Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ken Russell in his own words (Part 2)

By Emmanuel Legrand

In Part 2 of our tribute to Ken Russell, here is a Q&A session with the British filmmaker, transcribed from a filmed interview done in 2006 at his house in Southampton, a few weeks before he was due to receive a Lifetime achievement Award at the Festival ‘Le Cinema de la Musique’ in Besancon, France.

Q: How does it feel to get this Award?
K. Russell: I am very honoured to have this award, a lifetime achievement, but I have been conscious of the value of pictures and music since a very early age. In fact, I would say from 10 years of age when I had my own little hand-cranked projector and a hand-cranked gramophone and gave film shows in my dad’s garage in aid to the Spitfire fund to fight the Nazis. The trouble was, the only films I could get for my hand-cranked projector of any feature length were German expressionist films, such as Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’, which was rather ironic. While I was showing films in aid of the Spitfire fund, we were being bombed by the Nazis, the sons of Siegfried.

Q: When did you decide to go from projecting movies to making movies?
K. Russell: Well, I always wanted to get into the film industry. But it was terribly difficult just after the war and unless you knew someone personally, you stood no chance. So I took photography and learned from that cinematography too. And when I started to have some money that I earned from my photographs, I borrowed a 16mm camera and saved that for the film and the dubbing of the film. And lo and behold I made three amateur movies, which got me on the prestigious art show Monitor. Monitor was the first BBC art show and was probably the first art show in the world that was on every two weeks. It wasn’t a one-off and it went on for years. We were encouraged to follow our own enthusiasm. Some directors were keen on sculpture, painting or whatever. I was keen on music. So I was allowed to make documentaries on Prokofiev, on English composer named Gordon Jacob, Bartok, Elgar, Delius and Debussy, to name but a few.
When I made the switch from the small screen to the large screen, I was also able to convince the big companies that composers could be mass entertainment. When I went to United Artist, and said, ‘I’d love to do a film of Tchaikovsky, their faces fell. They said, ‘What’s the pitch?’ I said, ‘It’s about a homosexual who falls in love with a nymphomaniac…’ They gave me the money right away and I never looked back!

Q: ‘Music Lovers’ became your first success. But initially, it was not an easy sell, was it?
K. Russell: Before I ended up with United Artist, I first put it to Harry Saltzman, the producer of the Bond films, because he promised me that after making ‘Billion Dollar Brain’ for him, I could make an “art” film, as he called it. I proposed Tchaikovsky and he turned me down. He said, ‘I’ll investigate it for you; come back next week.’ When I came back the next week he said, ‘I’m afraid – and he was smiling when he said that – I’m afraid [Russian-born film score composer] Dimitri Tiomkin is already working on one for the Soviets, and he’s even written the music’. Yeah, that was true I’m afraid [The film was 1969’s Tchaikovsky directed by Igor Talankin]. And laugh you may because he orchestrated Tchaikovsky’s delectable ‘Serenade for Strings’ and it was a disaster all around.
But I really loved Tchaikovsky because he really turned me onto the real power of music. I was ill at one time and while recuperating I happened to hear by chance on the radio an amazing piece of music. When the announcer told us at the end of the extract what it was I jumped on my bicycle and rode to the nearest record shop and asked for Tchaikovsky’s ‘Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor’. I listened to it and to other subsequent Tchaikovsky works and other Russian works – I went on from him to Rimsky-Korsakov, the moderns, Stravinsky, etc –, and I found that as I listened to these amazing scores, I saw pictures. And I couldn’t stop seeing them and I still can’t.
So that further turned me on to the possibility of pictures and music. And since Tchaikovsky was the one who turned me on to this amazing world, I think I owed him a favour, so I made a film on him. I think it is pretty accurate, as far as we know. I mean, I did say that he did commit suicide and it seems that this was indeed the case. God rest his soul.

Q: What attracted you to Mahler?
K. Russell: In the case of Gustav Mahler, I really wanted to make a TV film on him but he was too big for TV. So I waited until I was in a position to convince a producer to invest a small sum of money in a film on Mahler. I shot the film outside my home in the Lake District, which is England’s answer to Bavaria. And, again, his music is very autobiographical. So I just followed his music and followed his life even to the extent of using a musical device in the film, in rondo form, which is the statement of the film: variations, theme again, variations, variations. The theme in the movie is Mahler’s train journey going back home and the variation are flashbacks through his life. And since his music is, in some instances, very satirical, you’ll forgive me if I simply followed the master and did a few satirical sequences…

Q: Tommy is pretty different from anything you did before.
K. Russell: I am very much into classical music. The only pop music I really like are by the great masters: Cole Porter, Gershwin, etc. Rock music leaves me pretty chilly. But when I was asked by Pete Townshend if I was interested directing his rock opera ‘Tommy’ I gave it some considerable listening. And I thought this was music of quality. It was not the usual bang crash bang crash wall endlessly. And it was in fact an opera insofar it had a series of numbers and it did tell a story. And it was a moral story.
I think Pete was influenced by Buddhism but I also felt it was quite a Catholic story and, as a lapsed Catholic myself, I thought I had an inside into it that somehow embellished the story.
I was able to explain to Pete that certain areas in the film and the story were not explained properly so I convinced him to write three or four extra numbers to facilitate that. And I think the actual melodies are exceptional as far as rock music is concerned – I can whistle all the way through it and everyone can.
It was a very happy experience. People warned me against it, saying they’re all on drugs, they take their time. They do this they do the other. They won’t do this, they won’t do that.
But I found on the contrary that they were the best group of people I worked with and they were near Sainthood. It was pretty embarrassing… But we all had a great time making the film. And we brought it under budget and on time, which is not always the case with films. It can produce some difficult things when one is not prepared for it.
Tommy, I think, was a bit of a groundbreaking film, insofar as it is really about twenty video clips all put together, which I don’t think there were such things in 1975. And if they were, they were pretty basic, so maybe I’ve got a lot to answer for. Oh dear! 

