High above London, Jane Dyball is contemplating precisely why she has been chosen to scale the even giddier heights of Music Week’s 2018 Women In Music Outstanding Contribution Award.
“It’s unusual to get recognised for just getting on with it,” she laughs in the café at the top of PRS For Music’s Kings Cross HQ. “I do stuff behind the scenes. It’s good that that gets recognised, but it’s not that sexy kind of role where you can say, ‘I went to a gig and discovered a young Bono’. I’m never the smartest person in the room. But maybe that’s an achievement, surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you are…”
Luckily, even Dyball’s trademark self-deprecation can not hide the truth: her career in and around music publishing has had more impact on artists, songwriters and publishers than any talent-spotter. Although if one punk outfit had had anything to do with it, she’d never even have got started…
Dyball grew up a pop obsessive but studied law at Bristol University, an experience which largely convinced her she didn’t want to be a lawyer (“I have done enough jobs in my life to understand how long eight hours can be if you’re not enjoying yourself”). Instead, having worked out that there must be a business lurking behind the credits on the Wham! and Culture Club records she so enjoyed, she borrowed a copy of the Music Week Directory from the library and set about looking for a job.
Soon, she was offered one too: in The Stranglers’ office. The deal was subject to her passing a typing test; a mere formality given that she’d told them she could type. Only one problem: she was lying.
“I failed spectacularly,” she grins. “And then I had that, ‘You’ve wasted my time, wasted your time’ talk, which was very humiliating. I was like, ‘What happened to punk?’”
Fortunately, punk’s loss was to become music publishing’s gain. Next, she was offered a job at Virgin Music Publishing, again subject to a typing test, although thankfully her new boss, Maria Forte’s standards were rather less exacting and she was taken on to listen to records and type up the lyrics.
“I was paid basically nothing,” she says now, “But I couldn’t believe I was getting paid anything.”
Dyball being Dyball, she wasn’t content with that for long, however. Her can-do attitude and talent for organisation quickly saw her become essential to Virgin’s burgeoning publishing business, then home to artists such as the Pet Shop Boys, Culture Club and Sting; executives such as Steve Lewis, Richard Griffiths, Mike McCormack, Emmanuel De Buretel and Blair McDonald; and, of course, owned by Richard Branson.
I was paid basically nothing, but I couldn’t believe I was getting paid anything
“You really bought into the fact that you were working for Richard,” she remembers. “You’d play rounders at his house in the country, you’d go sailing, you’d go horse riding. I remember having to play tennis with him as my partner, which was terrifying because I could see how competitive he was and I was very aware of my own skill set in that department! So, even though he was spending a lot of time doing planes and stuff, you felt that you were working in a very personal, family business.”
So, when Branson sold Virgin to EMI in 1992, it came as a body blow.
“The shock of realising that you were basically a commodity was really hard to take,” she says. “I read his autobiography where he goes running down the road in tears, and that’s pretty much what happened, but you just think, ‘Well, you’re alright.’”
At Virgin Records, the staff had been unceremoniously escorted from the building, but Lewis insisted the publishing staff could be trusted and didn’t need security.
“So consequently, we all went in and raided the cupboards, handed out all the Ivor Novello Awards and that’s when I got my PIL Metal Box, limited edition collection of vinyl,” she laughs.
Dyball being Dyball, however, she also went back to work the next day to try and finish a Bryan Ferry sync deal that the artist himself had been pushing for, only to be kicked out. “I realised I had to start again completely,” she says.
After a short stint at sheet music firm IMP, she was persuaded to join Warner/Chappell’s paralegal team by Andrew Gummer, even though she’d long since given up any lawyerly ambitions.
“I had no experience,” she laughs. “On my first day, Andrew said, ‘Can you draft an extension to the Eric Clapton deal?’ And I responded, ‘No, I don’t think I can’. He said, ‘No, I’m not asking if you’re able to, I’m telling you that’s what I want you to do’. It was a lot of fun…”
Dyball learned fast, becoming a famously formidable deal negotiator and rising up through the Warner/Chappell ranks, alongside such stellar female execs as Sas Metcalfe (Women In Music International Woman Of The Year winner last year) and Annette Barrett (Roll Of Honour inductee last year), eventually becoming SVP international, legal & business affairs. She worked with the likes of Stuart Price and Xenomania and became pals with Morrissey (“He’d write me a lot of letters and say, ‘You’re the only person I trust’”) but her biggest thrill came from working with Radiohead on the “pay what you want” In Rainbows project that would have such an impact on the music business.
Dyball had long been an advocate of digital licensing at a time when many in publishing saw downloads, let alone streaming, as a threat rather than an opportunity.
“We’d already made a mess of the ringtone market, which was just publishing before they started doing mastertones,” she says. “We lost a lot of money because of how licensing was territorial. I used to have a visual image of the map of Europe with these ravines between France and Germany, and all of the money rolling off into the ravine.”
As an industry, sometimes we’re very cautious and we always look for things that could go wrong
Dyball built Warner/Chappell’s pan-European digital licensing initiative and was looking for an artist who would remove their rights from MCPS-PRS and bundle them to speed up the process. A Friday afternoon email to Radiohead’s managers, Courtyard’s Bryce Edge and Chris Hufford, fortuitously chimed with their desire to do something completely different having left EMI.
It worked too, with the band’s publishing income soaring and making a “material difference” to W/C’s bottom line.
