This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Michael McCarty, president of ole.
Michael McCarty has, arguably, the best set of ears in Canada.
Over the past 25 years, the Canadian music publisher has played a pivotal role in developing the careers of Wilson Phillips, Billy Talent, Matthew Good, Esthero, Sum 41, LEN, Moist, Three Days Grace, Alexisonfire, Dallas Green, among others.
In mid-2009, McCarty shocked many by leaving EMI Music Publishing Canada—which he had headed for over 16 years—to sign on as president of the Toronto-based independent publisher ole, which also has offices in Nashville, and Los Angeles.
McCarty is responsible for the day-to-day operation of ole.
In under seven years, ole has built formidable presence in the North American music publishing community.
Managing partners Tim Laing (chairman) and (chairman/CEO) Robert Ott launched ole in 2004. Laing is a former commodities broker; Ott was previously VP/GM of BMG Music Publishing Canada.
Within a year, ole had reportedly spent $20.6 million purchasing catalogs tied to record, film, TV and video properties.
ole’s international profile was significantly raised in 2005 when it struck a multi-year global administration deal for Toronto-based Nelvana. The deal covers music from some 3,000 half-hour animated TV shows featuring characters like Rolie Polie Olie, Babar, Franklin, Little Bear and Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends.
The deal followed worldwide administration agreements with Canadian TV producers Shaftesbury Films, Arcadia Entertainment and Slanted Wheel.
In 2009, ole signed a worldwide administration deal for the music catalog of Cookie Jar Entertainment, a producer of children's TV programming and consumer products. ole also acquired a stake in the Cookie Jar catalog as part of the deal.
The same year ole also signed an administration pact with Scholastic Media, a division of children's publishing and education company Scholastic. Under that deal, ole administers Scholastic's music publishing properties outside of the United States.
ole also purchased a 75% ownership interest in the music rights of PBS affiliate WGBH Boston, which also produces children's programming as well as other documentary lifestyle shows.
This year, ole struck a North American deal with W!LDBRAIN Entertainment for the music administration of "Yo Gabba Gabba!" which airs on Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr. in the U.S., and Treehouse TV in Canada.
McCarty's entry into music came in 1978 while completing his final year in the Music Industry Arts Diploma program at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. Canadian producer Jack Richardson, who was on the school's advisory board, was impressed by McCarty's production work and offered him a job at the Nimbus 9 studio in Toronto.
At Nimbus 9 for three years, McCarty was on hand for Richardson-produced sessions with Ringo Starr and John Denver and engineered "some sound effects and vignette pieces" for Bob Ezrin's 1979 co-production of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" album. McCarty also worked with Ezrin on albums by Kiss and the Kings.
After an unsuccessful attempt to launch a production company, McCarty landed as creative manager at ATV Canada in 1985. This was followed by a similar post at CBS Songs Canada. Following that company's buyout by SBK Songs, McCarty moved to Los Angeles in 1987 as creative manager at SBK Songs and director of A&R at SBK Records. When SBK was sold to EMI Music Publishing, he stayed on as a creative director before returning to Toronto to head up EMI Music Publishing Canada.
ole's songwriter roster includes Alan Frew, Charlie Worsham, Marty Dodson, Ryan Tyndell, Denny Carr, Dru, Mark Feist, Monty Powell, Rick Giles, and Tebey.
ole recently acquired the writer's share of a catalog of songs written by Sweden’s Rami Yacoub who has had his songs recorded by Celine Dion, Britney Spears, 'Nsync, the Backstreet Boys, Pink, Enrique Iglesias, Westlife and Michael Bolton. The deal also provides ole with the writer's reversionary publishing rights in 2021. Among the copyrights are Spears' "Oops!...I Did It Again," and Pink's "You and Your Hand."
Today, ole maintains a catalog of 45,000 songs, and 40,000 hours of TV music.
According to a company statement on its website, ole has spent more than $105 million in acquiring copyrights to date.
ole CEO Robert Ott has been quoted as saying, “There is no dollar value of acquisition that is out of reach for us, given that we see value." True?
I would say that it’s true. What that means is that if we find something that we think has the right value, and we convince our investor that there is a lot of money there that, probably in practical terms, there’s an unlimited amount. Of course, the key is to find the deal that has the value, and properly present it to the investor, but yeah, absolutely.
So ole is positioned to play with the big publishing dogs.
Well if we found the right property, absolutely.
How many songs are in the ole catalog?
45,000 songs. We also have a new production music library (branded as) clear that has over 150,000 tracks that we own or represent.
How much time do you spend traveling?