Ken Russell -- A tribute to a great British filmmaker and music lover (Part 1)

By Emmanuel Legrand

Ken Russell – who died on November 27 at the age of 84 – was one of the great British maverick film directors. Alongside Lindsay Anderson and Nicolas Roeg, Russell debunked a few taboos in films and introduced a new form of modernity in British cinema.
He was a kind of British Fellini, creating visual universes that were unique, and had, like his Italian counterpart, an appetite for unconventional narratives and stories, as well as a capacity to make some arrangements with reality: Russell’s ‘Mahler’ or his film on Tchaikovsky are probably as close to real life as Fellini’s ‘Casonova’ – in other words, pure fiction.
Excess was normal to him, even pushed to the limits of grotesque. And he would court controversy too. Think of the nude scene of Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling in ‘Women in Love’, or the sex scenes with nuns in ‘The Devils’.
From a very young age, Russell was passionate about film and music, especially classical music. He made his dent in filmmaking through commissions for British TV shows such as Monitor. But he is better known for his music-related films such as 1970’s ‘The Music Lovers’, 1974’s ‘Mahler’, 1975’s ‘Tommy’ and 1976’s ‘Lisztomania’ – for which he pioneered the Dolby stereo sound.
The Music Lovers’ is about Russian composer Tchaikovsky, with Richard Chamberlain and Glenda Jackson. To sell the movie to his producers, Russell described the movie as the story of “a homosexual who falls in love with a nymphomaniac”. And the film is pretty much about that, and a few more things, shot in a flamboyant, if not decadent style.
‘Mahler’, which was shot in the Lake District in Northern England, has a lot of depth in that it tries to explain the mysteries of creation through the life of the Austrian composer. The music in the movie is haunting and it rates probably as one of Russell’s’ greatest achievements.
Russell was no fan of rock music, which he described as “an endless bang crash bang crash wall”… But when he was confronted with Pete Townshend’s rock opus ‘Tommy’ he decided to have a go at it. The movie has aged but remains one of the great rock movies of all time, not least because of its cast (The who, of course, but also Eric Clapton, Elton John, Tina Turner, etc).
In an interview I did with him in 2006, Russell said that he believed that ‘Tommy’ pre-dated and opened the era of MTV, since the film was a series of music videos. He also came to respect the rock stars who were playing in the film. He was warned that he would go through problems with such a bunch of hellraisers, but all went fine. “Since they were not professional actors, they were very concentrated and eager to do well,” he told me. “And they let their ego aside before getting on the set.”
Russell mentioned his fondness for The Who’s drummer Keith Moon, whom he thought was the most talented of the lot for comedy and acting. In the famous scene in which he plays Uncle Ernie, Moon breaks half a dozen eggs in a glass and swallows them. “He was perfect and we only did a few shots,” said Russell. “He was charming and talented.” But when asked what his favourite scenes from ‘Tommy’ was, Russell would roar with laughter at the mention of the one in which Ann-Margret swims in a sea of beans and chocolate.
‘Tommy’ is one of the few movies, with ‘Music Lovers’, that Russell continued to make money from. Russell explained why: “I had an agent who was not too good and quite lazy, so he made some very bad deals. I do get royalties from ‘Tommy’, not as much as I should, but at least I am getting something.”
Russell told me that his worst working experience was with Russian dancer Rudolph Nureyev who was the lead actor in ‘Valentino’, a biopic on the silent movie star Rudolph Valentino. “He was a diva and made my life terrible,” he said. “On top, he could not deliver his lines!”
I met Ken Russell in 2006, when I was asked to get in touch with him by a group of friends who were setting up a music and film festival in the French city of Besancon. They planned to offer him a Lifetime Achievement Award and present some of his movies. The first meeting between him and his wife Elize Tribble with the festival’s co-founder Pascal Signolet and myself took place in a restaurant near Southampton where he lived.
He chose the place because they had a good wine list, he told us later. And indeed, over some very decent French wine, we went through the motions. He was happy to do anything we asked him to. He was wearing a colourful shirt and sandals with some woollen socks. Not very trendy, and quite eccentric. Elize Tribble, his fourth wife, appeared dedicated to her husband, often finishing his sentences or helping him when his memory faltered. (“I married him for love, not for money,” she said.)
I believe he was deeply touched that somewhere in the world (and even more so, in France), there were people who highly regarded his work. “I’ve never been recognised in my country where the film establishment ignores me,” he said. He relished the attention he would receive in Besancon and he was looking forward to a few days of good food and wines, and talking about movies (we were to do a master class with him).
Unfortunately, upon advice from his doctors, he had to cancel the trip (although he appeared a few days later on Big Brother so we always questioned the reality of his illness…). But we needed something from him, so off I went back to Southampton to get a video interview with him.
Russell welcomed me in his modest suburban house in Southampton. The place was an untidy mess with documents scattered all over the living room, sharing space with drying clothes. There, we recorded some footage to be played at the festival to introduce his various movies. He grabbed a small digital camera – he was very interested in new digital technologies – and his wife Elize played the cinematographer while I was asking the questions.
As an intro, he put on a mask representing a skull. He thought it was hilarious. Within 25 minutes we had it all in the box (Russell was a very good speaker). “That should do,” said Russell. As I was packing, I suggested that quite a few beautiful women -- Vanessa Redgrave, Ann-Margret or Glenda Jackson, to name but a few – crossed his life. “That’s because I paid them,” he quipped. We laughed, but I am not sure that Elize enjoyed the pun.
The past 30 years have not been too easy for him. A lot of project collapsed, due to lack of financing. He had a few successes with 1980’s sci-fi movie ‘Altered States’ and 1990’s ‘The Russia House’. Towards the end of his life, he was trying to self-finance his films with moderate success. He worked on a project with the late (and quite eccentric) German actor Klaus Kinski about the life of Brahms. With a burst of laughter, Russell recalled that Kinski promised that he would play each scene in which Brahms music would feature with a massive erection…
Russell also worked on a film about the Gershwin brothers, for which he had been in contact with one of the brothers, Ira. Again, the film never materialised. In April 2006, part of his house burnt and in flames went a good part of his archives, scripts and films. At least, he got the recognition he deserved in North America when in 2010, the Cinematheque Quebecoise in Montreal and the Lincoln Centre in New York offered a retrospective of his works.
Too bad he never made it to Besancon. He would have enjoyed the public’s attention, the good food and the local wines. 
I still have the award. Never got the chance to bring it to him.

(See Part 2: An interview with Ken Russell)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Who wins and who loses in EMI’s sale?

By Emmanuel Legrand

So Universal will be getting even bigger, Warner is dwarfed, and somewhere in between Sony will try to survive, most likely thanks to its expanded music publishing division.

That’s, in short, the new mapping of the music industry after the decision made by Citi to sell EMI’s recorded music division to Universal Music Group and its parent Vivendi, and EMI Music Publishing to a consortium of investors led by Sony/ATV.

So who are the big winners in this week’s power contest?
Ø    Lucian Grainge: the top honcho from UMG, who will add The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Coldplay (and many more) to his roster, and who will now run the biggest music company in the world by a wide margin. If there was a defining moment for him, that's it!
Ø    Marty Bandier: The ‘penny’ earner from Sony/ATV, who now puts his hands back on a stack he used to control when he was running EMI Music Publishing. It's Marty's revenge.
Ø    Citi: They got out of a business they did not want to be in, and they’ve got most of the money they wanted. 
Ø    Vivendi: At a limited cost they confirm their leadership in the music business. And If we are to believe what CEO Jean-Bernard Levy told the FT, they're in it for the long haul.

