Rather than bemoaning the impact of digital technology on the music industry, three of Australia’s top publishers are quite happy to bring on the next widget – so long as they can license the way in which it uses music.
In the Internet era, publishing has been doing well, and expectations for continued success are high.
Bob Aird, Managing Director of Universal Music Publishing Group, has been in the business for 17 years, signing up artists such as Cold Chisel, Human Nature, Alex Lloyd and, more recently, Jet, the Living End and Wolfmother.
“Since 1999 there has been a reduction in mechanical income, “ he said “but despite this, Universal has enjoyed several years of benchmark results. Thus is predominantly due to the success of some recent local signings, ringtone income, a significant increase in performing income, and solid revenue from synchronisation licensing.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Ian James, whose love of music began with “some very expressive dancing to David Bowie, T Rex and The Rolling Stones”, eventually taking him into his role as Managing Director of Mushroom Music.
“It’s very much like a science fiction novel at the moment. Every new electronic device plays or shows something,” he said. “The great benefit of publishing is it sits above the traffic and usually gets paid for whatever is occurring.”
For Damian Trotter, Managing Drector of Sony Music, it has been important to continue to listen to music as a fan.
With a catalogue that represents a diverse range of local artists, from Kasey Chambers to Little Birdy, Delta Goodrem and Silverchair, Trotter said that Sony Music tended “to sign writers and artists that we personally like and admire.”
With illegal file sharing having a huge impact on record sales, the success of this local roster, along with increased revenue from ringtones and legitimate downloads, as well as a “pro-active approach to synch licensing”, Sony has continued to grow.
“Mechanicals would once have accounted for around 80% of our total income, whereas this past year it was less than 60 per cent,” he said. But even though the traditional business is under threat, Trotter sees online, digital and telephonic delivery of music as “the best thing to happen to the industry and music itself since the advent of the CD and affordable home recording technology.”
It’s a highly competitive industry, although all three state that it hasn’t reached the stage it has in the US, with investment bankers competing on Wall street for the purchase of lucrative catalogues.
“Australian publishers usually have a network of attorneys who will contact them when catalogues become available for sub-publishing, and deals or renewals can be completed without too much drama,” Aird said. “However, there are times when a new band jumps into the charts and the attorney is seeking the best deal for his client, and this creates some quite spirited competition from publishers for the business. When the deal is done and the advance is paid, you hope and pray that the band can maintain its success into the future.”
Trotter agreed: “It’s an odd paradox though, that at a time when CD sales across the industry have fallen away, advances for publishing are going the other way – of course, any publisher will tell you that it’s always the OTHER publisher that paid too much when they miss out on a deal.”
But it’s not always lawyers and advances that expand a catalogue.
Mushroom once owned the Daddy Cool and The Loved Ones catalogues, with such classic songs as Eagle Rock, Come Back Again and The Loved Ones.
“Many years later, I sat down with Ross Wilson who also owned a classic catalogue of Skyhooks first two albums,” James said. “So we did a straight swap. He got back what he had always wanted, his own songs. I got a major chunk of Mushroom’s early history.”
Everyone was a winner – and for publishers, that’s what its all about.