Do you have a burning passion for music? In this episode, Bob James discusses the ins and outs of the music industry. This in-depth knowledge about music publishing brought to the table is based on his experience as an active music manager for many years, representing various artists, songwriters, and producers. Bob now runs Get Money From Music, a company that specializes in providing music business knowledge, mentoring, and coaching through different programs. He also teaches Music Business at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Join us in understanding the basics and learnings the wisdom in this industry, which can take a long way in your career.
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The Basics Of Music Publishing With Bob James
I am so happy to be here with Bob James. He is from the UK. He has had many years of mentoring and coaching indie artists in the music industry. We’re going to talk specifically about the songwriting side, publishing, deals, and all of that stuff that I know because I get a lot of questions from you guys. Many of you are very confused by a lot of the terminology and the contract stuff. I don’t blame you because it does get very messy. We’ll get into all of that. Bob, I’d love for you to give our readers some background on you, how you got into working with musicians, where you teach, and all of that stuff before we get into all the nitty-gritty.
Thank you very much for having me on the show. I appreciate it. First of all, I have to be honest and put my hands up and say I am not a musician. I tried and failed miserably. I tried every instrument I could think of, and it didn’t work out. My voice broke. I couldn’t sing, but I expressed my creative side through deejaying, and that’s how I started at the age of thirteen. I then, later in life, set up a company called Music House doing radio, TV, and college club promotion. That was very successful. It went on to become one of the biggest independent promotion companies in the UK, with multi-million pounds and over 36 staff.
We pretty much dominated the charts in the late ’90s and early 2000s, which was fantastic. I’m always looking for new challenges. I went into management and managed various artists. I had a lot of success with some double platinum artists and also songwriters and producers, both in the UK and in America, which led me to a very deep understanding of publishing. Literally by accident, I got drunk on a boat in France with somebody who owned the music college. That’s the power of networking, and I can’t stress it enough.
I was asked to be a business consultant for the college. One day, one of the tutors went sick. He said, “Bob, can you go and do a lecture on artist management?” I said, “I can’t do that. It’s impossible. I’m not a teacher.” I did, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve always now done teaching. I teach at LIPA, the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts in the UK. Before that, I taught at the University of Surrey and guest lectured at most of the big music colleges and universities around the UK and throughout Europe.
For the last few years, I’ve taught Music Publishing at a degree level and a Master’s level here in the UK. I have a little bit of an understanding. The way I approached it was I’ve worked as a consultant for publishers, but because I’ve also managed writers, I see both sides of the coin, so I can see the different perspectives from what do the publishers want to get out of it and what do the writers want to get out of it. Hopefully, I can bridge that little compromise in the middle and guide people down to what could work for you.
That knowledge will clearly be very useful in this conversation. Before we jump into that, you offhandedly say like, “We promoted a lot of people that got all over the charts. I managed a bunch of platinum artists. I know everyone’s thinking,” Who are they? Do I know any of those? Are there any ones you’d like to mention that you’ve worked with?
It’s quite a lot on the promotion side, like TLC’s CrazySexyCool. It’s one of my favorite albums. I was a consultant for Arista and BMG for quite a few years. I did a lot of stuff with Simon Cowell. You could mention some of the early stuff, the boy bands like Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, and Britney. On the dance side, from Darude’s Sandstorm and Corona’s The Rhythm of the Night. It’s some of those big classics.
I always say that we were promoting records in Ibiza when the hippies were still there before it became commercialized. Dance was a very big part of the area where I worked. You have to keep your hands in everything. There are some brilliant acts, and it’s one of those things that sometimes we get talking about, “I remember when I was working with them.” It dropped into the thing. I was in Malibu, went out for dinner, and LeAnn Rimes was there. To me, it’s just day-to-day. It’s what happened then. Sometimes if I’ve mentioned the artist, that person is going, “Look at me.”
It’s that name-dropper, but I’m sure your students are interested to hear what you did, although maybe some of them will be like, “Who’s that?” It’s because that was many years ago or whatever. I know my husband works with college students, and they’re like, “Who’s the Backstreet Boys?”
I stopped management. I decided to take a sabbatical from management just as the pandemic was kicking in. One of the last artists I worked with was a YouTube creator who has worked with Boyce Avenue and has a lot of success now, self-releasing and running her own label and publishing company. A guy called Kelvin Jones had a gold album and a couple of platinum singles in Germany.
He has massive radio hits in Germany and signed with Sony. It goes right away through. Some of them, you may not know. With Kelvin, there was a big advert by CenturyLink around the time of the Super Bowl. His song Call You Home was the music for the advert. You might not even realize it, but you’ve probably heard some of them.
