KILLING IS MY BUSINESS: Music Publishing 101 with Century Media & BMG Chrysalis

When you write a song, by default you become that song's music publisher - the entity that decides how it's used, and gets paid when it is. Ideally, every time someone buys your album, streams your song on Spotify or hears it in a TV show or movie, you get paid as that song's publisher. Managing all those income streams can be a lot of work for a single person, which is why many successful bands and songwriters sign deals with professional music publishing companies. For the Killing Is My Business column in Decibel issue #121 (At the Gates cover), I spoke with Branden Linnell of Magic Arts (the publishing arm of Century Media Records) and Emi Horikawa of BMG Chrysalis, two music publishers with tons of experience in the metal world. They revealed that there's a lot more to music publishing than licensing that Bathory song for a toothpaste commercial and collecting royalties when it airs. 

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What are some of the metal-leaning acts that BMG Chrysalis publishes?

Emi Horikawa: Some of the bands I have a pleasure of working with are Mastodon, Ghost B.C., The Dillinger Escape Plan, Pop Evil, Royal Thunder, Stephen Brodsky (Mutoid Man), Cave In, Geno Lenardo (Device/Filter), Finch and MonstrO. As a company we also publish Bring Me the Horizon, Scorpions, Bullet for My Valentine, Mushroomhead, Escape the Fate, Nothing More and others.

What are the major sources of your company’s publishing income?

Branden Linnell:  The major sources are:

1) Mechanical income - through licensing rights to use our compositions on recordings that appear on CDs, vinyl and legal downloads.

2) Performance income - through ASCAP/BMI/SESAC [see “Performing Rights Organizations,” issue 110], and the foreign performing rights societies that we are members of. This is income collected by these societies for performances of our compositions on radio, internet streaming, live concerts, etc.

3) Synchronization licensing [see “A/V Licensing,” issue #111] - where we license our compositions for film, TV, advertising or video games.

4) Print licensing – where we license the written music notation to songbooks or tablature websites.

EH: Publishers see the most income these days from mechanicals and performance [royalties]. Those are the biggest earners even though record sales and terrestrial radio's value is decreasing. After that would be synch licensing.

Century Media is different from a traditional publisher in that many of the acts you publish are signed to the label. What's the difference between the rights you represent as a publisher, vs. the rights that CM represents as a label?

BL: The rights that Century Media represents as a label are related to the master recordings. That is: the tangible CD (or vinyl if you’re really cool!) that you hold in your hand, the MP3 that you have on your computer/iPhone, or the master that you stream on Spotify.

The rights that our publishing companies (we have a few, but let’s use Magic Arts Publishing as the main one) represent relate to the intangible composition itself. That’s a bit of an abstract concept but it is the song as an idea itself, the composition of the song, what you have when the new Fozzy song “Lights Go Out” gets stuck in your head, and not the tangible form of the master recording of that song.

Here is a way to help illustrate: CM released an Iced Earth song called “Stormrider” on the studio album called Night of the Stormrider in 1992. CM later released a live concert recording of that song on the album Alive in Athens in 1999. CM (the record label) now has two sound recording copyrights. But as it is the same song (without major changes), Magic Arts (the publisher) still only has one composition copyright.

BMG used to be a major record label, but now it's largely known as a music publisher. Can you briefly explain the difference between who/what you represent, as distinguished from who/what a label represents?

EH: The new BMG was formed in 2008 with a very different approach to traditional music companies. Historically music publishing rights and recording rights (masters) have been very separate businesses. The music publisher represented the publishing rights and the record label represented the masters. BMG, on the other hand, takes the approach of managing both rights on behalf of writers and artists all within one company. In just over five years since our launch, we represent around 2 million song rights, including 1.6 million publishing rights and more than 300,000 recording rights. People still think of us as a music publisher, but our records business is a big focus for us and will continue to grow.

Branden Linnell discussing the terms of a publishing deal

What are the main administrative tasks that you handle as a publisher?

BL: The publishing business model is based on acquiring composition rights, and then monetizing/collecting on those rights wherever possible. So it all starts with getting our “house in order” on each composition by registering our copyrights with the Library of Congress (needed for standing to bring legal action against any infringement) and registering our compositions with our worldwide network of performing rights societies and foreign mechanical collection societies to collect performance/mechanical income worldwide.

