Standing onstage at the Music Week Awards 2021 to claim the Independent Publisher Of The Year was just the latest in a series of triumphs that have comprised the career of Kim Frankiewicz. Here, Concord's EVP of worldwide A&R takes us through her incredible, globe-trotting journey so far, from her early days working with INXS, to navigating the modern catalogue boom and more...
WORDS: JAMES HANLEY PHOTOS: LOUISE HAYWOOD-SCHIEFER
For Kim Frankiewicz, it was love at first sight. Not long after entering the music business in Newcastle in her native Australia, she encountered the band that would change the course of her life.
“When I left school, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” she reminisces. “I’d done a secretarial course and was offered a job working with the local promoter as his secretary. We had all these clubs and pubs that we had to book bands into, so I was dealing with all of the Sydney agents. During that time, there was a young band from Sydney that I loved and so I gave them a residency at one of our clubs, and they’d come up once a week and perform at this club. And that little band was called INXS...”
Inspired to carve out a career in music, Frankiewicz was offered a job on the spot by an agent and was ready to accept, until INXS’ manager Chris Murphy got wind of it...
“He’d heard I’d taken this job and was moving to Sydney and said, ‘No, you have to come and work for me – come and meet me,’” says Frankiewicz. “So I did and he played me the band’s next single, and it was a song called Original Sin. And I was like, ‘Oh, my God, yes, I’m coming to work with you!’
“I went from being a promoter into management, and it was the most amazing experience because INXS went from playing pubs to 400 people to conquering the world. And I got to go on that journey, it was incredible. I was in management for many years.”
MMA Management’s Murphy, who died last year aged 66, was also the driving force behind Frankiewicz’s next career move.
“Chris was a very smart entrepreneur and he had this little publishing company,” she explains. “He always thought that, in management, you don’t own assets, so he wanted to build something where he owned assets. He took me out for dinner and said, ‘I really want you to go and run the publishing company.’ I was like, ‘No way!’ but then he was like, ‘Think about it: when you’re in your 50s, do you still want to be out on the road touring, in management, on call 24 hours?’ And I was like, ‘No’, and he was like, ‘Well, go into publishing, because that’s something that you can grow old into gracefully in the music industry.’ And thank God, I listened to him.”
Frankiewicz was an instant hit in her new line of work, landing agreements with Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records, Beggars Group’s Martin Mills, and Andy Heath’s publishing vehicle Momentum Music for Australian representation.
“The first thing I did was go to Midem, knowing nothing about publishing. And I still don’t know how I did it to this day, but I walked away with two deals,” she laughs. “Those three guys put me on the map and are still in my life today.”
Frankiewicz helped build up the business, MMA Music, before Murphy took her advice and sold up, paving the way for her next adventure – this time in the States.
“I got a phone call from a lawyer in New York, who said MCA Publishing were looking for a VP of international, so he put me forward for that. I got hired and moved to New York and, within six months, MCA became Universal. I spent four years in New York and then transferred my job to London and spent another 10 years with Universal in London as VP of international.”
After 15 years at UMPG, she made the jump to Imagem Music as UK MD in 2012, a role she served until the Concord takeover in 2017. This year marks the expanded Concord’s fifth anniversary.
“I still remember the first day when I sat down at my desk at Imagem,” she notes. “I had a great job [at UMPG], and to leave something stable like that, and jump in at the deep end to a new company... It was one of the first times in my entire career that I was a bit scared. But I sat there and thought about it, and I was like, ‘Okay, what do we need to achieve here?’”
The London-based Australian continues: “In my mind, I set out to work on building a company that was along the lines of the great independents around in the day, like Rondor, Chrysalis and Zomba. They were great independent and creative companies. Right from the beginning, I had a motto – and that was ‘quality over quantity’. I just wanted to go out and build a roster. And I still say to this day, it’s about signing things that make sense for us, and not having 20 of the same type of songwriter. We’ll go, ‘What are we missing on our roster?’ and then look for it – whether that’s a female topline writer, a beats guy, an indie rock band or a grime artist.”
