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…

It occurred to me as I walked the same quarter mile circuit along Sixth Street for the three hundredth time in three days that the primary benefit of SXSW for A&R people is not the opportunity to hear hundreds of up and coming bands in a single four day span. The primary benefit of SXSW for the music weasel is exercise. Instead of sitting around an office all day, the middle-aged weasel is forced to actually walk from place to place, thus ensuring more aerobic activity than most of us have seen in months. Many also seemed to be working on their arm muscles as well, with lots of pouring and heavy glass-lifting to build those biceps.

During Austin’s giant music-fest, it also occurred to me that the only thing sustaining the music industry at the moment has nothing to do with music. The only people at SXSW that brought their checkbooks and actually had money in their accounts were the media and branding companies. Record label A&R were there of course– after all, there were parties with free food– but there were far fewer than in years past, with whole major label teams missing in action. Music publishers were there too, hoping to meet people in the advertising business. Of course, the music supervision crew was in full effect, but unlike the good old days of two years ago, they were no longer the coolest kids in the room. Given the falling revenue at most broadcast companies and the ridiculous glut of music that is chasing the same gratis spot on The Hills, synchronization licensing fees have dropped to the point where even indie bands desperate for a break have realized that there is no pot of gold at the end of the Hollywood rainbow.

The only people left with any juice at SXSW are the magazines, the websites, clothing brands, car companies, or beer companies. Like it or not, music’s greatest value at the moment is as a marketing or branding tool for companies eager to target a very specific, target audience. Musicians of course are eager to embrace what they see as crucial avenues of exposure– meanwhile, the brands view music as simply one more way to attract the all-important but ever-elusive, A.D.D.-addled college and post-college demographic. The music industry may think they’re using the media. But it’s clear from the amount of music being used by the media, advertising and branding businesses, compared to the amount of music actually being sold, that it’s the media, advertising and branding people using us.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that once more, the music industry finds itself a pawn in a game that it doesn’t control, a plight that seems to be the underlying theme of music business history. First it was radio– since the Fifties, the record industry has found itself on bended knee, pleading (or paying) for any favors that the gatekeepers of radio might dole out. Then it was television, with MTV able to extract free 24-hour programming courtesy of the record labels. Make a half a million dollar video, give it to MTV for free, then hope they choose to play that video from among the other fifty half a million dollar videos they received that week. Wow, what a business model.

Of course, the previous decade brought us a new power player in Apple, and once again, the record industry was left at the mercy of a different business, which sees music largely as a means of selling electronic equipment. And now, with the loss of album sales draining any profitability from the business of selling music to the consumer, there’s a new power alignment emerging– and once again, the music industry finds itself a supporting actor in someone else’s play.

Why couldn’t music companies have created Sirius Radio or iTunes? Why could a music company not have diversified into the advertising business? How did Sony, which is an electronics company as well as a record company, manage to get beaten so badly with the iPod? Why do music companies not own music magazines or music websites? Even when someone tries to create some synergies with moves like the Time-Warner-AOL merger, they manage to let the politics of the various businesses impede all attempts to make the companies work together. Only a handful of organizations, Disney being the most obvious example, actually seem to have understood that controlling the means by which the music reaches the audience (the Disney Channel, Disney Radio, Disney Girl magazine, even Disneyland) or the merchandise related to the music is far more valuable than simply finding and developing artists and leaving the rest to someone else.

Just as musicians often seem to have a blindspot when it comes to realizing that there’s more to music than simply the technical level of musicianship, music business types seem to be unable to see that the power lies with those who understand how to use music to attract an audience (radio, television, internet companies and other brands) rather than those who simply discover and manufacture the music. As a result, the music weasels are left outside the Levi FADER Fort trying to talk their way past the doorman so that they can see their own band perform.