Quite a bit. I’ve been in Nashville probably a half dozen times this past year. I am trying to focus more on L.A. this year. Last year, we took our presence in Nashville and our success in country music to a whole new level. This year, we are working on doing that in pop and urban pop, using L.A. as a platform. So I will be spending a lot of time in L.A.
Why did you take the ole job?
I took the job because it would be exciting. It is exciting to work with a small entrepreneurial company. I had been friends with Robert (Ott) for a long time, and admired what he and Tim Laing had done to build the company. And, it was chance to play on a bigger stage. A smaller company with a bigger stage and a smaller company with a bigger role. I didn’t leave EMI for any particular reason other than this was great opportunity. In fact, I had recently, before (leaving), re-upped my deal (at EMI). I had to go to Roger (Roger Faxon, chairman/CEO of EMI Music Publishing and CEO of EMI Group) and ask him to let me out. He was gracious enough to do that.
The sky is the limit for this company. Once you get to a large major, you feel that there’s a limit to where it can go.
Why has ole remained in Toronto? Wouldn’t it make more sense to operate from the U.S. with much of your business being international?
It wouldn’t make sense to put (the head office) in a U.S. city, especially at this point. This is where the founders of the company were based. This is where the foundation of our business is, where our investor is, and where our banking is and that kind of thing.
So it makes sense.
In fact, I don’t think that it’s a disadvantage (being in Toronto) because, as I travel throughout the U.S. and do our business, I find that Toronto is very much considered to be a world-class, cosmopolitan—culturally and business wise—city now. It’s not odd to people that Toronto is the home of a company (like ours). We also work very hard at shrinking the distance between the offices using video conferencing, and frequent travel and close communication.
Music from children's television programming has been a core business at ole from the start.
TV is a very big part of our business with the publishing. Significantly, more than half of our business is in that area. Canada happens to be one of the world’s centers of television; and it is certainly one of the centers of the type of production that we specialize in—which is children’s’ animated television initially; and, more frequently now, reality shows and that kind of thing.
None of (that activity) was intentional. When Robert and Tim started the company it was at a time when a lot of other start-ups were financed by VCs (venture capital funds) and other forms of investment. There was a bubble in the catalog purchasing market. Robert decided he had to zig when everybody else was zagging. He very smartly went into the television area.
One of the first companies that they signed up was Nelvana. That was such a successful relationship that it led to other companies taking notice. (That relationship) gave us credibility in that market, and ole graduated to more and more companies. The next thing is that we had expertise in the area. We have expertise not only in the administration of television (copyrights) but also expertise in understanding what television companies want in a deal. We have extreme flexibility in how we want to craft the deal to meet their financial accounting, administrative needs, etc.
You get a reputation of doing a good job in that area, everybody tells their friends. We come with a compelling offer, we bring value, and we do a great job.
One of the things we do on the admin (administration) side that is unique is that we have an admin rep system. On the creative side, (publishing) companies are usually organized in rosters with a certain assignment of writers to a particular creative person. We have that in our admin area too. Every client has a person that is their rep in admin.
Are most of the deals in TV administration deals?
No. It’s a mixture of admin and co-publishing.
There seems to be little full ownership of catalogs.
There are some full ownerships, but mostly it’s co-ownership and admin. Again, talking about what value that we provide to that business, and how we learned to understand it, one of the big things that we bring to people in that sector is working capital. Music publishing is a secondary, if not tertiary revenue stream for those companies. Companies that have been around for awhile and have built up catalog that earns significant revenue every year. So if we make a deal with them to co-own (the catalog), let’s say as an example, the payment that we provide to obtain that ownership and that administration, can be very significant. It provides them the working capital to plow back into their business, and create even more programming.
We have a number of clients who have had a very successful relationship with us in that way. It has helped them take a secondary asset, monetize it, and build their company bigger while we continue to manage (the catalog) professionally for them.
This year ole acquired the writer's share of a catalog of songs written by Sweden’s Rami Yacoub.
Initially, it is the writer’s share (of publishing), and when his copyrights revert (back from other publishers) they become ours.
Why do writers usually want to sell off their share of a catalog? To maximize the catalog?
Yeah, people want to maximize their asset. They want to monetize it for whatever reason. Being so involved with Nashville since I’ve come to ole has been a real eye opener. It’s a great example of how cultural differences in all walks of life are widespread; and how people tend to look at the world in very black and white ways. When I took over EMI Music Publishing in Canada, the biggest obstacle I had to having success was, especially in the Canadian rock and indie rock circles, that the industry was very anti-publisher. That attitude permeated the Canadian music scene. People thought that doing a publishing deal was something that you didn’t do. (Music publishing) was an evil industry because the (publishers) took the rights to (a songwriter’s) songs. The mantra was, “Don’t give up your publishing rights.” Over a period of time, I successfully convinced people that it wasn’t a matter of giving up their publishing rights—it was a matter of utilizing their publishing to build a career.
