Now that Midem has faded into a blizzard of press releases and Carlton bar tabs, we can safely say that the quote of the week belonged to Ianl Hogarth, of Songkick, who called Midem 2011 “a year of transition.” Indeed.

Songkick

This is a little like describing a person who has fallen off a bridge, but has not yet hit the water, as being in “transition”. It might also be described as plummeting to one’s demise.

In his rather amusing description of Midem’s first official “Hack Day”, an attempt at acknowledging the music business’s new, technology-based innovators, he recounts the challenges of presenting his company’s new developments, along with those of other young music/tech firms, in a final presentation at the Majestic Hotel. Despite being one of the three primary hotels around which Midem is centered, the Majestic was apparently unable to provide WiFi. For a technology demonstration, mind you. On the other hand, if you’d like a $25 glass of orange juice, they’ve got that covered.

I think Midem may be just about done.

Attendance this year at the conference plunged once again, and especially in America, Midem felt almost non-existent. The annual pilgrimage of lawyers and label execs to Cannes has slowed to a trickle—fewer deals are being done there, and the ones that are done there don’t justify three nights at the Majestic. It’s hard to imagine one or two European albums from last year that generated enough money to cover the costs of sending four or five A&R people to Midem. The whole event has become overblown, needlessly expensive, and woefully out of date (coming next year: WiFi!)

It is, I fear, a perfect symbol of the music industry itself. It too is in a state of “transition”, and it looks like 2011 is the year where it may take the final plunge and hit bottom. Sales in 2010 fell by more than 15% for yet another year, and even digital sales have started to flatten out. This can’t go on forever. Here are a couple of predictions that are not exactly going out on a limb:

1. There will not be four major music corporations at the end of this year.

Of course, EMI is the most obvious choice for the chopping block, but now it appears that Warner may be sold as well. Or they may buy EMI. Unless EMI goes bankrupt. Or maybe KKR will buy all of them. Who knows? Someone is going bye-bye and it will mean a major upheaval in terms of A&R staff, artist rosters, new signings, and (I dare to predict) royalty payments. Have you ever watched two elephants mating on one of those television wildlife programs? These mergers are never pretty.

Meanwhile, we can also probably expect to see many of the major label imprints fall by the wayside. Def Jam/Island looks likely to either disappear or to be split apart, Epic is an Amanda ghost of it’s former self, and Virgin may have already shut down (and someone forgot to send the memo).

2. The major label “A&R” executive will officially go on the endangered species list. If you see one, be gentle and if you can, give them a job.

There was a rather ominous letter that came out along with this month’s edition of the A&R Registry that outlined the real scope of the blood-letting in the A&R community over the past several years. Rich Esra at Music Registry has been tracking the massacre for some time now—check out the article below from TJ Chapman which quotes some of Rich’s numbers.

http://www.tjchapman.com/aandr-star-makers-the-vanishing-gatekeepers

These are not the kind of statistics that you want to trot out for the kids at Career Day.

It’s clear that most of the large companies have realized that the discovery and nurturing of talent is better done in a much more hospitable and economical setting than 550 Madison Avenue or Rockefeller Center. Managers, producers, and “consultants” have become the talent scouts and the record makers. The old-school A&R “star-maker” now exists only on television talent contests.

3. The collection crew for music publishers and songwriters is next on the downsizing list. If you’ve got money in the pipeline, be prepared for some leaks.

Across Europe, the various local societies responsible for collecting income in their respective countries have reached a crisis point. Year after year of drastic income drops, new pressure from the European Union to compete with each other for top writers and catalogs, and the ever-escalating paperwork demands have made it a foregone conclusion that GEMA, SACEM, BUMA/STEMRA, SIAE and the like cannot all survive. Consolidation is inevitable. If you thought it was hard to put two major music corporations together, try a marriage between mechanical rights societies across international borders—with all their language, cultural and copyright differences.

The even scarier thing is that Harry Fox Agency, the primary mechanical rights collection organization in the US, is only slightly more stable than its counterparts across the ocean. If HFA is forced to raise its commission significantly, and it’s hard to see how it can avoid it, sooner or later, one of the major companies is bound to pull out. If that happens, the whole collective enterprise could quickly come tumbling down.

Transitions are a tricky business. With so much tough news, it would be easy to toss in the towel. But the point of a transition is that we are going somewhere—even if the ultimate destination is not yet clear. It’s always easier to predict the impending disasters than pinpoint the new opportunities.

But if you’re starting your career in music now, or trying to continue it, you don’t have the luxury of waiting until things are more settled. We’re all living our lives in the here and now. So what can you do to manage the change, and maybe even make it work in your favor? If the old order is passing away, what are the new realities to build around? Here’s four pillars to get you started:

1. Small-time is the new big-time. This is now a business of entrepreneurs.

It’s not just that things have down-sized, and big companies have become small. It’s a change in the kind of people that will become the power-brokers of the industry over the next decade. They will not be corporate executives, lawyers or people who worked themselves up through the ranks of the labels’ marketing or radio promotion departments. They will be talent-finders and developers, creators, and start-up guys—producers, managers, songwriters, indie label owners, app and game designers, and others who are willing to invest in their own big idea and sell it to others.

Not good news for those looking for a steady salary and benefits. But it will be a hell of a lot more fun than working in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of the modern major music corporation. To plot a career in the music business of tomorrow (and I’m talking the near-future), you’ll need to be willing to get entrepreneurial.

2. If you’re not entrepreneurial, go work for the phone company.

No, literally. If all things considered, you’d happily opt for the safety of a large company, but still want to be in the business of music, you’d probably be better off at Nokia than at Sony. Because of the growth in mobile entertainment via the phone networks, particularly in difficult to monetize markets like Asia and Eastern Europe, the telephone networks are poised to become some of the most important big players in the music world.