Of course, there’s not much we can do now to undo the mistakes of the past. So given this new world order, what can a savvy publisher or songwriter do to make sure that his or her music is a media magnet, that it’s brand-friendly and advertising-attractive? The one thing that even the most short-sighted weasel can see is where the money is– and ain’t in radio and records. Here are four things to keep in mind when you’re making music as a marketing tool:

1. Versatility is not an asset.

The only time versatility is valuable to a musician today is in a wedding band. The rest of the world is all about narrow-casting, about appealing to a specific, definable core audience and being immediately recognizable to that group of people. Take a look at the magazine stand– there are very few general interest magazines left. Most media companies, whatever their format, work hard to appeal to a very specific, specialized audience. That’s what gives their advertising space value. In the same way, when they consider an artist or a band, they don’t want someone that appeals a little to a lot of different types of people. They want someone that appeals a lot to a very specific group of people.

2. Know your audience.

This does not mean being acquainted with everyone that shows up at a gig or having a million MySpace or Facebook friends. It means understanding exactly who your audience is– demographically, emotionally, and financially. What is the age range of your audience? What do they do (school, work, retirement)? What are their hobbies? What movies do they see? What books do they read? What other music do they listen to?

If you can’t define your audience in that way, then a brand, advertising exec, or press person probably can’t either. That means they have no reason to think that you would help them sell jeans or makeup or alcohol or magazines (which of course also need to sell jeans and makeup and alcohol). Bands that work in the Marketing Age have easily identified audiences, which is sometimes more valuable even than the size of the audience, as measured by record sales or downloads.

For those who are songwriters, rather than artists, the point remains the same. If you wish to write for a specific artist, you need to have some idea as to the nature of the artist’s audience, and what that audience wants to hear about. A song will define the person that sings it to his or her audience, so you have to be sure that the song is presenting the artist to that audience in a way they will understand and appreciate. I’m not suggesting you write jingles. I’m urging you to do your homework, and know how the artist for whom you’re writing is trying to define himself or herself.

3. Understand music as fashion.

The branding, advertising and media worlds are not in music for the long haul. They’re not in anything for the long haul. The media business relies on constant change and ever-shifting sands, that’s what keeps it relevant and entertaining. Fashions will change every spring– they have to, because there are magazines and new clothing collections to sell. Likewise, your music, when it’s part of the media world, has to be up to the minute, reflective of the moment, and sonically on the cutting edge. And then it has to change as times do.

There’s no point in criticizing fashion for being “trendy”. That’s the nature of it. It would be like complaining that water is wet. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with music that’s trendy. But to be effective in this new media world, you have to stay one step ahead of the trends, knowing which sounds are in vogue and which are getting worn out, what subjects are ripe for picking and which ones are past their sell date, and when it’s time to move on and re-invent your whole musical approach. The advertising, media and fashion worlds make the weasels back at the record company look like long-term thinkers by comparison. In this world everything is always changing, and fast. Which leads us to:

4. Seize the Moment.

A music manager was recently telling me about an incredible placement he had just obtained for his artist, which had the young artist featured prominently in a major national advertising campaign for a big consumer product. If this artist had already landed one such huge opportunity, he suggested, imagine how many other brand or advertising related calls were going to come his way, once people saw this campaign?

My first thought was: None. The problem in working with a brand is that it is “branding”– the brand is now identified with the artist, and the artist with the brand. The bigger the campaign, the more “branding” takes place. Once you have defined yourself to your audience, and closely identified yourself with a particular product, it becomes harder, not easier, for other brands to embrace you. Once you’re on the cover of Rolling Stone, you’re not going to get hyped in Brooklyn Vegan. Because advertising agencies or products are focused on using your music to define their brand, it will, by definition (pardon the pun), take you out of the running for many other related products, who don’t wish to share their definition with any other company. In this media/advertising world, you’ll only get a couple of big chances.