And the losers are:
Ø    Edgar Bronfman: Bronfman dreamt it, and Grainge did it! That’s the problem when you play with someone else’s wallet: at some point that someone says stop, and that’s exactly what happened to Edgar Jr. who was betting with Warner Music Group owner Len Blatvatnik’s cash. This might well be the end of Bronfman’s disastrous career in the music business.
Ø    Warner Music: Condemned to be the biggest US indie, that’s all! Their global footprint is getting smaller. Last week they’ve decapitated their European management, to put more power into the hands of Lyor Cohen. It will go on until Blatvatnik tires of it all, and sells, most likely to Sony. As one of their artists used to sing: “And now, the end is near…”
Ø    Roger Faxon: The CEO of EMI Group advocated a sale of the whole company, not parts of it. It is quite likely that he will lose his job, since it does not seem that neither Grainge, nor Bandier will want to see him around.
Ø    Guy Hands: EMI once was his…
Ø    Doug Morris: Sony Music’s market share was behind Universal’s and Morris was hired to bridge that gap. It’s going to be harder, if not impossible, unless he buys Warner!
Ø    BMG Rights Management: Their growth strategy by acquisition is now kaput. After buying Chrysalis and Bug Music, EMI Music Publishing was going to be the piece de resistance. And their partners KKR will certainly question why they should stay in the venture.
Ø    Market diversity: No one can pretend that going from four players to three is an improvement for artists, suppliers, clients and the whole eco-system. No digital platform will be able to launch without Universal’s repertoire and Universal will have the power to dictate its terms. That in itself is sufficient to object to the sale.
Ø    Artists in general: Since there are now only three majors left, there are limited options for artists looking for a global career. Yes, there are still a good number of indies, but how many have real muscle?
Ø    EMI artists: How many will stay on Universal’s roster? On the publishing side it might be a bit more secure, although previous mergers such as Universal and BMG’s have made a lot of collateral victims among songwriters.
Ø    EMI employees: Most of them will lose their jobs since Universal already has a significant structure to handle repertoire and a big roster. Expect more label consolidation.

There will be regulatory hurdles, obviously, especially in Europe where Universal’s dominant position will be scrutinised by the European Commission’s DG Competition. And it can be expected that indie labels organisation Impala will try to derail the deal – as they confirmed they would on the day the sale was announced – in the same way they were instrumental in messing up the promised wedding of Warner and EMI way back in 2001.

Vivendi said that EMI would find in Universal “a safe, long term home, headquartered in Europe”. And Grainge, who is a music man, said he would “preserve the legacy of EMI Music”.

But a company with a market share over 40% has an impact on its eco-system far greater than any other player. With great powers come great responsibilities. Let’s hope Universal will exercise them wisely, otherwise, the music industry will become a game where, in the end, it’s always Lucian who wins! And what’s good for Lucian might not be good for the business as a whole.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The 10 commandments to successfully run a label [part 2]: Tips from key indie players

By Emmanuel Legrand

In part two of this two-part series on indie labels originally written for the Midem blog in January 2011, we asked several veterans from the indie sector to share their experience about how to run a label:
Bob Frank, Merlin (USA)
Martin Goldschmidt, Cooking Vinyl (UK)
Richard Gottehrer, The Orchard (USA)
Michel Lambot, PIAS (Belgium)
Korda Marshall, Infectious Records (UK)
Martin Mills, Beggars Group (UK)
Simon Raymonde, Bella Union (UK)
Tim Renner, Motor FM (Germany)
Dan Storper, Putumayo (USA)

1 - Bob Frank, Merlin: “Start small and grow organically at first

Merlin's Bob Frank
Bob Frank is chairman of Merlin, the global licensing body set up by indies. He is currently president and co-founder of Qello, a digital syndication company ( He was formerly president of USA’s biggest indie group Koch/E1 Records from 1999 to 2009. He also served as an exec at PolyGram from 1989 – 1997.

Q: Based on your experience, what are the advices you’d give to people willing to launch a label today?
Bob Frank: Firstly be passionate about music and even better a specific genre. Don't be in a rush to be the next Interscope. Start small and grow organically at first. Study all the new consumption and marketing models and get your labels music directly out to those most likely to enjoy what you are releasing. In other words be a part of the new music business and do not focus on the traditional physical goods model and all the added costs that go along with it. Although still important it will soon be ancillary. And maybe I am getting softer as I am getting older but never work with people who don't bring the same joy, love and passion to the label that you do. Make it a great place to work, put out good music that people want to hear and market/promote them according to the 2010 rules of engagement. Follow this and you've got a good chance of getting royalty checks from Merlin some day.

Q: And what are the mistakes you’d try to avoid if you were to launch a label today?
Bob Frank: If I were launching a label today I would not try and be all things to all people. The business is difficult enough. I would study the market and pick a genre I love and one that indies can compete in. Also I would try and avoid the operating mistakes that we all seem to make over and over like over paying for an artist because another label offered a little more and many others. My favourite is probably working a second single on an album that doesn't really have a second single on a wish and a prayer. Hope is not a good strategy. Hope tempered by experience-based decision-making is of paramount importance. Without that real experience you run the risk of missing opportunities as well. I've seen Dr. No's at bigger labels kill great projects as well as the culture of the company. Saying no is not skill in itself if not combined with battle scars. You can train a monkey to say no.

2 - Martin Goldschmidt, Cooking Vinyl: “If you ignore the money and the business side you won't survive

Martin Goldschmidt is managing director of UK indie group Cooking Vinyl.

Cooking Vinyl's
Martin Goldschmidt
A: What would you say to someone wanting to set up a label and asking you for advice?
Martin Goldschmidt: Why are you doing it? If you want to get rich, forget it; get a job in a bank. If you want to hang out with stars, wrong answer. If you want to turn people on to music you love and work with musicians you are passionate about then welcome to the club.

Q: How should one approach the business side?
Martin Goldschmidt: It's a tough gig. It's the music business. You have to get the balance right between music and business. The music bit is easy. If your music is great it will get noticed, if not you will waste your time. The business side takes a lot of learning and you need to get it right. I've been doing it over the last 25 years and seen many great labels go bust or get bought. They didn't get it right. If you ignore the money and the business side you won't survive.

Q: Any tips you can offer of what to do and not to do?
Martin Goldschmidt: 1. Plan thoroughly.
2. Budget each project and look at a worst-case budget. Check what similar projects have sold. (Your distributor can be a great source of help here).
3. Work out the time lines and build in for stuff being delivered late. If you don't give yourself enough set up time, you won't set it up properly, and you are not doing your job.
4. Put together the right team. (Your distributor can be a great source of help here). You normally can't afford the dream team. Enthusiasm always means more then gold discs on someone's wall.

3 - Richard Gottehrer, The Orchard: “You have to have passion for the business and for talent

The Orchard's Richard Gottehrer
Richard Gottehrer is founder & chief creative officer of US-based digital aggregator The Orchard. But he was also co-founder of Sire Records with Seymour Stein in the 1966 and built a reputation as a music producer, working with such acts as Blondie, The Fleshstones, The Go-Go’s, Robert Gordon, and more recently the Dum Dum Girls' debut album.