Look at Verizon’s recent purchase of Terremark, a technology company focused on cloud-based services. In many ways, companies like Verizon, Nokia, T-Mobile and others are the new gatekeepers—as alternatives like Pandora and Sirius reduce the power of commercial radio, access to a young, taste-making audience will increasingly flow through the mobile networks. The communications business will be a key breeding ground for the next generation of entertainment executives.

3. There’s a lot of people lolling around in the talent pool. Use ‘em.

With so much consolidation in the industry, there is a wealth of good, experienced, savvy people floating around out there. While no one wants to take advantage of people when they’re down, many extremely talented A&R people, radio promoters, music publishers, lawyers and others would be eager to come in as a consultant or part-time help for an exciting young company that they believed in—at least until they can put the next pieces of their life together. If you’re starting your own company and you’re running into challenges, you can be sure that there are people out there who have seen those problems before. There’s never been a time when expert advice was as plentiful and affordable as it is right now. Take advantage of it.

In the same way, the emergence of the D-I-Y model in the music world has led to thousands of start-up companies offering alternatives for everything from tipsheets to radio promotion to video production. Many of these companies will never turn a profit and will be gone within a few years. But while they’re here, why not use them as much as you can? Watch my Twitter posts at:

twitter.com/ericbeall

I regularly try to highlight new companies that I come across. There should be a couple coming up just this week…

4. When it comes to money, consider an enforcer.

As much of a proponent as I am of the “independent” model, some of the problems on the horizon for collecting and distributing royalties are going to cause real pain to small, songwriter-owned publishing companies. The merging of societies in Europe, and the possible disintegration of HFA could leave money in limbo all over the world, and that’s not an easy challenge for any new start-up venture to surmount.

If you have money being generated by your music now, or if there is going to be money in the “pipeline” in the next 12 months, I might suggest that you explore the possibilities of finding a larger company with whom to partner, at least on an administration or collection basis. It doesn’t need to be a major company (in fact, it probably shouldn’t be). You just need someone who is sufficiently stable and established to be able to fight for your money, and to be part of any settlements or class-action lawsuits that may arise. Happily, there is a reasonably good selection of small and mid-size publishers, some who specialize in administration or collection. Provided you can show that there is significant income out there to be collected, someone will be happy to partner with you and help you get your money. In times like these, it’s sometimes good to have a bigger, stronger friend in your corner.

I had lunch last week with an old friend who reminded me that this is not the first time in our careers that we’ve seen the music business “in transition”. Back in the early 1980’s, when I was first entering the industry, the business was in a shambles— with falling sales, lay-offs, and dire predictions for the end of the world as we know it. All was saved by the advent of the CD, “Thriller” and MTV.

The point of a transition is to pass through it—and that means adapting, and re-adapting as fast as you can. As frightening as they are, even the current challenges can be surmounted. You just have to think strategically. Don’t fall off that bridge. Dive.

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…

Happy New Year everyone!

I know I said that this blog would carry on our current theme, which is how to get your music out there to people– and it will. But I’m going to save my trouble-shooting blog, what to do when you run into obstacles in pitching your music, for just a minute. After all, has anyone really been making pitch calls over the last two weeks? If you have, you’ve been leaving a lot of voice mails, because it’s dead out there. All of the music business weasels have departed for ski vacations or the Caribbean (nothing like a weasel in a swimsuit) and left LA and NYC to the tourists. So instead, I thought I’d offer up a quick set of ideas to kick off the New Year, and to put me thoroughly in sync with the rest of the blogosphere, offering Top Ten lists ad infinitum. Here’s mine:

TEN THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO IN 2010 TO MAKE YOUR MUSIC MAKE MONEY!!

1. Identify your market.

This year, try narrowing your vision and focusing on the one specific market that best fits what you do. No more dabbling in one style, then another, then another. Most of the reason that songwriters struggle to create that two minute “elevator pitch” that we discussed last week is that they quite literally don’t know what they’re doing– they have never forced themselves to focus on one specific thing sufficiently to be able to articulate precisely what it is that they do.

2. Know your market.

In 2010, the music business is a business of specialists– A&R people, managers, publicists, engineers, producers, and yes, even songwriters, are segmented by genre, and expected to be experts in that particular area of music. That means being familiar with all of the artists old and new in that market, knowing the key business players, the labels, the current production styles. Sound like a lot of information to digest? That’s why you “identified” your market. It’s not plausible to be an expert in three or four genres at once.

3. Strategize.

Once you know your market, and you know all about the artists, labels, managers and producers in it, then you’re in a position to start looking for the openings. Where are the opportunities? Don’t focus on the superstars if you don’t have any track record– those are out of reach. Look for the up and coming artists, or the new trends, or the hot new label, or the young entrepreneurs. That’s where you’ll find your opportunities. Once you see where the openings in the market are, you need to look at every possible way in which you can take advantage of it.

4. Know who you are.

You can’t start meeting people until you know how to introduce yourself. That doesn’t mean just saying your name and handing out business cards. You need to be able to explain in three or four sentences who you are and what you’re doing. You can talk about what you’re doing now (“I’m promoting a new single that just came out…”), what you did in the past (“I had a song on Kelly Clarkson’s last album…”), who you work with (“I co-write with Brett James in Nashville”), or who you are (“I’m a producer from Norway” or “I’m a recording engineer for a jingle house, but I’m also a songwriter”), but you need to have two or three sentences to present a picture that’s clear, interesting and memorable. Whatever it is, memorize it. Ideally, it should be a conversation-starter– that way it won’t be the only two sentences you get.

