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!

Britannia Rules

May 04 2008

While we’re on the subject of conferences– which we were last week— here’s a new one to check out:

London Calling 2008

This is the UK’s largest music industry exhibition conference and live showcasing event, with over 3500 attendees from 45 different countries. Not too surprisingly, the focus of the conference is on independent music and the future of the music industry– which may be one and the same thing. Definitely an appropriate topic when EMI Records, the UK’s biggest label, is about to lay-off a huge percentage of their workforce (that is, if they can ever get around to it). Should be a great conference, and a showcase opportunity that’s worth considering, even for American bands. Maybe especially for American bands…

That’s because London seems to be one of the last spots on earth with a passion for new music. You can feel it when you’re there– this is one place where people still go out regularly to clubs to see new bands, where new, unique artists emerge with some regularity, and where the industry has rediscovered that music without a TV show or a featured spot in an advertisement can still matter to people. Looking at the artists that have broken out of the UK in the past two years, from Amy Winehouse to Corinne Bailey Rae to James Blunt James Blunt to James Morrison and now Duffy, it’s clear that UK is in one of its most productive periods in years.

What’s really interesting is that the UK is now breaking not only their own native artists– but Americans as well! The Scissor Sisters have all the cachet of a UK act, having become European superstars virtually overnight. The crazy thing is that they’re not British at all. They’re a New York act that made the journey to England, in search of a more open, responsive radio environment, and an audience that still appreciates a mix of style, humor, and a little camp, mixed in with some great songwriting.

The same is true of last year’s big success story, Mika– another American artist that had to go to the UK to find his true home.

It’s quite possible that this year will bring another example, with the NY singer-songwriter Julian Velarde. After several years of building a following in NY’s Lower East Side club scene, this singer-songwriter still hadn’t landed the label or publishing deal he was looking for. Then suddenly, the British A&R scene started buzzing about him and created something of a feeding frenzy, with UK execs flying across the pond to throw out offers and scoop him up right under the noses of the US A&R community. If Julian’s album is the hit that many expect it to be, there will be some A&R weasels over on Madison Avenue and at Rockefeller Center with some serious explaining to do.

Songwriters and artists have to realize that they are in a global business. Of course, that means that you can sell your records all over the world. But it also means that you can make your records all over the world. If you’re not finding the recognition that you’re looking for where you are, or if your sound is not a fit for radio in this country– there’s a flight at JFK that might solve your problem. It’s worth a trip to see if the grass might be greener on another shore.

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.