By Helen Gammons

   By Guest Blogger   Categories: Career AdviceGeneralSongwriting

The Art of Music Publishing

Look for Helen Gammons at Midem where she is the moderator for the “Publishers as an Early Ally in an Artist’s Career” panel on January 31st.


Berklee Music would say that it’s about “exploring the five functions of a music publisher e acquisition, exploitation, administration, collection and protection”.2

EMI Music would say: “Music publishing is the business of acquiring, protecting, administering and exploiting the ‘rights’ in musical compositions”.3

Both of the above are true, but to me it is more than that. Music publishing is not just a job of work, for me it is about hearing a song and seeing how it can live and breathe in many different ways. It is about taking care of your primary assets, which are the song and the songwriter, building a strong relationship with the songwriter and using your best professional endeavors to assist in their career development, whilst creating exciting income streams that allow for a strong company and a happy writer. It’s also about integrity!

Because music publishing has, for many companies, become more of a strategic banking operation it has lost much of what music publishers were great at doing, being innovative and passionate. I remember clearly when accountants and lawyers started to take key roles in the creative industries, to the exclusion of ‘creative’ music publishing employees. Around 1990 we lost a huge number of great music publishers from within major publishing companies. Alan Jacobs at EMI was one such individual, leaving those who remained with the impossible task of managing burgeoning catalogues through mergers and acquisitions.

It’s interesting now, and my good friend Hawk Wolinski (Grammy-nominated writer, composer of ‘Ain’t Nobody’, who in April 2010 received an award for song of the year, covered by Pit Bull using a sample of ‘Street Player’) agrees with me on this when he says, “It’s all about money, greed can kill anything. but this is a new era for the independent, for creativity for passion and great business”.

As a music publisher it is your duty to develop and grow both the skills of the writer (and they could be described as writer/artists, writer/producers, writer/DJs, lyricists) and your income streams, and in doing so build a viable, profitable business for yourself, or those for whom you work. In contract terms this is described simply as a publisher using their ‘best endeavors’, a phrase of no commitment. I remember the days when Famous Music would commit to a guaranteed number of film synchronizations a year. OK, so they were Paramount Film’s publishing division, but Alan Melina was passionate and committed to activating titles.

Creative exploitation (this is a positive phrase) is nothing new; it has always been the ethos of independent publishers. This is not to say that major publishers do not hold true to these values, but their focus is too often on the bottom line first (i.e. their profitability), and creative catalogue development comes second. I am not saying that the bottom line is not supremely important (I am a business owner, and of course it is), but being a creative music publisher will ensure strong and diverse income streams and ultimately a good bottom line will develop. For me, nothing would be worse than if my day were devoid of creativity.

By way of example, the recent purchase of EMI by Guy Hands (Terra Firma4) has resulted in a catastrophic number of creative managers leaving or losing their jobs. EMI’s artists include, or have included, Joss Stone, Lily Allen, Coldplay, Robbie Williams and The Chemical Brothers.

At the point of purchase EMI’s shares were worth 265 pence each. EMI’s issued share capital stood at £2.4 billion, and EMI’s shares climbed by 3.8% to 263.75 pence in May 2007. The board of EMI agreed to be bought by Terra Firma on 21 May. EMI was one of the world’s big four record companies. In May 2007, it said that it had made a £260 million loss in its latest financial year. This has got considerably worse; the record label lost a staggering £1.56 billion in 2009, leaving it in desperate need of a cash injection to prevent Citigroup from taking control of the business.

EMI lost sight of music being about passion, commitment, fun and hard work and, yes, the bottom line. If you remove the passion from a creative business what do you have left? Your assets are the A&R staff, the songwriters, the artists, and the goodwill and commitment of your staff and their talent, and all those associated with them. If artists walk out or become difficult, or their key marketing or A&R link person is removed overnight it will unsettle them. The artists and A&R staff create the copyrights on which labels and music publishers build their business. Intellectual property (IP) management successfully markets and derives income from such rights for the benefit of the creators and the company.


The above is an excerpt from Helen Gammons book, The Art of Music Publishing.

Helen Gammons has three decades of experience as International Creative Director and Business Affairs for leading industry companies, responsible for music publishing, music supervision, synchronization, licensing of songs and masters, business affairs and artist development. Helen is currently Head of Business Studies at the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) in the UK (http://www.acm.ac.uk/),  Executive Director of Planet Audio Group http://www.planetvideosystems.co.uk/ , including http://www.rotolight.com/ and Executive Producer on forthcoming Hollywood movies. Helen also advises music companies as a business mentor for http://www.rockstargroup.co.uk/.

Helen’s latest project is putting together the MBA program for the Music Industry at Henley Business School, part of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom where she is  the MBA’s program director.



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