When British exec Mike Smith received the celebrated Sir George Martin Award on the MBW-presented A&R Awards in London four years ago, he made a speech that spoke volumes about his strategy to music publishing.
“A&R people have a habit of talking ourselves out of brilliant decisions,” he commented. “It’s very easy to talk yourself out of why you should sign something. If we can listen to our guts a little bit more, we can really do some magic.”
He was referring to the signing of artists and songwriters, clearly. But, earlier this summer time, Smith didn’t speak himself out of signing one thing else that might change the course of his personal profession.
That one thing was a contract to take over a newly-created function as Global President of Downtown Music Publishing, efficient from September.
As we wrote at the time, this wasn’t solely a vital deal for Smith – becoming a member of, in Downtown, one of many fastest-growing forces within the trendy music business – but in addition for his new employer.
With London-based Smith on board, Justin Kalifowitz, the founder and CEO of Downtown, will now be free to dedicate extra of his focus past simply publishing, and throughout Downtown Music Holdings’ myriad companies – which additionally embody publishing admin service Songtrust, plus the likes of CD Baby (acquired, with mum or dad AVL, in a nine-figure deal last year) and FUGA (acquired for an eight-figure sum earlier this year).
In addition to Kalifowitz, Smith joins a Downtown staff that additionally consists of Downtown Music Publishing’s UK EVP (and Downtown Music Holdings’ Head of European Business Development), Roberto Neri, and which lately swooped to purchase one of many greatest trendy indie publishers within the UK, Good Soldier Songs (The 1975, Biffy Clyro).
In May, Downtown additionally made an thrilling transfer into Africa, by way of the acquisition of South Africa-based Sheer Music Publishing, run by David Alexander.
In Smith, the corporate will profit – for one factor – from a widely-respected A&R thoughts who has beforehand signed the likes of Calvin Harris, Mark Ronson, Gorillaz, The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire and Damon Albarn.
Smith additionally brings the burden of his expertise at a variety of main music firms, together with Columbia Records UK, the place he was Managing Director from 2006 to 2012, Virgin EMI, the place he was President of Music from 2013 to 2016, and Warner Chappell Music, the place he held the function of UK MD earlier than stepping down earlier this yr.
MBW lately caught up with Smith to discuss Downtown’s fast growth, and his personal ambitions in a pivotal global function on the firm…
After deciding to depart Warner Chappell UK, your identify would have been on the shortlist for hiring and/or consulting at a variety of massive scale firms. Why select downtown?
It’s fascinating: I’ve had alternatives [to join indies in senior roles] earlier than and I’ve all the time made the choice to go along with a bigger firm simply since you be taught a nice deal from these experiences. But by way of firms which can be which can be concerned within the music and songwriting area immediately, Downtown, with out query, is essentially the most forward-thinking; I’ve discovered it actually inspiring trying on the breadth of companies that they’ve been getting concerned in.
Those that haven’t been following the story carefully would possibly simply consider Downtown as a actually good impartial writer. But their involvement with AVL and CD Baby, with Songtrust and elsewhere, it very a lot embraces what the way forward for music creation goes to be.
“in many cases the artists that are earning a substantial amount from streaming, apart from the global superstars, are the ones that own their own copyrights.”
I discover it very thrilling that artists are discovering that, truly, they’ll make a respectable dwelling for themselves with out having to develop into the most important artist on the earth. And which may, in reality, be the [best route] to a sustainable profession that lasts a long time moderately than years.
I’ve talked to many artists during the last couple of years who’ve made the choice not to signal with main firms; in lots of circumstances the artists which can be incomes a substantial quantity from streaming, other than the global superstars, are those that personal their very own copyrights. That’s one thing that Downtown is in the midst of; they need to facilitate the independence of artists, and construct a suite of companies round these artists.
In phrases of publishing, Which areas do you suppose downtown can develop the quickest in going ahead?
There’s two key areas: acquisition by way of new expertise, but in addition by way of catalogs and, probably, publishing firms. I keep in mind conversations 5 years in the past when individuals have been saying, ‘All of the big publishing company [acquisition] opportunities have been and gone.’ Well, publishing continues to be one among one of the crucial dramatic areas of the music business [in terms of M&A]. There’s all the time new artists coming by means of, and all the time new catalog [becoming available] to purchase.
The large shock for me coming again into music publishing after data [when joining Warner Chappell in 2016] was the restricted tenure of contracts. Songwriters have been probably shifting between publishing firms each three years. And there’s a lot of positives in that, merely for the truth that the writer has to work onerous to show their value to the songwriter, so nobody is sitting on their palms anymore.
“There’s always new artists coming through, and always new catalog [becoming available] to acquire.”
The growth of Downtown may be very thrilling. AVL have places of work all all over the world, and clearly Downtown’s in a lot of locations that even among the majors aren’t. It’s nice that Downtown simply bought concerned in Africa with the acquisition of Sheer, and there are a lot of extra locations the place there’s actual alternative for growth.
Off the highest of my head you consider Southeast Asia, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, the Far East, India – so many desirable areas to transfer into, and to transfer additional into.
You stay London-based, though I’m certain you’ll be on fairly a few planes after we’re allowed to get again on them. To your thoughts, are there benefits to being primarily based in London as opposed to the plain global music biz hubs of New York and Los Angeles?