That means you have to make the opportunity work for you. If you know that you’re going to be working with a particular brand, or getting a key placement at an important media outlet, then you have to build an entire strategy around that, making sure that you are prepared to use that exposure to build your audience (and database), drive sales (which means making sure music is ready and available) and establish yourself as a key part of the brand’s identity (which means supporting the company in every and any way possible).

This is not like the old music business, where you could tour around without too much planning, and slowly build a fan at a time for as long as it took. These opportunities are windows that open and close rapidly. You have to have your social networking, music distribution, touring and marketing campaigns ready to capitalize on whatever opportunity you get, and be prepared to measure and document the results. You also have to fully embrace the brand, to make sure you hold onto the chance for as long as you can. If it means going to Phoenix to play for a room full of car salesman or softdrink manfacturers one day, then you better do it with a smile. Trust me, it will be far more useful than any conflicting gigs your record company might have put on the schedule.

This week, I’m in Miami trick! I’ll be at the Winter Music Conference and Ultra Fest on Thursday and Friday– give me a shout if you’re down there. Or I’ll see you at the Beatport Party, or the Belvedere Vodka/Sirius Radio Listening Lounge, or…. you get the idea. If you can’t beat ‘em, let ‘em throw you a party.

I'm Not Dead Yet

Mar 31 2009

Now that the dust has settled from a week at South By Southwest, and for the truly hardcore weasels, a following week at Winter Music Conference in Miami, not much is clear, but one thing is evident:

Music is not dead yet.

Not sure I can say the same thing about the record business which continues to slide further into the abyss. Now, even the publishing industry is starting to feel the pain, as mechanical income, the money earned from record sales (and downloads) is plummeting, with Harry Fox Agency announcing a shocking 22 percent drop in mechanicals over the past year. Of course, the retail side of the music business (remember when there were stores and they sold music in them?) has become a historical relic overnight, and the shuttering of the Virgin chain is only the last swing of the wrecking ball to that particular side of the industry. And come to think of it, the radio business doesn’t look so good either. So what’s keeping the old girl alive? What particular life-support device is keeping the music industry from flat-lining all together?

Well, actually, it seems to be music itself. Shocking as it may seem to many of the weasels that work in the business everyday, people still appear to be quite fond of those old standbys of rhythm, melody, harmony, and lyrics.

Clearly, they like to listen to it. In fact, that’s one of the most perplexing parts of the whole music business demise. One rides the subway to work, observes every person on the subway car listening to their fully-loaded iPod, takes a taxi and listens to the inescapable musical selections of the cab driver, then sees everyone in the street still listening to their iPod, then gets in the elevator and listens to someone else’s ringtone of their favorite song as their cell phone sounds off, and then arrives at the office to learn that no one is selling any music. It would be a bit less painful to watch the industry disappear if we saw the whole world happily dwelling in silence. But it’s very hard to see a world inundated with music at every level, only to see the income of those in the music business drying up. It’s like dying of thirst while you’re drowning.

People also appear to enjoy making music. Perhaps a little too much. But when you consider that 2000 bands played at SXSW this year alone, and probably an equal number of aspiring DJs, producers and remixers showed up at the Winter Music Conference, and another several hundred songwriters will converge upon the ASCAP I Create Music Expo in April, it’s clear that the joy of making music is not fading out anytime soon. And of course, thanks to businesses like Myspace and YouTube, now all of those joyous music-makers can share their creativity with the world– for better or worse. It’s probably worth recalling that this is how music began– not as a spectator sport (so to speak), but as a means of having fun, entertaining yourself and others.

