As Martin Bandier confirms his departure from Sony/ATV, revisit his Music Week cover feature from earlier this year...
Back in the ‘80s, when Martin Bandier and Guy Moot were at independent publishing company SBK, three words informed their every move: “Make a difference”.
Fast forward 30 years and the pair are still working together, now as chairman and CEO and UK MD and president, worldwide creative respectively, at publishing behemoth Sony/ATV. At the world’s leading music publisher, the roster and the deals may now be bigger, the offices swankier, their personal reputations enhanced. But those three words still hold sway.
“We do make a difference,” smiles Bandier as he settles down in his gargantuan corner office in Sony’s New York HQ, flanked by Moot and president, global chief marketing officer Brian Monaco. “Having all these services, arranging co-writes between some of our famous artists – every songwriter wants to write with Gaga or Taylor or Pink.
We can’t write the songs but we certainly create the opportunities for people to write songs that are meaningful and have hits.”
“We are at the beginning of a process so we can make a profound difference at the songwriting stage,” agrees Moot. “We’re not just a plug-it-in-the-machine [company], we don’t want to be seen as just a major publisher.
We want to be very aligned with our songwriters, help them with this journey, create value, help invest in them, create sync opportunities. There’s a new generation of artists who are doing it themselves and publishing is going to be more important than ever.
There’s a greater opportunity for publishers to work more closely with those artists, help with their development, help with some investment, to help them with that journey.”
So while Sony/ATV is No.1 (it led the 2016 UK market shares with 33.15%, almost double the share of its nearest competitor) its management insist it still tries harder than the competition.
And there’s no shortage of competition right now: as well as the other majors, the independent publishing scene is rife with well-funded newer players, many of whom have no intention of playing nice for the old guard.
Bandier has seen it all before, of course, but his appetite for the business remains insatiable. His trademark cigar may be absent today but his maverick tendencies are still on display to the extent that he’s one of the few music biz executives with good things to say about President Donald Trump (“Is the guy under attack? Does he Twitter too much? That’s who he is. But the economy is booming, unemployment is at an all-time low… Things are going pretty good at this moment”).
And he’s certainly showing no signs of slowing down. Monaco laughs as he tells of his 76-year-old boss’ all-hours enquiries about how much Sony/ATV got for a sync he’s just seen on TV (“He’ll call before the Super Bowl, during the Super Bowl, after the Super Bowl”).
Sony/ATV just smashed the Super Bowl, with huge syncs for everyone from Amazon to Budweiser. It also ruled the Grammys, with 119 nominations from its writers – although our trio are still unhappy about Ed Sheeran being shut out of the major categories.
And it has a superstar roster to make even the biggest record label’s mind boggle; from Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Pink and Drake to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye and Carole King.
So, with the company on track for a record year financially, time for the team to sit down with Music Week for a rare interview and discuss streaming, Facebook, Kobalt and more.
“I have plenty to say,” quips Bandier. “But these guys might stop me…”
So, how is life at Sony/ATV?
Martin Bandier: “It’s been more than a good year, it’s been the best year ever. Well, there’s still a month to go in our financial year but I can’t imagine anything screwing it up, I can only imagine it getting better. From a financial point of view, we’re well over every target we imposed on ourselves and Sony Corp imposed.
From a creative point of view, we had the biggest songs and the biggest artists you could imagine. You always pinch yourself because you say, ‘How do you repeat this for next year?’ But streaming has been a tremendous opportunity for all of us.
It’s converted the music business into a growth business again. It’s like when I was growing up in this industry, you wanted to be in it not only because you loved music, but because it was a growth business. Now, who wouldn’t want to be in the music business?”
How happy are you with the streaming sector?
MB: “We’ll see what happens when Spotify goes public. I’d feel better if we had some equity in it! We do what we do and we fight for our songwriters to get paid.
Songs are the secret sauce that makes everything work. You can’t have a hit without the right melody and lyrics, it just doesn’t work and you become a spoken word or something. No one gets that credit, but Spotify just announced that they’re going to provide songwriter and producer credits.”
Guy Moot: “That’s a major step forward, we’re very happy about that. Spotify have come a long way from the embryonic days of streaming. It’s pretty incredible, whatever they float for, it’s still real recognition of how far the streaming business has come.”
MB: “It’s incredible to think that we’ve just had a new [streaming] rate set by the CRB, but five years ago we stuck with the same rate. There was no hearing, we all shook hands and said, ‘Let’s keep the same rate’, because there was no such thing [as a streaming business]. And now, all of a sudden, Spotify announced they have 70m subscribers.
The business is growing beyond belief and streaming is clearly leading the charge.”