Especially with NSYNC, you don’t know who they are, but you would recognize their voice or their song.
That’s the key. To be perfectly honest, it becomes a bit of a blur, but what I tend to do is quantify. I once did a back of a fag packet calculation and think my clients have sold about 60 million records or something. We started looking at that and go, “Maybe I did do something right.” You never think you are. That’s the bizarre thing. I said, “Why are you talking to me?” They said, “You did this and this.” I was like, “Yeah.”
Especially in education, we feel that we have to have a Doctorate like, “Am I qualified to be teaching this?”You can express your creative side through being a DJ. Click To Tweet
The funny thing was I deliberately failed my A-Levels so that I didn’t have to go to university. I don’t have a degree, yet I teach on the degree and have a Master’s. I have got a PGCert now, so I am qualified as a teacher. I’ve got many years of experience in the music industry.
That seems like enough to me to be teaching.
You think to yourself, “I’ll try again.” Don’t go back to the very beginning because they don’t remember those.
You were introduced to me by one of my students, and she raved about your ability to help her understand the world of songwriting, publishing, contracts, and all of that stuff. With your students that you have now, what are the things that you find that maybe are their biggest misconceptions about all of that where they thought they understood, but they didn’t?
The biggest misconception is that a publisher and a record label do the same thing. They don’t. They always talk about, “I want to get a record label to publish my music.” You go, “That’s two separate copyrights here. That are two separate deals, and it’s two different business models.” Normally at that point, I get my pen out on a whiteboard and start doing little charts and break it down into the two copyrights.
The key thing about publishing is that there are different ways for an artist to use publishing. One, it can be a check when you have success. They collect the money that’s owed to you as a writer, and you get a nice big advance if you have big hits and everything else, or you can use a publisher creatively to help develop yourself as an artist. If you’re a professional songwriter, the publisher is key to your business relationship. If you’re just a performer and don’t write music, then the record deal is the key deal that you do. If you do both, you’ve got two deals to do.
Do some labels have an associated publisher with the label so they can do both?
A lot of people think that the majors own publishers and record labels, but they work separately. If you signed to Universal Records, you don’t have to do a publishing deal with Universal. You can do a publishing deal with Sony or Warner Chappell or an independent. If any label offers an artist an all-encompassing record and publishing deal, I will separate it out.
I would try and avoid that. I would try and keep my publishing separate and work with them as the label. I look at publishing later down the line or working with another team. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to get as many areas of potential and possibility and more people working on it rather than just the one team doing everything.
It’s almost like a networking move to be able to utilize their connections as a publisher that is separate from the connections with your label.
There are some independent publishers who are brilliant at chasing down opportunities for songs. There are some great major publishers, but there are also major publishers who don’t do a lot. They just collect. I’ve had meetings where I’ve gone in and said, “I’ve won an Ivor Novello Award for this particular songwriter and song.”
I’m thinking, “I know for a fact that you did a collection deal. You did nothing other than just collect the income.” That’s not the story they’re going to tell you. Sometimes they’re going to be hard, “No. We can do this and that.” What you’re looking at is people have got a drive to get the results. That’s what you’re looking for, whether a label or a publisher. It’s a people business. You want passion.
It should be somebody that’s going to represent your music. First of all, when we talked about being self-published, is that something you can still do these days, or should you have a publisher? If you are self-published, how do you make sure you collect all of your royalties?
It’s a big mystery. That’s how it’s portrayed as a mystery, the dark horse of music publishing. We’re going to have a publisher. The industry is going to continue to push that narrative, but the moment you write a song and register with the collection society, you are effectively publishing yourself. There are certain areas that you have to be aware of, and the first thing is the two income streams that can be coming into you as a writer.
There’s your mechanical income which is for copies, sales, and 50% of streaming, and there are the performance royalties, which is for public performance, broadcast, etc. What’s often going to happen when you look at these areas is most people join the Performing Rights Society. In the UK, it would be the PRS. In America, it will be ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or GMR. That tends to be the first place writers go.
However, if you were to look from a UK perspective, if you were going for the sync, the BBC, for instance, will only sync music if you’re also registered with the MCPS, which is a separate society that collects the mechanical income. This is a little tip for everybody. If you want to avoid a sync agent or a brand looking at your works and going, “Maybe not,” is the term copyright control. If you’ve got copyright control, that means the control is vested with the writer, and there is no publisher involved.
