Monday, March 25, 2019

‘Market dominance is unhealthy for consumers and rightsholders’ | Music Business Worldwide

MBW’s Inspiring Women series profiles female executives who have risen through the ranks of the business, highlighting their career journey – from their professional breakthrough to the senior responsibilities they now fulfil. Inspiring Women is supported by INgrooves.

Molly Neuman has seen pretty much all sides of the music business, with a career that started as a musician, before working in labels and management, then joining early iTunes competitor eMusic, and streaming service Rhapsody, before leadership roles at A2IM, Kickstarter and now Songtrust.

The common thread throughout it all is an alignment with the independent sector, which she continues to be passionate about championing and enabling today in her role as Head of Business Development at the music publishing admin company that’s owned by Downtown. 

Songtrust offers musicians at all levels of their careers global music publishing administration deals for a one-year fixed term and a 15% admin fee and $100 sign-up charge.

The company manages and collects publishing income for over 1 million copyrights, and early last year became the first royalty administration platform to become a client of pan-European licensing hub ICE, which bolsters its digital licensing and back-office royalty processing services.

That adds might to a growing global presence, which includes recent expansion into Europe, Los Angeles, Nashville and Atlanta, while increasing its staff count by 50.

“Our role is to register, collect and pay,” Neuman explains. “Our obsession is with getting your data into the publishing with as many dimensions as possible, so we do a lot of work to encourage ISRC matching to the compositions.

“We have a cool tool that we use on our platform to match different recordings that might be associated with songs that are out there, so that when we send the full repertoire picture to the societies around the world they can take that specific claim and match it to the work. Then we receive those royalties and pay them to our clients.”

While Songtrust is focused purely on ‘the pipes’ for now, Neuman says the firm could start offering creative services, like a traditional publisher would. “There might be a vision for some more creative pieces to what we do in [future],” she explains. 

Neuman grew up in Washington DC in the ‘80s listening to RnB and hip hop through the only radio stations that had a decent signal, before discovering the underground counterculture scene.

Her father was a politician and she became aware of the power of music as a vehicle for political messages after witnessing mainstream musicians getting involved in the Anti-Apartheid movement.

College was in Oregon, where Neuman arrived with an acoustic guitar and a ‘half baked’ strategy of wanting to do more with music. There she met a kindred spirit who’d come from a small town with a robust independent underground scene. The duo formed a band, Bratmobile, which helped kickstart the riot grrrl feminist punk movement.

“We were looking at the shows we went to, the people on stage, the records you could buy in the record store, and you just didn’t see enough women.”

molly neuman, songtrust

Discussing the inspiration for the band, Neuman says: “We were looking at the shows we went to, the people on stage, the records you could buy in the record store, and you just didn’t see enough women.

“That was the simplest spark of inspiration that we took on through starting a fanzine to speak specifically about what we cared about and to try to expose other women and artists that we thought should be getting recognition. We had colleagues and friends in other bands doing the same things and that’s what became the movement.”

After graduating, Neuman moved to the Bay area and toured as part of three bands. After growing tired of sleeping on floors, she found a steady job at Lookout! Records.

It was an explosive time for the label and its catalogue, which included Green Day’s first two albums — their third on Warner Bros. had just arrived and hit #2 in the US.

While getting stuck into multi-tasking at the local label, Neuman carried on touring as a member of a revived Bratmobile, as well as managing other artists on the side.

She then moved to New York where she managed a band signed to Atlantic and helped launch US independent trade association A2IM.

When her patience for the financial instability and demanding nature of management ran out, Neuman joined tech company eMusic in a label relations role for eight years, before being approached by Rhapsody International just as streaming was starting to take hold.

After learning about the ins and outs of the streaming business, she went to work at A2IM as VP and then interim President with the goal of helping members better engage with the DSPs to get the same presentation opportunities, analysis and data as the majors.

That took her to Kickstarter to help grow their music side, before joining Songtrust where she’s tasked with growing the brand and client base.

“It’s exciting because it still aligns with how I got into music an underserved segment is who we are trying to connect, giving independent songwriters, producers, and people that work with them access on a global basis to music technology,” Neuman says.

Here, we chat about the state of the publishing sector, direct deals and gender parity in music. 

The US songwriter community had a big win last year with the Music Modernization Act. How will that have an impact on what you do at Songtrust?