Following the Imagem takeover, Frankiewicz was appointed to lead Concord’s global A&R team as EVP of worldwide creative, reuniting her with former UMPG colleague, Concord chief publishing executive Jake Wisely. Despite some initial apprehension, Frankiewicz quickly adapted to her new surroundings.
“I still remember the first meeting I had with the Concord board in New York,” she says. “I was talking to them about what we’d been building towards at Imagem, and they were amazingly supportive. They were like, ‘That’s working, so keep working that way.’ And so that’s what we’ve continued to do. It was about building a team that had the same mentality about signing quality and not quantity – and growing.”
Concord, insists Frankiewicz, is much more than just an independent music company. Aside from its music publishing business, there is its recorded business of six active labels and a historical portfolio, managed by Craft Recordings. There is its theatricals enterprise, which houses Rodgers & Hammerstein. And there is its classical strand, home to Boosey & Hawkes.
“I always say Concord is like four companies under one umbrella,” says Frankiewicz. “You’ve got people who specialise in each of those areas, but we look out for things and check in with each other. I might come across something that is more classical-leaning, so I’ll send it to the classical team, or they might come across something and send it to me. Then you have lovely situations like Ariana Grande, with her song 7 Rings.”
A No.1 smash on both sides of the Atlantic in 2019, 7 Rings contains an interpolation of My Favorite Things from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical The Sound Of Music.
“The label said, ‘Hey, Kim, Ariana’s done this, can you help get it cleared?’ So, I went in and talked to the Rodgers & Hammerstein people. So we communicate and cross-pollinate.”
US-headquartered Concord, which won Independent Publisher Of The Year at the 2021 Music Week Awards (“I can’t tell you how happy I was – it was like nine years of blood, sweat and tears”), has offices in Nashville, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London and Berlin. It owns or administers more than 600,000 copyrighted musical works and made a major splash in the spring when it acquired 145,000 music copyrights from Downtown.
In 2015, the company inked a multi-year, worldwide licensing agreement with REM covering their 1988-2011 recordings (reissued via its Craft subsidiary).
Concord Music Publishing also acquired the Imagine Dragons publishing catalogue in 2020 and formed a JV with Pulse Music Group. Its current roster includes the likes of The 1975, Fiona Bevan, Jacob Collier, Mark Ronson, Tion Wayne, Chase & Status, Duff McKagan, Oh Wonder and Yola. New signings last year included UK-based Pop Smoke producer Yoz Beatz, rapper Loski and drum & bass star Wilkinson, as well as songwriters Cam Blackwood and Jake Gosling.
Concord also represents the catalogues of songwriting royalty such as Irving Berlin, Benny Blanco, Sammy Cahn, Phil Collins, John Fogerty, Robert Johnson, Cyndi Lauper, Jimmy Napes, Pink Floyd, Trent Reznor, Nikki Sixx and Ryan Tedder.
Music Week talks with Frankiewicz at the end of an exhausting but satisfying 12 months for the exec (“I’m just ready for a break – it’s been another ridiculously busy year”). In this one-to-one, we tackle everything from the data versus gut feeling debate, to resisting the lure of the majors...
You’re from Australia and have worked in New York. How beneficial has your international experience been to your career?
“Hugely! Even when I was in Australia, I was travelling a lot internationally. I was in the States a lot; I was in London a lot; I was travelling Europe a lot. And I really think it’s been a huge advantage, because you get to meet and learn about the other markets, and every market is different. Music travels internationally overnight. It never used to, but it does now, which is great. But also, there are different cultures, different ways of working. So to have had the opportunity to live in other countries and get to know other marketplaces has been a big advantage.”
In your interview at the Music Week Awards, you described Concord as a “boutique publishing company with muscle”. Can you still be a boutique with your acquisitions record?
“Yes, absolutely. Prior to [the Downtown deal] being announced, a lot of work went on in the background with my team and our executives going, ‘Okay, let’s work out what we’re going to need to make sure things don’t fall through the gaps and that we don’t lose what we’re about. And make sure that all those artists, songwriters, and managers feel like they’re in good hands from day one.’ So we added staff where we needed to. As long as you dig in, take care and plan it out, then yes, you can.”
