Publishers have traditionally been thought of as being spoon-fed music by labels and artists, but today they are anything but passive in the field of artists and repertoire (A&R). And while it is true that the roles of the publisher has been to police IP, collect royalties and serve as sync agents, beyond all of that, what is the role of a publisher in the music business of today?
“A modern publisher is key in the process of going further into [the artists’]existing catalogue, as well as creating new catalogue,” Paris-based Infiné Music’s head of publishing, Rachel Graham, says.
“By ‘going deeper’ I mean encouraging new artists to take old tracks from the catalogue and put a modern twist on them. Another classic A&R role increasingly played by publishers is in creating new catalogue by interacting with composers and finding connections for writing workshops, co-composing sessions, connecting with lyricists, arrangers and other musicians to help enrich the writing process.”
A&R SCOUTS LOOKING FOR TALENT
A&R, wherever it comes from, has always been as much about talent nurturing as it is about A&R scouts looking for talent.
But developing recording artists isn’t always easy: “It depends on their personality,” Graham says. “Some musicians are incredibly stubborn and you just have to let them get on with it, and some are just very insular. An example is a duo I signed called Yosoy. They have been working together for 15 years and only recently released their first recording and started playing live. But ultimately, publishers have to be creative in A&R, because if we don’t help artists to keep making music, then we will eventually run out of work.”
One traditional A&R role – that of encouraging brands to use hit songs in advertising – is currently being turned on its head through a series of tracks that started out as songs primarily created for TV adverts and which have since become hits. “Joe Buck’s The Way You Take Time stayed in the top 10 of the Netherlands Airplay Charts for 14 weeks, and is still in the top 50 six months after release. Plus it has been streamed over six million times on Spotify,” says Joost Haartsen, founder of sonic branding agency Amp.Amsterdam and head of film and TV at Universal Music Publishing Benelux. “Buck originally wrote the song for PLUS Supermarkets following a request from Amp.Amsterdam, in collaboration with advertising agency J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam. In addition, Spark Records – the label of Ilse de Lange – and Universal Music Publishing also played important roles in the pre-and post stages when a full song was created from the original 50-second track.”
Thanks to this unorthodox A&R channel, Haarsten has another hit in the making. “It’s the same brand, but this time it’s Hannah Mae with Back To You. In late November the song was announced as NPO Radio2’s TopSong, and in fact it is the fourth song we created for an advert that then gained significant airplay on Dutch National Radio.”
Previous to the hits by Buck and Mae, She’s The One by Frances for PLUS Supermarkets’ Xmas 2018 campaign generated 1.3 million streams on Spotify with an NL-only release, and the Irving Berlin classic Anything You Can Do sung by Kris Berry for a KPN summer campaign, also got significant airplay on Radio2.
HOW DO RECORD LABELS FIND ARTISTS?
Mute Records has one of the most distinguished and varied A&R track records of any independent company, with acts ranging from Depeche Mode, New Order and Erasure, to Nick Cave, DAF, Goldfrapp and Johann Johannsson. Label founder and managing director Daniel Miller says that some aspects of the A&R process have changed profoundly, others less so.
“On one level, in the CD-era, we used to have a room full of unopened jiffy bags, and now we have inboxes full of unopened emails with demos attached. But that isn’t because we don’t care, it’s because across the entire history of this company we have never signed an act on the basis of a demo. True A&R comes from arcane sources and is very random. For example you might be going to see a band you already know, and the support act turns out to be amazing.”
Miller and his team made a strategic decision some years back to make publishing arm Mute Song both more pro-active in A&R, and more personal: “A&R around publishing is about maximising what you have, whether that’s how the staff interact with the artists, or being at the root of creative collaborations. Even though we publish an artist such as Nick Cave who writes plenty of songs that could be covered, we do not push the versioning side, we prefer to create and nurture unusual projects such as The Aphex Twin working with Pirelli. It was unexpected because he is seen as an idealist, but in fact it shows what great A&R – and working closely with your artists – can achieve.”
TOP PHOTO: Mute signing Johan Johansson