A sync agent or a brand is going to look at that and go, “This is going to be difficult negotiating.” They’re not going to have a standard contract for issuing licenses. They’re probably not going to understand it, which means it’s going to take me weeks to try and explain it to them. We are then going to be dealing with lawyers who are going to try and read, and they go, “No. It’s too much.” It’s very simple that you set up your own publishing company, which could be, in your case, Bree Noble Music or BN Music. It’s as simple.
You will register as a rights owner. What you’re doing is you’re registering with the mechanical rights societies and with the Performing Rights Society that you own your rights. You’re going to collect 100% of the income, but at least then it’s going to have your name music. They’re going to think, “That’s a publishing company.” There is no copyright control. That’s the first little thing. It’s open to everybody. In the UK, you have to pay to join the PRS. It is a one-off fee. It was about £100. For the MCPS, you’d have to pay to join.
It makes you look more professional. As you said, for sync, they’re going to be like, “I’m dealing with a professional and not just some indie artists who don’t understand the business.”
It’s an interesting point because that goes across everything you do in the music industry. The perception that you create is going to get the results. I’ll tell you a little story of how I started my first major business. I decided that I was also going into promotion. I had cards printed saying, “The UK’s number one promotion company,” but I hadn’t done any work at all.
I called it Music House, and I had a switchboard put into my flat. I had four lines coming into it. I had little Post-it Notes going around the room with each division’s name and a made-up name of the person who worked there. I use those names with correspondence and things like that. When people called up, I would answer the phone saying, “Music House,” and they say, “Can I speak to about Bob James?” “Hold on a second. I’ll put you through.” I put different voices on.
I created the perception, and they thought, “It must be some big business. Why am I not aware of this?” Sometimes that means a lot. When you go in, if you act, if you’re a writer, never introduce yourself at network and events. “I’m a songwriter. I’m just starting out. I’m learning.” You are a professional songwriter. Who are you working for? I’m currently writing songs for Harry Styles, Little Mix, and Dua Lipa. You’re not saying you’ve got cuts with those.
“I’m writing songs that would be just perfect for them. They don’t know about them yet.”
You are going to pitch them, and that’s what you’re working on. You’ll tell the truth, but people go, “That’s good.” Be also aware of what you do and be specific to a particular genre. Don’t try and be jack of all trades and say, “I can do the dance. I can do a singer-songwriter.” No. What are you good at? What gives you joy? What touches your creativity? Focus on that. Also, be authentic in what you’re doing. I always say, “Chase the creativity, never chase the money. The money follows the creativity.”
That’s some good advice about the way you present yourself. That makes all the difference.
When you’re working in the music industry, you are an entrepreneur. Therefore you need to the three core tenets of being an entrepreneur. Your tools in education are the concept of motivation, which is you do a week’s or a month’s worth of work, and we’ll give you a salary. You do your academic assignments, and we’ll give you a qualification. It’s literally, “You do this, and you get a reward.” That’s motivation, but an entrepreneur works on inspiration. With inspiration, there is no reward. You just need to create something.
The three tenets of an entrepreneur will be inspiration, total belief in what you’re doing, and gratitude for the fact that it’s already had the success. What I say to my students, and I’ll say to you, “If you knew that you were going to have a hit, a successful song, but it’s you as an artist or placed with another artist in four years’ time, would you give up after three?”
Why do people give up? It’s because they don’t believe that they are going to be successful. If you have that gratitude and act as, “I am successful. It’s on its way but let’s get on with it. Let’s get my team around me. Let’s focus on continuing to write because I’m going to need more songs. It’s coming,” that confidence when you’re interacting with people in the industry is what they call the X factor.The moment you write a song and register with a collection society, you are effectively publishing yourself. Click To Tweet
That’s how I operated as an entrepreneur. I always thought, “95% of people or small businesses give up within 2 years close within this amount of time. I’m just going to outlast them. As long as I outlast them and I’m doing something of quality, I know that I’m going to be successful.”
I did pop music in the promotion. It was a time when rave was the big thing. All my competitors were calling me up saying, “Bob, you need to do rave.” I said, “I don’t understand rave. I am a pop person. I love songs.” I stuck with it, and I had no work whatsoever until that little bubble burst. Simon Cowell contacted me and said, “I’ve got loads of work.” People ultimately gave me Kylie Minogue to work.
We then set up a pop promotion division, and we were the only ones doing it. We literally controlled the market. Sometimes, you got to wait for the market to come around you. Face what’s happening now as an artist, especially. Be authentic. Don’t chase the market. The market will come around. It always changes, but you’ve got to be who you are, real and authentic. Your songs have to come from emotion and authenticity.
