This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: John Rudolph, CEO of Bug Music.
John Rudolph, CEO of Bug Music, is a walking contradiction: a savvy, L.A.-based music publisher adept at both investment financing, and hunkering down with his songwriters to discuss song structure.
When Crossroads Media-- a joint venture between Spectrum Equity and Tom McGrath, the former president of Paramount Enterprises, and former COO of Viacom Entertainment Group--acquired a majority interest in Bug Music in 2006--a deal Rudolph helped to pilot—he was installed as its new CEO while David Hirshland, an 11-year Bug veteran was promoted to president.
Rudolph, who had been working as a consultant with his own company, Music Analytics, has--with a solid executive team--since transformed Bug Music.
It has morphed from being a mid-weight, three-decade old publishing administration company that owned 10% of the copyrights it controlled into an independent music publishing Goliath, owning 80% of its copyrights including those by such leading contemporary acts as Bruno Mars, Ashley Gorley, Three Six Mafia, Lucas Secon, Ryan Adams, and Grizzly Bear.
This year, Bug holds shares in U.S. charted songs by Kings of Leon (“Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire”); IYAZ (“Replay”); Bruno Mars (“Nothin’ on You”) Brad Paisley (“American Saturday Night”); Uncle Kracker (“Smile”) Shinedown (“If You Only Knew”), and Luke Bryan (“Do I”).
Along the way, Bug acquired Windswept Music Publishing, and Selectracks, a studio and production music company; forged a partnership with Arthouse Entertainment, co-owned by songwriter/producer and “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi; and made a joint venture agreement with Kings Of Leon.
Recent deals include signing songwriter/producers Lucas Secon, and Gordie Sampson; Paul Westerberg of the Replacements; re-signing Wilco; and, under Arthouse Entertainment, signing producer/songwriters Mitch Allan and Mike Elizondo.
Founded in 1975 and with offices in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, Atlanta, London, Munich, and Amsterdam, Bug Music oversees the estate catalogs of Johnny Cash, Willie Dixon, Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt and Stevie Ray Vaughan among others.
The evergreen titles in its catalog include: “Fever,” “What a Wonderful World,” “I Walk the Line,” “Summer in the City,” “Stormy Weather,” and “Under the Boardwalk.”
After a stint at the audit, accounting and business services firm B D O in Atlanta and Australia, Rudolph joined the Atlanta-based business management firm Johnson Management Group In 1995. It was there that he did work for L.A. Reid, LaFace Records, Tony Rich, Darryl Simmons, Collective Soul and others.
Rudolph went on to manage Stiff Shirt Music Publishing for Reid as well as Hitco Music Publishing, a joint venture between Reid and Windswept Pacific.
Rudolph then gained a reputation as a high flier in the music publishing sector as CFO of Windswept Pacific. He helped to engineer the 1999 sale of Windswept to EMI Music Publishing for a reported $200 million.
That deal set the stage for Music Analytics, the Aspen, Colo.-based boutique firm Rudolph formed in 2001 to provide advisory services to buyers and sellers of music publishing and recorded-music assets.
At Music Analytics, Rudolph advised the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller on the sale of their publishing houses Trio and Quartet Music Publishing to the renamed Windswept Holdings; advised the Edgar Bronfman Jr.-led investor group on its acquisition of Warner Music Group; and was involved in the sales of DreamWorks Music Publishing to Dimensional Associates; and Compendia Music to Sheridan Square/Artemis.
Bug Music now has a catalog of 225,000 songs, 80% which are owned and 20% administered. Before you came to Bug in 1996, the company had 100,000 songs that were only 10% owned.
That’s exactly right.
Obviously, the company has evolved.
Considering all of the macro pressures on both our industry and the world, I couldn’t be happier. For us to get 6 awards recently at the BMI Awards while the majors are getting anywhere from 10 to 15 awards, that’s huge when we are one tenth of their size.