How would you define your approach to A&R?
“It’s an interesting one because there are two types of A&R now. There is the looking at data and seeing what’s going on, which is now a part of our world and our culture. But I’m still a big believer in gut feeling, and all of the A&Rs that work for me have been chosen for this reason. It’s about believing in the music, believing in the songwriter, believing in the talent and not getting caught up in the hype. Because once you sign someone, you’re responsible for them for many years and you’ve got to remember that. It’s not just, ‘I signed a hit – woo–hoo!’ These are people’s lives we’re dealing with, I hope people don’t lose track of that.”
Are you sceptical about that reliance on data?
“I’m not a sceptic, it is part of the business now and it’s something that you cannot ignore. Whether it’s a new TikTok or something else, there’s always going to be something new coming into our lives, so we have to understand it and work out how it can complement what we’re doing. But it’s important not to lose that human touch.”
What were some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome throughout your journey?
“I have been very fortunate, I’ve had some amazing male mentors in my life, starting with Chris Murphy, who was incredible about pushing me forward and making sure that people wouldn’t just keep going to him because he was the boss. It was like, ‘No, Kim’s dealing with that, you’ve got to deal with her.’ And he was very protective of me, as were INXS, because you’re talking about the ’80s and the ’90s, and there was a lot of bad behaviour out there. But I’m a strong personality, so I always stand up for myself. I also had good people around me that would protect me, in a sense. Even in Australia, Michael Gudinski was always very supportive and good to me, as he was to a lot of females coming through the industry. I’ve been very lucky in the sense that I had good male role models around me. I did see a lot of bad behaviour, but I was fortunate enough to dodge all of that, and stay positive.”
And how does the music industry of today compare, in your opinion?
“One thing that really stuck in my head [in the early days] was that, of all the people I dealt with in the industry at that point, there was only one other woman, and I was like, ‘Wow, we’ve got to fix that.’ And that woman is still a dear friend of mine today. I personally feel we are in a much, much better place. There are so many wonderful women out there now doing very well and I love seeing the younger generation coming through. I see them as stronger personalities, and I feel that they’ve had role models to look up to and see that you can do it. I personally feel it has shifted a lot in a very positive way over the years. Of course, there is still work to be done, but people are much more aware than ever before.”
What have you made of the boom in catalogue buyouts over the past couple of years? Has it affected the way you do business?
“Well, it hasn’t changed anything for me. But I worked in the industry for 15 years when it was in a huge recession, from the mid-’90s, and so it’s great to see there’s so much confidence in the music industry and people are investing in it the way they are. I think it can only be a good thing and long may it live. It’s a new type of business with all these companies popping up, getting great finance and buying catalogues, but there’s room for all of us. As long as there’s confidence in the industry, that’s great for us.”
What are your thoughts on what Hipgnosis has brought to the market specifically?
“That’s a whole new business model and credit to Merck [Mercuriadis, Hipgnosis founder] and his team for what they’ve achieved. I just feel it’s a different model to traditional publishing and what we’re working under. But there’s room for everybody out there as long as it’s working and the songwriters are looked after, that’s the main thing.”
That’s a debate in itself, of course. How fairly do you feel the current ecosystem rewards songwriters?
“It is quite sad, the percentage that songwriters get from streaming platforms is very low compared to what master owners get. I truly hope that they will get a higher percentage in the future, they deserve it.”
In your view, are there still any outdated misconceptions about the art of publishing?
“It’s interesting, because I came out of management into publishing and [the perception was] that publishers just signed a cheque and that was it. And that perception was there for many, many years. But I have to say, in the last 10 years, it has really shifted. I think a big part of that is to do with the fact that there is, sadly, less focus on albums and more on getting the single right, getting it on the streaming platforms and that taking off. Labels and managers work much more closely with publishers to get songwriters working with their artists to try and achieve that hit single. There has definitely been a shift in the way publishers are looked upon. It has brought the whole community much, much closer.”
What’s more exciting for you, personally: working catalogue or building it?
