It’s been a year since the deal that brought the Sony/ATV and EMI catalogues under the same publishing roof – and saw Guy Moot appointed managing director, UK and president of European Creative for the combined company. Here he describes life at the new market leader, and the role it hopes to play in building a bigger and fairer industry for all.
So, a year on, how hard was the merger and what have the main benefits been?
Mergers are hard work. I think people say the stressful things are bereavements, moving house, divorce etc, well this is up there. When mergers happen, there are lots of happy headlines and photos, but there’s a lot of work to be done, a lot of integration, a lot of culture to consider. But the fact that I worked with Marty [Bandier, Chairman and CEO of Sony/ATV] for 19 years, then obviously went through the Faxon years at EMI, I was hopefully in a good place to assimilate those cultures. It takes a while to get the people you want in the right places and for them to get used to each other. But, equally, everything in this business happens quite quickly, so a year on, there is a new culture. It’s not divisive: it’s a new culture for a new company. And key to everything is the people and their attitude. I have to say they've been amazing throughout the whole process. I'm sure everyone thinks they've got the best people working with them, but in this case I'm pretty sure I'm right.
What was key in overcoming any sense of ‘them and us’ - perhaps altering the way people, internally, viewed the company?
There was a bit of ‘we used to do it that way, we used to do it this way…’ No, this is how we do it now, and everyone’s on-board. And that comes about through working together and doing deals together. You can’t just take a book away and learn each other’s catalogues. You have to enjoy the music, you have to make it fun. So we make a lot of effort here to send out a lot of music, educating people about the two catalogues. It’s not like an exam, it’s sharing the music we love. We send out a song every day, with some funny commentary, and people want to play it.
So there’s a Sony/ATV ‘Song of the day’?
Well, we call it ‘catalogue gems’, but yes, there is. I make the pick on a Friday and insist it’s one of the many dance tracks I signed back in the day. People might think I’m taking advantage and bending the rules but no, sorry, Friday is ‘90s dance. We’re looking forward now, we’re not trying to put things together or dealing with the difficulties of a merger; we know who we are, what we stand for and what we want to do. This is our take on publishing and we think we deliver enhanced value to our songwriters.
Which side do you think experienced the biggest jolt or culture shock - Sony/ATV or EMI?
I don’t know if anyone did really. I mean I guess it was kind of odd after competing pretty hard and pretty aggressively against one another on new acts and writers, to suddenly be on the same side of the fence. But actually, although the competition was fierce, the principles and what we stood for were fairly aligned. I think perhaps the size of the EMI catalogue, even though you’re told ‘this is a big company with lots of moving parts’, for some in the Sony world it wasn’t until the workload drops down that you really think ‘wow, this is a big company with lots of moving parts!’.
We’ve found so many synergies across the catalogue, which you can see in the charts now. I mean Emeli Sande’s album was a huge success for us of course, and many of the co-writers were signed with Stellar Songs, but there were also quite a lot of Sony/ATV writers on there, same with Lana Del Rey. And if we have a big hit with Emeli and Labrinth, again it’s EMI, Stellar, Sony/ATV.
So both rosters are very well placed to put people together to write hit songs. And the business is about hit songs, it always has been, but more so than ever these days, when people have less time or inclination to devote 40 minutes to an album. That’s not to the detriment of artists or artistry, but the bar has gone higher; to take 40 minutes of someone’s time, you’d better have a very deep and compelling proposition. Albums are still hugely important, of course, but so are hit songs and I take huge pleasure looking at our reach in the singles charts and the airplay charts, not just here in the UK but around the world.
The way people consume music has changed and as an A&R person you have to digest that, feel it and think it through. When we sign artists we spend a lot more time as publishers in the development process - filling that gap that maybe doesn’t happen so much at major record companies - and making sure that when those artists come to market maybe they’ve been through a co-writing stage, they’ve evolved, they’ve been supported and it’s their time, because in the record company cycle I think that process moves very quickly these days.
In a synchronisation and licensing sense, again, the catalogues complement each other and we can genuinely say to our partners that we cover all their music needs.
What is your view of the increasing globalisation of songwriting and hit making – and what is your role in it? It’s not just a byproduct of technology is it? It’s a cultural thing.
It’s definitely a cultural thing because I think the industry so many times has tried to contain something rather than represent it, and the truth is, people have access to music wherever they are in the world and they are consumers like you. When you go in a shop you want the best thing your money can buy. You don’t mind especially where it comes from. And when I got my European title four or five years ago at EMI it was a unique opportunity to represent music wherever it came from, and offer it the same support and international push that was often talked about but rarely delivered.