What was behind that anti-music publisher attitude?
It was a combination of the culture of Canada toward business, in general; and, I think that there was a legacy of writers and artists from a previous generation that felt that they shouldn’t have done publishing deals. They regretted doing them and tried to ingrain this in the minds of the next generation. That was a different era (when they made their publishing deals). They may or may not have made wise decisions in doing their publishing deals. But, in the era that I was operating in, I felt that it was a valuable tool in (a songwriter) utilizing their publishing rights. My attitude was, “Do a deal with me or anybody else to develop your career and leverage yourself to get the right record deal and have a big career.” It worked time after time.
That attitude certainly is a contrast to Nashville.
In Nashville, it’s similar to Silicon Valley, where they say you are not a real entrepreneur unless you have gone bankrupt three times. In Nashville, you are not a real songwriter unless you have started, and sold at least three catalogs. It’s a badge of honor to sell your catalog in Nashville, whereas in Canada it’s a dirty idea.
You must have been very proud watching the “American Idol” finale when Lauren Alaina stole the show with her rendition of “Like My Mother Does” co-written by ole’s country singing Liz Rose?
That was really exciting because Lauren Alaina just didn’t do the song, she hit it out of the park. It was almost enough to make a difference. We own the publishing on Liz’s share. It’s co-ownership. We share the copyright with Sony/ATV. In actual fact, it was Troy Tomlinson (president/CEO) at Sony/ATV in Nashville who plugged that into the show.
[The release of Lauren Alaina’s version of “Like My Mother Does” on iTunes immediately following the “American Idol” finale was the third commercial release of the song. Previously, the song appeared on season seven "American Idol" contestant Kristy Lee Cook’s album “Why Wait” in 2008. In 2010, it was a single for new country artist Jesse Lee. Alaina also performed the song, co-written by Nathan Chapman, Liz Rose, and Nicole Williams, during her Grand Ole Opry debut on June 10, 2011.]
What have your experiences in Nashville been like?
I love Nashville. It’s a place where talent rules. There’s probably the greatest concentration of music talent on the face of the earth there. Of course, there’s nothing I like better than great songs, and songwriters that I respect. I admire great songwriters, and in Nashville you are walking amongst dozens and dozens of them. It is just extraordinary the level of talent there. You just have to pinch yourself sometimes that you are amongst those people.
Songwriters and publishers are power players there.
They are certainly a major core of it. There’s no question. It gives a publisher a warm and fuzzy feeling—and goose bumps—to walk down Music Row and see building after building with music publishing signs on them. No other place on the face of this earth has that. You do really feel at home.
How does working in Nashville contrast with your experiences in L.A.?
Well, it is completely different. The thing that I didn’t like about L.A. when I was there was that you could see the political factor that seemed necessary to operate there just increasing before your very eyes. (Entertainment) politics started to permeate the music business, particularly within the labels. But, it also spilled over to the publishing side. To me, (that) was not about the music and not about people doing a good job. It was about being good at getting ahead. I found that the publishing game in the U.S. was evolving into being a purely banking enterprise like it was accused of eventually.
Have things changed with the lessened impact of major labels and the rise in importance of others, including publishers and producers?
I think that, to some degree, the pendulum has begun to swing back toward developing talent. That’s a good thing. It was the swing away from that which I wasn’t fond of. That was one of the reasons that I went back to Canada. It was a different market, with a different environment and more (creative) freedom. The dynamics of the (Canadian music) market enabled me to develop talent.
Now, with the labels having such hard financial times and shrinking, and with the publishing industry being relatively stable, it is becoming incumbent on the publishing community and (the publishing) business to play more of a role in developing talent and, possibly, promoting talent. We have to carry more of the burden now. You see a lot more talent development going on. You see a lot more interesting approaches to the business going on in L.A. and New York than you did 10 or 15 years ago.
With the rise in hip hop and pop, creative control returned to the producer.
As a publisher, I love the producer-driven part of the business because they tend to be writers or they tend to be sophisticated users of songs. Or both. So that’s a great thing.
Music supervisors are now like A&R people in importance.