That’s why we’re called artists. Let me ask you about the publishing. We were talking about setting up your own publishing company. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s about creating a name and registering and all of that. I was told that you still have to have a publishing administrator. I don’t know if this is different in the UK than in the US to collect certain royalty streams. Is that true? Are you able, as an independent publisher, to collect all of your royalty streams?
It’s very simple. In the beginning, the main royalty streams will be your performance income and your mechanical income. They are going to be your main income streams. As and when it grows, you can then do an administration deal with a major publisher or someone like Kobalt, who is independent but the size of a major publisher. You can do deals in which there is no assignment of copyright to them. It’s a fixed term of 2 to 3 years.
There’s no retention period where they hold onto your copyright for a long period of time. They’re probably going to charge you at the most, probably about 10%, but they will then go out and collect all those other income streams. You don’t need to worry too much about them until you have success. Once you have success, everybody wants to work with you, and now you can negotiate.
If you didn’t have that in place and had something that blew up, can you go back and still collect that stuff later?
What happens is if something’s just blown up, you’ll have every publisher knocking on your door from anybody wanting to work with you. They check the data. They see what’s going on, and they will be able to see who you’re with straight away because they can look it up on the right side of your database. They’ll see that, “It’s being collected by yourself.” They will be in touch with you, trust me. If there’s money to collect, they’ll be contacting you. They are businesses.
A lot of people overthink it. There is a certain income stream. Maybe on YouTube, you’ve got to be a creator, and there are registrations you’ve got to be very careful about. The level of success you’re going to have is going to be across everything. It means there’ll be a lot of money to collect, and you will have people that will come along and offer to do that. At that point, you’ll have your lawyer. You’ll negotiate a good deal. You’ve got the negotiating advantage because there’s money to collect. If you try and do that deal early, there’s nothing in it for them.
They’re not going to offer you a great deal, but they will if there’s money to collect because you’ve got competition. Most people worry too much about the smaller detail. What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to look at the bigger picture. If you have a worldwide radio hit and are collecting millions of dollars, are you going to worry about 1,000 followers that you’ve missed on YouTube at that point? Probably not. Also, that song you wrote isn’t the best song because you’re going to write better songs because you will grow creatively as a better writer. You play catch up. In a lot of cases, you can find money, but you sit in there. The collection society is about six years that you can collect.
In the US, the MLC has been collecting. You can still go and register those things now and back collect.
Most of these are nonprofits. They can’t retain the money. They have to give it to somebody. The PRS, for instance, if they can’t find anybody about six years later, distribute it amongst all their members. They’re not allowed to hang on to it. At the end of the day, they have a mandate to collect this money on your behalf. The key thing I would be saying is you need to chase your income stream. You’ve got to be aware of your usage. If you know that your song is being played on an Asian tour, you’ve got to go and check, “Where’s my money?”
I did it with the songwriters that I managed. They placed a key song with a German act. They were playing arenas and stadiums with this act. I was going through the statements as they were coming through, and I thought, “I haven’t seen any live performance singing these core songs.” I know that there should be because the two were named after one of them. I contacted them, and they were like, “The sheets have come through, and it’s not listed.”
I called up a friend in Germany who got a DVD of the show so I could prove that the songs were played. I sent those off to someone who then went, “It turned out that the sheets had been submitted.” The management of that particular act had listed on the collection society sheets all the songs they had written and nobody else’s songs. They had their wrist slapped, and the royalties were then paid over. It’s a bit like setting your children free. You want them to go off and do whatever they do, but you are going to keep tabs on them a little bit to see if they’re not getting into trouble.
That’s where it’s helpful to have an administrator because it’s hard to keep up with all of those income streams that are out in the world.
It’s a wonderful problem to have when you have those. That is why we go to the deal. At this early stage, don’t panic about it. The most important thing is to get the momentum early.
When somebody is first starting out, do you recommend that they keep their publishing in-house? Do you ever recommend that they seek a publishing deal?
I would recommend that they work with any publisher. There’s a company in the UK called Sentric Music, and they don’t take your rights. It’s a 30-day rolling contract, and they specialize in sync. Anything like that is useful if you can get people pushing for synchronization. The other side of it is that there is nothing to stop you from doing a single-song assignment. What this means is that a particular song, not you as a writer, will be signed to the publisher.
They don’t offer the best royalty rates. It’s normally like copyright and about 50/50. What it can do is it’s a proof of concept that your songs are syncable. With an act that I was managing, I placed one of their songs with Universal Music Production, the production library. They got a sync for a mobile phone in Finland, which created the momentum. The socials started to build up. A few months down the line, we did a major publishing deal with a proper advance because there was a proof of concept. We could prove through the data that the songs were connecting to people. People heard it on the sync and then went and found the tracks.
