An Interview with MECA Conference speaker Eric Beall, Vice President of Creative of Sony/ATV Music
Two issues have increasingly come front-and-center in the debate over the future of the music industry: How do we make money in this new music industry, and perhaps more importantly, how do we find and nurture the new talent that will drive tomorrow's revenues. Sony/ATV Music's VP of Creative Eric Beall will tackle the issues head-on as a featured speaker on both Publishing Income (There's Gold In Them Thar Non- Mechanicals) and Artist Development (Where's The Love For Tomorrow's Stars?) panels at the upcoming Musician's Education and Career Advancement (MECA) Conference & Festival to be held May 12-15 in Chicago, Illinois.
Beall is well-qualified to speak on music publishing and artist development topics: as Vice President of Creative for Sony/ATV Music in New York, Beall oversees 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 and Riprock & Alex G., and he has coordinated and directed Zomba writers in the development of material for Jive Records pop superstars like Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Britney Spears, and Aaron Carter.
Beall is also the author of "Making Music Make Money: An Insider's Guide To Becoming Your Own Music Publisher," due out in November on Berklee Press, the publishing arm of the prestigious Berklee College Of Music. "Making Music Make Money" is intended to educate songwriters, as well as aspiring music business entrepreneurs, in the basics of becoming an effective independent music publisher. Topics include a discussion of the various roles a publisher plays in the music business: collection, administration, protection, exploitation and evaluation. An emphasis is placed on the exploitation process, and the importance of creating a sound business model for a new publishing venture.
Before joining the publishing ranks, Beall was a songwriter and producer, penning 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 co- founded Class-X Recordings, an independent dance label in New York.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Thank you, Eric, for agreeing to be interviewed by MusicDish about some of the things that you will be talking about at the MECA Music Conference & Festival. Among the topics you and others music industry professionals will be discussing at the conference is the fact that many songwriters and artists are trying to break into the music business as independent publishers because staff writing deals are scarce. With the contraction of the major label/publishing industry, do you see a viable place for independent publishers/songwriters, or will this kind of income stream be limited to signed acts and producers affiliated with major labels or large publishers?
Eric Beall I really believe that this is an ideal time for small and midsize independent publishers. With so much attention being paid to the woes of the record labels, many people have missed the fact that the publishing business is actually growing. While it's true that mechanical income is down, the income from syncs and other licenses, like ringtones and karaoke, have more than made up for decreasing record sales. At the same time, many of the major publishing companies have been forced into severe cost cutting, largely because of difficulties in their affiliated record companies and the pressure of corporate mergers and acquisitions. So the business is getting bigger, and the big companies are getting smaller. That means there's opportunity out there for someone.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] For those who are serious about taking the independent route to break into the publishing industry, what kinds of steps would independent publishers have to take, or what action would their catalogues have to have to be viewed as serious by those already in the industry?
Eric Beall There are two obvious things that always help an independent publisher to be taken seriously. The first thing is diversification in the writer roster. I don't mean stylistically-- in that respect, it's actually more effective to keep your business focused on one specific genre in which you can bring some real expertise. But I do think that a company appears a bit more legit by representing more than one writer. It's okay to represent your own work (as a songwriter), but it helps if there are a few other writers you represent as well.
The second thing that always helps is "hits." It doesn't really matter how many songs you have in your catalogue-- what really counts are the "hits." Most of a publishing company's income is generated by "hit" songs-- they get on the radio, they get in movies, people sing to them at karaoke bars. You need songs that are radio-oriented-- uptempo, mass appeal songs with big choruses.
I recently wrote a book called "Making Music Make Money" (Berklee Press)-- the point of the book is to encourage songwriters to become active as their own publishers. In the book, I stress the importance of focusing on one particular genre, organizing your catalogue so that you can respond to requests quickly and efficiently, and building relationships. If a small publisher does those three things, they'll be taken seriously by anyone. They'll also be several steps ahead of the vast majority of music publishers, large and small.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] The staff writing deal has traditionally been the "golden fleece" for any serious songwriter. Those opportunities are becoming more and more limited, especially for songwriters who are not also artists or producers. Do you see any alternatives to the staff writing deal on the horizon for serious songwriters?
Eric Beall I think the term "staff writer" tends to imply a certain type of relationship that doesn't really exist anymore. It used to be that someone would be signed as a "staff writer" and be given a "draw" or monthly "advance" to live off of-the songwriter would write songs and the publisher would go out and try to get them cut. In return, the publisher would keep the publishing share of the income, and the writer would get the writer's share. Outside of a few small publishing firms in Nashville, that sort of relationship is pretty much history, for better and worse. Most publishing deals now are "co-publishing deals." This means that the writer keeps more of the money-but it also means that the publisher expects more of the writer. Publishers expect writers to get more of their own cuts, and the advances they offer are usually based on income that the writer has already generated on their own.
