writer, and any relevant release information. Most of the time, there’s nothing the sub-publisher can do without all of that information. Having some, but not all, of the facts only means that the registrations get pushed to the side of the desk, indefinitely.

5. Ask questions. Listen to the answers.
As important as it is to communicate what’s happening with your songs and your company to your business partner, it’s even more important to hear your sub-publisher’s feedback in regards to your songs and strategies in that particular territory. They are the local experts. Don’t tell them what songs would work for certain projects—ask them which ones they think are the best pitch. Don’t explain which writers are the priorities on your roster—see which ones generate a reaction from the sub-publisher’s creative staff. Find out what they suggest as far as strategies for their local market. You don’t know your way around their town—so let them drive the bus.

That’s a lot of advice—and I’m just getting going! For those with catalogs that have real value outside of their local territory, your sub-publishers can be some of the most important members of your team. That’s why it’s so important to know how to work with them effectively. I’m going to provide five more tips in the next blog—just before I head off to ADE—so be sure to stay tuned. If you’re looking for an international strategy, this is where you start.

The key here is: If you’re not getting what you want out of your sub-publishing relationships, start by looking in the mirror and seeing how you measure up.

Of course it’s possible to make a wrong choice about a sub-publisher—every publisher is constantly reassessing and reforming their international alliances. But if all of your sub-publishers seem to be letting you down, then you have to wonder if perhaps the problem lies closer to home.

Check back here mid-week for the Final Five, when it comes to foreign relations…