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:
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,
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.