We have offices in the UK and Germany to share in these duties on a global scale and we cooperate with sub-publishers in all other territories. We also make sure to supply new song data to any of our direct licensing deals like YouTube, so they can also use and pay out on new songs that are being monetized. On top of that we pursue any and all income streams that we can find, anything from submitting metadata to participating in a class action lawsuit to pitching songs for film, TV, advertising and video game projects. Finally, we need to collect on all those income streams and compose detailed royalty statements/payments for our writers. That is a big administrative task all by itself.

Since we are in-house with the label we are able to share in its resources like A&R, press and marketing, and it makes a more cohesive strategy. But it also means we do a lot of label-related admin work as well, like [processing] SoundExchange data and mechanical royalty statements.

EH: As a publisher, it is our main responsibility to protect and promote our writers' copyrights. First and foremost are proper registrations with the PROs. That's where every deal starts. We register the songs locally with either ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, and then register them globally to ensure proper performance (public performance via broadcast or live, etc.) collections are flowing. If writers are not members of any society, we'll help them choose one and get set up. If the writer is also an artist or their songs have been released commercially in some form, we'll license the songs to the record label to collect mechanicals.

In terms of synch, we handle all licensing requests. If a film or TV show wants to use one of our writer’s songs, we will negotiate and issue licenses/contracts on their behalf. Then either quarterly or semi-annually we will process all the money we've collected from all the various income streams (which there can be a lot of!) and then issue statements and royalties to our writers. There are other facets of the business as well, but those are the basics.

Do you interact directly with the acts that you represent? Why or why not does that make a difference?

EH: Yes, I have relationships with all of the artists and writers I work with. Some more so than others. I think it's important to not just know their music but also them personally. It not only gives me a better understanding of their music, but also what they might be open to in terms of outside opportunities. It’s also a trust factor. I want them to know who I am, and that I'm part of their support team.

What creative tasks are part of your job?

BL: The job is a ton of admin work. There is creativity involved in negotiating publishing and licensing deals to find win-win compromises. But the pitching is definitely the most creative aspect, and that involves networking at conferences and industry gatherings like SXSW as well. My favorite pitching scenario is when I get a detailed music brief on what sort of music they are searching for, with descriptive terms on mood, subject matter and tempo, etc., or an actual song that they are looking to replace. Then I get to search through our own catalog and find the best fitting song(s) to pitch. I really enjoy doing this. It is not often enough that they are looking for extreme music, but if I can work any angle where it makes sense to pitch the extreme songs I will. I do have a few contacts that will always come directly to me when they need something extreme, or just some good old-fashioned metal. It’s great to be the “go-to” guy for that stuff. We’ve had some very heavy songs used in several primetime network TV shows, studio films and trailers, dozens of video games, and even a Volkswagen commercial.

EH: When people think of A&R, they always think about signing/scouting artists and writers. That's definitely part of the job, but once we sign the deal we focus on giving them the best possible service we can. For each artist/writer that means different things.

I'm always looking for opportunities for my clients. As we all know metal is not generally used in film or TV, so I have to think outside the box. Part of it is "metal education" which is getting people to realize metal comes in all shapes and sizes, and there is no one sound. All of my artists produce different music and could work in a multitude of scenarios.

Also with some of my writers, they have aspirations outside of their current artist/band projects. It’s my job to help realize those projects, whether its co-writing songs, connecting people to work on a score, or helping one of my clients get to realize their dream of writing a song with one of their musical idols.

Emi Horikawa parties with BMG Chrysalis's newest signing at Noah's Park Retreat in Goshen, NY

In the pop world, part of a publisher's job is to put a client together with other songwriters - or pitch songs you represent to other artists. Does that ever happen with your clients?

EH: Absolutely! People would probably be surprised by how many metal dudes would love to write a pop song or two. I think as creative people they love writing and being in metal projects, that's where their heart is, but like most people they have other interests as well. It can be really interesting and surprising the musical range these guys have.