5. Know what you want.

This is such a big one that it needs to be divided into a big picture and a small one. In the big picture sense, you need to know what your goals are for your music and what would constitute success. Do you want to get rich? Do you just want to be able to have a full-time career in music? Do you just want to support your hobby and have one song on a record somewhere? Everything is acceptable, and there’s a strategy to get you to each goal. But it won’t be the same one. You can’t read a map until you know where you’re going. If you want to take on the big picture question, and you shouldn’t waste a moment on any other plan of action until you do, take the “Music Business Weasel’s Pop Quiz” in my book, “Making Music Make Money”.

http://www.amazon.com/Making-Music-Make-Money-Publisher/dp/0876390076

On the small picture side, you need to think about what you want from the person to whom you’re presenting your music. Are you looking for a record deal? Do you want them to record your song with an artist to whom they’re connected? Do you want them to sign you to a publishing contract? Are you looking for an introduction to someone they know? If what you want doesn’t match up to what the person on the other end can feasibly deliver (a BMI rep can’t offer you a publishing contract; a NY-based A&R rep can’t get your song to a country artist) then you’re wasting everyone’s time. Figure out what each person can do for you BEFORE you reach out.

6. Take the conference call.

No industry in the world has more conferences and networking events than the music business. That just means that there is no excuse for not knowing anyone, or not understanding the business. Every conference has a full array of industry executives in attendance, many of whom are on panels where they share the knowledge of the business and take questions from the audience. Beyond that, there are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC educational events, programs sponsored by songwriter groups like the Songwriters Hall of Fame and NSAI, or events hosted by industry trade organizations like the Recording Academy, NARIP, and the NMPA. Depending on your genre, your goals, and your financial and geographical situation, you can check out: MIDEM, CMJ, South By Southwest, Winter Music Conference, Billboard & Hollywood Reporter Film and TV Music Conference, Biillboard’s Music & Money, Amsterdam Dance Event, or ASCAP’s “I Create Music” Expo. That should fill your calendar for the year. If you can’t afford to register, consider contacting the conference and volunteering to work at the registration desk or within the conference itself. Sometimes you can trade some labor time for a free pass…

7. Ask one good question.

If you do attend a conference, here’s a tip for meeting that key industry player that you want to know:

Find a panel on which he or she is speaking. Then, when the Q&A portion of the panel arrives, step up to the mic and ask one good question. A good question does not directly involve you (“why didn’t you listen to the package I sent you?”), and is not too basic (“how can I get music to you?”). A good question reflects a knowledge of the business and the panelist, is relevant to all of the industry people in the room, and could be the topic of discussion among other panelists (“What do you think of the new rate decision from the Copyright Board?”, “How is your business using the social networking sites to target an audience?”, “Do you see your show widening its use of music, or the genres it uses, or narrowing it?”).

Having done hundreds of such panels, I guarantee you that if you ask one good question, you will be the only one who does. I also guarantee that if you approach the panelist at the close of the discussion, you will be remembered, and probably walk away with a business card and an invitation to be in touch.

8. Educate yourself.

At the music publishing company where I work, someone called our office this week, and began the conversation with “I don’t really understand what you do there…” Believe it or not, this happens EVERY DAY! For whatever reason, music seems to attract a large number of people who are almost entirely ignorant of the business of which they supposedly wish to be a part. Is it any surprise that most of these people are either ignored or taken advantage of?

If you’re serious about pursuing music publishing and/or songwriting as a business, it only stands to reason that you need to have the same knowledge as every other professional in the industry. Invest 12 weeks in “Music Publishing 101″ at berkleemusic.com, and learn exactly what a music publisher does, how to do it, and how to set up your own music publishing business. You’ll come out not only with a thorough knowledge of the business, but also with a full strategy for how to make your music make money.

9. Write hits.

The truth is, most songwriters’ primary obstacle to success is not a lack of knowledge, contacts, or strategy. Most of the time, the real problem is that songwriters are simply not selling what the industry needs. Most songwriters are trying to write good songs. Some are even writing great songs. But what is needed by every A&R person, manager, artist, is something else entirely. These people need “hit” songs.

If you don’t understand the difference, then check out my book, “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell”. In an age where the album cut has become entirely irrelevant, there is no formula for success that doesn’t involve writing “hits”.

http://www.amazon.com/Billboard-Guide-Writing-Producing-Songs/dp/0823099547

10. Do the work.

I read an incredible article last year in the New Yorker by author Malcolm Gladwell, called “How David Beat Goliath”.

http://www.gladwell.com/2009/2009_05_11_a_david.html

Perhaps the most profound point made in the article was this, and I paraphrase:
most people don’t succeed simply because they are not willing to do the work required.

Having had the opportunity to work with superstar writers from Steve Diamond to Billy Mann to Andy Goldmark to Stargate to David Guetta, the one thing that all of them share is a “work ethic” that simply dwarfs most of their competition. This is not to diminish their individual talent, which is significant and unique. It is to say that there is no way you will be able to compete with these A-level writers on the basis of talent alone. Even if you have the same gifts as a songwriter, their drive, ambition, and willingness to go anywhere and do whatever it takes will put them on top. If you are going to compete, you have to do what is needed to win.

I know that most of the songwriters reading these suggestions will ignore them entirely, and search instead for a shortcut to success that involves less effort. A few will resolve to try three or four of the ten, and at the end of the year, will have excuses for why they only accomplished one or two. But be aware: the successful songwriters and music publishers will do all of these every year.

You can’t “try” to do something. Either you’re doing it, or you’re not.

Best wishes for a great 2010! Thanks for your support of the blog. See you at the top of the charts…

So I’m back from Los Angeles, where I spent last week at the ASCAP Pop Awards (big shout out to my friends Mikkel and Tor from Stargate, who were named ASCAP’s Songwriters of the Year) and at the ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO. If you follow this blog, then you know from last week’s posting that the EXPO is the songwriting event of the year, drawing thousands of songwriters, A&R people, producers and artists to three-day convention that is rich in information, songwriting star-power, and networking opportunities. Despite the economic woes, this year’s EXPO seemed bigger and better than ever– a great opportunity to see a lot of friends, sign some copies of my new book “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell”, and pick up some new insights and information from the panel discussions I attended.

