Ready, Fire… Aim!

Sep 24 2010

Here is the story of how professional songwriting works:

One hundred people go to a firing range to take target practice. Of that hundred people, ninety of the shooters are wearing blindfolds. They can’t see a thing. Not surprisingly, they’ re blasting off bullets in every direction—in the air, in the ground, behind them, at each other. Nothing is hitting the target except by sheer luck.

Of the remaining ten people, five of the marksmen are not wearing blindfolds, but they have poor vision and they’re not wearing their eyeglasses. So these five people can see the target vaguely, but it’s very blurry, and they can’t focus enough to really get all that close to the bullseye with any consistency.

The final five shooters have normal 20-20 vision, and they’re not wearing blindfolds. They’re staring straight at the target and pulling the trigger. While they’re not hitting their mark every time, they’re consistently able to get somewhere near the center of the target.

Have you ever wondered how it is that some songwriters (like Dr. Luke, Will.I.Am, Max Martin, RedOne, Alicia Keys, or Ryan Tedder at this particular moment in time) can consistently come up with hit song after hit song, while the vast majority of songwriters struggle to even get a cut? As a publisher, I certainly have.

One of the first things I noticed when I entered the world of music publishing after having been a songwriter for many years, was the vast imbalance that characterizes the writer roster of almost every publisher in the music business. If you’re fortunate enough to be having success at all, it’s almost always one or two writers who are generating all the activity that sustains the company, while the rest of the writers are struggling even to pay back the cost of their demos. Ironically, the writers who are making the hits that pay the bills are usually the ones a publisher is least likely to hear from—they are usually self-contained, self-sufficient business entities that rarely need the creative input of the professional manager at the publishing company. For a publisher acquiring new talent, the question is:

What are these writers doing differently than everyone else?

That question came back to me this week, as I was asked to speak to a group of up and coming songwriters at the New York ASCAP Songwriter Workshop—a fantastic group of young songwriters, selected based on songs they submitted, who participate in a short series of meetings intended to help them along their path as writers, producers and artists. These are people who have the talent, and in some cases, have already started to make an impact with their music. Still, they are faced with the challenge that greets every young, developing songwriter, and every publisher who is in the business of finding and developing talent:

How do you move beyond being a talented songwriter on an artistic or technical level, to being a successful professional songwriter on a financial level?

That’s a tough question, and it’s getting tougher all the time. In giving professional, real-world advice to people pursuing a career as songwriters, it would be very easy to simply say, “Don’t”. Having been a songwriter myself in a career that spans almost 20 years, I can honestly say that I don’t think the environment for new artists, writers or producers has ever been more challenging than it is right now. Of course, it’s true that there are more opportunities to distribute or expose your music than ever before, and viable DIY models that did not exist even a decade ago. Still, the professional realities are that sales are falling drastically (whether it’s for DIY product or major label superstars), fewer and fewer artists are recording outside material, fewer labels are signing or breaking new artists, and the level of sync fees and other forms of income are plummeting as well. It’s not a pretty picture. The obvious advice would be to look for some other form of self-abuse to engage in.

And yet, there are success stories every day. Four years ago, I went to see RedOne at his studio, just after he had moved to Manhattan—there were no hits at that point, but the buzz was building. Today, he’s announcing his own label deal, and topping the charts with Lady Gaga. A year after I first met RedOne, the company I work with, Shapiro Bernstein & Co, signed a deal that allowed us to represent a French DJ and producer, David Guetta in the US. Guetta was already a superstar in France and much of Europe at the time, but not well-known in the United States. Since then, he’s had hits ranging from “I Gotta Feeling” with the Black Eyed Peas to “Sexy Chick” with Akon to “Club Can’t Handle Me” with Flo Rida. On paper, songwriting makes playing the lottery look like a conservative business strategy. Nevertheless, success happens everyday.