I love television. The greatest thing for me for music publishing in the last few years has been the rise of the music television show. Not just because you derive revenue directly from licensing songs into the show—like “Idol” etc. That’s a good thing. It’s good because it uses popular music on the average person’s radar screen more than it had been for the previous decade, at least. It is introducing an element of instant gratification into the business which hasn’t existed for many decades.
By that I mean we have a situation now where—especially with the shows that use original material—you can write a song, and it can impact almost overnight. Like the “American Idol” finale, for instance. People wrote songs for it. A week later, the songs are on TV. That night, the songwriters and publishers are earning revenue from downloads, and the public is buying it. That’s an incredible thing.
ole has had an office in L.A. for over four years. How successful has the office been in attaining syncs in films and TV?
It has been successful, and we are making it more successful. I wasn’t here then, (when the office opened) but it started out as a “to fly the flag in the marketplace” type of operation. It was more of a branding, and a sales oriented thing. It was a way to connect to the film and television community that we were servicing through admin deals. As well, we had some initial success in placing songs.
We have pretty much an all new staff there since I got involved (with the company). We are starting to see some exciting things happen there. We are developing an artist in Nashville named Charlie Worsham. He was signed by Arthur Buenahora (senior creative dir. of ole). Arthur worked with our L.A. office to expose Charlie to the film and TV community in L.A. We recently placed one of his songs, “Trouble Is” (co-written with ole writers, Marty Dodson, Ryan Tyndell) in the series “Army Wives” that aired on ABC. This is a case where we publish 100% of the songs and we own the master.
You talk about accomplishment. It’s really hard to place country music in Hollywood, and we placed an unsigned country artist. So I call that a success. That exposure is not only bringing us all revenue, but it's bringing credibility and exposure that helps Charlie. He doesn’t have a record deal yet, so it’s vital exposure.
In April, 2010, ole launched “Write Where U R Tour” with songwriters taking a bus with mobile recording equipment out to meet artists on the road. That’s about as grassroots as it gets.
It is pretty grassroots. It’s paying for itself incredibly well. We’re really excited about it. It’s a totally unique thing. Nobody else has one.
ole is taking the songwriter direct to the artist.
That’s exactly what it is. The name of it says it all. We are going to have the writer write where the artist is. It is sort of an attempt to super serve the community that our songwriters serve which is the artist community. So, if they are on the road half of the time, why not be on the road with them? It’s an extension of the realization that the business increasingly works in Nashville and everywhere else. The reality is the goal of a publisher is not only to get your writers’ songs recorded but to help build their brand and their relationships where they become very connected themselves. At the end of the day the most effective plugger of songs are the writers themselves. The most effective way to get a writer’s songwriting out there and recorded is with their own relationships with the artists whether they are writing with the artists or playing the artist one of their songs. Nothing beats that.
How often is the bus on the road?
The bus is out approximately three to four days a week. They tend to use Nashville as a base, do three and four day runs, and come back to home.
Before returning to Canada to head EMI Music Publishing Canada in 1993, you worked as A&R director of SBK Records and Publishing L.A
I was initially in publishing. Then when they sold the publishing company to EMI and started the label, I handled A&R. Once they sold the new label to EMI, then I had to make a decision if I wanted to stay in records or stay in publishing. So I chose publishing.
I just had this feeling that the record industry...it was like a bumble bee to me. I couldn’t understand how it could fly.
You ran EMI Music Publishing Canada from 1993 to 2009. How do you now look back at that period?
Obviously, very fondly. It was really, really exciting. We felt—and it wasn’t just me there, it was my whole team, not just me—we felt like we were pioneers. We weren’t really pioneering anything, but we felt like we were, at least, pioneering in that era with the idea that a music publisher would get involved at the very beginning of a career rather than after somebody had started to have success.
You treated EMI Music Publishing Canada as a production house.
I would take (statement) one more step. We were an invisible record label. We were a record label in every way, except in name. We did what we did only by default; and only because it was what we felt we needed to do to get people to where they could get not only a record deal, but the right record deal.
It was also very much needed in the (Canadian) marketplace. When I was trying to do that in the U.S. it didn’t work as well, partly because that’s not what the industry wanted from music publishing. They wanted music publishing to monetize people’s assets, and not really dig. In Canada, it was a totally different landscape. It was a much needed thing.
[In the ‘90s, EMI Music Publishing Canada led the way among Canadian publishers in funding the development of new acts, while making a significant contribution to the development of these acts, both domestically and internationally.]
Music publishing in the U.S. does more of that kind of development today.
A lot more than it had, yeah.
Did Marty Bandier (then co-CEO of EMI Music Publishing) encourage you to follow that development strategy? Or, at least, give you the leeway to try it?