I also participated in a panel entitled “Publishing Songs In An International Market”, along with publishers Ben Groff, from Kobalt Music, Ten Ten Music chief Barry Coburn, and star songwriter (and an old buddy of mine) Jeff Franzel. It was a good group of industry people, well-moderated by ASCAP’s Sean Devine, and I think most who were there found it informative and maybe a little eye-opening. So for those of you who couldn’t make it to LA, I thought I’d offer a quick summary of a few key points. It’s not quite the same as being there– but then again, you don’t have to fight the LA traffic to read it. Here are four themes that emerged in our discussion about spreading your business beyond your home territory:

1. To be in the songwriting or publishing business in 2009, you MUST be part of the international industry.

If you want to put it bluntly, there’s just not enough money left in any one territory, even one as big as the United States. If the fish are getting smaller, then you have to catch more of them, and the only way to do that is to cast a big, big net. We live in a global universe, and America’s Billboard Hot 100 reflects that, with a presence from Norwegian writers like Stargate, Swedes like Max Martin, British bands like Coldplay and Snow Patrol, French DJ’s like David Guetta and Latin artists like
Daddy Yankee

or Shakira. In the same way, European, Asian, and Latin charts feature songs by US artists, writers and producers, often in collaboration with writers from those foreign territories. Panelist Jeff Franzel had recently written a song with an Italian composer, to a lyric by none other than Pope John Paul II, which was sung by Placido Domingo and Josh Groban and released in Italy, and now all over the world. How’s that for a cultural mix?

If you’re a classical cross-over writer, you can’t ignore international stars like Bocelli or Charlotte Church. If you’re an urban writer, you bring a unique skill that writers outside of America struggle to replicate– you could do a huge business in Denmark, Stockholm and Tokyo. Country writers, with their finely crafted lyrics, often find a welcome home in England, working with acts like Westlife and Gareth Gates. American metal bands may find more favor in Europe than in the US, just as some American DJ’s are better known in Asia than in the US.

Most of the challenge of music publishing is finding where your catalog fits in the marketplace– and it may not be in the country in which you happen to live. Don’t limit yourself. Be aggressive in exploring all options, around the world.

2. Do Your Homework.

You’ve probably heard this one before from me. But this point came up again and again from every person on the panel. There’s no easy answer to the challenge of international music publishing. You’ll need to analyze and identify the most active international markets for your style of music, and the ones that are big enough, and organized enough to actually generate income. For instance, if your biggest market would be China, you’ve got a problem– no one has yet managed to collect money out of that territory. You need to look at the international charts in Billboard, check out some of the radio playlists or broadcasts from various countries (available online), and start to learn what sounds and styles work in each market.

Once you’ve picked your spots, then you’ll need to research possible partners to help you break that market. If you’ve already done a worldwide publishing deal with a major company, then it’s probably a matter of trying to contact the company’s local office in that particular territory. If you publish your own work, then you’ll need to reach out directly to A&R people in the foreign territory or find a sub-publisher in the region who is interested in representing you. You might want to attend an international conference like MIDEM to make some of those initial contacts, or check out MySpace.

3. You better be mobile.

Having identified a particular international territory where you think your music can work; you can pitch songs yourself, reach out to sub-publishers, or try to establish contacts with the creative community in that country. But if you really want to break in, the best strategy is to get on a plane and go there. There is simply no substitute for a first-hand understanding of a particular market, a familiarity with the production sounds and an empathy with the cultural sensibility of the audience. First, try to lay the groundwork by making a few contacts in the A&R or songwriting community via the telephone or internet. Then, think about scheduling a writing trip to actually spend some time collaborating with local writers and soaking up knowledge of the market.

Without question, the most successful example of conquering a foreign market in which I’ve ever been involved was Stargate’s spread into America, about four years ago. Already well-established hit makers in Europe and the UK, Stargate began their attempt to move into the US market with a trip to NYC, largely organized by Sony ATV Music Publishing. During that first trip, Stargate managed to work their way onto the radar screen of virtually every NY A&R exec– more importantly, they had a chance meeting with Ne-Yo, which resulted in “So Sick”, which would become their first major US hit. What made the trip work was (a) a small, but committed team on the ground in the new territory, combining the efforts of Sony ATV and Stargate’s amazing management team of Tim Blacksmith and Danny Poku, (b) the dedication of Stargate themselves to spending significant time in the territory, staying a month at a time on a regular basis (c) a studio “homebase” that was already a center of activity for songwriters, artists and producers, in this case a studio at the Sony Studios complex (d) a willingness to work with a wide variety of collaborators and to develop and adapt their “sound” to the local market.

Of course, the benefits to Stargate and Sony ATV of crossing Stargate into America are obvious. But there are similar stories every day, albeit on a smaller scale. US writer Jodi Marr bolstered her songwriting catalog by doing Spanish translations in the Latin market, and then hit it big by breaking her artist, Mika, in Europe. UK writer Steve Robson has become a Nashville songwriting star through his work with Rascal Flatts. Italian composer Leo Z has had repeated success with US artist Josh Groban. US urban writer Teron Beal has just launched his own artist career— in Scandinavia!

Somewhere there’s a place for your music– you just have to find it. A willingness to think beyond your own borders is essential to a successful songwriting and publishing career. It’s time to get out and see the world!

So I’m back from Los Angeles, where I spent last week at the ASCAP Pop Awards (big shout out to my friends Mikkel and Tor from Stargate, who were named ASCAP’s Songwriters of the Year) and at the ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO. If you follow this blog, then you know from last week’s posting that the EXPO is the songwriting event of the year, drawing thousands of songwriters, A&R people, producers and artists to three-day convention that is rich in information, songwriting star-power, and networking opportunities. Despite the economic woes, this year’s EXPO seemed bigger and better than ever– a great opportunity to see a lot of friends, sign some copies of my new book “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell”, and pick up some new insights and information from the panel discussions I attended.