In the early base, you may have to do the best deal. Get some momentum. Get something going. As long as the term is short or as long as you’re only giving one song away, there’s always going to be more songs. What you don’t want to do is sign a terrible deal for yourself as a writer for a long period of time. That is an absolute no.
Do you think it ever makes sense to sign a deal as a writer with a publisher?
Yes, it can, but I’m a big fan of independent publishers. If you’re an artist who collaborates with other writers and gets a share of the songwriting, but you’re not writing, we call it the gift of publishing that sometimes a writer has to give away, which I don’t like. An artist who works with writers isn’t a writer. They’re just going to take the check. They don’t need anything else from a publisher.
A good publisher working with a good writer can open doors. The bigger companies, people go to them first when they’re looking for sync because of the catalog they’ve got, and they get better rates for sync. They are the ones that can place the songs. They’re dealing with the A&R people at the record labels on a daily basis because they’ve got such big names, and some of them they publish. There are going to sometimes better results. However, I’m a huge fan of independent people like Kobalt, and I’ve worked with them in the past. They’re great.
They have a creative team and have a passion for what they do. There’s a reason why some of the big names who have signed over once they come out, their publishing deal, have then gone to the likes of Kobalt, but Kobalt was effectively the administration deal. You’re not signing your rights. You own your rights.
I always say with any publishing deal that it depends on what you need at the time. If you’re an artist and need funds to keep yourself going because maybe your record advance wasn’t that good, you’ve got to think, “How do I keep that train moving?” If I’ve got to do a deal, I’ll do it. I’ll get the advance, but I’ll make sure that it’s limited in the number of options that we give them. I’ll make sure there’s a cap, so my rights come back to me before I’m too old.
In the last big publishing deal I did, the key aim I wanted to get with the retention period was the fact that all the rights in those songs, provided my artists were recouped, would come back to the artist by the time they were 36 years old. At that point, they can place them with an administration deal and let them collect the money. At least that publisher was getting syncs. They pulled in some very big syncs. They added value.
They were doing their job.
It comes down to gut feeling. Go and meet the teams. I do know some publishers that will say, “Give me a song. If I get a result, you place your song with me. If I don’t, you can place it anywhere, but what have you got to lose?” You place it with a major artist, “You can have 50% of the song. You’ve got me started. I’m now a name.”You need to be careful when you're collaborating. Click To Tweet
When you’re collaborating with other writers, is there any reason as a writer to work with or not to work with someone that is in a publishing deal?
It doesn’t affect you because it’s only their share of that song that will be published by that publisher. Don’t ever feel that you’re pressured. Let’s say we did the song together, and you were published. The publisher puts pressure on you by saying, “Can you get the other 50% of the song?” No, don’t feel you have to place your share of the song with the other publisher. Keep it under your control until you’re ready to do a deal.
You’ve got to be careful when you’re collaborating. There are two key things you’ve got to be clear about on collaborations. The first one is, “Are you writing with another artist?” If you are an artist and the other writer is also an artist, and you come up with that song, which one of you gets it? Before you do anything, the first thing before you do any writing session is you need to have that conversation.
Firstly, who are we writing for? Is this a song that is going to be pitched to a third party, or I’ll be writing for you or me? You’ve got to manage people’s expectations. If the artist thinks, “I’m an artist. They’re writing for me,” then that song is pitched to a company. The artist is saying, “I’ve signed a record deal down the pub. I’ve got a manager who is a second-hand car dealer.” You don’t want that song with them. You want the song over there where it’s going to have some money, but you’ve got to have that conversation up front.
The other key thing is to agree on how you’re going to split the copywriting. Is it 50/50 because you’re both in a room? Is one of you going to do the music, and the other does the lyrics? Are you going to keep them separate in that sense? It could be, “We’ll both write together, but if the song doesn’t do anything in a year, we can both take our contributions back.”
You’ve got to be very clear. It all depends on the circumstance. Let’s say I was a dance producer, and I sent you a track. I said, “I want a song on the top of it.” The first thing you’ve got to be saying is, “I’ll do that. I’ll send it over to you. However, I am not assigning that song to that instrumental track unless it’s released, so it doesn’t form part of that composition.” That way, what you’re doing is all rights reserved effectively. You’re keeping to copyright that back. If they don’t use your top line, your melody and lyrics, you could place it with another dance record, and you need to have that option.
It is because you are composing that. It is its own copyrighted thing.