In fact, that just might be the lesson behind festivals like SXSW and WMC. Despite the economic downturn, attendance was reported to be solid at SXSW, with strong sales in the festival passes, and a healthy level of bookings at the hotels. The lesson is that music-centered events, which include opportunities for a wide variety of people to participate, and allow audiences to listen to a wide cross-section of music, are taking the business back to its roots– which just might be a good thing. We’ve built up a massive industrial complex that needs to be fed, but somehow we’ve lost sight of what the real appeal of music actually is. The success of these festivals and conferences may be guiding us back to where we belong. A couple of obvious principles:

1.People like to choose what they listen to. This may explain why radio ratings are sliding, even as all of those people on the subway are happily grooving to their iPods. In the old days, local radio stations at least had enough freedom to try to cater to regional tastes and styles, and in general, respond to the listening preferences of their community. Now, with the likes of Clear Channel pioneering a system in which one or two programmers can control the song selections for radio stations across the entire country, people are tuning out, and making their own playlists for the daily commute. If it wants to survive, radio is going to have to begin to respond to their audience and offer some variety, rather than dictating to it with increasingly restrictive playlists.

2. People like to gather together and hear music. This goes back quite a ways– like to the days of the campfire and cavemen. Music is ultimately a live, communal experience, and the music industry needs to support and foster that spirit. One great example of this is the Ultra Music Festival, which follows the Winter Music Conference, and features a wild array of the top talents in electronic and dance music. The event is sponsored by the music label and publishing company, Ultra Records. It’s a perfect illustration of a label investing in the live experience, which will inevitably spur sales in the genre, while offering a perfect branding opportunity for the label. From huge festivals to small club events, record labels and publishers need to start investing in live events that engage their audience and allow music to bring people together.

3. People like to play along. Music is not just for listening, and ours is not a culture used to sitting on the sidelines. From the popularity of Guitar Hero to the explosion of home-made videos on YouTube to the continuing popularity of karaoke, it’s obvious that making music is part of the fun. A trip to SXSW will quickly show you that music is not divided between those who play and those who purchase– those who play music are more likely to be the ones who also purchase music. NARAS is on the right track with its Grammys In the Schools program, but we need to do more. Publishers need to revitalize the sheet music industry and find a way to monetize the thousands of lyric sites on the internet. We need to support the “re-mix” culture that wants to re-imagine the music they love, while still respecting and protecting the rights of copyright holders.

It is probably safe to say that music will never really die. But it’s also worth noting that it can certainly slip to the margins of popularity, where it may continue to exist but not necessarily be one of the dominant forces in our artistic culture. All art forms have their peaks and valleys in respect to cultural influence, and music did not really become a dominant part of popular entertainment in America until the late 1800′s. If we want to continue to remain relevant, and solvent in the 21 century, we may have to re-focus, or we risk losing our place at the center of popular culture. If two weeks of partying, carousing, listening to bands, and dancing to DJs taught us anything, it might be that it’s time to get back to basics. If music be the food of love, then play on…

I’m Not Dead Yet

Mar 31 2009

Now that the dust has settled from a week at South By Southwest, and for the truly hardcore weasels, a following week at Winter Music Conference in Miami, not much is clear, but one thing is evident:

Music is not dead yet.

Not sure I can say the same thing about the record business which continues to slide further into the abyss. Now, even the publishing industry is starting to feel the pain, as mechanical income, the money earned from record sales (and downloads) is plummeting, with Harry Fox Agency announcing a shocking 22 percent drop in mechanicals over the past year. Of course, the retail side of the music business (remember when there were stores and they sold music in them?) has become a historical relic overnight, and the shuttering of the Virgin chain is only the last swing of the wrecking ball to that particular side of the industry. And come to think of it, the radio business doesn’t look so good either. So what’s keeping the old girl alive? What particular life-support device is keeping the music industry from flat-lining all together?

Well, actually, it seems to be music itself. Shocking as it may seem to many of the weasels that work in the business everyday, people still appear to be quite fond of those old standbys of rhythm, melody, harmony, and lyrics.

Clearly, they like to listen to it. In fact, that’s one of the most perplexing parts of the whole music business demise. One rides the subway to work, observes every person on the subway car listening to their fully-loaded iPod, takes a taxi and listens to the inescapable musical selections of the cab driver, then sees everyone in the street still listening to their iPod, then gets in the elevator and listens to someone else’s ringtone of their favorite song as their cell phone sounds off, and then arrives at the office to learn that no one is selling any music. It would be a bit less painful to watch the industry disappear if we saw the whole world happily dwelling in silence. But it’s very hard to see a world inundated with music at every level, only to see the income of those in the music business drying up. It’s like dying of thirst while you’re drowning.