At first, Marty thought I was crazy. Then, when it started to work, he was quite supportive. Marty was supportive anyway. His attitude was, “It’s your neck. You do what you want, but, I think you are crazy.” After it worked a couple of times, he realized that it was not only working, but that it was the right way to behave in this market. So he was extremely supportive.
Well, you did hit it out of the box with Moist almost right off the bat.
That wasn’t the first time that we tried it. It was more or less our third or fourth. I don’t remember the names of the other bands, and I don’t want to because they let me down so badly.
[In 1994, Vancouver-based pop/alternative act Moist rocketed from club obscurity in Canada with EMI Music Publishing Canada releasing an indie cassette "Silver.” Afterwards, its affiliated company, EMI Canada was able to ship 200,000 units of an 11-song debut CD, also called "Silver," a re-release of their top-selling indie cassette.]
You are credited with being involved in bringing Nelly Furtado to EMI Music Publishing.
I heard “I’m Like a Bird” and was really excited about it. I thought it was a hit. Chris Smith, Nelly’s manager, invited me down to a sneak preview showcase at The Phoenix (in Toronto) when she was prepping for the release of the (album). I remember standing there, watching the show, and there were only about 15 people in the audience—industry people. I remember her doing “I’m Like a Bird” and thinking, “This is an unbelievable song.”
I grabbed Chris, and said, “We have to do a publishing deal.” He said, “We don’t want to do a deal for Canada. We want to do a deal for ex-North America.” I couldn’t talk him out of it. So I contacted Brooke Morrow (senior VP international) in EMI’s office in New York. Her job was to do the ex-North American deals. I sent her the song, and she loved it. I said, “You have to come here (to Toronto), and sign this girl because this song is going to be unbelievably huge.” The next day Brooke was on a plane to Toronto, and I worked on the deal that she brought in. Eventually, it became a worldwide music publishing deal (for Nelly) with EMI.
["I'm Like a Bird," written by Nelly Furtado, was the first single from her first album “Whoa, Nelly!” Released in North America on Oct, 24, 2000 by DreamWorks Records, it became one of the most successful singles of 2001, reaching number #1 in Canada, #2 in Australia and New Zealand, #5 in the UK, and #9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.]
It’s hard to place songs in Canada because most artists write their own songs. The joke used to be that you could pitch to Anne Murray and then…
Country is still a pretty vital market for getting songs cut in Canada. You don’t make big money but, if you have a number of singles that do really well, it can start to add up.
In Canada, there’s a long-standing resistance by artists toward collaborating with a second party. Go down a list of the Top 20 non-country Canadian acts, and few, if any, write with outside people.
I agree. I think that (attitude) is the biggest weakness of any music scene. If a music career relies entirely on what the artist writes then their level of success in their career is limited by their songwriting ability.
I recall you and Don Henley talking about this a few years ago.
I had a bunch of my (EMI) songwriters backstage at Casino Rama (near Orillia, Ontario), and Don was kind enough to see us. The reason that I wanted to bring my writers backstage was that I had a feeling that he was going to answer the question put to him in the way that he did.
I said, “You are one of the greatest living American songwriters ever, and if you look at your discography, you never released a record that wasn’t at least co-written by you. Throughout both the Eagles’ career, and your own solo career, you have done other peoples’ songs that you didn’t have any writing (credits) on. Why, if you are such a great writer, do you do all of that collaboration, and why do all of those outside songs?”
He said, “It’s really simple. I’ve got my songwriting ego, and my recording artist ego. When I have my recording artist hat on, my sole job is to make the greatest record I possibly can. If the other guy”—and he was pointing to the (invisible) songwriter hat on his shoulder—“if that guy can write songs good enough to get on my record, great; and, if he can’t, eff him.”
And he’s right. If you are setting out to make a great record, you have to make the greatest record possible. If your songwriting skills limit you, then it’s a limited record.
With ole’s business being so international, are you still as involved in Canada’s music industry.
I have to work harder to stay connected to the Canadian music industry scene because our hunting ground is the world.
Music knows no boundaries.
Absolutely, and seeing things at this perspective now, I realize now how there was an artificial restriction when I was running EMI Music Public Canada. My mandate was to find Canadian talent, and help develop it and bring it to the world market. So, I wasn’t interested in finding talent anywhere else. I was very focused on the Canadian music scene.
Now, we find talent wherever it rises to the top. So it’s interesting to view the Canadian scene now. I see it more from an international perspective. I see, probably, the highlights and the limitations of it with more objectivity.