They will probably be asking 50% for the track because it’s a co-write or as such. They will be saying, “This is 50%.” You’ve got to be very clear, “I’m not going to bond this together as 100% unless you use it because I have seen people send tracks out, and nothing happens.” When the person sends off their top line and maybe gets released, they go, “That’s the song that we wrote together.” Always make it very clear and confirm in writing via email exactly what you have agreed on the phone.
Put it in writing. It’s very important. There’s a particular name for this right, which is the right to be the first artist to release the song.
It’s the first mechanical right. When you write a song, as songwriters, you get to say who releases it first. You don’t want to send it out to an A&R at a record label, and they just decide they’re going to release it. What you want to do is you might have 3 or 4 artists who want that song, so you get to decide on that first release. Always control that. That means that whenever you’re pitching a song, it’s to make sure you’re putting the international copyright notice on there and all rights reserved.
You’re saying, “You can’t do anything without my permission.” What you then want to do is once that first mechanical license has gone, it means anybody can then cover that song without your permission, provided that they don’t change the lyrics and the structure of the song because that infringes your moral rights of integrity.
The key thing is that first usage. That’s why you got to be careful because I’ve seen it with people. They go into a writing session and think, “We’re going to pitch this.” The other writer then suddenly releases it. They’re like, “What have they done that for?” If it’s in the public domain and it’s being released on Spotify, I can guarantee you that probably half the artists you could have pitched that to will not touch it because it’s commercially available.
That’s what I was wondering. There’s a value to it being the first release.
I have known songwriters. When you get to that top tier level, people will pay you money to hear those songs first, so they get first to look at that first mechanical license. There is a value attached to that.
I know that as an artist, you can put a reserve on a song and be like, “I have the right to record this for the next year.” Do they pay for that right?
Record companies will, but if they can get away with it, absolutely not. What they will do is they will come and ask to hold the song. They want you to allow them to hold the song. As a manager, when I was managing songwriters, if I would grant a hold, it would be for a very short period of time, like three months. In some cases, if I felt that song was big, then I’ll go, “First come, first served.” I’ll put the pressure on them to make the decision because what you don’t want to do is to sit on it, and it might be very current now.
You got to be careful about some of the shadier things that could go on. Let’s say a record label had an artist signed, and they had a song. You’ve written a song, which is appealing to the similar type of artists that they’ve got signed. What they might do is say, “Can we hold that?” What they want to do is they want the time to get this song out, rather than give it to one of their competitors who could then have the success. You got to think about what the rationale behind it is.
What I would be doing as a manager or advising someone as a mentor, I would be saying, “Give them a bit of time but police it and then come back to them to say, ‘I’m sorry. Unless you can commit or pay something to hold that song, I’m going to place it elsewhere because it’s too good a song to sit on.'” You’ve got to have the confidence. They say, “We won’t record it then.” I can guarantee if it’s that good a song, they’re not going to let that song go. They’ll be doing everything they can to make sure that they record it.
You got to have some balls in that situation.
I’ve had some showdowns in the past. I’ve had managers swearing at me. One of them was an artist trying to get a share of the song. They wanted 30% of the song to be cut because they said, “It was going to be single, so we want your writers to give us 30%.” I said, “No.” It went down to the wire. The MD of the record was calling me and saying, “Bob, you got to do a deal. This is the single. This is the one we want to go for. Please do a deal.”
I said, “I don’t tell you how to run your business. Don’t tell me how to run my business.” They cut the song, and we didn’t give anything away, but it went down to the wire. What I managed to find out was the song had gone to the radio because the record companies are always doing that. They’re testing things, and the radio had said they love it. They’d already serviced it. Their head of radio used to work in my promotion company. He told me, so I knew. I was like, “I’m just going to sit here.” It went to the wire, but we got the song.
Is there anything else that we need to cover in relation to publishing and collaboration that we haven’t touched on yet? I’m sure there’s a lot, but is there anything that comes to mind?
There is a lot. Understanding all the different parts of copyright is so important. I teach a 25-week module just on publishing. My Master’s have even gotten deeper. The key thing is understanding your rights. Don’t rush into deals. Do not do anything without having an attorney or a lawyer to overlook any contracts.
A lot of people go, “Lawyers are too expensive.” There will be far more expensive if that is a hit song and you’ve got a bad deal. Always have independent legal advice. Believe in your songs. Don’t throw them away. If you believe you’ve got something, have the courage or conviction because not everybody will get it.