[At the 2010 BMI Music Awards on May 18 (2010), Bug Music songwriters picked up 6 awards. Honors were given to Kara DioGuardi for her work on “Hookup” (Kelly Clarkson), “Not Meant To Be” (Theory of a Deadman) and “Sober” (Pink); Kings of Leon’s Jared and Matthew Followill for their 2009 smash hit “Use Somebody”; writer Josh Hartzler for “What About Now” (Daughtry); and Sean Garrett for “How Do You Sleep” (Jesse McCartney).
Earlier this year at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards on January 31 2010, Bug Music received 65 nominations. The company took home 15 Grammy awards, including the Record of the Year for Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.”]
You now have enough critical mass to lead changes in the independent music publishing sector.
We have critical mass. We are now one of the big names on the list for (songwriters) to call and for any new projects. That’s one part of it. Then there’s the industry part with me being on (the board of) the NMPA (National Music Publishers’ Association). How much weight you carry has to do with how many people you represent; how many songs you have; and how much money those catalogs earn is how loud your voice is heard.
The independent agenda is something you seem to take very seriously.
As a company, we come from a writer’s standpoint. The reason for that is that is what Bug was founded off of. (Under administration deals) a dollar came in, 90 cents went out to the writer, and we kept the other 10 cents. It was very simple math, so the focus was always on the writer and the songs. That’s the same now. When it comes to industry-oriented things, I tend to come from that (independent) place. I don’t have the same demands of quarterly reporting or whatever it might be (that some other publishers have).
What were some of the strategic points you first looked at with Bug?
One was could we grow the company quickly to a scale where we could compete with the majors.
Why is that necessary?
When you have a certain amount of overhead, you have a good quality team of people. If you are small then you don’t have the wherewithal to be able to compete with the majors for what I would say are exciting opportunities. Maybe, they are marquee name writers. Maybe they are new projects that are coming up that people are excited about but may tend to have a lot of capital involved in the deal. When you are smaller, and you have that overhead and your gross profit is X and the majority of the remaining cash is being eaten up by your overhead, it limits what you can do as far as making advances. You have to put that money out there. It takes more than a second to get it back.
The way we looked at it was we have a platform. We are making money with the company as we are. Now can we add onto that platform? What do we need to do to add onto it? Can we create not just an infrastructure, but a capital base that allows us to be competitive with all of the majors on pretty much every deal?
Was that what led Bug to seek a $225 million plus line of credit in 2008.
Well, we had a (credit facility of) $150 million in mid-2007 when we did the Windswept acquisition. Then we increased it in ’08 to $225 million.
[In July, 2007, Tokyo-based Fujipacific Music and Fuji Television Network opted to sell their U.S.-based Windswept Holdings to Bug Music. They had formed the publishing company in 1999 after selling most of their Windswept Pacific catalog to EMI—a deal Rudolph helped engineer as then-CFO of Windswept Pacific.]
I would have thought the equity investors would have been nervous about the music industry at the time.
Well, it was an interesting time when that happened. 2007 was the first kind of rattle in the credit markets. Literally, we closed a week before the first doom-and-gloom articles on the front page of the Wall Street Journal appeared. Once we were in place, we were in place. Then once we started performing and doing what we said we would do and we met our projections and the participants got smarter about this business, they said, “We really like this business.”
The credit providers, in most cases, have long histories in film and TV libraries. For them to enter into a new asset class--the fact that they are similar types of intellectual properties—(the response) was, “We like this. We understand it. It’s not in housing. It’s not in real estate,” which were the issues then? So they continued (to invest). Then things got really tough in October to November ’08. It really got hard for everybody.
What was Bug’s appeal for you?
There were two aspects that appealed to me overall. One was the creative element; the other was on the business side.