People also appear to enjoy making music. Perhaps a little too much. But when you consider that 2000 bands played at SXSW this year alone, and probably an equal number of aspiring DJs, producers and remixers showed up at the Winter Music Conference, and another several hundred songwriters will converge upon the ASCAP I Create Music Expo in April, it’s clear that the joy of making music is not fading out anytime soon. And of course, thanks to businesses like Myspace and YouTube, now all of those joyous music-makers can share their creativity with the world– for better or worse. It’s probably worth recalling that this is how music began– not as a spectator sport (so to speak), but as a means of having fun, entertaining yourself and others.

In fact, that just might be the lesson behind festivals like SXSW and WMC. Despite the economic downturn, attendance was reported to be solid at SXSW, with strong sales in the festival passes, and a healthy level of bookings at the hotels. The lesson is that music-centered events, which include opportunities for a wide variety of people to participate, and allow audiences to listen to a wide cross-section of music, are taking the business back to its roots– which just might be a good thing. We’ve built up a massive industrial complex that needs to be fed, but somehow we’ve lost sight of what the real appeal of music actually is. The success of these festivals and conferences may be guiding us back to where we belong. A couple of obvious principles:

1.People like to choose what they listen to. This may explain why radio ratings are sliding, even as all of those people on the subway are happily grooving to their iPods. In the old days, local radio stations at least had enough freedom to try to cater to regional tastes and styles, and in general, respond to the listening preferences of their community. Now, with the likes of Clear Channel pioneering a system in which one or two programmers can control the song selections for radio stations across the entire country, people are tuning out, and making their own playlists for the daily commute. If it wants to survive, radio is going to have to begin to respond to their audience and offer some variety, rather than dictating to it with increasingly restrictive playlists.

2. People like to gather together and hear music. This goes back quite a ways– like to the days of the campfire and cavemen. Music is ultimately a live, communal experience, and the music industry needs to support and foster that spirit. One great example of this is the Ultra Music Festival, which follows the Winter Music Conference, and features a wild array of the top talents in electronic and dance music. The event is sponsored by the music label and publishing company, Ultra Records. It’s a perfect illustration of a label investing in the live experience, which will inevitably spur sales in the genre, while offering a perfect branding opportunity for the label. From huge festivals to small club events, record labels and publishers need to start investing in live events that engage their audience and allow music to bring people together.

3. People like to play along. Music is not just for listening, and ours is not a culture used to sitting on the sidelines. From the popularity of Guitar Hero to the explosion of home-made videos on YouTube to the continuing popularity of karaoke, it’s obvious that making music is part of the fun. A trip to SXSW will quickly show you that music is not divided between those who play and those who purchase– those who play music are more likely to be the ones who also purchase music. NARAS is on the right track with its Grammys In the Schools program, but we need to do more. Publishers need to revitalize the sheet music industry and find a way to monetize the thousands of lyric sites on the internet. We need to support the “re-mix” culture that wants to re-imagine the music they love, while still respecting and protecting the rights of copyright holders.

It is probably safe to say that music will never really die. But it’s also worth noting that it can certainly slip to the margins of popularity, where it may continue to exist but not necessarily be one of the dominant forces in our artistic culture. All art forms have their peaks and valleys in respect to cultural influence, and music did not really become a dominant part of popular entertainment in America until the late 1800′s. If we want to continue to remain relevant, and solvent in the 21 century, we may have to re-focus, or we risk losing our place at the center of popular culture. If two weeks of partying, carousing, listening to bands, and dancing to DJs taught us anything, it might be that it’s time to get back to basics. If music be the food of love, then play on…