Sometimes someone will write a song with a certain artist in mind, or we might take a song that they never released and try and pitch that to a different artist. They might not write the next Rihanna hit, but you never know. I work with a couple of guys who probably could! Co-writing is not just for the pop world though. I've set up co-writes for people working on solo records, or for a film project, etc.

Geno Lenardo and Stephen Brodsky both do a lot of co-writing/collaborating. Geno was originally in Filter, but recently he worked on the Device project with David Draiman (Disturbed) and the I, Frankenstein soundtrack with Daniel Davies (Year Long Disaster). Geno also ended up collaborating with [The Dillinger Escape Plan’s] Ben Weinman a bit on I, Frankenstein. He’s someone who loves rock, but is really open to working on all kinds of projects. Geno recently did some tracks with an up and coming rapper from Austin named Zeale, which came out really cool. He’s now working on a new soundtrack project that has an M83/electronic sound and worked on a cover with MLNY from Royal Thunder, so he really has a wide range as a writer and artist.

On Steve Brodsky’s end, if you’ve ever listened to his full catalog of music from Cave In to Mutoid Man and all of his solo records, you know he’s capable of writing a lot of different sounds. Steve’s music can rip your face off and then take you to this really beautiful, acoustic, atmospheric place. Since working together we’ve been exploring that some more, seeing what else he might be really great at writing. It’s only been a couple of months, but he’s already written a couple of new songs that I’ve really fallen in love with.

When a band signs a record label deal with Century Media, is a publishing deal with Magic Arts usually tied into it? Or are they two separate negotiations? 

BL: We keep them separate. There is a preliminary deal memo with general terms and it will include publishing if that is part of the overall signing terms. But after that the recording artist contract is negotiated by Century Media’s business affairs team and the publishing contact is negotiated by Magic Arts’ business affairs team. We also do have a few bands or writers in other bands who are signed to Magic Arts Publishing, but their recording contract is with another label. Sometimes a band will go to another label for whatever reason, but we will still have their publishing with Magic Arts.

We’ve also acquired sub-publishing rights in different territories from foreign publishers. For years, Magic Arts handled the Spinefarm publishing rights in the US, which included bands like Children of Bodom and Nightwish, until the publishing was purchased by Warner[/Chappell].

When you're looking to sign a new band to a publishing deal, what kinds of statistics/financial benchmarks do you pay attention to? 

EH: If we're just talking about financials, then the first place I'll generally look is record sales history. While record sales are obviously decreasing, it's still a relatively consistent revenue stream. In general, metal has a pretty devoted fan base. I'll also take into consideration any [public] performance potential (mostly radio spins). Synch history can be very difficult to quantify. Just because one record might have received a bunch of synchs doesn't mean the next one will. You can't rely on synch income, so in general I don't factor that in. The creative value of a deal is something else entirely.

Every deal is going to be different - but is there a standard way that you structure your deals? And are publishing advances ever tied into your deals?

BL: We have a few templates that we will start with and then tailor them to the specifics of negotiation. Publishing advances are almost always tied into our deals, but are always based on past earnings and future expectations.

EH: In publishing there are two main types of deals, admin (administration) or co-pub (co-publishing). Some publishers favor one over the other, but at BMG we will do either. Admin usually means a smaller advance is involved as the commission rate is smaller and the copyright retention is less, and with a co-pub we can advance more money up front as our splits (commission) are greater and our retention rights are longer. We do advances of all sizes. Just like each artist/writer is different, the specs for each deal are different as well.

Accepting a publishing deal means that a band gives up a percentage of its potential earnings. What can you do as a publisher that a band might not be able to do by itself?

BL: As said, having your publishing house in order worldwide is a ton of admin work. Learning to navigate different laws and collecting society rules in different countries as well as develop successful relationships takes a lot of time and effort. A band can learn it and do it, but it takes a lot of precious time. Bands can also self-manage, book their own tours, drive their own tour buses, and do their own taxes. But what is their time better spent doing? I think it is usually a mistake for a band to take on its own publishing as they will often not find the time required, resulting in money left on the table; or they will spend precious time and resources to make sure they get this piece of the pie, but that time could be better spent writing, touring, promoting and growing the entire pie instead.

