Interviews – Get A Job in Music Publishing
Article appears in Artist House Music by Mike King
[AH] What positions are available in the music publishing industry?
[EB] First, it’s important to understand what music publishing is, and what it does, because a lot of people I think might not understand it. I always say there are five functions of a music publisher: protection, collection, administration, acquisition and exploitation.
In any major publisher, there are folks that specialize in any of those areas. But to break it down broadly, it comes down to the administrative side, which is sizable, and the creative side. On the administrative side, you have people that are responsible for protecting the copyright, for registering compositions, for monitoring collections. On the creative side, the function is more of a traditional A&R function, not much different than a traditional record company, and you have people, sometimes called Creative Director or VP of A&R, that are responsible for finding new talent, for acquiring songs for the catalog and than exploiting them, and finding placements in movies or TV or commercials.
[AH] What are some of the ways people can get into the publishing industry as a career?
[EB] One of the things I stress in my book and in my class is that there is a publishing component in almost every aspect of the music business. No matter what side of the business you happen to be on, you should be thinking about a music publishing angle. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, anyone that comes into contact with new songs, songwriters, or artists, on a regular basis should be thinking about a music publishing angle.
In terms of a background for folks that want to work at an established music publisher, people really come from many different backgrounds. On the administrative side, most people come from some sort of legal or accounting background, because most of it is paperwork oriented. Certainly the people in business affairs come from a legal background, and the people in collections will have an accounting background. On the A&R side, you have people that come from a creative background, like myself, that are songwriters and producers. The people that pitch to advertising often come from the advertising community, like an ad agency. People that pitch to film and TV often come from a film studio or a production company. Sometimes people come from a recording studio background.
[AH] How often do folks come over to publishing from a label background?
[EB] I suppose it works both ways. More often, it works that people come from publishing into a label, rather than the other way around. But that is starting to change a lot. For years, the label was the glamour job, and publishing was something that they didn’t think much about. Now, because life has become so difficult for the labels, a lot of label people are looking at the publishers thinking ‘wow, that looks like a much better job!’ A lot of the label people are now looking at moving over to publishing. A lot of artist management folks are moving into publishing, and the same with music business attorneys.
[AH] It does seem like publishing has really become more of a growth industry than is has been in the past.
[EB] I think publishing has become very attractive to people in part because it has been a difficult time for record labels. A lot of people have looked at music publishing and seen that the business continues to return some pretty good results. I think a lot of investors have looked at this and wondered what is going on with music publishing that allows them to continue to have success even though revenues on the record company side are declining.
I think people are seeing that publishing benefits, more than record labels, from a growth in media on a worldwide basis. When you think about where we are now with television stations, for example, as opposed to where we were five years ago, there are literally hundreds of hundreds of additional stations. All of these stations have shows that need music. Satellite radio continues to grow, and you hear more and more songs in advertising, video games, and ring tones. On the record label side, they only profit if the master recording is being used. Publishers profit whenever the song itself is being used.
Publishing really has profited from the growth in media worldwide, and I think that is why the venture capitalist are so interested in publishing. These folks look at the future, and they see countries like China becoming increasingly aware of copyright law, and increasingly open to American popular entertainment. They see some of the third world countries expanding, getting more and more media, and embracing American culture, and they see that these classic songs are going to be worth more and more as the years go on. I think that has really been the overall value of music publishing, and I think that is why these venture capitalists see publishing as a good investment.
[AH] Because of this explosion of music usage, are there more jobs available in the publishing business now that there were five years ago?
[EB] I think that by and large what you are seeing is a change in environment. The large music publishers are not going to expand greatly, what you are going to see is more small companies with small staff, building publishing catalogs. And you are going to start to see a change in the priority of who is hired. It used to be that someone who was well connected in the record business was the best person a music publisher could have because they were the ones getting songs on albums. Now, the people that are the most sought after are those that have a background in advertising, people with a background in the gaming industry, in technology businesses like ring tones, things like that. People with these backgrounds are a lot more valuable than folks who are closely connected to the record industry. People with advertising or film backgrounds are really becoming the leaders in publishing companies.
[AH] You teach an online publishing course at Berkleemusic.com. How does your course help people get started in publishing?
[EB] The course is aimed primarily at songwriters, but I think it is useful for anyone in the music business interested in publishing. The course helps someone start a music publishing company from scratch. We talk about the fundamentals of music publishing, the accounting, the challenges of royalty statements, licensing; but for the most part, the course is designed to get your music out there, to get your music in situations where you can start making money.
I like to think that it is a step-by-step approach to setting up your own music publishing company, with the hopes that by the end of the course, you should have most of the tools you need to get the foundation of your company set up. We have a weekly chat at which we discuss current events happening in a publishing company, and a lot of real life situations that I bring home from the office, ‘here’s what I ran into today at work, let’s try to negotiate this’ kind of stuff. There’s quite a focus on negotiations, licenses, splits, and a lot of learning how to play the negotiations correctly.
We also talk extensively about pitching and how to promote yourself effectively. People actually call me and pitch me, to get the experience of what it is really like, and how to pitch correctly. It’s a really hard thing to do. But it is one of those things that the more you do it, the better you will be. And it is an essential part of the publishing business.
[AH] What are the best ways for someone to prepare for a job in the publishing industry?
[EB] I certainly think education is key. You can’t ignore the fact that publishing is a relatively sophisticated business, and it certainly helps to have an understanding of how the finances work. A lot of people in the publishing industry come from a law background, and that certainly makes contracts and copyright law a bit easier to understand.
I always encourage students to look into some of the music conferences– they all have music publishing panels where you can not only gain a fundamental understanding of the business, but also start to make some contacts. There’s also a lot of specialized conferences like The Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Film and TV conference, which is great if you are interested in the film and TV side of things. There are conferences dedicated to the gaming industry, which are useful if you want to focus on video games. These are all great places to start networking.
There are some aspects of the music business that will never change. It is always going to require a certain amount of knowledge and a certain amount of networking. Some people have more knowledge and a smaller network base, and some people have the opposite. But you really need a balance between the two in order to be effective.