On the creative side, the company had music in its catalog that I listened to personally. Besides things like Johnny Cash—I used to see Johnny Cash all of the time as a kid because I grew up two miles away from him in Hendersonville (Tennessee) — it had a lot of punk and alternative music that I listened to. Bob Mould from Husker Du, the Dead Kennedys, Uncle Tupelo, Iggy Pop and on and on. So that part of it really made me love the company straight way.
From a pure business perspective, I thought it was an amazing platform. The two founders, Dan and Fred Bourgoise had never taken any outside capital over the 30 years they had owned the company. The potential within the company, and the huge platform that they had created across the U.S., Nashville, New York, London and Germany, was enormous. They had been growing (the company) but if they had some help and resources they could have really grown the company. So that attracted me to Bug as well.
There were also soon assets in the company that you had been involved with previously. This includes Leiber & Stroller’s Trio and Quartet Music Publishing, and L.A. Reid’s Hitco Music Publishing; you knew the catalogs and understood their potential.
I pretty much knew 90% of what was in the catalog already and had spent a lot of time with it. Even though business structure wise it acted like almost like a merger because we knew the things very, very well.
I had worked with Randy Poe (president of Leiber & Stoller Music Publishing) and Mike and Jerry on the sale of Trio and Quartet Music catalogs to Windswept in 2003. So when Bug acquired Windswept in mid-2007, we acquired Windswept, which had some new writers and some catalogs they had purchased. We also acquired Trio and Quartet as well as Hitco Music Publishing among other things that were a legacy from Windswept.
You were the CFO of Windswept Pacific from 1998 to 2000.
The way I got to Windswept was that I ran the business part of L.A. Reid’s company Stiff Shirt Music Publishing in Atlanta. Stiff Shirt Music had a lot of writers signed that were writing for LaFace Records and producing for LaFace. Of course, LaFace blew up and became a gigantic (record) company with Tony Braxton, TLC, OutKast, you can keep going. When that happened, we had the publishing and it became overwhelming. We cut a partnership deal with Windswept to create Hitco Music Publishing. We sold half the catalog to Windswept and Hitco Music was very successful.
At the time, it was probably the premier urban music publisher. It certainly was the only truly independent non-artist-centric music publishing company in the urban space.
Then Windswept asked me to become their CFO. This happened over a series of years. At Windswept, I pretty much either advised or participated in the buy or sell of almost every major catalog transaction that happened. I knew a lot of these catalogs already. When Windswept was sold to EMI (in 1999), the Hitco Music catalog and a couple of other catalogs were not part of the transaction.
That deal with EMI Music Publishing was reportedly a $200 million deal.
Exactly. And those catalogs were kept out.
In 2007 Bug Music and Jamie Foxx formed a co-venture to capitalize on Foxx King Entertainment's abilities in film, TV, music and new media by developing and nurturing songwriters.
That was one of the things we first did. That was done pre-Windswept and part of it was because LaRonda Sutton (senior VP music development and production at Foxx King) who ran music there, was someone I knew. She had come in to run Hipco. The other part of it was that we knew that Jamie was all over the place. He was doing TV, and films.
That was kind of a start of us doing small acquisitions and signing writers. Changing the model to a co-pub (model) than doing strictly admin deals. We used to do a number of both. Now, our profile looks exactly like the majors.
Your partnership with Arthouse Entertainment in 2008 was a substantial step toward becoming a serious player in contemporary music publishing.
That was substantial. With the integration of the Windswept catalog and company into the fold, we got some great talent on the management side in Nashville and here in LA. It gave me the team I needed from a creative standpoint. It allowed us to be more creative-focused with our writers.
I always look at (the publishing roster) like a baseball roster. You gotta have folks that you are developing. Bruno Mars is a great example of that for us. You have to have your franchise players. From a co-publishing perspective, we had a lot of great writers who had great songs, but I wanted to make sure that we added to the franchise players too.