“I would definitely say building it; we have an incredible catalogue and continue to add to it. We have this fantastic catalogue called Fania, which is from the ’70s. The label’s from New York, but it’s all really cool Latin disco stuff. And we are always sending that to our songwriters saying, ‘Check it out, there’s probably stuff in here that you want to look at sampling,’ or whatever it may be. So we’re always digging into the catalogue to try and find ways to get the music out there in another form. But 95% of my time and my team’s time is building it up and finding new things to bring in.”
Who do you consider your main rivals to be?
“That’s a good question. Well, Downtown was up until we bought it. Reservoir is a player, especially in the US. And Primary Wave, once again, in the US, but not so much here. Although, obviously, if the majors want something, they’ll just go and go and go until they get it, so the majors are always our competition. But as far as in the world that we’re working in as an independent publisher, the next closest would probably be Reservoir. But it’s more about what we do.”
So what is it that you can offer artists and songwriters that the majors can’t?
“Something I’ve always been really strict about, even from the Imagem days, is that the A&R team worldwide works as a team. I always say that if the songwriter’s signing, they’re not signing to Kim Frankiewicz or Jeremy Yohai [SVP, A&R, Concord Music Publishing], they’re signing to Concord. So if one of our writers from the UK is in LA, the LA team owns it. If one of our writers is in Nashville, the Nashville team owns it. If any of their writers are here in London, we own it, and we work with them. I’m always getting compliments from managers saying, ‘You told us that you did that when you were courting us, and now we’ve done the deal with you, you actually do it.’ Once again, it’s about quality versus quantity: having the capacity to be able to work with your songwriters, artists and managers day in and day out and be there for them. And not being overwhelmed with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of writers on your roster.”
What impact did the Downtown catalogue acquisition have on the company?
“Well, for us as an A&R team, it was brilliant, because we inherited some fantastic songwriters, and artists. It’s like an early Christmas gift. Ironically, we’d actually tried to sign a few of them before, but had lost out on the deals, and now we get to work with them. As far as the catalogue goes, there is some fantastic stuff in there and our sync team is spending months going through that to get on top of it. We took over the A&R side of it when the deal was announced, but the actual administration and sync licensing started from January 1.”
How do you scout new talent?
“A lot of it is word of mouth. Obviously, pre-Covid, you’d be out and about at loads of gigs and that’s coming back. But in the world we live in now, people know about everything. If something’s good and it’s moving, everybody knows about it in two seconds because of technology and word of mouth. I’ll get a call, or my team will get a call from someone, saying, ‘Hey, check this out.’ There has been a lot of that during Covid.”
Is everyone you sign a long-term concern?
“It really depends on the deal. But when you go into a deal, you’re talking a minimum of three years. And when you’re starting with a new young songwriter, it can take three years just to actually start seeing things coming through. It very rarely happens overnight.”
And what about the long-term view for your own company: where would you like Concord to be three years from now?
“I would like to think that Concord, as a company, will continue to grow and grow gracefully like it has in the five years that I’ve been working under the Concord umbrella. I think the Concord executives are very smart; they choose wisely about building the company and they do it at their own pace. And I’d like to think that we’ll be sitting here as the biggest independent publisher worldwide, and that we’ve grown some incredible young executives in that time who will take over the next regime. I want us to stand for what we currently stand for – and that is being a great, strong, international, independent, hands-on publishing company.”
Indulge us for a moment, what’s your favourite story from your time with INXS?
“I was just so lucky to work with those guys. Obviously, they were extremely talented, but they were good, good people. They became one of the biggest bands in the world and yet they still kept themselves grounded, and that’s quite an impressive thing. And I’m still in touch with them, although not daily by any means. But there are too many stories, that’s a whole evening over a glass of wine!”
Michael Hutchence was something special...
“Yes, and I still miss him dearly to this day. He was such a great person and so, so talented.”
To wrap things up, then, how do you reflect on your career so far?
“You know what? To this day, I still don’t know how it’s all happened. But I always say this when I’m talking to younger people coming through: ‘Look straight ahead, believe in yourself, and be passionate.’”