At ole, we focus differently. We have to supply our own discipline. We get very strategic. We have a strategic plan. We have an idea of what kind of music that we want to be involved with, when, and at what level. You have to be disciplined so that you are not chasing every shiny little object that floats by. It is actually a good thing that you put restrictions on yourself, or that they are imposed by the situation.
After you graduated from Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, you landed a job at Nimbus 9 Productions. Nimbus had a studio where the Guess Who, and Alice Cooper recorded, and Bob Seger came up with “Night Moves” working with producer Jack Richardson. What was your job there?
I was an under assistant go-fer.
What did you get from being around Jack Richardson, and his protégé Bob Ezrin, who was working with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, and Pink Floyd?
I got probably three-quarters of my life’s skills and awareness of how the world works by working there. Even though it was a rock and roll environment, Jack had a sense of professionalism, and craftsmanship to the 'nth' degree. So it was an extremely responsible, and disciplined environment, with a lot of chaos going on around it because that’s what a professional rock and roll environment was.
So I learned craftsmanship; I learned about professionalism; I learned that (being) close is not good enough, and that only right is good enough. All of those things. I also learned about the attitude of the people who had made it. There’s a really big difference between people who don’t make it, and people who do make it. And, it’s all in the attitude.
[Nimbus 9 Productions was a partnership between (producer) Jack Richardson, (arranger) Allan Macmillian, (arranger/composer) Ben McPeek, and (engineer) Peter Clayton. The partnership stemmed from their collaboration on music for a youth campaign for the Coca Cola account and working on Honda commercials, including using the Guess Who’s frontman Burton Cummings on the “Two-wheeled Freedom on a Honda” jingle in 1967.
It led to Richardson discovering that the band’s recording contract with Quality Records of Canada was expiring. The debut Nimbus 9 album was “A Wild Pair” in 1968 that featured the Guess Who, and the Staccatos (that later became Five Man Electrical Band) made exclusively for Coca-Cola. It reportedly sold 85,000 copies, and led to the Guess Who being signed direct to the Nimbus 9 label. Richardson went on to produce 14 albums with the Winnipeg band, including their mega-hit, “American Woman.”]
Who came into the Nimbus 9 studio in Yorkville that impressed you?
Neil Young came in. That was an eye opening experience. At first, I didn’t understand what he was doing. I was really, really puzzled by his (production) approach. It took me years of thinking about it, and watching his career afterwards to understand what he was doing.
What he was doing was breaking every recording rule in the book. He was doing it because he wanted to capture “the feeling.” He recorded there during the “Live Rust” tour. He liked “the feeling” onstage. He wanted to capture it in a more controlled environment. He never used the recordings. I remember thinking, “This guy is being reckless about the recording process. How does he expect it to be a good record if he’s violating all of these methods of recording?” It took me forever to realize that it was all about “the feel” to him. He wanted the recording process to be a slave to “the feel” and not the other way around.
You were allowed to do some producing at Nimbus 9.
I was involved with the Kings. In fact, one of the other engineers there Ringo Hrycyna and I engineered, and co-produced the Kings’ album (“Are Here and More”). Bob Ezrin came in near the end of it, heard the record, and thought that there was a smash on it. He got them a deal with Elektra. Then, Bob, Ringo and I re-did the record. I was engineer, and associate producer on it with Bob. That was an incredible experience. Of course, the album had that hit, “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ Into Glide” (that reached #43 on Billboard’s Hot 100) on it.
I also worked a little bit on (Pink Floyd’s) “The Wall” when Bob worked on tracks at Nimbus. It was very minor work but, obviously, it was pretty exciting to be working on that record. That was an eye-opener. We ended up doing some of the theatrical things there. I remember engineering the segment where the groupie comes into hotel, and says, “Oh my God! What a fabulous room! Are all these your guitars?” That was (Canadian actress) Trudy Young.
The most memorable thing was when Bob first put up the multi-track tape (of “The Wall”) to listen to them in the control room. It was mind-blowing. You felt like someone had gone to Mars, and brought back a multi-track tape. I think there were two 24-track (consoles) together. Jack and Bob pioneered that linking of multi-tracks.
The great thing about that studio too was the technological innovations there.
Some of the first digital recordings were done there and I was involved in them in a very minor way—and a lot of the early direct-to-disc recordings (through Nimbus 9’s sister label, Umbrella Records)—Rough Trade, Nexus, and Rob McConnell the Boss Brass did direct-to-disc recordings there.
Canadian documentary filmmaker Bruce Carter's 2002 film “Adventures in Rock” tells Jack Richardson's story as the man who almost single-handedly built the Canadian music scene starting in the mid 1960s. One of Jack’s skills was spotting good songs.