I had had a relationship with Kara and her manager Stephen (Finfer) for years before we decided to do something together. The deal just made sense on multiple levels. Kara was the 2007 Songwriter of the Year for BMI. She won the award with Sean Garrett, who we also had published at the time. I knew what was in Kara’s catalog, and the value of her catalog. And I knew about her drive. Her drive is just amazing as a songwriter. She has always wanted to be relevant. She was willing to work hard every day, no matter how much success she had. As a result of that, I thought that this deal really fitted well for what we’re doing.
The deal was three-pronged?
It was the acquisition of Kara’s past catalog. It was Kara doing the first co-publishing (deal) she has ever done in her career. Also, it was in support of Arthouse where we signed Mike Elizondo, Mitch Allan, and Ari Levine and other writers. In a lot of cases those are folks who co-write with Kara.
Bug administers the publishing assets of the Woody Guthrie Estate. Isn’t that an unusual portfolio to handle?
If you look at the estates that we work with, that one is right in the sweet spot. (Estate publishing administration) can be from anywhere. It could be in blues. We have a very close relationship with Willie Dixon’s family, whom we support in many different ways. Obviously, the Cashes (June Carter and Johnny Cash) -- we have had a relationship with them for quite awhile.
It’s not always just an administration relationship but we actually own the titles, and they are older titles and we have relationships with the families.
Bug owns a lot of Americana music.
It’s always been a strong part of this company. We have (songs by) Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Vaughan, all of the guys from the Blasters, and Los Lobos. Frankly, I put that music in the same place as I do a lot of the punk music. It is all very organic. It wasn’t about ultra-production. It was really about the music. Townes Van Zandt is the perfect example of that. That follows through how we feel here about Ryan Adams, Wilco, and those folks.
When you look everybody here in the eye, a big part of their soul is that type of music. And we develop a ton of people like that because we love it. Our president David Hirshland is on the board of Folk Alliance. Our VP John Allen in Nashville is on the board of the Americana Music Association.
Are there many significant catalogs still available for sale today?
There are more pieces available. There are independent pieces of things out there that show up here and there.
Last year, Experience Hendrix shifted administration of the Jimi Hendrix publishing catalog from Sony/ATV Music Publishing to Universal Music Publishing Group. Is that a catalog that interested you?
Of course, we love all of those things, and there’s always movement going on. Sometimes it’s just about money and that’s fine. If it’s about money, and it’s a fine deal, then good. But if it’s not just about money, then I think we do really well with (acquiring) them.
Diane Warren’s publishing company Realsongs would be a valuable asset.
There are all kinds of folks like that. What their relationship looks like today versus tomorrow and into the future, I think, is going to be different. There are multiple people that you can choose from (to work with).
It seems that there are more early rock ‘n’ roll catalogs floating around.
Popular contemporary music as a big commercial force really kicked in during the ‘50s. In the ‘60s, it started to get into a place where it was an actual full-time business. It wasn’t fragmented. It wasn’t a million different owners. Corporations started setting up.
Those folks who were in their 20s and 30s then, however, are now in their 70s, 80s and 90s and they are passing away. Sometimes their families aren’t involved in any form of the business. It's like, “What is this (publishing)? We get these cheques every so often. Is this something we can sell?”
Copyright owners also want to know what value you can add to the catalog.
The value added component is important. The other component is, “Are you a viable going concern?” A lot of folks that come in here, and do business here have been concerned about some of the companies out there. What are their underlying finances? Are they going to get caught in a (financial) circumstance if the company doesn’t perform well? Are they going to be able to take care of their own stuff? There’s something to be said for having 35 years of history and having paid every dime on time.
You founded your own consultancy Music Analytics in 2001.
When I was CFO at Windswept everything was pretty inside as far as deals and transactions. I started working with a lot of other folks while at Music Analytics. As outside financiers began showing up in this business, a lot of them approached me, and said, “You know how all of these deals work, and you know who has what catalogs and what is available. Why don’t we just give you the money, and you go do (the deal)?” The problem was that a lot of them wanted me to buy really expensive assets that I felt they weren’t going to make any money off of.