I’ll give you another example. This is how the music industry works. I took a song in and pitched it to an A&R at a record label. They went, “We don’t like this. It’s too shouty. It’s not very good at all.” The next meeting I went to, I got it placed. They said, “Our artists are going to cut that.” Two months later, I went back into that first A&R and said, “What are you looking for?” They played me the artist that I’ve released that song, the same song that I pitched them. “I want something like this, Bob.”
I said, “I played that to you a few months ago.” He said, “You didn’t.” I said, “I did, and you said it was too shouty.” “I must’ve had a bad day then.” Have belief in your songs. The other key thing with sync is that the music supervisors have a job and that is to find music that fits the story, brief, brand, and scene. They are not there to find an opportunity for yourself.Understanding all the different parts of copyright is so important. Click To Tweet
When you pitch for sync, it is the icing on the cake. The only thing you can do with sync is to make someone aware of your music. That’s it. You can’t persuade someone to use it because that’s not how it works. You’ve got to be the filter and don’t send in stuff for sync that doesn’t accurately meet the brief because you will get to the point that people won’t even listen to your music if it’s not on brief.
They’re looking for your music to fill a function for them. It’s not about how good it is. It’s, “Does it fit into this spot that I need it to fit into?”
If you write a song saying, “Here I am driving along in my car and it’s the best car in the world,” it’s never going to get a car advert because the creative agency will get shocked by the brand who said, “That’s too cheesy.” They want something like whooshes and technological know-how that makes the car jump out or something that matches the demographic that the car appeals to, which is a reason why Jaguar uses Sting to promote executive cars. They looked at it and said, “People who like Sting will probably buy a Jaguar car.”
All those Bob Seger and the truck ads that I remember from the ’80s, it’s like, “People that like Bob Seger are going to love this truck.”
Remember that it’s the other way round. With radio, you’re pitching how good the song is. With sync, it’s the other way round. It’s making people aware and hoping that it will happen to fit exactly what they’re looking for at that time.
This has all been helpful. I always learn so much in these. As you said about getting a lawyer and all of that, how do you know when your music is good enough to be spending money on that thing? There are people that come to me and are like, “I have written 200 songs, and I haven’t released any of them.” When you hear that, you wonder, “How many of those are worth pursuing as a song?”
It’s not quantity. It’s always quality. If somebody says to me, “I’ve written 200 songs,” I would say, “Send me your top four.” If I don’t get it on the top four, I’m not going to get it on anything else. You’ve got to be able to filter your own output. The other thing goes back to what I said at the very beginning. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit. If you don’t believe in your music, why will anyone else believe in it?
We have an art practice. I have a thing called TARGET that I used. That is an acronym. What it does is we’re trying to get people to work as an entrepreneur, be authentic, and get people to understand what is holding them back and why aren’t they putting those songs out. If they don’t believe in those songs, they don’t put them out. I get it.
If you believe in something, then surely you’ve got to get behind it. You’ve got to gather your troops. If you believe in something, you know it’s going to be a hit. In which case, you know you’re going to need a lawyer and your team. Maybe start talking to publishers or trying to pitch for singers because if you don’t believe that it will do that and you’re not going to invest in it, nobody else will either.
What if you’re stuck in the artist’s perspective of the person who writes their own music like, “I can only imagine this being a hit for me because this is from my perspective?” How do you know if your song would make sense to pitch to other artists?
First of all, do you want to let go of it? If you’re an artist, it might be that you think, “This is too personal. This song is mine, and it’s staying with me.” Sometimes there is a song that you’ve written that most people will have similar emotions. Imagine a song as transit, a vehicle that carries an emotion or energy in motion. When you sing it, it’s energy, the sound waves. What you’re looking for is a connection.
If there was an authentic feeling behind the song, there would be a connection somewhere along the line. There could be a song that you’ve written now. One of my artists wrote a song. She wrote it with another published writer who came back and said, “It’s not for me.” I said, “What’s it called?” He said, “We haven’t even got a title.” We just called it ooey-ooey-ooh because that was the hook. I was like, “Okay.”
Myself, together with the publisher, pitched it to other people. That got cut in South Korea by a boy band called Shinee and did about 100,000 units in its first week. There is a market for everything somewhere. If you think about the emotions you have as a songwriter when you put them in, there’s going to be someone somewhere who is going to connect with that emotion or has a similar experience.
As long as you’ve crafted it and not put, “My partner Simon did this to me,” because it’s too specific and not going to relate. You’ve got to keep it a little bit ambiguous. I’ll give you an example. As I mentioned before, I had an artist who signed to Sony, and that’s an artist called Kelvin Jones. This is a beautiful little story. He wrote a song called Call You Home. It was based on somebody he had met, and he wanted it to be a little bit ambiguous, but there was the emotion behind it.