Q: How would you set up a label today?
Richard Gottehrer: You have to choose wisely how you set up your label. The world today is much different than when we started Sire. In those days, we were in a singles market where radio played a big part. Today, in the US, radio is still influential, but you can’t count on it. With Seymour, we relaunched Blue Horizon at Midem last year. It is an indie label but it is structured differently. If you launch a label today, you have to do it for the love of it because it is quite likely that you will never be able to make much money. You have to remember that in the old days only a handful of people made a living out of it. It never was a business for a large group. All these talks of demise of the business, they are childish talks. It’s the demise of the business as we knew it. But for artists and indie labels, it is a great time to be in this business.

Q: How would you approach A&R?
Richard Gottehrer: You have to choose artists that you love and give them the best of you. Artists today have more of a place and can determine their future. There are now more avenues for independent artists and artists and labels can distribute their music in so many different ways. But you have to be aware that the sales potential is so much smaller than a few years ago. Sales of millions of albums are no longer a reality. So you have to set your goals differently. But like Seymour and I used to do, you have to have talent to recognise talent and help artist with a direction. In my case I learned the business from the bottom up.

Q: How important is digital?
Richard Gottehrer: It should be a tremendous focal point. At the Orchard we have a lot of experience in that field, simply because we started very early on, and we did focus on indie labels. We may not provide the same service as a major label but for artists, we offer a possibility to make their music available on 700 accounts that did not exist ten years ago.

Q: What not to do?
Richard Gottehrer: For a start you have to keep your costs down. Do not spend too much money! You have to manage expenses and expectations. You may be someone with passion who finds artists, but you also have to know the digital world and how to promote and market online. You also have to be aware that physical sales are still a valuable business and sometimes vinyl can be good too for some styles of music. But you have to be careful not to manufacture too much products. Make sure that the artists you sign can tour and work. That’s how they build an audience. It does not need to be huge but it has to exist. Then you have to serve the fans. Before it was a far more closed society. Entrepreneurs have to be aware of that. That’s the new norm.

Q: What would you expect from someone who wants to start a label?
Richard Gottehrer: You have to have passion, passion for the business, passion for talent. Don’t think you are in it to make money. You are in a position to develop something that is special and unique. And you have to balance your passion with some business sense. You must also be consistent and perseverant. And in the end have a great deal of luck.

4 - Michel Lambot, PIAS: “Try to provide your artists with the best environment”

PIAS' Michel Lambot
Michel Lambot is CEO and co-founder of Belgian-based music company Play It Again Sam! which operates throughout Europe. He is also one of the principals at Impala, the European trade body representing indie lablels.

Q: Based on your experience, what are the advices you’d give to people willing to launch a label today?
Michel Lambot: If you were to launch a label today, I’d suggest you not to set up a label, but not in a negative way. What I mean by that is that you have to looks at things today from a different perspective. Don’t set up a “label”, which is too restrictive, but set up a “music house”, with a roster of artists, like they did in the 60s. And like they did in the 60s, try to provide your artists with the best environment for them to thrive and develop. You have to look at all aspects of their career and also get revenues streams from all aspects by getting access to all rights.

Q: And what do artists get in exchange?
Michel Lambot: Lots of works and smiles… (smiles) If you don’t mind me saying, this is a very 20th Century question! What we are talking about is access to the market, and the conditions have changed compared to the 80s or the 90s. Then, you had a very segmented market, dominated by majors. Today, you have to think in terms of how to set up a global marketing strategy and you are the agent making the possible intermediation between the artist and the audience. Therefore it is normal that you maximise your artists’ revenues and yours by tapping into all streams such as branding, live, merch, sponsorship, etc. A good case in point is Grace Jones, whose come back album (‘Hurricane’ in 2008), sold 200,000 worldwide, which is quite significant, but we also get a cut on her live music revenues because we provided a marketing budget that helped her reach her audience.

Q: How would you get started today?
Michel Lambot: I can start telling you how I started in 1977. I was 17 and had no prior experience in the music industry. From the moment I signed my first single and the time it came out, it took nine months. I was simply not ready, I did not know what to do. I went to see one of the biggest retailers in Belgium with a stack of singles, and he took 25, which was a lot for me. The buyer said he’d pay me Belgian Francs 64 per unit and I started to call him a thieve, because he was selling them to consumers for Francs 160. That’s when he told me there was something called VAT. I had no idea what it was. I went to [Belgian rights organisation] Sabam, talked to journalists, to many people. I was wondering how were all these new labels in the UK making it. The information was not available. Today all this info is there for grabs. And it helps. Ironically, you can have all the info in the world but you can’t find anymore retailers like the one who helped me.

Q: Does it help to be funded when you start?
Michel Lambot: It sure helps, but it also puts a lot of pressure on you to succeed and fast. So I’d rather say it is not the most important thing. I tend to think that what I did when I was 17 can be done today. It’s a different environment, but you can find a lot of space if you are smart. I believe there is space for people who are motivated, ready to work on Sundays.

Q: What are the qualities necessaries to launch a music company?
Michel Lambot: You have to have some entrepreneurial spirit. For a while, few people wanted to start something in the music business, but it is changing. Overall, I’d say you have to be crazy about music, hard-working and with a certain talent to spot talent. If you can combine all that, you will find money, you will find partners. But do not expect KKR [one of the biggest investment/private equity firms] to come sit at the table.

Q: What should people avoid doing?
Michel Lambot: When I started I did not know limited companies existed. And all was in my name. So when I went bankrupt, it took me ages to pay back my debts. So be careful. That said, all experiences are interesting... And it can help to have a very good lawyer from the start! Regarding artists, I would suggest a very simple rule: never make promises you know you will not be able to keep, even if you know it can cost you a deal. And if you think you can be true to your promises, then you have to make everything within your power to make it happen. Artists will not blame you for trying, but there is no better way to lose artists than not to keep your promises. You have to be honest, first of all to yourself, and be capable of saying, “Sorry no can do.”

5 - Korda Marshall, Infectious Records: “Embrace digital technology
Infectuous' Korda Marshall

Korda Marshall is co-founder of Infectious Records, a 1990s label that he re-launched two years ago with entrepreneur Michael Watt and Australian music legend Michael Gudinski. Over the years, Marshall held executive positions at RCA, Mushroom Records and Atlantic in the UK. Acts signed to Infectuous include Melbourne band The Temper Trap, General Fiasco and Local Natives.

Q: What would you say to someone who wants to start a label today?
Korda Marshall: Don’t do it! (Laughs) I sometimes say that majors are in the music business and indies in the business of music, if that makes sense. So to get there you have to have passion, a love of music and a lot of self-belief. If you are simply trying to set up a business, don’t start.

Q: Any advice?
Korda Marshall: The biggest advice I could give is…manage and control your expenses. The secret of making money is not spending. There are always ways to make money, through synch deals, PPL, direct sales, etc, so if you can control your expenditures you will make money.

Q: Is it necessary to have money to start a label?
Korda Marshall: These days, I’d advise you to have a certain amount of capital. But it also depends on the genre of music you want to be in. If you build up a brand in a niche you can build some value.

