Independent Music Publishing: What’s Working, What’s Ahead?

On Tuesday evening the California Copyright Conference (CCC) hosted a lively panel of independent music publishers discussing the current state of their industry; what’s working, the challenges ahead and opportunities for innovation. The panel was moderated by Eric Polin, Sr. VP, Music Publishing, Universal Pictures, and Jonathan Rosner, President of the CCC and co-President of Bicycle Music.

The panel:

David Hirshland – President, Bug Music
Kathy Spanberger – peermusic, President, Anglo American Region
Kenny MacPherson – President, Chrysalis Music Group
Randall Wixen – President and Founder, Wixen Music Publishing
Ron Sobel – President of North Star Media; Partner at Winogradsky/Sobel; and Chair/Music Business Division, McNally Smith College of Music

The companies represented range in size and manage a mix of established and independent artists. Most are grounded in traditional catalog administration, but North Star Media in particular partners with unknown artists without mechanical or performance royalties and is primarily focused on artist development and leveraging innovative revenue streams and new media opportunities.

The panel felt that this was generally a good time to be an independent publisher. David Hirshland discussed the dangers of complacency and the need to repurpose catalogs and encourage writers to work in new, creative ways. Randall Wixen said that his company is being approached by many new artists who are looking for more attention from publishing partners due to shrinking or non-existent advances from record labels. All the panelists emphasized the importance of quality and focusing on great music. David Hirshland: “It’s still about being moved by what you hear…” Kathy Spanberger discussed the importance of partnering with artists who have a strong work ethic because of the demands of social media and the exploding opportunities provided by the Internet.

The panel discussed “360 deals” and the trend for publishers to expand their services beyond catalog administration. While none of the speakers would consider their services truly “360”, they are all innovating aggressively, seeking out new revenue streams and pushing artist development as mechanical royalties decline.

Ron Sobel threw down the gauntlet (at one point donning a referee’s shirt), opening an energetic discussion on the practice of issuing minimal or “free” synch licenses to build and artist’s brand. He shared the story of an unknown artist who approached him to manage his catalog. Sobel was appalled to see that he had issued a synch license to MTV for $1 until he saw his ASCAP statements which had generated a living wage for eight years and helped the artist build his career. The idea of “free” was discussed quite passionately, particularly by Kenny MacPherson, who was strongly opposed to lowering the bar for synch licensing fees. All the panelists shared a concern for the de-valuation of music catalogs but acknowledge the need to examine each deal on a case by case basis.

Ron Sobel discussed his role as a teacher and asked where this industry will be in 2020. “If we don’t innovate I think we lose.”

For more information on the California Copyright Conference and their monthly panels see their website: www.theccc.org

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