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.