Q: How important is the A&R process and how should you approach it?
Korda Marshall: You have to have a love of music, of artists. In the early days of Mushroom, I had a strict policy of only signing artists under 21 or over 30. With over 30s you can have intelligent conversation about what they want to achieve and the under 21s are enthusiastic and keen to work hard. You have to have self-imposed rules. Sign artists that you would love and mortgage your house for. You also should look at A&R in terms of space. You cannot compete with majors because you cannot afford it, so find your own space.

Q: How close to majors should one be?
Korda Marshall: The ‘indie or die’ process of a few years ago does not exist anymore. I am not anti-major, and you can find interesting partnerships with majors. You can license music to them, do distribution deals, have them handle your digital distribution, etc. I am in favour of spreading the risk. I also believe that if you have a great piece of music, it will find its space in the marketplace.

Q: How about physical distribution?
Korda Marshall: Try to find the right partners. For infectious, we go through PIAS in Europe, Hostess in Japan, Michael Gudinski’s company Liberation in Australia/New Zealand. There’s no rule.

Q: How should indies approach digital?
Korda Marshall: Embrace digital technology and treat it just like a more complicated format because you have streaming, downloads, mobile, telcos, etc. For indies, it has a lot of benefits, because you don’t have to deal with manufacturing and stocks. At Infectious, 40 to 45% of our revenues in our first year come from digital. With four artists on our roster, we’ve sold over 400,000 albums in physical and digital format, and over 500,000 single digital tracks. By the way, most of our deals with artists are structured in a participative mode so that so that we also have income from live and merchandising. It is important to have a bundle of rights and not simply the rights to the master recordings.

Q: What not to do when starting a label?
Korda Marshall: Do not rush into anything. Do not think in the old school way of physical products only. Think forward. Don’t follow your head, follow your heart. And have fun!

6 - Martin Mills, Beggars Group: “Learn from your mistakes
Beggars Group's
Martin Mills

Martin Mills is chairman/CEO of Beggars Group, one of the leading British independent companies, which incorporates such labels as XL and 4AD. He is also an active member of AIM, the UK’s indie labels’ association, and Impala, the European arm of the indies.

Q: Based on your experience, what are the advices you’d give to people willing to launch a label today?
Martin Mills: Don't do it to make money, do it because you love it... The most important thing is to spread the word: if the music is wonderful and connects everything else will follow. And join organizations like AIM, Merlin, etc. They will help you.

Q: And what are the mistakes you’d try to avoid if you were to launch a label today?
Martin Mills: Music is an imperfect industry, you have to take risks and that means you'll make mistakes – accept them and learn from them.

7 - Simon Raymonde, Bella Union: “Try to be unique

Bella Union's Simon Raymonde
After a remarkable career as a member of Cocteau Twins, Simon Raymonde co-founded the label Bella Union, some ten years ago. Now the sole operator of the label, Raymonde looks after the careers of the likes of Midlake, The Acorn, John Grant, Beach Union, and Fleet Foxes.

Q: Any advice to people who plan to launch a label?
Simon Raymonde: If you want to start a label ask yourself this: ‘Is there someone out there doing what I would do if I had a label and if so are they doing it better than I could?’ If the answers to both parts is 'no', then you have half a chance. I can't see the point in having a label that's LIKE someone else's, or that signs bands that someone else would. I don't compete with other labels for bands and don't wish to. When I hear about other label chasing bands I have discovered I think: ‘Find your own! There are enough bands to go round!’. And if you're going to start a label which makes physical product, in general don't spend more than you can borrow and then afford to pay back.

Q: What are the mistakes to avoid?
Simon Raymonde: I think mistakes are good to make as long as they don't affect the bands! I would say don't go into business with someone else. And make sure that EVERYONE who works on your records, be they distro people, art people, press, marketing etc, be sure you like them and that they work as hard as you do. Working with dicks is a real pain and if you work with people you like, at least if the record doesn't sell, you KNOW they're nice and they did their best. Don't expect anything to happen, and don't get call the journalist the minute you finish reading his scathing review of your band. Wait ten minutes.

8 - Tim Renner, Motor FM: “Don’t sign to many acts, don’t overspend

Motor FM's Tim Renner
Tim Renner is the founder of Motor FM, a Berlin-based radio network, which has also evolved into a service company for artists and labels. Prior to that, Renner served as CEO of Universal Music Germany, the largest music company in the country, and worked with such acts as Rammstein.

Q: Based on your experience, what are the advices you’d give to people willing to launch a label today?
Tim Renner: Ask yourself why you are doing this. Only if you feel that you have a mission you should join this fast-changing marketplace! Your style or your mission has to become the blueprint for your label to build it into a brand. Being a brand is essential to access communication networks! Altogether, you have to stay focused. Don’t try to be an integrated media company while starting your label – build a catalogue and don’t go for the “fast hit” if you don’t have the money and manpower to compete with the majors.

And what are the mistakes you’d try to avoid if you were to launch a label today?
Tim Renner: Rule number one: don’t overspend! Music and musicians need time. You can only give them time while you still have resources… Don’t fear the effects of the digital age; make the best use of them instead. And don’t sign to many acts, this will prevent you from working each of them properly.

9 - Dan Storper, Putumayo: “Don’t spread yourself too thin
Putumayo's Dan Storper

Dan Storper is founder/CEO of US label Putumayo, which has made a mark by trying to sell music outside of the traditional music retail network.

Q: Any advice to people who plan to launch a label?
Dan Storper: These are my words of advice that I think are relevant not just for launching a record label:
Ensure that the music you’re offering is exceptional and has very appealing packaging to entice people to view it either in stores or online. Find the best possible ways to articulate persuasively why people should listen and help you spread the word about your music.
You’re probably the best advocate for your music. Get personally involved in selling/promoting your music so that the sales team and buyers are motivated. I’ve probably met 1,000 buyers myself as I’ve traveled around the world.
Be confident and persistent but don’t be annoying.
Make people aware via promotion, marketing, social networking, etc. Build word of mouth. Music unfortunately doesn’t usually sell itself.

Q: What are the mistakes to avoid?
Dan Storper: Don’t spread yourself too thin. Focus initially on key markets/retailers. Build internationally gradually by identifying the best potential partners. Midem is great to find potential partners but don’t always grab the first one that’s interested. Look for your best long-term partner and try to avoid settling.

If you found this post informative, you might be interested in the following stories:
The 10 commandments to successfully run a label [part 1]
Ten music marketing tips for the digital age
Ten points about copyright from MIDEM 2012

The 10 commandments to successfully run a label [part 1]

By Emmanuel Legrand

This is the first of a two-part series on indie labels that was originally commissioned by MIDEM for the 2011 edition of the music trade show. I thought its content would still be of interest and relevant a few months after it was initially published on the MIDEM blog in January 2011. In part two, we will hear from veterans of the indie sector.