In fact, as an A&R person, I can’t even say that success is terribly hard to predict. If you’ve been doing this for awhile, and you’ve learned to recognize the vibe of a hit songwriter, it’s actually not all that difficult to predict which upcoming songwriters will one day hit the jackpot. I always say—it’s easy to spot the writers who will make hits. The challenging part is to determine when they’ll make them. For publishers, it’s not enough to know that someone will one day be successful. You need to know if he or she will be successful during the three or four year span that you have them under contract.

So what are those signs that mark a songwriter who will defy the odds and go from up and coming to become the sound of the moment? What do you look for as a publisher to identify those potential superstars? What can you do as a songwriter to move up the ladder into the circle of successful hitmakers? Here are two fundamental qualities that make all the difference between having the potential for success, and actually realizing that potential:

1. Successful songwriters know who they are.

Whether you write for yourself as an artist, for your band, or for outside artists, the first step toward success as a songwriter requires defining who you are and what you do. That’s harder than it sounds, because it involves being realistic and objective about your own work, which is something that many songwriters never quite master. As I often mention in my class, Music Publishing 101, one of the values of embracing your role as your own music publisher is that it forces you to take a more critical view of your own work—seeing what you do well, where your shortcomings are, what styles you excel at and which you struggle with—and challenges you to take steps to shore up any weaknesses in your songs.

Songwriters who become successful generally have a very clear view of where their particular gifts lie, what makes them special, and what help they need to compensate for their shortcomings. Certainly, they can take criticism and even embrace it, if they think it’s well-founded. But more importantly, they don’t need criticism, because they are already acting as their own toughest critic. They are constantly searching to find the musical styles, writing collaborations, working environments, and business structures that allow them not just to experiment or create, but to excel.

Then, once they find who they are and how they work best, the successful songwriters FOCUS. It’s hard to think of any of the top A-level songwriters that don’t have a pretty narrow approach about what they do. Ryan Tedder, the primary writer for OneRepublic as well as for artists like Beyonce and Leona Lewis, is the most diverse I can think of, and even he moves in a pretty restricted area that crosses between pop rock and pop urban, often crafting songs in either genre which are fairly similar, except for the production values and lyrical point of view. In general, most successful artists and songwriters have learned to specialize and to become experts in one specific area or style. They don’t try to do everything. Instead, they know themselves enough to realize that they need to do not what they do well, but what they do best.

Ryan Tedder

There’s also another reason they’ve learned to focus their efforts in one particular area:

2. Successful songwriters know their audience.

Again, no matter if you write for yourself as an artist, for your band, or with the hopes of having other artists record your songs, the secrets of successful songwriters hold true. In addition to knowing who they are as songwriters or artists, the people who manage to be effective in this business have an intuitive, deep, respectful knowledge of who the people are that will support their music. In some cases, songwriters may be writing for people very like themselves—most rock bands, for example, tend to resemble their audience. In other cases, the songwriter may be from an entirely different generation, background or gender than the audience he or she appeals to.

Dr. Luke

But as Rakim said, “it ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at”. Dr. Luke would never be mistaken for the 13 year old girls that make up the audience for Ke$ha or Katy Perry, but he is very clearly aware that they are his audience, and he intuitively understands what they want from a song, what interests them, how they speak, and what they aspire to. This is likely why Luke doesn’t write country songs—because he knows himself, and he knows that he doesn’t have an accurate picture of that particular audience in the way that Brett James or Hillary Lindsey might. Popular songs reflect the values and interests of the audience they serve. Not surprisingly then, every successful artist or songwriter has a very clear idea of who their core demographic audience is, and has gleaned as many details about that group of people as possible:

Age
Gender
Location
Hobbies
Occupations
Social Values
Political Values
Other favorite bands
How and Where They Listen to Music
Why They Listen to Music

It’s a lot of knowledge to accumulate. That explains why top hitmakers don’t try to have a cursory knowledge about dozens of different genres, but rather prefer to FOCUS, so that they can become experts in one specific area. The reason that Kanye West can make bold records like the one he previewed at the VMA’s a few weeks ago is because he knows his audience, and he understands how they will react. Toby Keith understands his audience just as clearly. David Guetta knows how dance music fans will respond to a particular record, because he studies them at 200 DJ gigs a year. And yet, incredibly, most of the new developing artists I meet can barely articulate who their target audience is, much less describe them with any degree of accuracy. Most songwriters have never given it a moment’s thought.