A lot of times there was no ownership from a central source so the most common comment historically was, ‘I signed to my local publishing company and they promised me X,Y and Z on a global basis and it never happened.’ That’s what we don’t want to hear and won’t let happen. We stand for something else, we believe in doing things properly and representing our artists in the way that we promise we will represent them.
So we find the talent, we work with the local MDs and we connect them internationally. And we deliver. The results show. Avicii was a little-known Swedish electronic artist who’d never had a record played on the radio here. Lana Del Rey is from LA but was signed in Germany, Passenger is British but really broke out of Holland, there’s Stargate from Norway, there’s Lykke Li from Sweden, you know you can work your way round the map, there’s something going on everywhere.
What did you think of Calvin Harris being named Songwriter of the Year at the Ivors?
I thought it was a real moment. The Ivors is the most wonderful award show, as publishers and writers they are the most coveted and they are a real honour. They’re voted for by writers, it’s not for TV, it’s not about ratings or celebrity, they really mean something. They are full of integrity, and I was very, very happy to see Calvin recognised like that.
A very small minority grumbled a bit about this ‘DJ’ getting the award. What do you make of that attitude?
I find that very old fashioned and… maybe ‘offensive’ is too strong a word, but come on, get over it. This guy started with us seven or eight years ago as a songwriter after we’d heard his demos on MySpace. He’s developed his craft, he’s developed as an artist and a person – and musically? He’s fantastic. That negative view comes from an old guard that believes all songs have to be delicately picked out on a piano, and it’s so old fashioned. I think what Calvin has achieved is incredible. He’s sold something like 28 million downloads as single tracks off this album (18 Months); hit after hit after hit. And these aren’t songs that are going to go away. These are fantastic copyrights and I couldn’t be more of an advocate or of a fan. I’m really honoured we represent him.
I want to ask you about another artist, Naughty Boy, who has his first album coming out in late August. What do you think about him as a songwriter and his story?
I think he’s just a very special person. He’s got an aura about him. I met him years ago and he was clearly a very talented songwriter, but I also think there’s just something special about him. He’s a deep thinker. He’s as good at listening as he is at talking. I think La La La is the most amazing record, it’s one of those records that wherever I am in Europe I hear it on the radio. And I’m especially delighted because we just renewed his deal.
Can you talk a bit about the increased role you are playing in negotiations for royalties from digital companies? There seems to be a lot of confusion about who gets what and what is fair…
It’s a fairly confused process, but it is a process that needs to be gone through to get to a certain point. And when you sit around the table with people, you can help them understand your business.
We unashamedly want to get the best rates for our songwriters, and that isn’t always aligned to what record companies want or need. And we are up against some very large and powerful companies. We are fairly large ourselves, but even so…
The main thing is that they understand the importance of music, like Steve Jobs and Apple always did but others maybe don’t. But the more we get round the table with people the better, and the easier it will be to correct any misconceptions about the music industry and what we’re trying to achieve and our processes. Maybe they think there’s a Naughty Boy or a Lana Del Rey on every street corner waiting to be discovered…
I think the value of music is a discussion. And we believe that in terms of the talent pool that goes to creating music, then the division of royalties should be more equitable, especially in a streaming world and I think we just want to get the right value. Music is the honey to the bee, it’s a main attractor. And when I see the money that some of these companies will spend on, say, sport, I think why not music? I also think part of the problem is that we’re not very good at projecting what our business is or how it works. There have been generations that think we’re fat cats and wonder what the hell we do. But no, we work hard, we invest. This isn’t the ‘70s or ‘80s.
Do you see yourselves as arguing for ‘music’ – and thereby for your competitors – as much as yourselves and your artists?
I think it’s always been a problem [for the industry] talking as one voice, because we’ve got so many bodies and so many interests. And the result is that people don’t see the work the industry does, the investment it makes – or indeed how hard the artist has to work these days.
And I think in some ways the process of withdrawing our rights from collective positions in certain digital areas here in Europe and in the US, allows us to pull the threads together and at least talk clearly as one company. And it’s not just about what we get paid, it’s the other elements of the contract, it’s the ability to audit, all these things are important. I think we are at a tipping point. This is a hugely important time. Get it right and we could be seeing the good times again, get it wrong and we would be doing a huge disservice to our songwriters and the industry in general.
In some ways you’re not just negotiating for you, you’re setting levels of expectation for, like you say, the industry in general.
Yeah, and sometimes I guess we might be viewed as the bad guy. You look at the publicity Marty got recently when he was accused of ‘holding up’ the [Apple iTunes Radio] announcement, which of course wasn’t true - it was a negotiation, a process. We’re just trying to get what we feel is a fair and equitable rate for our songwriters and you usually find in a rising tide all boats rise. And if we’re the guys to do that then all well and good.