Think of a music world without Motown, Atlantic, Verve, Island, Elektra, Sire, Chrysalis, Virgin, Rough Trade, Mute, Def Jam, 4AD, Sub Pop, ECM, World Circuit, Domino, Bella Union, to name but a few…
These labels have all made a significant mark in the popular culture of the 20th Century. They are trusted brands. Their strong image was backed by impeccable artistic credentials. Their heritage is huge, and (at least at their beginning) they all abided by the independent ethos, financially and creatively.
One thing that links them all is that they could all be identified to specific individuals – Atlantic/Ahmet Ertegun, Verve/Norman Granz, Island/Chris Blackwell, ECM/Manfred Eicher, Motown/Berry Gordy, Domino/Laurence Bell…
None of these entrepreneurs who started some of the best-known labels of the past 50 years had millions in the bank and a good understanding of how things worked. It all happened organically.
After all, when Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson founded Atlantic Records in 1947, they did it with a few thousand dollars borrowed from Ertegun’s dentist. In the early days, they did everything from recording artists to manufacturing and shipping records, not to mention billing. And they learned their trade this way. That they could also spot and produce geniuses was a bonus too… Artistically, they first focused on jazz and R&B before moving into mainstream rock.
In Detroit, Berry Gordy set up his label in a house and tried to copy the car industry’s assembly line in order to produce music at the most efficient cost. And it worked! Not least because he had also assembled around him what was probably the most talented generation of songwriters and musicians.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, emulated by the advent of the 45rpm, Frenchman Eddie Barclay started to build up what would become the most successful indie label in the country, attracting talent such as Jacques Brel, Léo Ferré and Charles Aznavour.
In 1959, Chris Blackwell started Island in Jamaica with a few pounds and lots of goodwill, until he got his break with ‘My Boy Lollipop’, which allowed signing some of the most creative artists of the times (Nick Drake, John Martyn, Roxy Music, Cat Stevens, Free, King Crimson, Traffic, and, of course, Bob Marley and U2). 
Later, Terry Ellis and Chris Wright went on to set up Chrysalis Records because nobody in the establishment would dare to sign the acts they were representing.
Closer to us, the 70s generation of Martin Mills (Beggars Banquet/4AD), Daniel Miller (Mute), and Geoff Travis (Rough Trade) started their labels with no money and little knowledge of the business, but with a fearless DIY mentality. There was also this eccentric Brit named Richard Branson who started a mail order business, which morphed into Virgin Records, and ended up with an airline company, courtesy of Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’…
The hip hop/urban music era saw the rise of likes of Russell Simmons (Def Jam), Sean Combs (Bad Boy Entertainment), Tom Silverman (Tommy Boy), among others.
Altogether, these gifted and talented executives – many of whom have been celebrated at Midem over the years – created the music business as we know it. They nurtured some of the world’s most popular artists. And if, unfortunately, most of these independent music houses have now fallen into the major’s fold, and some have even stopped to exist as imprints, their spirit is still alive.
But could the same success stories be replicated today? Is there a new generation of entrepreneurs ready to carry on the flag of independence? And under which conditions would these executives approach the business? These questions will be at the heart of Midem 2011’s Indie Summit. A panel regrouping the founders of some of the most creative new labels to have come up in the past few years will offer their views on how they have made it.
To feed the debate, we have asked a series of “elders”, who have all started independent labels at some point I their career, to share their experiences. Their recommendations can be read in full below, and we have tried to sum them by putting them into “The 10 Commandments” (or shall we say the 10 “rules of engagement”?) for aspiring music entrepreneurs.

Our “elders” were:
Bob Frank, Merlin (USA)
Martin Goldschmidt, Cooking Vinyl (UK)
Richard Gottehrer, The Orchard (USA)
Michel Lambot, PIAS (Belgium)
Korda Marshall, Infectious Records (UK)
Martin Mills, Beggars Group (UK)
Simon Raymonde, Bella Union (UK)
Tim Renner, Motor FM (Germany)
Dan Storper, Putumayo (USA)

1. Just do it!
If you feel like doing it, just go for it! Do not find reasons not to do it, for you will find a million. As Tim Renner from Motor FM states, do it if you feel you have a mission, a passion for it. For Martin Goldschmidt, managing director of UK indie group Cooking Vinyl, is goes down to one question: what are your motives? “Why are you doing it?” he asks. “If you want to get rich, forget it, get a job in a bank. If you want to hang out with stars, wrong answer. If you want to turn people on to music you love and work with musicians you are passionate about then welcome to the club.”

2. Be passionate
All the people surveyed for this piece agree that passion will be the most important driver for anyone willing to build a business in the music sector. “You have to have passion, passion for the business, passion for talent. Don’t think you are in it to make money,” offers The Orchard’s co-founder Richard Gottehrer. Adds Korda Marshall, co-founder of Infectious Records, “You have to have passion, a love of music and a lot of self-belief. If you are simply trying to set up a business, don’t start.”

3. A lil’ bit of money helps, but don’t count on it
Long are gone the days when an ex-major label executive could start an indie label with a staff of 15 in lavish offices before even releasing one single (we have names!). Most indie labels were started with limited funds. Ahmet Ertegun started Atlantic with $10,000 he borrowed. Seymour Stein and Gottehrer each put in the pot $10,000 to start Sire. Tom Silverman borrowed money from his parents. Having a little bit of capital (from friends, business relations, even venture capitalists) helps starting, but, as PIAS co-founder Michael Lambot says, it can also put a lot of pressure on you. “Don't be in a rush to be the next Interscope,” says Bob Franck, who ran US indie Koch. “Start small and grow organically at first.”

4. It’s all about A&R
Spotting the right talent is an art in itself. That’s where time, resources and energy have to be channelled. “You have to chose artists that you love and give them the best of you,” says The Orchard’s Gottehrer. “You have to have talent to recognise talent and help artist with a direction.” Infectious’ Marshall goes as far as saying you should only sign artists “you would mortgage your house for. You also should look at A&R in terms of space. You cannot compete with majors because you cannot afford it, so find your own space.” Motor FM’s Renner adds, “Don’t go for the “fast hit” if you don’t have the money and manpower to compete with the majors.”

5. But it is also a business, so control your costs
“If you ignore the money and the business side you won't survive,” snaps Cooking Vinyl’s Goldschmidt, who adds, “You have to get the balance right between music and business. The music bit is easy. If your music is great it will get noticed, if not you will waste your time. The business side takes a lot of learning and you need to get it right.” For Infectious’ Marshall, success is all in the manner you “manage and control your expenses”. “The secret of making money is not spending,” he says. To which Gottehrer adds, “You have to manage expenses and expectations.”

6. Be different
Chose an angle, a niche that makes you stand out. Ex-Cocteau Twins turned label manager Simon Raymonde, explains, “I can't see the point in having a label that's LIKE someone else's, or that signs bands that someone else would. I don't compete with other labels for bands and don't wish to.” Indeed, all the great labels had something that made them different from the competition, which Bob Franck sums up by saying, “Do not try and be all things to all people.”