Kanye West

If you don’t know who will like your music, or who it is intended to speak to, the record company, radio programmers, publishers and music supervisors probably won’t be able to figure it out either. That means the music can’t be marketed— because no one can market to an audience that includes everyone, everywhere. Just as importantly, if you can’t target your market, it’s very unlikely that you’ll happen to create what the market wants or needs. Which leads us back to our original story…

It’s isn’t hard to predict that the five people who are not wearing blindfolds, and who don’t need glasses, will hit the bullseye more often than the other 95 shooters. It’s because they can see the target in front of them, they understand what they’re trying to do, and then they’re taking AIM. Most songwriters never take aim. It’s almost as if they feel it’s cheating. Meanwhile, a tiny number of writers hit the mark over and over again.

Very often, the primary difference between a good, developing songwriter and a hitmaker is not one of talent. It’s strategy. Successful songwriters and artists have learned to think strategically about what they do and who they’re doing it for. Sometimes that process takes years. Sometimes it doesn’t last. If you study once successful artists or songwriters whose careers have faded, it’s usually because success led them to lose sight of their own strengths and weaknesses, or to lose touch with their core audience. Still, the sooner you start to focus and take aim, the sooner you’re likely to start having a real impact in this industry.

For publishers, helping developing songwriters to think strategically is the single most productive thing we can do. For all of the technical and legal aspects that are explored during my 12 week course at Berkleemusic.com, the primary mission of Music Publishing 101 has always been, and continues to be, to help songwriters begin to put together a strategic plan for their music. The goal is to be able to hear your work objectively, assess your strengths and weaknesses, focus your efforts on the most productive markets, and formulate a plan to bring the music to its target audience. That’s how music makes money.

http://berkleemusic.com

This week is the start of the fall semester at Berkleemusic.com, but there’s still time to register for the newly revamped Music Publishing 101. In an environment as difficult as the one in the current music industry, it’s not enough to be talented. After all, there’s an ASCAP Writer Workshop every year, full of writers with infinite potential. The challenge is to separate yourself from all of the aspiring artists and writers, and start to build a professional career. If that’s what you’re hoping to do, this course may be what helps you find your path to success.

Having spent the first fifteen years of my professional career as a songwriter and record producer, the truth is that I had never worked a day in an office environment prior to taking a job as Creative Director at Zomba Music Publishing, back in the late 1990’s. I had a lot to learn. Not just in regards to music publishing, but also when it came to some practical things, like transferring phone calls, running the fax and copy machines, and the basic realities of office life.

Those realities included the sudden significance of certain dates on the calendar. President’s Day, for instance, is not a holiday recognized by most musicians and songwriters– but if you work in an office, it’s sacred. Another example would be the 30th of March and the 30th of September— these are the times you are virtually guaranteed a chance for a face to face meeting with songwriters who have never found the time to stop by the office previously. They can be found hovering like migrating birds outside of the office of the accounting department, waiting to pick up their royalty statements in person on their way to the nearest bank.

But the truly dangerous dates for a music publisher are the Tuesdays following a holiday break—these are red-letter days on any Creative Director’s calendar. This is because, having been afforded several days of quiet contemplation, every songwriter on a publisher’s roster will have taken the opportunity to reassess his or her career strategy, and compile a list of things to do to get things back on track.

Item #1: Call my publisher.

These “morning after holiday” calls start to stack up by 10am, with one writer after another looking for a half-hour to discuss what’s happening with each song in the catalog, why he or she isn’t getting more cuts, and how can Dr. Luke have every song in the Top Ten all summer long? Being the experienced music business weasel that I am, I’ve learned to schedule my holidays to extend one week later, thus escaping the post-vacation barrage.