What were they primarily looking at?
They were looking at trying to acquire publishing catalogs. Outside financiers liked the annuity aspect of music publishing. That is what started bringing them in. In the late ‘90s, we would have loved to have kept Windswept (Pacific)—what we call Windswept One—as a private company, as an independent company, but none of the banks or independent financiers in private equity understood music publishing. Everybody was also then very concerned about Napster but it was more that they didn’t understand how cash happened (in publishing). It was frustrating to us.
So one of the things that I did after (leaving Windswept) was that I spent time with banks and other financial sources to have them understand (music publishing). Once people started understanding it, they really liked it. But the big pivotal moment was when TH Lee (private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners), their consortium, and Edgar Bronfman bought Warner Music Group. They put out decks of material showing how the business worked and showed what they thought they could do with it. A lot of debt providers really learned about the business during that time. They then thought, “Hey this is something we can probably lend into.” Then private equity showed up.
DreamWorks Music Publishing was sold to Dimensional Associates; and Compendia Music was sold to Sheridan Square/Artemis. Were those the type of assets that equity people were looking at?
There were even smaller ones that private investors purchased. That was great because it showed that there were people interested (in the music business) and that there was great quality out there which usually had to do with the vision of the founders (of those companies). There were also more corporate type transactions.
Terra Firma Capital Partners recently raised $156 million from investors to stave off a bank foreclosure. Many people were surprised that Terra Firma could go back to its investors and keep Citigroup at bay. In for a penny, in for a pound?
Yeah, I think that’s probably right. I think that at that point investors—and this is speculation—were down to looking at their equity being worth zero. By putting something into the game, they could increase it from being zero to being whatever they put into the new slot plus some recapture of that loss.
From a market perspective, how do investors look at the music industry?
It follows a pretty classic model. That it is assets versus services. What those two things are valued at. Financiers, both credit and equity providers and even the credit providers split (the music industry) up by saying, “Music is recorded music, and music publishing. It's two different things. Here’s why.”
In conversations (with other investors), they are usually met with very favorable responses. The (evaluation is), “It’s recorded music, yeah. They (the label) own a huge library of assets but they are trying to diversify their interest streams. They are still largely dependent on retail sales.”
There’s no question that music publishers get grouped into the (overall) music conversation….at first. Then, either the folks that have been in (the music market) for while, or do spend the time to get sophisticated about it, begin to understand the differences. With music publishing, we certainly have a retail sale component but we are also making money in various channels whereas the record companies either don’t or haven’t in the past.
When it comes to services, most of those services—not all of them but most of them--are tied more closely to the record side of the business, with the exception of touring; services related to touring and venues, things like Live Nation and Ticketmaster.
The lines are blurring; the root of music publishing was producing and licensing music. That is exactly what you are now doing operating 429 Records with Kings Of Leon, and the Features. You have gone back to the roots of music publishing.
People say, “Wow, you are doing that stuff.” I just say that, “I’m just doing what the original publishers did when they commissioned composers and authors.” Publishers were the ones that got somebody to perform (the song) on Broadway or at shows or theatres or wherever they could. Eventually, they licensed (the song) into piano rolls.
Until then music publishers controlled the distribution of their music.
Absolutely. If you look at the names of the historic (music) print companies that were around back then they all were (music) publishers. Print companies weren’t just someone who was printing music. They were people who owned the underlying songs.
Irving Berlin used to enforce usage of his songs. He was one of the last major songwriters to join ASCAP.
Keeping going with how things changed as the hardware manufacturers came in. There was radio too. People could say “I can hear music at home.” Piano rolls were around at that same time. Music publishers weren’t going to be piano manufacturers. They existed already.
Music publishers began to lose control of the distribution channel. They lost control with the advent of record companies.