The number one thing that I learned working with Jack is big part of why I ended up in publishing. I think I was naturally a song person, but I didn’t understand it or couldn’t articulate it. Jack’s philosophy was that nothing matters but the song. There’s a great story about when his son Garth informed him that he wanted to be a producer, and follow in his footsteps. Garth said, “If I want to be a successful producer, what’s the secret?” So Jack sits him down, and says, “Okay son, here’s the secret. Good songs sell, shitty ones don’t.” A big light bulb went off in my head when I heard that.”
[Garth "GGGarth" Richardson is a noted Vancouver-based producer and engineer. His first big break came as a second engineer on Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” He has since produced Rage Against the Machine, Mudvayne and the Melvins; and has handled engineering for such acts as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nickelback, and Motley Crüe. He also operates Nimbus School Of Recording Arts in Vancouver.]
Your studio work provided a broad grounding in music-making, but you came to prefer working with songwriters.
I felt this affinity to the song. People talk about the performance, and technology and all that. You start to wonder if there’s something wrong with you because you are so fixated on what they are singing and not on how they are singing it or anything else. Once I became a publisher that helped me realize what my niche was.
How did you come to be creative manager at ATV Music Group Canada?
Frank Davies (then president ATV Music Group Canada) got me started in publishing. When I left Nimbus 9, I had a partnership with Brian Ainsworth, the manager of the Kings. He and I started a company, and we called ourselves The Producers after the movie. I think we were the only two people that had seen the movie. The company lasted a couple of years.
One of the projects (with the band Scandal) that we did, Frank heard. He really loved it, and wanted to get involved with the band, but couldn’t make a deal. Frank hired me because he liked our work. It took him a long time to convince me. One day, I went in to talk to him about it. Part of the way through the conversation, I said, “Wait a minute Frank. Are you saying that you want to pay me for, more or less, what I do now?” He said, “Yes. I’ve been trying to tell you that for a year.”
After you started working ATV Music Group Canada you got “What About Love?” to Heart and it became a Top 10 hit in the U.S.
I was only in the job for a few months, and I got that cut. It sold millions of records. Our writers were Brian Allen and Sharon Alton. Jim Vallance was the third writer. It was song that was written and recorded for a Toronto album, and they left it off.
I think I know why. They couldn’t really nail the background and the chorus. They thought it was a little wimpy, but Brian played it for me one day, and I just about lost my shirt. I just thought it was such a great song. So I played it for Don Grierson (then VP of A&R at Capitol Records). He had Heart record it, and it was a huge hit. I thought, “This is my first cut, and it landed in the first two or three months of being in the job.” I thought, “Wow. What an easy job this is.” Later, I realized it isn’t easy at all.
I learned everything I know about song plugging from that (Heart) experience. Number one, it’s about the demo. No matter how good the song is, you have to have a great demo. The (“What About Love?”) demo was, in fact, a rough mix of the recording that had been done for the album that they hadn’t finished. It was a blueprint for a hit record. I also learned that you have to trust your own instincts. I can’t tell you how many people I played that song for that came into my office. I’d say, “Listen, this is a smash.” I’d say that 90% of the people I played it for said, “I don’t get it.” I just couldn’t believe it. It’s the old story, just one person with a belief.
Pitching a song is difficult. A character-defining experience.
Absolutely. It’s a great test. The song either fills the room with energy or it lays an egg.
Anyone pitching gets a lot turndowns. You have to continue to believe in the song and the writer. You can’t take a turndown personally.
I think that you have to take it personally. You have to develop a thick skin, but you have to believe in the music. I do take it personally. I used to have a problem with telling people that they were crazy if they didn’t get it. I’ve learned to temper that over the years. Until I learned a bit of bedside manner, I would be incredulous that the people weren’t getting it.
Music publishers are now complaining that labels have soaked up most of the money that Apple is prepared to pay for cloud-licensing rights for its iCloud cloud-based store, sync and streaming service.
The division of the content pie seems to be approximately what it is on the download iTunes store which is disappointing. As a music publisher I’m not sure why my copyrights are worth any less than a master.
[With iCloud, Apple will store 5 GB of music bought from iTunes for free in iCloud. It will charge $25 per year to scan and match users' existing music collections for songs not purchased from the iTunes store against the iTunes library, and then let users re-download up to 25,000 tracks to the same devices.
The $25 annual fee will be collected into a pool, and Apple will then take a 30% fee. From there, it seems that 58% will go to labels, and 12% to publishers. However those portions are paid to artists and songwriters will be determined on use, which Apple will provide to labels and publishers.]