But are you any happier with the deals you get out of such platforms?
MB: “Nobody is ever happy with a deal! You don’t walk away from a deal with Spotify or YouTube or Apple and say, ‘Man, I got them!’
They’re always hard-fought negotiations. So it’s not like we’re happy with it, but we get minimum guarantees that provide our songwriters with a better edge than anyone else. It used to be that you would fight with the record companies about how much the mechanical royalty rate was. No one argues about that now!
The players are the tech companies, that’s just the way it’s been built. There’s a real power shift. The bad part of that is, our business – the one we grew up in – was so much about music and relationships. I would know the head of every record company and I still do.
But I would not only know them, I’d know the head of marketing, head of promotion, who did their commercials. You lose some of that flavour and you want to know, ‘Who’s Daniel Ek’s next in line?’ It’s like a big fucking secret…”
You were the first publisher to do a deal with Facebook…
MB: “It’s pretty terrific that they recognise they needed to make a deal. We made a short term deal so that they can figure out their music strategy and we can better price the deal [in the future]. That’s one I’m happy with, because it came out of nowhere.
You’re talking about starting from zero so, if we got a dollar, it’s a dollar more than you ever got before. But believe me we got more than a dollar! You can rely on that! It’s terrific because music is part of the fabric of people’s lives and when you have two billion users every month, my God. The reach of music just continues to grow. It’s part of everything we do.”
Last time you were in Music Week, you said Sony/ATV was back in acquisition mode…
MB: “I can’t say we’ve been successful in buying a lot. We’re all song junkies here. You don’t go into the music publishing business unless you love songs. But we’ve done such a good job at letting the world know that music publishing is a terrific business that new, well-funded players have entered the business and need scale.
They need songs to build their company. And as a result of that, competition has made deals very, very high. I’m still conservative and don’t want to reach for things just for the sake of it. It bothers me because the songs are like, wow.
Who wouldn’t want to have What A Wonderful World? It’s one of those songs that’s forever. There are opportunities that have been out there but… I don’t want to [say people] overpaid because, strategically, maybe they don’t think they’ve overpaid. Maybe they’re building in higher growth rates for streaming.”
GM: “As Marty says, there’s a lot of money in the world right now. So some of these people are under pressure to scale up and invest. Everybody’s got a different business model and a different view of what the world’s going to bring.
We’re not seeing that same spectacular growth in [tracks from] pre-2000 streaming as post-2000, but there might be new players. Amazon could come in and reinvigorate some of those catalogues in the streaming world.”
So, did you look at Imagem [bought by Concord] and Songs [Kobalt Capital]?
MB: “Oh my God, yes. Who wouldn’t want The Weeknd to be part of your repertoire of artists? But we were nowhere close. Kobalt seems to have a penchant for spending a tremendous amount of money. They raise money all the time and maybe they’re obliged to spend it.
But it always seemed to me that Kobalt had no regards for profits, that was not their motivation… It’s beyond belief that they’ve been in business for 17 years and during that 17 years Sony/ATV EMI has made billions of profits for ourselves, for our songwriters, for our shareholders.
We’re not a philanthropic organisation, we’re in business. It doesn’t mean we’re bad people, it’s business. We think we’re [providing] a real service, we’ve made billions and they’ve made nothing.”
Brian Monaco: “The service they’re offering in the sync world, I don’t think it’s on the scale of us. This year we’ve done over 30,000 licences, which is up from last year and we still have another month to close deals. When we look at the Super Bowl, we’ve dominated that for the last five years.
So just talking sync, being the size that we are and the catalogue that we have, we’re everybody’s first phone call. Which is really wonderful in the business, but it’s what you can do after that. Can you execute on the creative that they’re sending?
Volkswagen called us and said they have four campaigns coming up, four different creatives and we were able to lock in all four commercials having 100% of the song. Audi called us, three new campaigns coming out, we nailed the creative and got all three of them, with 100% songs.
I don’t think the other publishers are doing it at the level we’re doing it, or at the global level that we’re doing it.”
Sync-wise, where are the opportunities coming from these days?
BM: “We take sync pretty seriously. Marty was the guy to start the sync department however many years ago…”
MB: (Laughs) “Just a few…”
BM: “He’s very passionate about it and we’ve created a really passionate team to make sure we’re taking all our assets and putting them in the marketplace globally.
To the point where we’ve actually had a few artists break in other territories because of a commercial and now they can tour through that territory. It’s starting to move for us in China, so we’re excited about that. We have a few people on the ground out there that are looking at those opportunities.”
