When done right, catalogue campaigns have always been helpful for the music business, on various levels. This is something that, in my experience, some companies do well, others appallingly and some, despite having had years to maximise new opportunities, have failed to fully grasp.
I believe that, right now, the latter are being forced to up their game, and from what I have seen personally and professionally, many are already failing. There’s an elegant phrase that states that one might ‘go’ or get off the pot. We live in a time where the archaic parts of our business have been caught distracted, chatting in the toilet queues for too long. It’s an exciting time to see what increased competition can do to change bad practice.
To be the holder of a brilliant catalogue carries such a great responsibility. To be entrusted with the songs that shaped people’s lives should be an honour. But some have either let these beautiful songs die in the back rooms of our business, or forced incoherent, non-strategic releases, often without the artists’ blessings. These usually result in a jarring mish-mash of mixed messaging and money-grabbing tick-box formats.
That said, others have worked catalogues to within an inch of their lives to tremendous, or questionable, effect, depending how you see it and where you stand in the chain. And the blame for the poorer of these outcomes lies firmly at the doors of some traditional labels and publishers. Make no mistake, the new players in town have their feet firmly under the table and they’re already eating your lunch.
The rise of song management is, I believe, something to be excited about, no matter what side of the fence you sit on. Unless, of course, you’re doing such a poor job that you’re losing out on those rights before they can benefit you. Long gone are the days when big-name publishers could swoop in to gain or retain songwriters at the drop of a hat, or labels could plough in and demand to own everything and take 80%. Writers and artists are increasingly aware of their values and their autonomy. And the market is increasingly aware of the value of writers’ and artists’ work.
Writers and artists are increasingly aware of their values and their autonomy
In my 20 years in the music business, I’ve worked with (and am friends with) many artists and writers across all major labels and publishing arms, some household names dating back to the ’60s and some multi-platinum artists from last year. I’ve seen the workload increase exponentially in all of these music companies, but the head count budgets dwindle in comparison.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me make it very clear that I am in no way anti-record label or publisher. These companies are filled with the most amazing people working incredibly hard. But when it comes to catalogue,
there is no possible way every label or publisher could do justice to the sheer number of rights they sit on. In fairness, it’s simply not possible.
Of course, there are also questions around the remuneration of songwriters that are coming to a head around the globe. But a few big names in publishing are staying silent on that battle for the people they claim to represent, for reasons that I’ve covered in this column before.
The new generation of companies swooping in on rights buyouts have such a futuristic view of song management in comparison to anything the ‘old’ industry is doing. Yes, it’s driven by revenue generation and keeping investors happy, but those at the forefront know that there is an art to getting that right in a way that everyone is happy with. And it’s not just big-name writers getting the offers. Look across the business today and you’ll find a host of new funds covering every stage of a songwriter’s career.
While it is of course essential that you have to be sure they are legitimate, some of the most well-respected names in the business, those involved in these funds, make this an incredibly exciting place to be for our industry. I have no doubt it will only serve to make everyone do better, and play fairer.
These new companies understand how to go about utilising technology in a way far too many don’t (much to my continual disbelief ), and are nimble enough to be able to act quickly and adopt new technologies and potential deals as they present themselves.
A basic clean-up and health check of the digital world can yield many previously missed monetisation options – and there are many brilliant tech solutions offering their services to automate much of this process.
Traditional and often lucrative syncs have for many been gained purely from inbound requests, rather than the active seeking of opportunities. This is clearly a waste. Proper song management seeks opportunities out and understands the value of the digital age in enabling that.
Imagination, instigation and the use of cover versions for a new generation is driving love and revenue for artists and catalogue that has been stagnant for decades. UGC instigation, clean-ups and clever catalogue utilisation ahead of new releases to heat algorithms – all these things are being used by the smartest in the business and ignored by others.
With the emergence of new markets you can be sure the value of these sonic treasures will only increase. I’m excited to see what the next few years will bring.