I also participated in a panel entitled “Publishing Songs In An International Market”, along with publishers Ben Groff, from Kobalt Music, Ten Ten Music chief Barry Coburn, and star songwriter (and an old buddy of mine) Jeff Franzel. It was a good group of industry people, well-moderated by ASCAP’s Sean Devine, and I think most who were there found it informative and maybe a little eye-opening. So for those of you who couldn’t make it to LA, I thought I’d offer a quick summary of a few key points. It’s not quite the same as being there– but then again, you don’t have to fight the LA traffic to read it. Here are four themes that emerged in our discussion about spreading your business beyond your home territory:

1. To be in the songwriting or publishing business in 2009, you MUST be part of the international industry.

If you want to put it bluntly, there’s just not enough money left in any one territory, even one as big as the United States. If the fish are getting smaller, then you have to catch more of them, and the only way to do that is to cast a big, big net. We live in a global universe, and America’s Billboard Hot 100 reflects that, with a presence from Norwegian writers like Stargate, Swedes like Max Martin, British bands like Coldplay and Snow Patrol, French DJ’s like David Guetta and Latin artists like
Daddy Yankee

or Shakira. In the same way, European, Asian, and Latin charts feature songs by US artists, writers and producers, often in collaboration with writers from those foreign territories. Panelist Jeff Franzel had recently written a song with an Italian composer, to a lyric by none other than Pope John Paul II, which was sung by Placido Domingo and Josh Groban and released in Italy, and now all over the world. How’s that for a cultural mix?

If you’re a classical cross-over writer, you can’t ignore international stars like Bocelli or Charlotte Church. If you’re an urban writer, you bring a unique skill that writers outside of America struggle to replicate– you could do a huge business in Denmark, Stockholm and Tokyo. Country writers, with their finely crafted lyrics, often find a welcome home in England, working with acts like Westlife and Gareth Gates. American metal bands may find more favor in Europe than in the US, just as some American DJ’s are better known in Asia than in the US.

Most of the challenge of music publishing is finding where your catalog fits in the marketplace– and it may not be in the country in which you happen to live. Don’t limit yourself. Be aggressive in exploring all options, around the world.

2. Do Your Homework.

You’ve probably heard this one before from me. But this point came up again and again from every person on the panel. There’s no easy answer to the challenge of international music publishing. You’ll need to analyze and identify the most active international markets for your style of music, and the ones that are big enough, and organized enough to actually generate income. For instance, if your biggest market would be China, you’ve got a problem– no one has yet managed to collect money out of that territory. You need to look at the international charts in Billboard, check out some of the radio playlists or broadcasts from various countries (available online), and start to learn what sounds and styles work in each market.

Once you’ve picked your spots, then you’ll need to research possible partners to help you break that market. If you’ve already done a worldwide publishing deal with a major company, then it’s probably a matter of trying to contact the company’s local office in that particular territory. If you publish your own work, then you’ll need to reach out directly to A&R people in the foreign territory or find a sub-publisher in the region who is interested in representing you. You might want to attend an international conference like MIDEM to make some of those initial contacts, or check out MySpace.

3. You better be mobile.

Having identified a particular international territory where you think your music can work; you can pitch songs yourself, reach out to sub-publishers, or try to establish contacts with the creative community in that country. But if you really want to break in, the best strategy is to get on a plane and go there. There is simply no substitute for a first-hand understanding of a particular market, a familiarity with the production sounds and an empathy with the cultural sensibility of the audience. First, try to lay the groundwork by making a few contacts in the A&R or songwriting community via the telephone or internet. Then, think about scheduling a writing trip to actually spend some time collaborating with local writers and soaking up knowledge of the market.

Without question, the most successful example of conquering a foreign market in which I’ve ever been involved was Stargate’s spread into America, about four years ago. Already well-established hit makers in Europe and the UK, Stargate began their attempt to move into the US market with a trip to NYC, largely organized by Sony ATV Music Publishing. During that first trip, Stargate managed to work their way onto the radar screen of virtually every NY A&R exec– more importantly, they had a chance meeting with Ne-Yo, which resulted in “So Sick”, which would become their first major US hit. What made the trip work was (a) a small, but committed team on the ground in the new territory, combining the efforts of Sony ATV and Stargate’s amazing management team of Tim Blacksmith and Danny Poku, (b) the dedication of Stargate themselves to spending significant time in the territory, staying a month at a time on a regular basis (c) a studio “homebase” that was already a center of activity for songwriters, artists and producers, in this case a studio at the Sony Studios complex (d) a willingness to work with a wide variety of collaborators and to develop and adapt their “sound” to the local market.

Of course, the benefits to Stargate and Sony ATV of crossing Stargate into America are obvious. But there are similar stories every day, albeit on a smaller scale. US writer Jodi Marr bolstered her songwriting catalog by doing Spanish translations in the Latin market, and then hit it big by breaking her artist, Mika, in Europe. UK writer Steve Robson has become a Nashville songwriting star through his work with Rascal Flatts. Italian composer Leo Z has had repeated success with US artist Josh Groban. US urban writer Teron Beal has just launched his own artist career— in Scandinavia!

Somewhere there’s a place for your music– you just have to find it. A willingness to think beyond your own borders is essential to a successful songwriting and publishing career. It’s time to get out and see the world!

Where have all the weasels gone?

New York, LA, and London all seem strangely quiet this week, and I doubt it’s because everyone’s gone to Washington– music business A&R weasels didn’t have much political value in the best of times, and today they rank somewhere on a level of Ponzi scheme operators (which I suppose is sort of what they are). In fact, the A&R ranks have fled the country all together and headed off to the annual kick-off event for the music business year in lovely Cannes, in the south of France– they’re all going to MIDEM.

But what do they do there?

You probably don’t want to know. Well, you probably don’t want to know all of it. But some of it is actually quite important, and it is something that can be directly relevant to your own music publishing company. I’ve spoken at length in this blog about how the music industry has to be seen as a global business– MIDEM is the place where that vision takes a very real form, even if that form usually looks like a smoke-filled bar in a Cote D’Azur hotel lobby.

