Music Publishing 101
An interview with Eric Beall, author of Making Music Make Money, An Insider’s Guide to Becoming Your Own Music Publisher, author of the Berkleemusic online course Music Publishing 101, and former VP of Creative for Sony/ATV Music.
Interview by Michael King
Eric Beall has a long history in the music publishing business. Starting out as a songwriter, Eric has worked in many different capacities within music publishing, including Vice President of Creative for Sony/ATV Music in New York. There he oversaw a staff of leading writers and producers such as Billy Mann, Steve Diamond, Teron Beal, Walter Afanasieff, John Mayer, and many others. Prior to joining Sony, he was the Creative Director for Zomba Music Publishing, where he signed and developed top writers like KNS Productions, Riprock & and Alex G. He also coordinated and directed Zomba writers in the development of material for Jive Records pop superstars like Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Britney Spears, and Aaron Carter.
Before becoming a publishing executive, Beal wrote the pop hits Nothin' My Love Can't Fix for Joey Lawrence (Top 10 Billboard Hot 100) and Carry On by Martha Wash (#1 Billboard Dance Chart) as well as songs for Diana Ross, The Jacksons, Safire, Samantha Fox, Brenda K. Starr, and many others. He also cofounded Class-X Recordings, an independent dance label in New York.
Beall is also the author of Making Music Make Money: An Insider's Guide To Becoming Your Own Music Publisher, published by Berklee Press, the publishing arm of the prestigious Berklee College Of Music and the Berkleemusic online course Music Publishing 101.
Interview with Eric Beall:
Artists House: How can a songwriter catch the attention of a publisher?
Eric Beall: In this business climate right now, the main thing a publisher is looking for is income. Publishers are looking for songwriters that are already generating income. So the best thing you can do if you are looking to attract the attention of a publisher is to begin to place yourself in situations where you can begin to make some money. That means learning to get your music to film and TV yourself, if you’re an artist, that means trying to get a record deal, or trying to get your music out in someway so that you’re selling some records, or playing some shows. A lot of the work now has to be done by the songwriter before the publisher is going to step in and take an active role. I think the most important thing a songwriter can do, is to learn to be active in exploiting their own music.
Publishers watch the industry trade magazines, go to shows, watch what is happening with touring acts and who is touring; it is very much like the function of a record company’s A&R department. We also watch Billboard very closely to see if there is a song that turns up on a record, especially a big record, that isn’t published by a someone but is published by the writer themselves; most publishers would go after that. These are the types of people that are really getting calls from music publishers.
Artists House: It seems like publishing has really become more of a growth industry than it has been in the past.
Eric Beall: I think publishing has become very attractive to people in part because it has been a difficult time for record labels. And obviously a lot of them have seen their income shrink drastically. A lot of folks 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, in 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 capitalists 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.
Artists House: How has the Internet affected the music publishing business?
Eric Beall: Obviously the Internet has had a huge effect on the music industry, and publishers are not immune to the effect it has had on the record industry. Clearly illegal downloading is as much of a problem for publishers as it is for the recording industry; I just think that we can weather it a bit better because we have other streams of income. That being said, mechanical royalties, which are the royalties you receive for the sale of the record, are declining across the board for music publishers. This is a clear indication really of where the industry is going. Obviously it is great to see things like iTunes, legal downloads and subscription services, but you have to sell an awful lot of singles before you equal what you would make by selling a $20 CD. It’s a very different animal, and it’s going to take a long time to replace that income. At the same time, the Internet has had some very positive effects in the sense that it is just another avenue of exposure for music, and in the extent that you can get paid for it; it’s a very positive thing.
But are publishers really able to track and account for music used on the Internet?
They are starting to. There’s a bill in the senate right now that probably is going to provide some sort of blanket license for audio over the Internet. They seem to have gotten everyone on board, and while it’s not an optimal deal for the publishers or for the providers, everyone seems to agree that this is the way it is going to go. Overall I think everyone is happy that we are starting to get a handle on getting paid for music on the Internet. I think it will make a huge difference, the Internet for all its negative aspects, is opening music up to a huge amount of people in a million different ways. And it has provided an outlet to catalogs that might not be part of the mainstream. Things like world music, classical music, new age music, these sorts of genres have really benefited from digital distribution, and this sort of exposure really helps out the publishers as well.
With the consolidation at retail, there’s not a lot of space for some of this deep catalog in traditional retail.
That’s true. You can get back catalog now that you were not able to access, and that is great for music publishers. To have your old songs available again in a way that people can buy them is great for publishers. The same can be said for sheet music. Online sheet music is a very fast growing business, so you will be able to access any song, even if it is long out of print, you don’t have to buy huge folios of 25 songs just for that one song, you can purchase that one song individually. So that will be very big for the sheet music side of things. Also, the Internet has had a huge effect on publishing A&R. It gives A&R people direct access to bands that would have been impossible to see. You would have to travel around the world to get the kind of access to new music that you can get on My Space in any given afternoon. You have access to all the music around the country very easily without having to travel around looking for local bands. In that sense the Internet has made that part of the business much easier.
Artists House: What are some misconceptions about the publishing industry?
Eric Beall: The biggest misconception I see about what songwriters think about music publishing is that they see it as an ‘Us and Them’ arrangement. They think of songwriting and publishing as two separate things. And the fact is, as soon as you write a song, you just became a publisher. You are the publisher of your song, unless you decide to assign it to somebody else. What I always like to say is that songwriting is an art, not a business. There is no money generated by the act of writing a song; it’s just what you do. Music publishing is the business of turning songs into something that earns money. So if you want to earn money from your songs, you have no choice but to take on that role of the music publisher. Songwriting is the act of creating the music, and publishing is looking at your creation and thinking of revenue outlets for it. Songwriters often think, ‘well, all I have to do is write the songs, and publishers are going to have to get the songs out there for me.’ The fact is you are a publisher once you start writing songs, and you are going to have to take the initiative to get the songs out there. That to me is the biggest misconception about music publishers, that somehow they are on the other side of songwriters, but actually, we are all on the same side.
Artists House: What is the first step a songwriter should take if they want to make money with their songs?
I think it is important to take care of the paperwork of songwriting, which includes registering your songs, and copywriting your songs. But I think the primary thing is to try to figure out where your music fits, where you are able to put it to earn some money. You have to look at the genre and style of your music, and think what you can do with it. Will your music work in electronic games? Is it beer commercials? If you write Jazz it is not the same as if you write electronic music. There are different outlets that work for different types of music. Then you have to build up a team of people that can help you find these outlets - an information network of who is looking for songs. That’s the first step for songwriters.
When I started out as a songwriter, I would spend hours just going to the record store and copying the names of A&R people and artist managers from the back of records. I would try to find these people and get them my songs. If you can do that, then the registration part of it can come later. The real value of PROs is helping you to build your team of people. They can give you advice on the business. You want to network and get to know the people at these PROs so they can start to help you get your music out there.
Artists House: You teach an online publishing course at Berkleemusic.com. How does your course help people get started in publishing?
Eric Beall: 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 that 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 talk 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 a true part of the publishing business.