I know that bands who sign to CM and also to Magic Arts most always benefit. CM really pushes airplay and will invest even more if the band is signed to Magic Arts as well. Label and publisher work together to get better tours and more live money in for the bands. It also allows us more flexibility and speed to get synch licenses and we actively look for those deals with greater success when we have both master and publishing rights to offer one-stop licensing. So even though the bands give up a small piece of the pie here, it allows us to grow the pie. They usually see more money and better careers in the end.

Also, I don’t believe individual writers can even get a direct deal with YouTube. I think they’d have to have a publisher or join a third-party aggregator to cover that growing income stream.

EH: Publishers don’t get paid until they collect money for their writers and, as is only right, the vast majority of the proceeds go to the writer. In return for our fee – effectively a commission – we are responsible for ensuring we maximize writers’ income from their songs. It's our responsibility to make sure that all writer income sources (mechanical, performance, broadcast, synch, digital, print, etc.) are set up and payments are being tracked globally.

We have employees that specialize in royalties, income tracking, copyright, mechanicals, synch and licensing in all global markets. BMG Chrysalis and its affiliates are members of PROs all over the world, covering all major markets. While your manager, business manager and attorney might have some experience and knowledge in those areas, we have staff whose sole responsibility is to focus on being experts at that.

For example, it's not uncommon for us to receive a synch request directly from one of our clients for their song to be used in a film or TV project. They tell us they've agreed to a certain fee. After we take a look at terms, we realize they've agreed to let a production use their song for the world (territory), in perpetuity (term), in all medias (media type) for a couple hundred dollars. As a publisher we can let our client know how much the license should be properly valued, let them know if we've licensed anything already for that production and what the fee was, or at least negotiate the terms or fee to a level that would be appropriate. Then we will have our client approve, issue the license/contract, and make sure it's paid in a timely fashion. This can be difficult if you don't have knowledge and experience in the synch licensing world, as it is easy to unintentionally agree to unfavorable terms.

What are the most reliable sources of income for metal bands specifically? Has that changed over the time you've worked in the biz?

EH: Mechanicals are still the largest [publishing] income stream for metal bands. That's why it’s important when negotiating a record deal to pay attention to the mechanical rate your record label will pay you. Many record labels (both majors and indies) will try to negotiate a reduced rate royalty rate either to ¾ or cap it at a number of songs (i.e. 10 songs or less). That means instead of paying the 9.1 cents for songs that are five minutes or less [see “Covering Your Ass,” issue 113], you're getting an even smaller payout. That could be a significant difference in the long run if your record has 15 songs on it and [the label is] only paying ¾ of the rate on 10 of them.

BL: I’ve been at Century Media/Magic Arts for 12 years now. I used to think that metal was somewhat immune to the music industry problems, since metalheads are such avid collectors who love the artwork and liner notes and take pride in displaying their collections. But I’ve watched as downloads increased while physical sales decreased. And now I’m watching as streaming increases and downloads have started to slip. So far it doesn’t seem like the streaming income is making up for the slip in sales. So it is getting harder for bands to recoup their advances and record royalties from sales may be a less reliable long-term income source.

Performance income can be reliable if songs are popular enough to garner enough airplay. That doesn’t happen much with the extreme stuff. But extreme bands tend to play live more, so with performing rights organization royalties on live concerts getting better, it can help with bands that continuously tour.

Synch income can be huge at any given point or it could be nothing forever. So that is completely unreliable. If a big synch deal happens it could increase sales and give a song more airplay.

But I think the most reliable source of income for metal bands has always been touring and merch sales. Especially since the majority of that income goes directly to the bands themselves. Having a label and publisher helps with marketing and gets bands better tours. Better tours help sell records and build a band’s following, so it’s all related. But as that happens, bands can rely more on touring and merch sales as steady income. They just have to keep their expenses low enough on the road to keep it profitable.

More and more people are listening to music via streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Rdio, etc. Has the growth of streaming made a difference in the publishing money you see coming through?