I think there are a couple of alternatives for writers in the present climate. As I've already mentioned, you could opt for a co-publishing deal, or you could look for an administration deal, which would allow you to keep control of your catalogue, take 90% of the income, and have someone else look after the paperwork. But if you opt for either of those options, you're still going to have to do a lot of the upfront work yourself-you're going to have to get your songs cut largely on your own before anyone will even offer you a co-pub or an admin deal. So the real alternative, at least in the early stages of your career, is to be your own publisher-to generate some activity on your own.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Eric, you will also be on a panel about artist development at MECA, so let's talk about artist development for a bit. For a while there, publishers were becoming the ad hoc artist development arm of the major label music industry. Is this trend continuing?
Eric Beall I think it's a trend that is continuing, but not growing. Every large publisher has a certain number of development deals on their roster-artists or bands that were signed for modest advances, with the hopes that the publisher could help get them a deal. Of course, the difficulty is that given the contraction in the record industry, there are fewer labels signing new acts. So publishers have a lot of acts that they've developed that don't have the big label opportunities anymore. For that reason, I think most publishers are being more cautious about taking on projects that require a lot of work, with only the hope of a future deal. Of course, if the record business bounces back a little, these deals will start to proliferate as well.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Is it essential that artists also write songs to land a deal today?
Eric Beall I assume when you ask about a "deal," we're talking about a record deal, not a publishing one. Obviously, it's essential that an artist write in order to get a publishing deal. On the record side though, I think there continues to be a place for artists that don't write-at least in specific markets. In the country market, you continue to have artists that don't write, or at least don't write much; in the pop/AC market you have people like Clay Aiken, Celine Dion, and Josh Groban. Of course in the rock market, most artists are expected to come up with their own material.
I think there is some concern at most labels about signing an artist who doesn't write-as it can be incredibly hard to consistently turn up hit songs, album after album. At the same time, I think there's concern about signing artists who insist on writing, when they're not really topnotch songwriters. It works both ways. What you really like to see, as an A&R person, is some sense that artists understands their own strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. If they really have something to say musically, then by all means, they should be writing. But if the artist is only a marginal songwriter, they really should stay out of the process, and focus on finding the best material they can.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Song royalties seem to be the "deep pockets" that everyone is trying to get their hand into today, from labels, producers, engineers, artists -- just about everyone wants to get a piece of the music publishing pie these days. What impact is this trend having on the publishing business?
Eric Beall It's a constant struggle to keep everyone's hands out of our deep pockets. As I just said, I think a great many artists do themselves a disservice by trying to muscle in on the writing income and/or the publishing income. Unless they're superstars, it just means that they don't get the best material to record. The same is true of producers and engineers who try to grab a piece of publishing on anything they work on. Frankly, the worst offenders of all are the movie studios-it's very difficult to get an original song in a movie without giving up a hefty chunk to the studio's publishing company. And unfortunately, they usually have the clout to get away with it. The best you can do is try to structure something where they share the income, but don't actually own a piece of the copyright.
As far as the impact all this money-grubbing has-it's really just a question of being more cautious as far as projecting what a song might earn. And not to be cynical, but it also means that as a publisher, you might want to start offering admin deals to the producers, labels, engineers, managers, and artists who are grabbing pieces of publishing but don't really know what they should do with it. Sometimes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Thanks for your thoughts, Eric. I'm sure that folks attending the MECA Music Conference & Festival will gain insight into the state of the music industry from the panels that you and other industry professionals will participate in.
Eric Beall I think it's very important to recognize that any business cycle offers opportunity-and the current downturn in the music business is no exception. As I said at the beginning of the interview, in many respects this is an ideal time for a small, aggressive music publisher to get in the game. Many of the large companies are retrenching, and are not being aggressive; there are good writers available who don't have deals; and the publishing business as a whole continues to grow. But you must know what you're doing-publishing is not as straightforward as the record business.
That's really why I wrote "Making Music Make Money"-too many songwriters are waiting for a publisher to come along and solve their problems. The truth is, if you're a songwriter, you already have a publisher. It's you. You just need to learn how to set up an effective company-one that can organize and administer your catalogue, and also generate exploitation opportunities for your songs. It's a good time to be small and independent.
The Musician's Education and Career Advancement (MECA) Conference & Festival will feature daytime educational panels, performance clinics, workshops and mentoring sessions with music industry professionals. Networking events and showcases will occur during the four nights of the conference, and approximately 250 bands/artists are scheduled to perform at MECA showcases in 20 venues throughout Chicago.
Some of the confirmed panelists and mentors include:
Billy Zero - Program Director of Unsigned channel, XM Radio
Jason Jordan - VP of A&R, Hollywood Records
Eric Beall - VP of Creative, Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Benjamin Brannen - Creative Manager, BMG Music Publishing
Del Breckenfeld - Director of Entertainment Marketing - Fender Musical Instruments Corp. / A&R Fender Records (Rhino/WEA)
Gerey Johnson - Director of A&R, A440 Music Group
Carmen Rizzo - Two-time Grammy Nominated Producer-Mixer- Programmer
Jim Peterik - Grammy-winning Songwriter/Producer
Steve Smith - Voted "#1 All-Around Drummer" 5-times by Modern Drummer
DJ P-Trix - DMC US Champion and World-Finalist
Billy Sheehan - Voted "Best Rock Bass Player" 5-times by Guitar Player