“We just made it up as we went along,” says Dyball. “You couldn’t have done it with many people. I did say to Bryce, ‘This could all go horribly wrong’ and he said, ‘Yes, but it really doesn’t matter’. But they got their money much quicker, they didn’t have to wait for it to go through societies, and they could decide they wanted to license something and it could be done in 24 hours, anywhere in the world, all rights, master, publishing and performing. It went fantastically right.”
That success chimed with Dyball’s personal philosophy that “fortune always favours the brave”.
“As an industry, sometimes we’re very cautious and we always look for things that could go wrong,” she says. “There have been periods when you look across the industry and see terror or [people saying] ‘I don’t understand the business I am in anymore’ or ‘This is all too hard’. That is sometimes an impediment and you just have to go, ‘What’s the worse thing that could happen?’”
That attitude also, ultimately, led her to leave Warner/Chappell after she became bored with the slow pace of progress. Having turned to her trusty Music Week Directory once again, discussions with indie publishers about digital licensing led her to become the CEO of the MCPS, PMLL and IMPEL in 2014.
“I didn’t particularly want to come to MCPS,” she smiles. “But I did because I could see, quite clearly, what I thought needed to happen. So, you think, ‘Somebody has got to do it, it might as well be me’.”
When she arrived, MCPS was viewed by many in the biz as a dead duck. It certainly wasn’t staffed like a business with a future. “It was like Dad’s Army,” quips Dyball. “It was the very old, the very young and the infirm.”
Dyball took over the MPA itself in 2015, in part, she claims, to channel its extra resources into the MCPS cause. One revamp later, she now has “an amazing team”.
“I’ve never worked with such a bunch of happy people,” she says. “Except maybe when I was at Virgin – and that was primarily alcohol induced.”
As you’ve probably gathered by now, Dyball may specialise in the backroom world of licensing deals, but a conversation with her is never dull. The pink streaks in her hair hint at the party person often spotted at industry events and her way with a one-liner could illuminate even the most tedious digital rights discussion.
And, while much of her work at the MPA has been behind the scenes, it has been transformative. A new admin deal with PRS For Music significantly reduced MCPS’ costs and allowed it to pay down debt, while the society distributed more than £150 million to rights-holders in 2017. She has also boosted PMLL and helped IMPEL go fully independent earlier this year, as well as introducing peer mentoring schemes for publishers. As she prepares to step down in early 2018, she surely must be proud of her achievements?
“That’s not for me to judge,” she says. “I can see all of the things we haven’t done! But I am proud of things like the YMPA for younger publishers and our mentoring scheme.”
Dyball didn’t have a specific, hands-on mentor in her early career, instead forcing herself to overcome her natural shyness by absorbing lessons from those around her.
“My kids say to me, ‘Does everything have to be a life lesson, Mum?’” she laughs. “And I say to them, ‘Yes, it does’ – and sitting in a boring meeting is a good life lesson. You can see how people behave and speak, who’s being listened to, who’s not being listened to. It doesn’t mean that you can necessarily transform your personality or your character. I could no more wake up and be Sas Metcalfe than I could wake up and be Lucian Grainge. But I could see how Sas behaved in her dealings with people.
I like a deal and I like trying to make money, I like representing people
“Some of the youngsters I work with have been brought up in a world where there are rules to get GCSEs, A Levels and a degree. They come into the business and say, ‘Where are the rules?’ I’m constantly telling them there aren’t any rules...”
Ask Dyball if she was always a formidable character and she squeals: “No! Not remotely. For the first five years of my career I didn’t actually say anything to anyone!” But she certainly never ducked a challenge, quipping about negotiating with one lawyer who was “such a bastard I realised I was going to have to make friends with him”.
“You have to work out how people behave,” she says. “I like a deal and I like trying to make money, I like representing people. If you’re inherently a shy person, you have that feeling of, ‘If I don’t speak up, I’ll never do anything in life at all’. I could quite easily be the person that is just at home watching telly and eating Hobnobs.”
She’s had more than her fair share of dealings with the biz’s boys’ club too, but she never let it faze her.
“I still sit in meetings where it’s me and 21 men,” she sighs. “I’ve been on trips abroad where I’m the only woman. You go out, have dinner, come back at 1am, everybody says goodnight and then the next day you discover that everybody, having got rid of you, has gone out to the lapdancing club. Do you think, ‘Fuck, I was totally excluded, that’s where they’ve done all the business’, or do you think, ‘Why would I want to be going anywhere near a lapdancing club? Why on earth would I want to be part of that gang?’ You have to work out what your battleground is going to be.”
Dyball herself will be moving onto new battlegrounds in the New Year. At the moment, she claims to have “absolutely no plans” beyond eating some of those Hobnobs but, Dyball being Dyball, it’s hard to envisage such a successful campaigner being out of the battle for long.
“It’s quite good to be unemployed occasionally,” she declares. “Although it was incredibly traumatic, if Richard Branson hadn’t sold Virgin I’d probably still be there now, earning 18 grand a year and going, ‘I love it!’ Every job I’ve done, I’ve thrown everything into. I can’t do it half-hearted, I either do it full-pelt or not at all.”
And with that, this year’s Outstanding Contribution winner heads off to dig out her trusty Music Week Directory and contemplate her next move. If The Stranglers are reading, they might just want to give her another chance…