You got it. Then, if you also remember, record companies were originally the manufacturers of the gramophones.
Today, the Internet gives publishers greater flexibility, including the ability to control distribution of their catalogs.
No question. It’s not something that is necessarily going to happen overnight, but there are two things in play here. One is an unraveling of the intricacies between the major music publishers, and their sister record companies. And, I don’t mean deals with them necessarily, but just the culture of those relationships. It’s, “You do the records; we do the publishing.”
There are still publishing issues in the U.S., like controlled composition clauses largely enforced because of the affiliations between major labels and their publishing arms.
Some of the issues the (publishing) independents are facing are that there are (labels) willing to now give preferential rates, and some other things that make competition a hard issue.
Major labels are in a tight spot with such declining sales.
We have these record companies that have massive infrastructures and massive costs. They have been trimming, and some of them have been doing a good job of trimming those costs down.
On the other hand the music publishers have very contained cost structures. We know how to license. We know how to process. We know how to do all of these things. What has been interesting is that we now have the ability to step up and do some projects outside.
Maybe it’s a publisher’s mentality, but we don’t necessarily need “to own the project.” We will develop it, but if someone else is in love with it, and would like to put it out then we are more than happy to have them take the project off our hands. We don’t feel like we have to be the label all the way through. More so, what we are interested in is developing projects, artists and writers. We know we have great songs. The number of great songs hasn’t declined. What has declined is the outlets to get those great songs out. That has just been a factor of the market.
How do record labels make money when artists want to control all rights? Their value as a company is based on ownership of catalog. Their slice of pie has also gotten thinner with eroding sales.
Well it has. But the new (label) deals are reaching into all of the different pieces of the pie. If you step back and think about it outside the context of music, this is just someone making an investment in someone. These deals are no different than any other venture capital deal, essentially. They may leave a bad taste in peoples’ mouths because they don’t like them, because what we deal in is art. It’s not always directly for commerce. That’s really the balance that both record companies and publishers always have to walk in their everyday lives.
A lot of the rhetoric around 360 deals---that they are evil; and artists should be doing it DIY--all of that stuff has really died down a lot in the past year. Now, can you put your finger on why? Is it related to reality sinking in? (Realizing) how much it actually costs to take an artist to market? To try to get them on the radio. To do all of the tour support and things we know it takes? Can you say that it was compounded by the market overall? Meaning the global economic situation where everybody just said, “Okay, wow. All of these factors have come together.”
I have seen (a change in rhetoric). There’s been this maturation that has gone on of the cycle where it has come back around. It’s not that everybody is getting comfortable with these deals but everybody now understands the reality of today.
Rhetoric has also chilled because those major acts who released music on their own have yet to find a sustainable template for future business.
They key factor is how did they get there? It took a lot of investment time (by a label) first to get a market aware of their brand. The younger writers I deal with, and some of those who have been through the cycle and got out of their deal or were dropped and have tried to do themselves--they have all come back around. They are smart, dedicated and aware of the realities of (marketing music). Yes, there used to be the big push of, “I’m going to do it myself. I’m going to put my music up on MySpace and market it. I’m going to hit all of the blogs.” Now you don’t see that as much. People are now saying, “I have to do all that, but I also need someone to really help me with this.” It’s not even just (about) the money. It’s the man hours involved (in trying to build a brand).
You were born in Chicago but raised in Tennessee?
My father was a radio promotions guy, and he moved the family from Chicago to Hendersonville in 1970.
Your dad Bob Rudolph worked for Monument Records when it was in Hendersonville.
He was a Berklee Music grad. He was a trombone player in Woody Herman’s band (the Swinging Herd) and he also played in Stan Kenton’s band. After Monument, he was in radio working at 92Q and then 103 WKDF/WKDA (in Nashville). He has been a drug and alcohol rehab counselor for the past 20 years.