MIDEM is a worldwide music conference that happens each year in Cannes, in the middle of January– it is without question, the largest music conference in the world, attracting 9,000 professionals from 90 different countries, all furiously wheeling and dealing for four or five days (and very long nights). The remarkable thing about MIDEM is that it truly is all things to all people– it is a music festival, with a wide-range of performances from acts around the globe; it is a music forum, with panels, lectures, discussions, and speeches dissecting all the major issues of the day; it is a tradeshow, with a giant center full of booths and displays from music companies and their suppliers; it’s even an online community, with a very effective social networking system that allows attendees to contact one another prior to the conference to schedule meetings.

But most importantly, it is a giant music market– and a networker’s dream. MIDEM is where US A&R people go to find new artists from other parts of the world, or to sign popular foreign acts for distribution in North America. It’s where publishers go to meet sub-publishers for each territory, to help them market their catalogues in every corner of the world. As a publishing A&R person, when I go to MIDEM I’m looking for European acts that may need a publisher in the US, foreign publishers that may need someone to represent their catalogue in North America, or who may be able to partner with our US company in order to exploit our music in new territories.

In order to do that, one sets up meetings well in advance– unlike most music conferences which boast all the scheduling organization of the NY subway system– the people who attend MIDEM operate on a strict schedule, at least until the late-night schmooze takes over after the dinner hour. Most MIDEM attendees have meetings scheduled on the hour (or every fifteen minutes, if you’re hardcore) and they come with a schedule that’s been locked in since early January. The key is to use the MIDEM online network to learn about who you need to meet, and get your meetings on the board before you leave.

Having said that, the benefit to MIDEM goes far beyond the pre-set meeting schedule. In fact, when I went to MIDEM, I wound up doing 3 deals that originated at the conference– but all of them were done with people that I already knew from New York! I traveled all the way across the world to do business with people that work three blocks away. Yet, it’s not so surprising, because MIDEM brings with it a unique atmosphere of accessibility in a relaxed social environment that makes it easy to meet up with people that you may not have seen for years. Label presidents, artists, producers, publishers and songwriters mix and mingle till all hours of the morning, and that makes for a business atmosphere that is far more productive than most music conferences. MIDEM is about making deals– finding sub-publishers, distributors, or new product– and everyone in attendance is buying or selling something. It’s not a meet and greet, and it’s not primarily a concert festival. It’s about the business of music.

Be forewarned however– it’s not an easy place to navigate. It’s big, busy and a little overwhelming. You have to be ready for it, and you have to attend at the right time. When should you attend MIDEM? Here’s a quick checklist:

1. When you have something to sell– or are ready to make a purchase.
MIDEM is not a “getting to know you” type of get-together. It’s a place for people already in the business. If you have a song that’s generated some success somewhere in the world, if you have an artist that’s breaking, if you have enough financial backing to acquire some new product and a distribution network, collection system or exploitation team ready to launch new artists in your territory– that’s when it’s time to go to MIDEM. If you’re not at that point yet, it’s better to save your money.

2. When you have finished product to play.
No demos allowed here. People at MIDEM are listening for hit records ready to drop in their territory– not rough piano/vocal demos to pitch to artists. You have to bring material that is market-ready, and dynamic enough to break through in a crowd of thousands of other records.

3. When you have a team around you that can support your networking efforts.
Strangely enough, it’s not that easy to meet people when you’re surrounded by 10,000 of them. In fact, just to find the person you’re supposed to be seeing is like the world’s largest game of “Where’s Waldo”. MIDEM is probably too big, and too challenging for one lone entrepreneur or producer to go it alone. You need at least a few other allies that will be in attendance– your lawyer, a business partner, a sub-publisher, or a songwriting collaborator. Even better would be a two or three ally at your side. It gets a little lonely in a crowd like that…

4. When you know what you’re doing.
People at MIDEM are used to doing deals on the back of a napkin, tossing figures off the top of their heads, and conversing about acts from territories all over the world. If you don’t know about territories other than your own, if you don’t know what companies are leaders in other countries, if you don’t understand how deals are done in the various territories, if you aren’t aware of what the music business is doing around the world, then you’re not ready to go to MIDEM. Or at least you have some homework to do before you go.

The fact that you’re seeing this blog at all should tip you off that I skipped MIDEM this year– it’s a marathon event, and I find it best to take a breather every few years. But if you’re looking to expand your business on a global level, there is no better place to be these days. Put it on your calendar, and join me in preparing to be there next year…

Where have all the weasels gone?

New York, LA, and London all seem strangely quiet this week, and I doubt it’s because everyone’s gone to Washington– music business A&R weasels didn’t have much political value in the best of times, and today they rank somewhere on a level of Ponzi scheme operators (which I suppose is sort of what they are). In fact, the A&R ranks have fled the country all together and headed off to the annual kick-off event for the music business year in lovely Cannes, in the south of France– they’re all going to MIDEM.

But what do they do there?

You probably don’t want to know. Well, you probably don’t want to know all of it. But some of it is actually quite important, and it is something that can be directly relevant to your own music publishing company. I’ve spoken at length in this blog about how the music industry has to be seen as a global business– MIDEM is the place where that vision takes a very real form, even if that form usually looks like a smoke-filled bar in a Cote D’Azur hotel lobby.

MIDEM is a worldwide music conference that happens each year in Cannes, in the middle of January– it is without question, the largest music conference in the world, attracting 9,000 professionals from 90 different countries, all furiously wheeling and dealing for four or five days (and very long nights). The remarkable thing about MIDEM is that it truly is all things to all people– it is a music festival, with a wide-range of performances from acts around the globe; it is a music forum, with panels, lectures, discussions, and speeches dissecting all the major issues of the day; it is a tradeshow, with a giant center full of booths and displays from music companies and their suppliers; it’s even an online community, with a very effective social networking system that allows attendees to contact one another prior to the conference to schedule meetings.