MB: “China will be a huge market for anyone in the content business, because the scale is so enormous. I used to say that our business was like breadcrumbs, if you put them all together you get a loaf of bread – and it’s like that in different territories right now, especially China.”
BM: “We’ve also started a masters programme which I don’t think the other publishers are doing on the scale we are. We’re creating our own masters with writers who are not signed to labels, creating sync masters to put into the marketplace.
We host camps in Nashville, Canada, LA where we bring these writers together, bring ad agencies and film companies in and write on the spot to the briefs or the visuals. We did one and [songwriters Gizzle and Mike Sabath] wrote a song called Get Loud For Me.
Gizzle recorded it, one of the car companies winded up taking it for an industrial use, Bose took it for their global commercial, it’s been in trailers and hit a million streams on Spotify. Thinking differently and diversifying the business has been great for us.”
So is songwriting a global business now?
GM: “It’s completely global now. We’ve got artists signed from Nigeria, East London then you’re in LA, Toronto is a hotspot. I’m planning a trip to China to really look at the possibilities, same with Japan. The world map is changing.
The modern A&R exec has to be travelling, music can be discovered within a second, wherever it’s from and whatever the circumstances it’s posted under. We like to reflect that. And it’s about coordinating a team of A&R people to support our writers.
It’s no longer about a group of individuals with egos, it’s about working as a team across territories. If a writer from LA goes to Stockholm they have the best possible A&R and creative back-up, we can put together an incredible schedule and vice versa.”
BM: “We’re a global team. We talk to Guy on a weekly basis, he’s constantly having artists come and meet with us before he even signs them, because he wants to make sure we’re giving the artist exactly what we say we’re going to give.
That’s why we’ve been very successful; we don’t promise things we can’t deliver. That happens a lot with other publishers in the business, there’s a big smoke show of what’s going to happen.”
Some other publishers would say that scale is a disadvantage, that you can’t look after all your writers because you’re too big…
MB: “You can’t be too big in today’s world. In an interactive streaming world, bigger is better. You need people on the ground in every territory, you need coverage, you need more creative people per artist and songwriter than ever before and we have that.
You need more people in the sync world than ever before and we have that. We’re clearly not a boutique but we have the manpower and capabilities and expertise to be a boutique in effect for songwriters.”
GM: “We’re very bespoke in terms of what we sign. Just because we’re big does not mean we’re indiscriminate, we are very focused and targeted.
My role is to coordinate that internationally. We’re finding the world’s best writers and putting them into our roster. We have big catalogues and a lot of songs but we have the manpower and resource that is in scale with that.”
BM: “If it’s the streaming services, if it’s Facebook, if it’s a commercial or a film, everyone knows they can get everything they need with one phone call from us.
It’s nice to get that phone call, and then it’s up to us to execute. We can close up all those deals so those other writers at other companies are not even getting that opportunity, because we’ve taken it off the table.”
MB: “It helps when you’ve got four million songs. And we can hum all of them!”
Other publishers would say their different deal structures mean writers would make more money from them though…
MB: “We know that money comes from two different things. One, the deal that you make with whoever is providing you with that revenue – and I’d like to think that we make the best deals for our writers and ourselves.
Second would be the manner in which those songs are administered, how are they collected, how quickly are they paid?
We have our Score system which is an incredible tool for our songwriters and we’re able to get them money as quickly as possible. We can stand up and say, ‘We’re No.1 publisher, we’ve got the biggest market share’ but, at the end of the day, we’re doing it for our songwriters.”
Marty, you recently extended your contract…
MB: (Laughs) “Yes, it goes until 2028! The great thing about our company is there are really qualified people that can fill the roles. I love what I do.
If I didn’t love what I do, I’d probably be home now arguing with my wife about where we were going to have lunch, which is not a very productive day! But I’m also aware that my golf game could be really good. The answer is that I’m fluid.”
Guy told us that you never let him forget an unsuccessful deal…
GM: “That’s true. Marty always used to say to me as a young A&R man, ‘Don’t fuck up’. But you know what? He did let me eff up a few times and that’s how you learn, that’s how you grow better as an executive and that’s been key.
You realise, especially in A&R, you’re going to make some mistakes and you’re wiser and better for those mistakes. Again, our executives don’t just come and go, we like to see them develop and we let them eff up… Occasionally.”
MB: “[Doing deals] is not like giving a dosage of medicine, measured and monitored. It’s a creative business. If we had the answer all the time, no one else would have hits and we’d only have hits.”
So, how do you see the future?
MB: “The future is as bright as could be. Streaming has opened the door for everyone to make more money. I’m excited and encouraged.
It’s the first time in a long time that we’re in a growth business and that growth is not going to stop.”