All that to say, I’m finally back in the office, having had my own time of reflection and recuperation from a summer that was more resourceful than restful. For yours truly, the summer of 2010 marked a return to Music Publishing 101, and a chance to re-learn, re-imagine, re-assess, and re-write the course that I authored for Berkleemusic.com almost eight years ago. This summer marked the launch of the newly revamped Music Publishing 101, which has been expanded and updated to reflect all of the changes in the music business over the past few years, as well as to offer students more resources, more advice from a variety of industry experts, and a more global perspective on a segment of the industry that is emerging as the last, best hope of the music business.

As those readers who have taken the course know, Music Publishing 101 is directed toward aspiring songwriters, who are hoping to construct their own music publishing company, most often to support their own work as a songwriter. That idea stems directly from my book, Making Music Make Money, which is the textbook and indeed the original inspiration for Music Publishing 101. When I first moved from being a songwriter to a music publisher, one of the first realizations I had was that far too many songwriters (myself included) spend their time searching in vain for a publisher who can make them successful.

If you’re a songwriter, you have a music publisher already—someone who has been there since the day you completed your first song. It’s you. You’re it. As soon as you write a song, you’re not only the author of it, you’re also the publisher. The challenge for most songwriters is not to find a publisher, it’s to learn to be a good, effective one. That’s the theme of Making Music Make Money, and it remains the focus of Music Publishing 101. The whole course is intended to be a step-by-step walk through starting your own music publishing company. By Week 12, you should have your business almost up and running.

Still, having watched the myriad of economic forces and winds of change that have been buffeting the music industry as a whole for the past five years, one of my goals in revamping Music Publishing 101 was to expand that focus beyond just the idea of songwriters starting their own publishing venture. As evidenced by the current record label rush toward 360 deals, the music biz today is all about owning and controlling rights, as much and as many of them as possible, and the idea of controlling copyrights (literally, the “right to copy”) is at the center of music publishing. That means that everyone involved in music—record label owner, concert promoter, booking agent, artist manager, DJ, studio owner, or record producer—should be thinking about music publishing, and probably starting their own music publishing company. If you come into contact with new songs or new songwriters, music publishing should be a part of your overall business plan. In the new Music Publishing 101, I’ve tried to provide all of the information you need to get into the game.

That’s not easy. In truth, it was one of the most daunting tasks I’ve ever undertaken—far more difficult than writing Making Music Make Money, or designing the original Music Publishing 101 course. That’s because innovations like digital distribution, streaming, ringtones and mastertones have required extensive negotiations on the rules and rates that will be used in licensing to these services, some of which are still ongoing. At the same time, worldwide copyright infringement issues from file-sharing to services like YouTube are making a huge impact in both publishing income and the future of copyright protection. Meanwhile, collection agencies like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and Harry Fox Agency are continually expanding their reach into new income streams, the European Union has altered the way income can be collected throughout Western Europe, and the foreign collection societies continue to negotiate their own deals with worldwide music users, many of which differ significantly from the American model. To put it mildly, it’s a wild time out there—and compiling a text about music publishing sometimes feels like trying to draw a map during a tidal wave. You’re not always sure what the terrain is going to look like when you wake up the next morning.

Nevertheless, it was important to me, and to Berklee, that the course be as comprehensive and up to date as possible, and I feel confident that we’ve succeeded. There is information on all of the contemporary licensing issues, thorough discussions of the agencies and organizations that collect income for each of the various income streams around the world, and an examination of most, if not all, of the legal and copyright issues vexing publishers at the moment. Even better, there is plenty of practical information for dealing with all of the contemporary challenges of music publishing , including tips on:

negotiating licenses
resolving ownership disputes
collecting income in foreign territories.

Students will find a wealth of resources scattered throughout the lessons, including:

recommendations for tip sheets (to find out who’s looking for music)
A&R directories (to uncover the addresses and emails for the industry people you need to reach)
sample publishing and sub-publishing contracts
lists of the key music industry conferences and seminars
new technologies available to help music publishers organize their catalogs, issue accounting statements and monitor uses of their songs.