It’s so important to see music publishing as a global business now. For far too lengthy, it’s too typically been considered as America and the UK, plus Scandinavia, with little pockets elsewhere. That mentioned, that perspective has improved immeasurably since I used to be in publishing the primary time spherical at EMI [where Smith worked as Head of UK A&R in the nineties, signing the likes of Arctic Monkeys, The White Stripes, Gorillaz and PJ Harvey].
It’s been nice seeing what’s been occurring in Nigeria [and] Ghana over the previous few years, for instance, but in addition the explosion of Latin American music and what we’re seeing now coming from Southeast Asia.
“Obviously, [the US] is the the biggest music market in the world, and the biggest source of music in the world. But it isn’t the only source.”
I believe it’s very simple while you’re in America to slip into a bubble, to suppose that the complete world revolves round North American music. And clearly, [the US] is the the most important music market on the earth, and the most important supply of music on the earth. But it isn’t the solely supply.
If we’re trying to develop our business, to have a aggressive edge over different different firms, it’s very important that we increase and go deep into areas that different firms haven’t been.
What’s in your agenda coming in to Downtown in September?
One of absolutely the key issues for me is definitely a broader scope of points moderately than simply the business of music publishing.
I had a dialog on the finish of final yr with the with the producer, Bob Ezrin. And he was saying, ‘For God’s sake, Mike, you’ve bought to keep in a place the place you’re on the forefront of the business.’ As far as each he and I have been involved at the moment, essentially the most important challenge dealing with us was local weather change. [His point] was that being at a senior degree within the business brings the chance to do good past simply your organization and, probably, past the music publishing sector.
Obviously, we’ve since seen Black Lives Matter develop into a main speaking level, as properly as what’s occurred with Coronavirus. There’s big points that we’d like to handle by way of range and inclusion in our companies. It’s a large a part of why I wished to take this job, to work with songwriters and a firm who care passionately about these points.
What did you be taught at Warner Chappell? How did that have enhance your skilled skillset in methods that may now profit downtown?
One of the explanations I actually wished to go to Warner Chappell was that I felt I used to be getting a little bit silo’d in data [at Virgin EMI].
There was a lot of A&R work for me to do with with extra mature and extra skilled artists, however I used to be sitting there trying on the most enjoyable explosion of younger musical expertise within the UK since, for me, the late ’70s and early ’80s. And it was troublesome to get entangled in that from the place I had.
I knew that going into Warner Chappell, working with Amber Davis [now Warner Chappell UK’s Head of A&R] – who by that time had already signed Skepta and Stormzy – we may very well be unbeatable. The capacity to exit, observe our instincts and signal aggressively was a huge buzz for me and a actual alternative to embrace music with a degree of righteousness that I hadn’t seen for a lengthy, very long time.
That required super quantities of flexibility and creativeness in deal-making; you have been continuously having to suppose entrepreneurially, to give you new options and new concepts, which I discovered refreshing and energizing.
Justin Kalifowitz has constructed Downtown into the drive it’s immediately over the previous 13 years. You report to him in your new function.
I might not have made this transfer if it hadn’t been for Justin. I imply, Downtown is unimaginable; they’re doing wonderful issues. But he’s a really outstanding government. I haven’t met anybody like him within the business.
I keep in mind Justin from after I was working at EMI Music Publishing. Even again then he struck me as an imaginative government who was actually considering and strategizing about the place the business was going. I went into the file business in 2005 or 2006, which was a time of super change. Now we’re within the midst of one other nice change: the reside business is shifting extra into a world of reside streaming, which may develop into one of many greatest income sources for the business going ahead.
I like that Justin acknowledged he’s solely bought so many hours within the day, so to attempt to concentrate on managing the publishing firm, as properly as managing the entire different companies at Downtown, was turning into much less sensible. That mentioned, publishing stays the bedrock of this firm. And I take my duty to the legacy of that very, very significantly.
With your expertise at main publishing organizations you will have an thought of what blockbuster global signing figures appear to be. Is your warfare chest at downtown in a position to compete?
I believe you may see from the acquisitions that Downtown has made within the final couple of years, there’s no points about warfare chest!
When it’s acceptable, as you noticed with the current acquisition of Good Soldier, there’s no deal that we’re we’re not in a place to go after. I’m in little question that Downtown is a very, very aggressive firm.
“I’m in no doubt that Downtown is a very, very competitive company.”
We’re not going to chase each single catalog, or each single new artist that comes by means of, simply because it’s a scorching act.
There’s a lot of style within the roster right here. It’s been curated extremely properly, and over time, I plan to add to that in a related style.
What would you want to see change within the business immediately?
It’s fascinating to suppose that the important thing efficiency indicators on which bonuses are determined immediately are all the time primarily based on financial efficiency. And that may clearly be the bedrock going ahead. But I believe we additionally want to be sure that individuals have bonuses, or an [incentivized] focus, linked to inclusion and variety within the office. It’s irritating when individuals don’t notice that it’s a huge business benefit to have a numerous workforce and roster. I can not perceive why anyone wouldn’t need that.
Increasingly, the artists we have been concerned with Warner Chappell have been wanting to know: What’s the make-up of your organization? What was the make-up of your senior administration board? What’s your coverage when it comes to psychological well being? What’s your coverage when it comes to the atmosphere? And I felt actually happy with the truth that we we constructed a psychological well being technique, we constructed an environmental technique, we had a very sturdy range and inclusivity technique.
It’s not nearly hiring individuals from totally different teams, be that a range of gender or sexuality or ethnicity. It’s about mentoring, coaching, and, the place you see germ of actual star expertise, ensuring you deliver that by means of.Music Business Worldwide