Phrased Differently MD and founder Hiten Bharadia has spoken to Music Week about establishing the firm as the "Robin Hood of the publishing industry".
The business, which won out in the Independent Publisher category at the 2023 Music Week Awards, has managed more than 3,000 song placements, including hits by Ariana Grande, Ava Max, Marshmello, Britney Spears, David Guetta, Demi Lovato, Doja Cat, Kylie Minogue, Little Mix, Lost Frequencies, Miley Cyrus, Olly Murs, Stormzy, Tiësto, Will Smith and Mimi Webb.
The company added nine new writers to its ranks in 2022 alone, while its East London HQ is also home to seven recording studios for its signed writers such as Maegan Cottone, Disciples’ Nathan Duvall and Bharadia himself.
“To sign nine writers in one year was massive and it’s certainly a lot for us – we’d probably signed nine in the last five combined," said Bharadia, speaking in the latest issue of Music Week. "But these were all writers we’d been building relationships with. For example, in February last year, we signed a DJ called James Carter. When we signed him, he had 1.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify, and today he has just under 11m. He’s had a single with Meduza called Bad Memories, which clocked up gold and platinum awards across Europe.
"At the end of the year, we signed a production writing team called Arcades and we’ve already had two BTS singles with them. We’re achieving bigger success much quicker, but we are still signing really early. This year, we signed an amazing artist called Whammyboy from Norway.”
The creative process is like going to the gym: you go and work out every day
Ex-Universal Music International A&R Bharadia stressed that Phrased Differently (PD) is always thinking long-term.
“We see our publishing deals as marriages," he said. "We will stick by you and if it’s not working, we’ll find ways of making it work. It’s a commitment. It’s not just, ‘Hey, here’s a hollow advance, now go away and bring us success,’ we are there hand-in-hand with our writers.
"It takes a while to get a writer ready. The creative process is like going to the gym: you go and work out every day. And if you want to write better songs, you need to be in the studio every single day writing with different people. Invariably, when we signed someone very green who had promise, that took a while to come to the surface."
Launched in 2006, Bharadia has styled PD as the "Robin Hood of the publishing industry" - "taking away cuts from the rich and giving them to the poor", as he puts it.
“Starting an independent publishing company on a shoestring budget, we could only sign talent very early on before they jumped onto the radar of major publishers," he said. "The whole idea was that we developed writers: we got them their first opportunities, we pitched songs and we always used to get big singles away, which would normally be the domain of established writers and major publishers."
The biggest problem for any publisher is always cashflow. You need to spend money now, but you don’t see the upside until two, three years into the future
It was not until the beginning of the pandemic that the company signed its first established writer in Freedo, producer and writer of Zara Larsson's 2015 breakthrough hit, Lush Life (2,410,896 sales, OCC).
"He believed in us, and when we brought someone in who was established and knew what to do with those situations, our hit rate increased," said Bharadia. "We speak to him every day, if not every other day. His mailbox is full of opportunities for sessions and his songs are pitched.
"One of the hits he wrote at the beginning of the pandemic was in a session that we set up with him and Mimi Webb and another of our writers, Sam Merrifield. That song became Good Without [806,280 sales], which went Top 10 and platinum in the UK. So we saw that with writers who knew what they were doing, we could have immediate success because of the way that we work.”
Chief among the qualities required to succeed as an indie publisher in 2023, according to Bharadia, is "a really thick skin".
"It’s a long road because you look at how long it takes for royalties to feed back to you," he said. "In some cases, it can take up to two years for an income stream to start. The biggest problem for any publisher is always cashflow. You need to spend money now, but you don’t see the upside until two, three years into the future.
"It’s tough as an independent publisher, but we view each song we have as a seed. We’re not the record label, it’s not under our power how the song is marketed and released. What is in our power is where we plant the seeds, and how many of them we plant. It’s our job to find those songs that are magic and place them in good homes where they can grow.”
Bharadia also expressed concern about the lack of UK artists cutting through, compared to the amount of money spent on A&R.
"The amount of acts breaking is worrying to me," he said. "We’ve also seen a lot of UK talent breaking elsewhere first – mainly Germany – with the likes of Dua Lipa, Rag’N’Bone Man and so on. But it seems like it’s difficult to break here in the UK, and I ask myself, ‘Why is the UK struggling?’
"It seems like if you don’t get a Radio 1 add, or support on a song other than on TikTok, there are very limited ways to build an artist and grow their fanbase. And how much support do you really get from Radio 1? How long can you be on the playlist? Maybe no longer than four, five weeks and then you get replaced, whereas in Germany there are 40 Radio 1s; it’s regional and it builds. It’s not about how old the artist is or where they come from, it’s about the song. That’s why they have such an amazing radio economy and why a lot of UK acts break out of Germany.”
Subscribers can read the full Music Week Interview with Bharadia here.