One of the benefits to a 25 year career in the music jungle, and to my current position as Vice President of A&R at Shapiro Bernstein & Co., Inc., one of the industry’s most respected independent music publishers, is the access it gives me to those far brighter and more accomplished than myself. That was a benefit I wanted to pass on to Music Publishing 101 students, so we incorporated interviews with a number of industry professionals, including:

Wes Wierder of InHolland University in Amsterdam,

publisher Dan Coleman of A Side Music

songwriter and publisher Jeff Franzel,

Peter Bliss, the director of SongHall, the educational arm of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

In addition there are links to an interview with songwriting guru Jason Blume, as well as a wide variety of news articles, informational videos and blog spaces (including this one), to give students the option to explore specific issues in greater depth.

Maybe most importantly, there is a new global focus in the class that attempts to offer a picture of how music publishing works around the world, not only in America. More than almost any other segment of the music industry, music publishers must work with a worldwide knowledge of copyright law, collection agencies and systems, methods of determining ownership shares and royalty rates, and the “ways of doing business” that can vary wildly from territory to territory. Especially with internet distribution systems and streaming services becoming the dominant way of sharing music, we are in a global economy, which offers both benefits and challenges. No publisher can afford to limit their music’s reach to only one or two countries—there’s too much potential money and opportunity in foreign territories. At the same time, you can’t take advantage of the opportunity, nor can you collect the money, if you don’t understand how music publishing works in the regions in which you’re doing business. That’s why almost every lesson in the 12 week course of Music Publishing 101 has a “Global Perspectives” section, which highlights the different ways the rules of the game may change in territories outside of the United States.

If it sounds like I’m trying to sell you on Music Publishing 101… I am. Not for my own sake, but rather for yours. As recently as last week, I was marveling with a former publishing colleague, now working on the record company side of things, at how little most music people–songwriters, A&R people, and even record company owners—actually understand about music publishing. People think it’s all about printing sheet music or registering copyrights or collecting pennies for every record sold. Of course, it is about all of those things—and dozens of other income streams and functions as well. The wide-range of potential ways to make money in music publishing is what makes it the single best place to be in the entire music business as the industry goes through the painful process of evolution.

This is the reason that investment firms like KKR are putting billions of dollars behind the relaunch of BMG Rights; it’s why a huge Dutch pension fund is investing in Imagem; it’s why the only division of any value to EMI shareholders within that crumbling corporation is EMI Music Publishing. As the music biz moves away from creating a physical product to instead licensing uses around the world, music publishers are positioned to become the most profitable part of the “new” music industry—as they have the knowledge, experience and business structure to exploit their copyrights on a global scale.

Of course for songwriters, it doesn’t really matter that music publishing is a strong or growing side of the business. For songwriters, music publishing is the only business there is. Songwriting is not a job. There is nothing in the songwriting process that actually generates money. It’s not supposed to. Songwriting is an art, not a business.

Music publishing is the business of songwriting. It exists to take songs, and find ways to generate income around them. That’s why my book is called “Making Music Make Money” – because that’s what music publishers do. Without music publishing, it’s impossible for songwriting to be anything but a hobby.

The reality is that fewer and fewer songwriters have the option of calling their publishers on that dreaded Tuesday after Labor Day. That’s because fewer songwriters are being signed by music publishers, and those who do get signed already have some success with their music. Music publishers are looking to partner with songwriters who understand how to make money with their music, and are doing it on their own. Today’s aspiring songwriters have to ask themselves how to get their career on track and moving forward.