[Fred Foster’s Monument Records was home to Roy Orbison, Kris Kristofferson, Jeannie Seely, Boots Randolph, Dolly Parton, Ray Stevens, Tony Joe White, Charlie McCoy, Willie Nelson, Tommy Roe, The Velvets, Connie Smith, and Larry Gatlin]
Why didn’t you end up working in the music industry in Nashville?
I saw how tough it was. Just to make a good living.
With your father working in the music industry, you must have been around musicians a lot.
I probably saw 50 concerts by the time I was 10. My father took me. I saw Bruce Springsteen on the “Darkness Edge of Town” tour and I remember meeting Clarence Clemmons. His hand was so huge compared to mine. He was a super sweet guy. I saw Harry Chapin before he died.
Remember in Nashville too in those days there was the “The Volunteer Jam” (headlined by the Charlie Daniels Band and featuring such guests as Ted Nugent, the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, Billy Joel, Billy Ray Cyrus, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carl Perkins, Alabama, and Don Henley). You would see everybody there -- that was big.
Did you run around backstage?
Yeah. But I was more interested then in how many free Cokes could I drink.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
I listened to mainly rock, jazz and a little bit of disco, which was in then. I was exposed to everything to the extent that I could kind of look at the spines on vinyl (albums) from a distance, and get an idea of what something was. Then in the late ‘70s, the Sex Pistols came out.
Your father must have loved hearing the Sex Pistols in the house. Or the Clash.
Oh he did. He loved everything. The first Clash record (“The Clash”), I wore that out. In Tennessee, that kind of music was not widely accepted at the time.
Nashville was a great hard rock town.
Then the punk and alternative scene started happening with Jason & the Scorchers and other folks. Bill Lloyd, who was in Foster & Lloyd, and a MTM songwriter, worked in a record store with me (Sound Shop in the Rivergate Mall in Goodlettsville Tennessee). I credit him a lot with helping me get my sense for music other than me thinking something was just cool. When I got there we started ordering all of the alternative and punk records. I listened to R.E.M., Guadalcanal Diary, Jason & the Scorchers, Those were records that we sold.
Bill Lloyd is a writer with Bug today, as are Jason & the Scorchers.
It’s fun for me because we have all of these (alternative) folks as our clients. When they see me they say, “Oh my God, you have to be kidding.” I really got into alternative in a heavy way and I made friends with a lot of the label people down there (in Nashville) because I would do a lot of the in-store promotions for them.
Was it great thrill for you to land Roger Murrah to head Bug’s Nashville operation last year?
Oh it was a huge thrill. I think that a lot of people raised their eyebrows and thought that it was a naïve or bad move. I don’t think people think that anymore. I don’t think they held the respect or Roger as a song-man and publisher that they should have. They saw him (solely) as a songwriter from the ‘90s.
[Roger Murrah's prolific songwriting contributions include "We're in This Love Together," "Goodbye Time," "Where Corn Don't Grow," "High Cotton," "Ozark Mountain Jubilee," "Stranger Things Have Happened" and "Don't Rock the Jukebox."]
I have had some great mentors in this business including L.A. Reid; Chuck Kaye, and Evan Meadow (Windswept Pacific co-founders); and Dan and Fred Bourgoise. Guys who are 15 to 20 plus years older than me. But I was lucky because they were able to bridge the gap at the time and teach me a lot. They taught me about people. They also taught me that songs are important. Other people have taught me that over time as well.
You can communicate with songwriters and producers?
I can sit in the studio. I can sit with my writers and go through songs. Talk about structure. Talk about lyrics that don’t work. Talk about changes in arrangements with them. They really love that. That’s missing from a lot of conversations (in music publishing) these days. I know it is because we have songwriters here that were at other places, and they say, “I never got any feedback.” It’s because nobody is taught how to do that anymore. The only way you get taught how to do that now is if you are inside Diane Warren’s company, and you have sat there, and heard her talking with other writers or something. Then you can pick up on that stuff.
Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.
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