But most importantly, it is a giant music market– and a networker’s dream. MIDEM is where US A&R people go to find new artists from other parts of the world, or to sign popular foreign acts for distribution in North America. It’s where publishers go to meet sub-publishers for each territory, to help them market their catalogues in every corner of the world. As a publishing A&R person, when I go to MIDEM I’m looking for European acts that may need a publisher in the US, foreign publishers that may need someone to represent their catalogue in North America, or who may be able to partner with our US company in order to exploit our music in new territories.

In order to do that, one sets up meetings well in advance– unlike most music conferences which boast all the scheduling organization of the NY subway system– the people who attend MIDEM operate on a strict schedule, at least until the late-night schmooze takes over after the dinner hour. Most MIDEM attendees have meetings scheduled on the hour (or every fifteen minutes, if you’re hardcore) and they come with a schedule that’s been locked in since early January. The key is to use the MIDEM online network to learn about who you need to meet, and get your meetings on the board before you leave.

Having said that, the benefit to MIDEM goes far beyond the pre-set meeting schedule. In fact, when I went to MIDEM, I wound up doing 3 deals that originated at the conference– but all of them were done with people that I already knew from New York! I traveled all the way across the world to do business with people that work three blocks away. Yet, it’s not so surprising, because MIDEM brings with it a unique atmosphere of accessibility in a relaxed social environment that makes it easy to meet up with people that you may not have seen for years. Label presidents, artists, producers, publishers and songwriters mix and mingle till all hours of the morning, and that makes for a business atmosphere that is far more productive than most music conferences. MIDEM is about making deals– finding sub-publishers, distributors, or new product– and everyone in attendance is buying or selling something. It’s not a meet and greet, and it’s not primarily a concert festival. It’s about the business of music.

Be forewarned however– it’s not an easy place to navigate. It’s big, busy and a little overwhelming. You have to be ready for it, and you have to attend at the right time. When should you attend MIDEM? Here’s a quick checklist:

1. When you have something to sell– or are ready to make a purchase.
MIDEM is not a “getting to know you” type of get-together. It’s a place for people already in the business. If you have a song that’s generated some success somewhere in the world, if you have an artist that’s breaking, if you have enough financial backing to acquire some new product and a distribution network, collection system or exploitation team ready to launch new artists in your territory– that’s when it’s time to go to MIDEM. If you’re not at that point yet, it’s better to save your money.

2. When you have finished product to play.
No demos allowed here. People at MIDEM are listening for hit records ready to drop in their territory– not rough piano/vocal demos to pitch to artists. You have to bring material that is market-ready, and dynamic enough to break through in a crowd of thousands of other records.

3. When you have a team around you that can support your networking efforts.
Strangely enough, it’s not that easy to meet people when you’re surrounded by 10,000 of them. In fact, just to find the person you’re supposed to be seeing is like the world’s largest game of “Where’s Waldo”. MIDEM is probably too big, and too challenging for one lone entrepreneur or producer to go it alone. You need at least a few other allies that will be in attendance– your lawyer, a business partner, a sub-publisher, or a songwriting collaborator. Even better would be a two or three ally at your side. It gets a little lonely in a crowd like that…

4. When you know what you’re doing.
People at MIDEM are used to doing deals on the back of a napkin, tossing figures off the top of their heads, and conversing about acts from territories all over the world. If you don’t know about territories other than your own, if you don’t know what companies are leaders in other countries, if you don’t understand how deals are done in the various territories, if you aren’t aware of what the music business is doing around the world, then you’re not ready to go to MIDEM. Or at least you have some homework to do before you go.

The fact that you’re seeing this blog at all should tip you off that I skipped MIDEM this year– it’s a marathon event, and I find it best to take a breather every few years. But if you’re looking to expand your business on a global level, there is no better place to be these days. Put it on your calendar, and join me in preparing to be there next year…

Opportunity Knocks!

Feb 26 2008

In a business as overcrowded and hyper-competitive as today’s music industry, it’s hard to imagine that there are many opportunities lying around undiscovered. With giant conglomerates like Universal Music covering every corner of the globe, often with several different affiliated companies in one geographical territory, along with indie labels, established independent publishers, and the army of new start-up ventures, the odds of finding a new, undiscovered opportunity can feel as remote as finding a table at the Carlton bar during Midem. No matter where you look, by the time you get there, someone has already placed their stake.

It turns out that the Midem analogy is a good one. The truth is, opportunities are hard to find because we’re all looking in the same place. Two weeks from now, thousands of music industry weasels will descend on Austin, Texas for SXSW, the music industry equivalent of fox-hunting, with trend-sniffing, pen-wielding A&R scouts in mad pursuit of the ever elusive Next Big Thing. Picture a very small forest filled with trigger-happy hunters, all firing at anything that moves. Not surprisingly, everyone emerges bloodied, exhausted and empty-handed. Not to mention severely hung-over.

As an alternative, consider this recent story about Carlin America Inc., a venerable independent publisher, who has recently unlocked a whole new source of revenue. Carlin recently acquired the rights to a whole collection of collegiate fight songs, including the themes for Alabama, Florida, Tenessee, Kentucky, Louisiana State, and about 95 other universities.

Fight songs? You mean for marching bands and cheerleaders? Well, yeah. And cell phone ring tones. Video games. Bottle openers for the tail-gaiting crowd. Key chains. Stuffed animals. You know how when you open up a greeting card, it can play a song? That’s not a miracle. That’s a microprocessor– and it means that virtually any gadget or gizmo can be made to play a song with the touch of a button. And apparently, a lot of people like to hear their gadgets play the school fight song. Who knew?