Here’s one suggestion then, to kick off your fall season and lay the groundwork for good things in 2011: Check out the new and improved Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic.com. In twelve weeks, you’ll understand how to build a business around your music that can start turning your songs into money. That’s what Music Publishing 101 is all about.

http://www.berkleemusic.com

I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day holiday! I joined much of the country in taking a quick vacation– a couple of days of international business, then off to a week-long respite from weaseling. So maybe that explains why my mind is on things global. Or maybe its a conversation I had last week with someone in the insurance industry who had just been offered a position in Singapore– he was telling me that in many of the world’s fastest growing economies there is a real shortage of people with expertise in many of the major industries. Or maybe it’s the video I just watched, forwarded to me by one of our faithful blog-watchers Quincy Wofford, of the first hit that built the career of Haim Saban, the subject of one of my most recent blogs. That video featured an Israeli teenager singing a French song in one of the earliest Japanese television cartoons. It doesn’t get much more international than that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgRhus96ySk&feature=related

What all this worldly thinking does is to bring home to me the fact that most of us are missing opportunities all the time, simply because our sphere of awareness is not sufficiently global. In fact, much of the time, it’s barely even local. When I was a writer-producer, the world was frequently contained entirely within the four walls of the recording studio, for weeks or months at a time. We are all worrying so much about what we’re doing, that we forget that where we’re doing it could make all the difference. If you’re searching for gold (or platinum records), it’s usually easier if you go where the gold is found.

This does not mean that you should immediately join every other songwriter from New York, Nashville, and London in moving to Los Angeles. Quite the opposite in fact. The herd mentality is exactly what you want to avoid if you’re looking for opportunity. You can’t dominate a market that’s over-saturated. You become the big fish by going where all the other big fish are not.

Of course, those little placid pools of opportunity seldom feel terribly exciting when you first arrive at them. In fact, most of the time, when a songwriter is in a small town, or a mid-size city, or a relatively small country, or in an economy that is still developing and has little infrastructure for media or music businesses, all he or she wants to do it get out. I recall having a writer/producer from Denmark make a writing trip to New York, and within days of arriving, he was already talking about moving here. Now Denmark is actually a very vibrant country with a thriving music community. Nevertheless, it’s not a large market, and as such, certainly doesn’t offer the financial pay-off that making it in America does. I can easily understand the appeal of relocating to a city full of other artists, writers, and music business people.

What I had to explain to the Danish writer was that much of his appeal to A&R people, American co-writers, and others in the industry was that he was something exotic. Simply by coming from a different place, and bringing different influences and ideas, he had a story that opened doors. It’s a lot easier to suggest to an A&R person that they take a meeting with the hot new writer in town for a week from Denmark, or Berlin, or Peru, than to interest them in another songwriter from Brooklyn or Hoboken. People in the music industry are constantly searching for something new and surprising, and more often than not, those things do not emerge from the same community of songwriters that is creating the current hits. The hot new thing comes from outsiders– whether it’s from a regional scene (think of the music coming out of places like Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, Memphis, Portland and Vancouver), or from another country. Today’s Hot 100 is full of international success stories, from RedOne to Stargate to David Guetta to The Phoenix to The Script to Greg Kurstin to Akon to Rihanna. Being from a place outside of the music centers can seem like a disadvantage, especially if there’s no local music community with whom to work. Yet, it’s also an advantage of sorts, as it gives a story and a new, fresh perspective. It also makes it relatively easy to become a dominant player in the local scene.

RedOne

That reality has a flip side for songwriters, producers, publishers and others who are located in a music center, like New York, London, Nashville or LA. While you might be fighting for every breath in a big but very crowded pond, perhaps you would be a big fish in a smaller, less competitive environment. I often find this to be especially true for melody and lyric writers working in the urban/r&b market. What if instead of struggling to break out of the pack of the hundreds or thousands of topline writers in a market like LA or Atlanta, you were to go to a European country, where people who could write believable, authentic lyrics with an American urban sensibility and slang were in relatively short supply? Countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, or Amsterdam are full of fantastic programmers and producers who can compete with many of the top urban producers in the US. But they lack the topline writers who can provide lyrics that work for American audiences. It doesn’t always make sense to go where the action is. If you’re trying to get to first base, the best thing to do is “hit ‘em where they ain’t”.