He produced it up on his laptop and uploaded it to YouTube. Someone he went to school with saw it and posted it on Reddit. In 24 hours, it was on the front page of Reddit, and his socials were going crazy. He even got a tweet that came through and said, “We loved this video. Can we show it on our TV show?” He thought it was a bit of a joke and said, “Knock yourself out.” That was Good Morning America.
On the back of that, you had 80 deal offers come through. People say, “I’ll make you a star. I’ll give you $500 for everything, all your rights.” No. Eventually, we came on as managers. We managed to make sense of everything and built it up. If a song is good enough, people will buy it. You can hold out. They’re not going to go anywhere. They believe in you as an artist. Don’t be in a rush. We did a deal, and it went on a high success. You will find that one on YouTube, but that’s the same. The emotion was behind the song. It was authentic, and people connected with it. If you ask five people what it meant, they’ve all got different meanings.
That’s the thing with a piece of art. It has a life of its own. Once it leaves you, people can interpret it completely differently than the way you created it. That’s great because that means it’s going to be a lot more universal.
Remember, music, art, technology, and fashion are linked. If you’re going into the industry, you need to embrace everything. You have to embrace technology because that’s the world we live in. That’s how you get your music to an audience now. People sometimes get a little bit protective about songs, especially artists. They think, “This is the single. We’re going to hold on to this. I’m not putting it out yet.” I’ll be saying, “If it’s your best song, put it out now because people might discover you.” Trust me, if you’re good, you’re going to write a better song in the future. If that’s the best song you’re ever going to write, then it’s too limiting.
You’re not going to have a very long career.
This goes back to that belief. It’s saying, “I’m going to put this out. I’m going to let it come out and do what it needs to do. I’m going to get behind it.” I’ve had people say, “I’m not putting money into social media. That’s going to cost me $200 or something. I can’t afford to spend that.” If you want a record label to sign and spend $1 million on you, it’s the same as any tech startup or business you go in to get funding or try to scale up.
They want to see that the person who has created it has skin in the game and believes in it enough that they are prepared to invest their own money in it. If you’re coming into the music industry, don’t come in small. Come in big. Go for it. Do and learn everything you can about the industry. Network with people and learn how to network. You throw yourself in and become a master. One thing you’re going to do in the future is you can look back and go, “I did not leave a stone unturned,” or you’re going to be in the future, looking at it like, “If only I had done this.” That’s terrible.
Part of it is the journey. It’s not about having financial success. I always say with an artist. It’s about expressing your creativity. It’s being authentic to who you are. That gives you joy. If that’s giving you joy, don’t we spend money to have joy? Why don’t you spend your money? I’m not saying go ridiculous, but there’s so much available to use. Understand the industry so you don’t make those mistakes.
That’s lots of great advice. As you said, there’s probably so much more that we could cover, but we’re hitting the mark. We’re going to have to shut down that conversation, but thank you so much. This has been so great. You’ve given us so many great specific examples that I know that people who are reading can hang onto. It can give them something tangible to understand the concepts that we’re talking about here. Thank you so much for that. Are you on social? Can the readers connect with you?
Everything is @BobJamesUK. On Twitter is @BobJames. I got there first. I’m not a jazz musician. If you go to my website at GetMoneyFromMusic.com, there’s a contact form there if ever you need to get in touch or anything like that. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to help people here to serve.
Readers, go check that out. Thank you so much, Bob. This has been such a fun conversation. There might be a part two coming soon. Thank you so much for all of this. I know you’re a teacher, so you can talk. You got to fill up hours of lecture time. I know that there’s so much more we could talk about in another episode. Thank you so much.
You’re welcome. This has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
- Bob James
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About Bob James
Bob has been an active music manager for many years representing Artists, Songwriters and Producers. Before that he was the CEO of the UK’s largest and most successful Independent Music Promotion and Marketing Company. He now runs a Company called Get Money From Music, which specialises in providing Music Business knowledge, mentoring and coaching to the many via the most cost effective and flexible program available.
He teaches Music Business at both Degree and Masters level at LIPA in the UK and continues to teach and speak at some of the most prestigious Music Colleges and Universities.
Over the years he has learnt a lot about how artists need support not only in business but also with their mental health. The creative industries can be harsh and you need to learn how to understand the psychological pressures you are under, be your authentic self and be able to trust other people. Bob provides coaching using the exclusive and propriety Maxcebo Methodology, helping creative people to achieve the success that is within them.