There’s an argument that iCloud could monetize piracy, by providing some level of payment for music files acquired from P2P services over the years.
I don’t know if it would curtail any piracy, but if it gets us paid for people accessing their tracks that they never paid for in the first then I think that it’s a fantastic thing.
Digital music is now being monetized to a level that is becoming impressive.
The problem is that most of that wealth has gone into the hands of people who make money off of music parasitically. By facilitating piracy and facilitating the unauthorized use of music—their activities, their businesses, their products and services are generally outside the copyright fence. We haven’t been able to participate in that.
So, rather than changing the law to incorporate some of those issues, iCloud is basically taking the illegitimate music, and bringing it inside the copyright fence.
The recording industry and the music publishing industry don’t make it easy to license digital content.
There is a lot of truth to the statement that it is very cumbersome and difficult to license music. I think it could be a lot easier. But I don’t think that it has to be any easier than any other business. It’s a complex issue. Part of the problem is that you have fairly complex issues multiplied by the number of songs in the world—the universe of songs that people want to license. There’s an extraordinary number of items.
If you wanted to get into the cell phone business, it would not be a cakewalk. So there’s nowhere that it is written that (using digital music) has to be easier than other businesses. Having said that, it should be easier than it is. I think that our industry has done a poor job of making (clearance of rights) easier.
[At the National Music Publishers Association's annual meeting on June 15, 2011, president and CEO David Israelite urged members that now is the time to create U.S. blanket-licensing solutions for digital music service providers seeking mechanical and synchronization rights.]
Mobile phones are expanding the use of film and music content.
Mobile is the future of music and video consumption, unquestionably even if it’s a mobile device within a home. That’s the future. I think that we all have to focus on it and build our business plans with that in mind. It’s crazy not to.
What does the future hold for digital music on the internet?
The thing about the internet is that there’s all this activity that is earning money off of the back of the songs. It’s not currently part of the copyright corral. Long-term, I am incredibly bullish on the digital music market. We will sort it out and it will be the greatest thing that has ever happened to us. It’s been a long frustrating 10 years since Napster. The big worry now is not that we aren’t going to figure out a lot of these things; the big worry is as the legitimate music services grow and multiply, hopefully, there is some kind of containment of unauthorized use of music or piracy. But my biggest fear is, particularly for the music publishing world in the United States, is what if we tamed piracy and didn’t make any money?
What do you mean?
Let’s say people start to stream music off of revenue-earning sites. What is the music publishing businesses piece of that revenue? It is nothing. So the existing deals and tariffs, particularly in the U.S., and particularly with streaming, are really problematic.
A major problem of music publishing in the digital future is the tariff streaming rate in the U.S.?
The streaming rate is so unbelievably low because the consent to create that ASCAP and BMI have to operate under a Consent Decree has prevented them negotiating a fair piece of the pie. You see that with the Pandora IPO filing. In the risk section, it said it will spend 45% of its revenue on royalties. Fantastic. Finally there’s a music service that spends a significant part of their revenue on royalties, but 90% of the royalties it pays out are to SoundExchange on behalf of the master (owners). That tells you that the relative value of the copyright to the master is 10 to 1 in that situation
believe the reason for that is that the Consent Decree really hobbles the ability of our business to get a proper rate.
[It is noteworthy that EMI Music Publishing recently announced that it is taking digital licensing, previously handled by ASCAP, in-house. Roger Faxon, chairman/CEO of EMI Music Publishing and CEO of EMI Group, wrote in Billboard (June 11, 2011) that, “The changing world of digital music means that it is imperative that we explore new ways to encourage innovation, in order to allow our music to find as broad an audience as it possibly can. And that means exploring ways to unify the rights in our catalog.
Services don't care what specific rights are called or which part of the value chain those rights sit within—they just want to get the permission to do what they want to do, in a timely and efficient manner. Rather than forcing services to adapt to our processes, it is incumbent on us to adapt to their needs, and only by doing so will we speed digital development.”]
This issue will become more heated as technology evolves.
Increasingly, the technology of music shooting from one location to somebody’s device is increasingly irrelevant. No matter how it starts out, it ends up as a download if you want to utilize that feature on your browser. It is all being blurred. The fact is that it is “ones and zeros” that represent music that is going over a lot of wires, over a lot of networks, and a lot airways into a lot of devices where a lot of companies are making a lot of money, except largely the people who own and make the music.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he 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, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide: Celebrating 40 Years Of The Juno Awards.
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