That goes for the business side as well. Just as many developing countries are in need of experts in insurance, banking and medicine, they may also be in need of people to build their creative industries, like music, film, radio, and entertainment management. It’s hardly news to anyone that the music industry in America and much of Western Europe is contracting, or maybe even collapsing. But in places like Eastern Europe, China, and the Middle East, the music industry is just getting started. It’s often not very pretty, frequently lacking in infrastructure or even basic copyright law, and sometimes actually at odds with government authorities or local customs. That’s about what the industry looked like in America in the Forties and Fifties, when people like Leonard Chess, Ahmet Ertegun, Don Kirshner, and Col. Tom Parker first made their fortunes. If you want to strike it rich, the place with the least rules, the fewest entrenched power brokers, and the lowest number of competitors is an ideal place to do it.

Since it’s that time of year, I would then offer this up as advice to all of the graduates of music schools and music business programs this month:

Get outta here.

Don’t go where everyone else is going, wherever that might be. Find a place where there is an interesting local scene that’s just taking shape, or an economy that’s growing rapidly, or a place where whole segments of the music industry have never existed. Then bring your knowledge, talent and ambition to somewhere that really needs it. It will be very difficult, especially in places where there is relatively little legal or economic infrastructure on which to build. But trust me, trying to break through by gigging at the Mercury Lounge or the Whiskey is pretty difficult too– as is working your way up through the executive ranks of a major label teetering on extinction. At least this way, you have the chance to truly hit the jackpot, rather than just hoping for a decent advance or a good severance package.

Sooner or later, you will in all likelihood return to London, LA, New York, Stockholm, Munich or Tokyo– that’s why they call them music centers. These places are the ones with the lawyers, agents, major publishers and labels, and collection companies that make the business run. But when you return, you’ll come back with a story (hopefully a successful one), some momentum and credibility, and with any luck, the kind of power that comes from having created a thriving business model in unlikely circumstances. That’s very different than showing up in town with a degree and a suitcase full of resumes.

Realistically, in order to pull this off, you’ll need more than just a basic background in the music biz. You’ll want some foreign language skills, an understanding of the culture and economic system of wherever you’re headed, a musical knowledge that extends beyond the current US Top 40, and an understanding of how different aspects of the music business can change based on local custom, copyright laws (or lack thereof), and different collection systems. Needless to say, that will take some extensive studying and research.

At the moment, I’m knee-deep in updating my Berklee Music online class, Music Publishing 101. One of the key changes I’m hoping to make in the new course is a greater emphasis on the international differences in music publishing. It’s a very tough subject to address, simply because there are so many of those differences, some rooted in variances in the copyright laws between territories, others related to the size of the market, and still others based on custom and history. The US system is neither the oldest nor the most representative– it’s just one way among many of publishing music. You need to know the variations in each market, not just so that you can speak intelligently with sub-publishers and colleagues in other regions, but also so that you can take advantage of opportunities that lie outside of your own national borders. If you want to check out the new version of Music Publishing 101, visit Berkleemusic.com

When I first told my parents that I wanted to be in the music industry, they reminded me frequently that success in that field seemed to hinge entirely on being “in the right place at the right time”. Those words always drove me crazy, as they seemed to imply that anything that happened in music was all a matter of sheer luck—never a great basis upon which to build a business strategy. While I’m still not a big believer in the “lucky break” theory of career development, I now have to admit that Mom and Dad had a point. By doing a little research, keeping your eyes open, and being willing to go wherever it takes to grab an opportunity, you can put yourself in the “right place” at the “right time”, and make your own luck. Don’t be afraid to pack your bags and go west, east, north, or south to find a place where the pasture is greener.

Are you…

a songwriter and producer starting your own record company?
a singer-songwriter signing to an independent label?
a band negotiating its first major label record contract?
or a dj, manager, booking agent or club owner?

Whatever your role in the entertainment industry, you need to understand music publishing. Why? Because that’s where the money is.