BL: Publishing royalties for non-interactive streaming [see “Like an Everflowing Stream,” issue #117] are paid by the performing rights organizations. I have not seen major increases in our performing rights statements. It is definitely not enough to make up for less mechanical income from slipping record sales. But the non-interactive streaming services are only required to pay about 5% of their revenue for publishing performances (as opposed to 50 to 70% that they pay to SoundExchange for master recording performances). I think mass adoption by consumers to pay for interactive subscriptions could make a big difference, but that hasn’t happened yet.

EH: Streaming is a complicated issue at the moment. So far, streaming services like Pandora are only required to pay [writers and] publishers 1.85% of their annual revenue while paying record labels a higher rate. If you spread 1.85% across every writer who wrote every song that's available on Pandora, you're not looking at a lot of income. Last year David Lowery (from Camper Van Beethoven & Cracker) posted his Pandora statement. His song was played over a million times on Pandora, but he only received $16.89 in publishing royalties. The NMPA (National Music Publishers Association) is presenting a case to the Department of Justice to change consent decrees to allow PROs to be able to negotiate a fair market rate for digital performance. In the current market it is difficult for songwriters to make money off of streaming services. If we're able to change the common practice among streaming services, as we hope to do, then it might become a legitimate replacement for the drop in record sales.

What's unique about publishing "extreme" bands?

BL: There are not a ton of song pitching opportunities rolling in for extreme music. But it certainly is fun when it happens. If a music supervisor happens to be looking for a song with over 300 beats per minute, I’d have several songs I could offer. Not many other publishers could do that. Extreme bands also tend to write all of their own music and do not work with co-writers or producers that get a writer percentage, so I can usually offer a one-stop shop for licensing.

I think most extreme bands are just writing songs that they feel compelled to write, and they are not really thinking about the market potential of that song or if it has any chance at getting used in a film or TV show. So when it happens, they are elated. I feel like extreme bands are more down to earth with their income expectations in general, and more grateful for what we can get them. It also allows me to offer reasonable pricing so we won’t get undermined by a cheap cover band or canned music library.

The Magic Arts catalog is unique in its history of genre defining metal titles, with early ‘90s death metal albums from Grave, Tiamat and Asphyx to the gothic metal styling of Moonspell, The Gathering and Lacuna Coil and recent deathcore titans Suicide Silence. I recently licensed some songs to a documentary about the sludge metal underground scene in New Orleans and realized that documentary absolutely has to have our Eyehategod songs in order to be legit. That is pretty unique!

At what point in a band's career does it make sense to start looking for a music publisher?

EH: Music publishers can add value at any stage of a band's career. You really just need great songs for a publisher to get involved. We work with some artists who have only self-released an EP or just put up some DIY videos and we'll sign them at that stage because we see a lot of potential. We can help develop them as an artist and songwriter even further by connecting them with more experienced writers, helping them find a record deal, get their song licensed in a commercial, etc. We could also come in after a band has already signed a record deal but they haven't been administering their copyrights. Some established artists might do a pub deal because they want help breaking into a whole different genre. Maybe they are secret country fans and want someone to help them get into the Nashville co-writing scene, or love EDM and want to co-write the next Avicii hit. There are a lot of different motivators.

I think the most important thing when considering a deal at any stage is to make sure you want to work with the people you are doing a deal with. Make sure you have someone at that company who really believes in your music and who is going to fight for you where it counts. It can be easy to just follow the promise of a check, but make sure you realize what kind of rights you are potentially giving away and know that they are going to be working in your best interest and not just the company's. It is possible to do both!

Let's say that a band doesn't have a publisher or label behind it. What are some steps every band should take to make sure it's maximizing its publishing income?

BL: As songwriters they should become a member of a performing rights organization like ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, and if they are recording and distributing their music they should register with SoundExchange. That way they can collect on any public performances they may get. Without a label there may not be sales, but if record or digital sales are happening, they should make sure to understand the distribution contract and know how mechanical royalties are being paid for the compositions. Focus tends to be only on the bigger royalty for the master recording, but there has to be something in the contract regarding mechanical royalties as well. It could be that both royalties are rolled into one payment but just make sure that is the case and nothing is being left on the table.

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Visit BMG Chrysalis online at www.bmgchrysalis.com

Visit Magic Arts online at www.centurymedia.com

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