7. Chose who you work with
It’s a people’s business and who you work with is paramount. Work with like-minded people. For Bob Frank, “Never work with people who don't bring the same joy, love and passion to the label that you do”. Bella Union’s Raymonde is blunter, “Working with dicks is a real pain and if you work with people you like, at least if the record doesn't sell, you KNOW they're nice and they did their best.”

8. Promote your music and your artists on all platforms
In the 1980s, Island records made a poster, which was sent to all the people working with the label. It featured a beautiful drawing of an island, with the strap line, “Something terrible happens if you don’t promote…” and in very small font size, at the bottom of the poster came just one word: “Nothing!”. In the world of music it is all about reaching out. And today, reaching out means using all the tools at your disposal. As Putumayo’s Dan Storper puts it, “Music unfortunately doesn’t usually sell itself. Make people aware via promotion, marketing, social networking, etc. Build word of mouth.” And, as Beggars Group chairman/CEO Martin Mills, explains, “The most important thing is to spread the word: if the music is wonderful and connects everything else will follow.”

9. It’s not simply about recordings
Running a label is about A&R but includes activities in management, financing recordings, pitching to music supervisors, finding good agents, hiring a PR company, working out licensing deals, etc. In the 21st Century, it is advised not to think simply in terms of recording. PIAS co-founder Michel Lambot says labels have to be more than labels and be “music houses”. Adds Lambot, “Try to provide your artists with the best environment for them to thrive and develop. You have to look at all aspects of their career and also get revenues streams from all aspects by getting access to all rights.” Korda Marshall agrees, “It is important to have a bundle of rights and not simply the rights to the master recordings.” Recordings have a value in itself, but, building a music company is about building a brand.

10. Stay focused and accept there will be mistakes along the way
You cannot be in places at all times, so chose your battles and stay focused on your game plan. As Putumayo’s Storper puts it, “Don’t spread yourself too thin.” And in the process, you will make mistakes, but that’s part of the plan too, says Beggars’ Mills, “Music is an imperfect industry, you have to take risks and that means you'll make mistakes – accept them and learn from them.” Bella Union’s Raymonde adds, “I think mistakes are good to make as long as they don't affect the bands!”

10 Bis. Be lucky and have fun!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ten things about the music publishing business you always wanted to know

By Emmanuel Legrand

[This piece was originally commissioned by MIDEM for the 2011 edition of the music trade show. I thought its content would still be of interest a few months after it was initially published on the MIDEM blog. Whenever necessary, I have updated information.]

Here are ten of the things that were done, seen or heard in Cannes at Midem 2011 regarding music publishing.

1.     THE END OF A&R?

Hartwig Masuch, the CEO of the recently launched BMG Rights Management, a JV between German media group Bertelsmann and private equity fund KKR, dropped a bombshell during MIDEM’s International Music Publishing Summit. He simply stated that in the 21st Century, A&R as a function is no longer relevant for publishers, who should focus on administration, and get the best back office possible in order to track and pay royalties efficiently. He argued that the “bottlenecks” that existed in the past are not prevalent anymore and artists have countless new ways to develop their artistic craft through the internet. “I think that A&R will be less important than the services [publishers can provide],” said Masuch.
Peermusic' Mary Megan Peer
That view goes against the grain of what most publishers believe their business has to be (and makes one wonder what the executives at Chrysalis, a publishing company that has always taken pride in being an A&R incubator, and which has been recently acquired by BMG Rights Management, must be thinking about it!).
For the record, on the panel, Mary Megan Peer, daughter of publishing legend Ralph Peer, and in charge of peermusic’s affiliate in Argentina, contradicted Masuch and reiterated the importance of the A&R process for publishers. “We are doing more A&R work than ever,” she said. “The role of A&R and the value it brings should not be underestimated.” After the panel, one publisher told me that Masuch’s vision of publishing was “one of the most depressing things I’ve heard in a long time”.


It is often boasted that big publishers have catalogues of over one million works. But it would be very interesting to survey all four major publishers and see what is the share of active works and where does the bulk of the action (read revenues) comes from. It is quite likely that the most active copyrights are either standards or very recent songs, with the rest constituting a huge and very thin tail. What keeps the value of these catalogues up is the constant rejuvenation of catalogues with new titles, new songwriters, new composers, new projects.
And the successful publishers are the ones who keep the right balance between heritage and new works. What these catalogues provide is critical mass and steady revenues, which is why it attracts investors. Hence the recent acquisition frenzy of VC-funded companies such as Imagem or BMG Rights Management. And it’s not over…


One factor often overlooked by investors is that a publishing catalogue’s value depends on the quality of the compositions, and not necessarily on the number of works that constitute said catalogue. Owning the rights to thousands of mediocre works is not the same as dealing with 300 songs from a top class songwriter (or 150 from the Lennon/McCartney songwriting partnership!).
Ask Ralph Peer, who had bought just before MIDEM the catalogue of Canadian songwriter/producer David Foster (Michael Bublé, Josh Groban…). With 3,000 tracks, it is not a huge catalogue, but Peer points out that almost all of them are active, bringing real value to the deal. And if you suggest to the chief executive of peermusic that, as the rumour has it, he paid $30 million for it, he gently smiles at you and says, “David probably wished we did...”


The talk around the Croisette concentrated a lot on the shape of the music publishing business in the next 12 months. With the quite volatile situation at Warner and EMI, and the ambitions of KKR with BMG Rights management (which has now integrated Chrysalis), the whole landscape could be completely changed by next MIDEM, with quite probably more consolidation. Warner/Chappell could go to KKR/BMG, while a new music entity would be created by the merger of EMI and Warner’s recorded music units and incorporating EMI Music Publishing.
With the consequence that quite a few executives who were stalwarts of MIDEM over the years may well have changed jobs (if they still have one!) by then. Consolidation will most likely create a gap between the top four publishers and the rest of the crowd, with a few mid-size companies such as Imagem, Peermusic, Kobalt, Bug Music, Olé and a myriad of small publishers.
[Update: Since then, BMG and KKR have acquired Bug Music and are aggressively pursuing EMI Music Publishing.]


That’s what the above mentioned Hartvig Masuch claimed during the Publishing Summit, and it is quite obvious that in today’s digital environment publishers need to have the proper infrastructure and administration systems in place to make sure they can locate all the usages of their works and get paid.
BMG Rights Management's CEO
Hartvig Masuch
Masuch, who’s had the envious position of starting a business of publishing from scratch, said that music was an increasing “fragmented business” and called for “very transparent services in collecting the money and distributing the money”. He added, “We will see a proliferation of offerings, and the link is the system that allows you to monetise your works. We want to be the best in the administrative field. If you are not able to collect and pay out, there’s no need to be there.”
It is rarely a topic worth mentioning, probably because it is not very sexy, but the key to survival for publishers in today’s high tech environment, is to have a back office running like a Swiss clock. And to achieve that level of services, it requires serious investments in IT tools to make sure royalties are properly tracked and paid.