In the online course, “Music Publishing 101” at Berkleemusic.com, aspiring songwriters, entrepreneurs, producers, and others can begin to understand the role that music publishing plays in their careers. Over the 12 weeks of the class, you’ll find all you need to know about how to make your music more marketable, license your songs, protect what you write, and collect the income you earn.

For those that don’t know, and that includes plenty of folks who’ve graduated from music school, have their music business degree, or have been in the music industry for decades, the fundamental role of a music publisher is to make music make money. Songwriters write the songs. But music publishers turn those songs into money, by licensing them to those who want to put them on records or ringtones, in a TV show, movie or advertisement, inside a greeting card or a singing stuffed animal.

Anyone can be a music publisher. There are large music publishers, which are divisions of the same corporations that operate the major record labels—like Sony ATV Music, EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing, and Warner Chappell Music. There are medium-sized, independent music publishing companies—like Cherry Lane Music, Kobalt Music, or Bug Music. There are music publishing companies owned by independent record labels, artist management companies, prominent producers, movie studios, and advertising companies.

But most importantly, if you’re a singer-songwriter, a producer, the owner of a record label, or the manager of a band, YOU can be a music publisher. Anyone that works with songs and songwriters should be in the business of music publishing.

In fact, if you’re a songwriter, you already are a music publisher. You became one when you wrote your first song. As soon as a composition has been written, the songwriter is not only the composer, but also the publisher of that song—until he or she decides to assign those rights to someone else. You may already be a publisher. Now you have to learn to be a good one.

Music Publishing 101 was designed to be a step-by-step walk through the process of constructing your own music publishing company. Many students have found that by the end of the course, not only have they learned about this particular segment of the business, but also they already have become operating music publishers. After 12 weeks, their business is up and running, with an effective team to support the day-to-day needs of their company, and a strategy to start making money from their songs.

As the author of
Making Music Make Money1
“Making Music Make Money: An Insider’s Guide To Becoming Your Own Music Publisher”, as well as the designer of Music Publishing 101, I’m often asked why someone should take the course, if he or she has already read the book. Of course, the two are closely related, and “Making Music Make Money” is the textbook for the online course. Still, there are plenty of things that set the class apart from the textbook—the most important one being this:

Experience. Would you want to fly in an airplane with a pilot that had merely read a book about flying? Or would you prefer someone with some hands-on experience?

The assignments in “Music Publishing 101” go far beyond textbook examples. In one instance, students actually make a pitch call to their instructor, to get the experience of selling their material. In another assignment, we look at an accounting spreadsheet and learn to understand the income flow and the splits involved in a co-publishing or full-publishing agreement. In another instance, we actually try our hand at picking hits on the Hot 100, trying to estimate where some of the new entries may actually end up. These things are the real day-to-day work of publishing, and the experience of actually doing them can’t be replicated any other way.

The other key element that sets online learning apart from book learning is Interaction. Music Publishing 101 offers students an opportunity to interact with dozens of other musicians and songwriters, many of them already active professionals in the industry. In a classroom setting, you don’t learn only from the teacher—you learn from everyone around you, sharing their experience, insight, and mistakes. Plus, you can ask questions and get advice tailored to your own professional and musical needs in the weekly online chats with the professor.

Best of all, students leave the course with a support network already in place, as they go off to start their own music publishing ventures. Happily, I remain involved with many of the students I’ve had in Music Publishing 101—many of whom are now successfully using their skills in a variety of music industry settings. Their career development and success is a constant inspiration to me, and I always look forward to offering help or advice where I can.

It’s no secret that the current economy could make 2009 a challenging year for many of us. But the best way to face a challenge is head-on—and that means raising your own performance, knowledge and career ambitions. If you’re a songwriter hoping to make 2009 the breakthrough year, you might want to start by joining Berkleemusic’s “Music Publishing 101.” Enrollment is now open for the Winter Term, which starts on January 12th. Tell ‘em Eric sent ya…