These are the real opportunities of publishing. They lie not in chasing the latest buzz band or pitching songs to Leona Lewis. Those things have their place. But the smart publishers are the ones who are looking where other publishers are not– at music that has the kind of mass consumer appeal to work for a variety of products, from singing fish to hang on the wall, to a greeting card for Grandma, or an orange-clad Santa Claus doll that plays the Florida fight song. It might not win you a Grammy or get you a seat at the ASCAP Pop Awards. But it makes a nice sound when the pennies drop into your bank account.

One of my favorite songwriters, Steve Diamond, recently called to tell me that a song of his was going to be used in a new Reba McEntire album– an album specially made and packaged for sale nationwide in the Hallmark stores for Valentines Day. These kinds of product, aimed directly at very specific markets through specialized retail outlets, represent the future, when it comes to selling physical recordings of music. Likewise, the greeting card, ring tone, game, and electronic gizmo business is likely the future of exploiting musical copyrights.

As I point out in my book, the job of a music publisher is to turn music into money. What Steve Diamond has done to get his song into the Reba- Hallmark venture, or what Carlin Music has done with the school fight songs is Music Publishing 101. My advice is, while everyone else is at SXSW, spend the week writing down every time you hear music being used, whether it’s in a commercial, an elevator, a health club, a ring tone, or the perennial singing fish. This is where the money is being made. Now try to figure out how your catalogue could be used in one of these opportunities. Or try to figure out which songs are being used, and how you might be able to acquire those songs. “Yea, Alabama” is no “Sweet Home Alabama”– but it’s probably a lot more profitable than most of the songs on the pop albums released this year.

In a business filled with lemmings, it’s not a bad move to change things up, and go left when everyone else is going right. That’s called a reverse, and it usually results in nothing but an open field of opportunity up ahead. Go team!

I mentioned in the last blog that I’d been reading Alan Greenspan’s book, “The Age of Turbulence”, which succeeded in making clear to me that I understand even less about economics than I thought I did. But I have learned a few things, and I picked up one new term that seems to have relevance even in the simple, survival-oriented economic world of the music business weasel:

Home Bias.

The phrase refers to the tendency of investors to invest primarily in their own country– it’s a natural and understandable phenomenon, and although it is fading, it persists even today. There’s nothing particularly negative about it, except that it can often limit the opportunities that investors have to choose from. You can stick with only buying stocks in US-based companies, but you might be able to make more money somewhere else. And it’s not only true of investing…

If you’re an American songwriter or publisher looking to boost your earnings, it might be time to examine, and eliminate, your own Home Bias. Here’s a few reasons why:

1. The World’s A Big and Wonderful Place.
In a business that is getting smaller very fast, you need as much opportunity for your music as you can get, and you simply can’t afford to write-off everything outside the US. Especially if you write music to be covered by outside artists, you will find much more opportunity in the UK, Europe, and Asia than you will in the United States. Outside of this country, you can find more artists that record outside material (you can even find bands that cut songs by outside writers, which is all but unheard of here), and you will find that in certain markets, particularly urban music, the sound of American tracks is highly sought-after, and difficult for the local writers to copy.

You’ll also find that tastes differ, and sometimes, that’s a good thing. Asia tends to prefer more harmonically complex, AC-sounding pop ballads than is acceptable in the US. If that’s what you write, you might have just found a new home. Germany embraces a classic dance sound that would be very difficult to find a home for in this country. Australia still has a healthy appetite for AOR. If your melodies are great, but your lyrics are weak, try pitching songs in Japan– they’re going to rewrite the lyrics anyway.

If there doesn’t seem to be a spot in the US market for your sound, you can either try to change your sound (which can be pretty hard) or change your market. In the last two years alone, American acts such as the Scissor Sisters, Daniel Powter, and Mika have achieved superstar status in Europe and the UK, while in some cases, finding little or no market in their own country.

2. That Foreigner’s Money Is Just As Good As Ours.
In fact, it’s better. If you haven’t noticed, the US dollar ain’t what it used to be. At present, the dollar is plummeting against most foreign currencies, especially the English pound, and the Euro (the currency of the European Union). The bad news is that a croissant in France will set you back a pretty hefty chunk of change (it’s worth it though). But here’s the good news:

For every 1 GBP you earn on your song in the UK, you get $2 USD. For every 1 euro you earn on your song in Italy, you get $1.50 USD. That’s a good deal. So good that it’s one of the primary reasons that US publishers are having a modestly profitable year, despite the utter collapse of the US music industry. If you have a catalogue of songs that is active in the UK or Europe, your income is up by almost half, just based on the currency exchange alone.

This also means that foreign publishers and labels are often able to offer deals to writers and artists in the US that are competitive with US companies, despite the fact that the foreign territories are often much smaller. There have been several important signings this year in which a UK publisher was able to sign a US-based writer or artist out from under the US publishing community. Why not? The foreign publisher is essentially paying half-price, because of the weakness of the US dollar.

3. MIDEM Is Coming!!
I know, you’re about to ask: But how do I get my music to all of these rich, musically-diverse foreigners, in order to claim a piece of this pie?

Here’s a start. MIDEM is the music industry’s annual international schmooze-fest that takes place each year in Cannes, France in mid-January. Picture 50,000 music industry weasels from companies large and small, from every different region of the globe, all converging together for one week of hyping, drinking and hopefully, deal-making. Sound like a nightmare? It is, kind of. But it is also a perfect opportunity to meet music executives, in a curiously relaxed atmosphere, from every possible corner of the planet. Even better, people come to Midem to make deals– so if you have a product you’re selling, you should, at the very least, get a few listens. Plus, you can have one of those expensive, but delicious croissants.

There’s a basic principle at work here that goes back to basic economic laws (the few that I understand). Think of it as the principle of “The Grass Is Always Greener”. Or “Go West, Young Man”. The principle simply states that if things aren’t working for you here– or could be working better– try going somewhere else. Chasing opportunity is the oldest economic trick in the book, and at the moment, there is a lot of opportunity in places other than the good ol’ USA.

With the US music industry struggling for survival, this is no time for Home Bias. If you’re having trouble seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, then you have to broaden your horizons.