WIPO director general
Francis Gurry
And it is not surprising that music publishers are the driving force behind what is described as the new how potato of the moment: the Global Repertoire Database (GRD). This Babylonian project consists in creating one single database for all the music works, listing the various rights owners for each work. The GRD is believed to offer greater fluidity for the digital market in enabling works to be identified and rights owners to be remunerated and simplify licensing.  
There were many discussions at MIDEM – both in public and private – regarding the GRD, or what the director general of Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organisation Francis Gurry called a global registry. In his MidemNet keynote speech Gurry positioned his organisation as the potential depository and operator of the GRD.
To simplify matters, there are at the moment two competing projects. One spearheaded by, among others, Peter Jenner (chair emeritus of the International Music Managers Forum) and Jim Griffin; and another coordinated around Deloitte on behalf of various stakeholders, many of them being publishers.
Gurry wants WIPO to be at the heart of the process, with his organisation capable of providing expertise in three crucial fields: governance; a viable and sustainable system for developing the registry; and a dispute resolution procedure.
Since MIDEM, discussions have continued and it is not impossible that in January 2012, when the industry convenes in Cannes again, serious progress will have been made with the GRD with the merger of all the different projects. There is a business urgency, stated Ralph Peer, that there be only one database and only one source of information. “This is important,” said Peer, “because otherwise there would be conflicting information. And money will not be distributed. So it is vital to have one source.”
[Update : since Midem, the projects have moved on: CISAC, the international confederation of author’s rights societies has joined the discussions on the GRD project, already backed by Amazon, EMI Music Publishing, iTunes, Nokia, PRS for Music, SACEM, STIM and Universal Music Publishing, while WIPO continues to work on the International Music Registry initiative (IMR). New developments are expected at Midem 2012.]


In his MidemNet speech, the European Commissioner for Internal Markets (and thus in charge of copyright issues) praised the creative community for their contributions to the global economy (for Europe alone, creative industries represent more than 4 million jobs in Europe and more than €900 billion worth of business), but also confirmed his intention to present a Directive of Collective Rights Management this Spring. “The modernisation of collective management, and especially the role of authors' and composers' societies, is a key project of the Commission,” said Barnier, who noted that “rights are fragmented between authors, publishers, artists, producers”.
The contours of Barnier’s proposed legislation is still unclear, and it is obvious that between the views of his Commission colleague Neelie Kroes, in charge of the digital agenda, who has been vocal in advocating a far more open and streamlined system of licensing, and Barnier, there will be some necessary adjustments. 
Why does it matter to publishers? Because they all rely on rights societies throughout Europe to collect their royalties, and any change in the system, which has already been dramatically transformed – not necessarily for in the way of simplifying – under the impulse of Brussels, has an impact on their business. In the past few years, the major publishers have made separate deals with rights societies across Europe to license their Anglo-American repertoire for online usages. So all eyes will turn to Brussels in the months to come to figure out what will be the next steps.
[Update: Barnier eventually announced later this year that the Directive on collective management proposing a single European framework to make multi-territory licensing easier would be disclosed at the beginning of 2012. In his World Copyright Summit's keynote speech in June 2011, Barnier said the framework would also include “common rules for transparency, governance and supervision”.]


Forrester Research analyst Mark Mulligan ruffled a few feathers in his MidemNet presentation when he declared that, “unless the labels and publishers change the way they license services, we are going to see the trend of dying CD sales and stalling digital downloads continue”. He continued, “labels are going to have to feel the long-term pain before they start licensing as aggressively and liberally as they need to.” 
In the fringes, these comments were seen less as an attack on publishers than on labels (especially the majors) that were blamed for slowing down the licensing process. Publishers claimed, at least in Europe, that they have been licensing “aggressively and liberally” for some time already, directly and through collective management societies.
Such trend was confirmed on a panel titled “Digital Services & Authors’ Societies — Building Efficient Partnerships”, moderated by yours truly, in which representatives from societies like PRS for Music (UK) and Sacem (France) explained that they have been licensing dozens of new site sin the past two or three years. Their goal, they said, was not to slow down the market but rather see the emergence of new players that will contribute to the revenues of authors, composers and publishers. And societies must have heard with relief the comments from Axel Dauchez, CEO of France’s streaming platform Deezer, who declared that making a deal with Sacem gave the service official recognition and precipitated licensing deals with record labels.


Combining under one single roof publishing and masters rights of tracks has certainly become a trend among publishers and labels alike. Obviously majors have been bundling rights for a long time now in order to facilitate the licensing process, especially for syncs, for which time and easy access to rights is an issue. But it is not limited to big companies.  
Smaller players such as Peter Gabriel’s Real World do it too. As Real World director Ed Averdieck explained during MIDEM’s Publishing Summit, “A big part of [the publisher’s process] is how to match the master with the composition and make the process of licensing easier.”
But bundling the rights – in order to offer clients both rights – is only one part of the process. The other step is to be able to pre-clear these rights. In many cases sync deals require the approval of rights owners, especially the authors and composers of the tracks, which can slow the decision making process.
Averdieck says there is going to be an increasing demand towards pre-cleared rights. “The advantage of that is as well as being able to license the master and the song in one go, one can license the rights instantaneously, which is what the clients are looking for.”
It might be a reasonable goal, but realism must prevail, responded Mary Megan Peer, who argued that a lot of writers do still want to have a say on the use of their works, not least because they may not want to be associated with specific brands or products. And in the case of publishing-only operations such as Peer, not associated with a label, this means negotiating with the owners of the masters’ rights. “We’ve certainly seen the benefit of either controlling or working closely with the owner of the master copyright,” she said. “In terms of automatic pre-clearance, I think that’s pretty tough.”
Tough as it may be, it certainly looks like a path to follow.


In a recent blog, I described music publishing as the greatest job in the music business at the moment (OK, probably with that of a manager). Think about it: music publishers will continue to be at the heart of the creative process simply because this is what they’ve been doing by nature: signing promising songwriters and composers at a very early stage, following their progress, helping them record or place their songs, until they blossom. In an era where labels play this role less and less, there is a gap to fill, and who else can do that but publishers?
Publishers are also the custodians of heritage works, those that are cherished by investors because they promise steady flows of revenues. But there are two types of publishers: those who sit on their stacks of heritage tracks and wait for royalties to flow; and those who relentlessly pursue new streams of revenues for tracks that have already proven their worth. Part of BMG Rights Management’s business model is to mine their catalogues, try to bundle publishing and recordings rights and ship them around aggressively. That attitude also is constitutive of what a modern publisher should be – a sales house. 
Few sectors are at the crossroads of art and commerce, new talent and heritage, traditional business models from a century ago (selling sheet music) and digital licensing from the 21st Century. 
An album by Rod Stewart once promised ‘Never A Dull Moment’ – and that could quite rightly apply to music publishing right now.