Warner Chappell's Paul Smith on how A&R is adapting to Covid-19

Warner Chappell's Paul Smith on how A&R is adapting to Covid-19

Across the music industry, entire sectors are having to respond quickly to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As reported in the latest edition of Music Week, publishing is facing a delayed reaction as royalties and collections dive. The Music Publishers Association is busy working to help the sector during the crisis.

The global lockdown has made publishers and music creators try new approaches to co-writing. Universal Music Publishing Group has revealed to Music Week how it’s supporting songwriters and striking new deals

Here, Paul Smith, Warner Chappell VP A&R and international songwriters, talks co-writing collaborations, creativity and the growing demand for upbeat dance tunes…

How is the Covid-19 pandemic affecting Warner Chappell markets globally?

“Some countries are slightly ahead with how they are dealing with the virus, so naturally that has an effect [on publishing]. From a creative and writing point of view, some territories like Asia are getting back to normal in terms of the way they're working, whereas the UK and US are obviously right in the thick of it. Sweden hasn’t got a formal lockdown, so some people are self-isolating while others are still going about their usual work. From an A&R perspective and creative perspective, we’re making sure people are still able to do what they want to do. In the writing world, we’re having to look across how different territories are working and trying to tailor [our support] for each territory.”

How are you helping songwriters working remotely?

“We had a conversation about which writers wanted to and how they could work remotely. We pulled together a global database of all the writers who are able to work and want to work, and how they can work as well. We shared that out amongst the A&R teams and the creative teams around the world, Warner Chappell and also [WMG] recordings. We’ll disseminate that to the management companies and to our fellow publishers, to make sure that everyone is up to date on how we could be collaborating.

“What’s been quite interesting to watch has been how we've been able to facilitate things remotely that probably wouldn't have happened in real life. A lot of our writers have been really receptive to doing things outside of the norm, because they're sat at home not doing things they would normally be doing in their normal life. So they’re up for doing a session that probably wouldn't make sense on paper if you tried to pull it together in the real world, or they’re more open to suggestions about interesting and unique ways of working. We don’t know how long this is going to go on for, so we want to make sure that everyone's still feeling excited and motivated to write songs and put things together.”

Do you think that, creatively, it could be quite an interesting period, despite the many challenges?

“Yeah, one of the things that we did in our Spanish office that we're now going to roll out across the rest of the world is an initiative called First Dates, where we pulled together 12 songwriters who had never really worked together before on a Zoom chat and got them to connect, meet each other and then collaborations came off the back of that. I don't think some of these people probably would have ever thought to work with each other, so we’ve been able to really create some opportunities that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise. So we're trying to bring the good out of the bad.”

The mood for feelgood music will be a big thing for the rest of the year

Paul Smith

So is it business as usual as much as possible for Warner Chappell?

“We’re trying to keep it business as usual and making sure everyone’s getting supported as much as possible. Some people are rolling out records, some people are holding things back, other people are putting things out as usual. From a publishing point of view, we've had a lot of songwriters across the new Dua Lipa album. Now we’re just trying to make sure we have as many of our songwriters working and active on records that are being made right now.

“We're seeing a real surge in dance music again at the minute, the requests we're getting in terms of a capellas and the top-lines on dance music right now is super exciting. So we're expecting to see more of that going on through the summer. Whether or not we'll be able to go to clubs or not to dance to them remains to be seen. But we're getting a lot of requests for music at the minute, so we are super busy.”

Is that increased demand for your writers contributing to dance tracks a direct result of the pandemic?

“We’ve been seeing this for a while, but more so now. We're seeing a lot more requests for dance music, and pop is moving slightly more in that area again now. So it's been really great to watch, and we have writers like Stuart Price, who is a master of that sort of stuff and has been doing it for a while. There’s definitely more electronic and dance music coming through, we're looking around the world at what's happening with dance music. Labels have got DJs and producers who want top-lines, lyrics and melodies. DJs are working from home, so they don’t need to go into a room and record with someone, they can just take a song that already exists with the vocal and work around it. 

“Our Asian office is a bit further ahead in terms of how the virus has [impacted]. They've been requesting lots of music, particularly in Korea, China and Taiwan, which is upbeat, feelgood and happy for people to be able to feel better and dance to. So I imagine that will probably disseminate around the rest of the world at some point. I think the mood for feelgood music will be a big thing for the rest of the year. We’ll all want to go and celebrate after being locked in the house for so long.”

Finally, have you been impressed by how your writers have reacted to this situation?

“Yeah, it's been really great to see. It's been exciting to see people wanting to collaborate and open to collaborate. That first week when we went into lockdown, we weren’t sure how they would do it. But they worked around it. We've been able to create amazing situations for writers, just creating connections that would have been more difficult had this not happened. It's been just impressive to see how the writers have rallied around each other, supporting each other – it's just great. We are just trying to work as hard as we can, and make sure our writers are supported around the world. I'm super proud of the writers and how they’re helping each other out.”

To read the full story on the publishing sector and Covid-19, subscribers can click here. To subscribe and never miss a big industry story, click here.

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