It remains to be seen what it looks like in practice and it’s still two years away so there’s a lot of details to be formed before then. But if it gives people the ability to collect the bulk of their mechanical royalties in a way that’s similar to the UK with MCPS and PRS, where you can do everything individually and directly if you want, or you can work with a music publisher, then that’s fantastic.

I think we’ll still be an option as a full publishing administration solution but we don’t know exactly what it will mean for our business, we’ll probably just clarify our purpose a little bit more.

Songtrust is among a number of direct companies that independent artists can use to manage their careers that has gained traction in the last few years. What impact do you see that side of the business having on the role of major companies in future?

I think the majors just have to make the case for why they are the right option for certain artists or songwriters. That should be beyond just writing a cheque, it should be because of what they are doing to help you become the superstar that you potentially could be and something that you can really identify is worth giving up a larger percentage of your money for.

“there is always going to be the need for someone who has got a billion dollars to support a certain kind of artist’s career.”

I think there is always going to be the need for someone who has got a billion dollars — or whatever the number is going to be at any given point — to support a certain kind of artist’s career.

What do you make of that fact that artists can now directly upload their music to Spotify?

If you are an artist and invited to participate I think you should test it alongside what it means to do that with the other services. I’m not a huge fan in general of market dominance by one company, I think it’s unhealthy for consumers and rights holders.

“as much as I’m pleased to see the success of Spotify and the adoption of streaming and paying for music, I think a healthier ecosystem will include multiple players who are successful.”

So as much as I’m pleased to see the success of Spotify and the adoption of streaming and paying for music, I think a healthier ecosystem will include multiple players who are successful — Apple Music, Amazon, YouTube and Tidal.

There does seem to be room for more players than one or two but we’ll see, it’s expensive to run these companies as well documented by MBW!

Talking of competition and consolidation… what do you make of the recently cleared Sony/EMI merger and the impact it will have on the publishing community?

With the big companies, catalogue is critical with their large overhead and primary motivation by profit. It seems that they have to continue to find places to cut so who knows what the carnage is going to be like on the team employee side, and what the benefit for their artists and writers is going to be.

We’ve seen this story before, we know it’s going to be a pain point for a while and then it will probably be the status quo.

Are you concerned about the impact of a company of that size on the independent sector?

I certainly am but when mergers have happened on the recorded music side, organisations like Merlin have been able to encourage some sort of benefit to the independent community.

I don’t think that Merlin will become any less tenacious when presented with what’s happening in the market and with organisations like AIM, A2IM, the IMPF and the AIMP in the US, there is a real initiative and effort towards parity for the independent community. The goal is to not lose so much marketshare that you don’t have power.

“We are signing more new clients year over year than any of the majors could possibly do, because the rate of new creators and the access to tools and platform has become much easier.”

In our case, using our technology we have over 150,000 songwriters that we represent and almost 1.5 million copyrights. We are signing more new clients year over year than any of the majors could possibly do, because the rate of new creators and the access to tools and platform has become much easier.

Obviously we don’t have the most valuable copyrights, it’s about volume, but we do have a tremendous group of clients that we are representing, some whom are quite successful so it will be interesting to see how that manifests over the next couple of years.

Where do you see the music industry and publishing heading?

It’s about access. I think now what we and other companies are doing is to enable access and improve the landscape for people. What needs to happen is that every song streamed is matched to the composition of the writer who wrote it, and we shouldn’t rest until that happens.

“We shouldn’t rest until every song streamed is matched to the composition of the writer who wrote it.”

What would you change about the music industry and why?

I would change the general complexion. Creating opportunities for people who haven’t had them and encouraging them to succeed is what I think still needs to happen.

Gender parity has been a big conversation recently — what’s your stance on where the issues lie?

When I think about how macro decisions get made for our industry, especially with the ubiquity of tech and how that impacts all of our lives, the lack of senior C Level execs in these companies that make the decisions is the most troublesome to me.

There is no simple answer [to that problem] — does someone resign to install someone of a specific gender or ethnicity? It’s not likely to happen.

But it sounds like there is much more investment being made in developing entry-level people at the majors, publishers or services companies into manager roles. There has to be that buy in from the executive level to challenge how those ratios develop and to give people who don’t look like them that path.

“I think [reaching] equality is about redefining the [definition of the] ‘best candidate’ and how it’s different for women or for people of colour.”

Also I think a lot of conversation now is about redefining what’s best a lot of times when hiring you look for the ‘best candidate’ with the most specific experience, and the person happens to look like the person hiring, or whatever the reality is.

So it takes redefining what the requirements are, and how it’s different for women or for people of colour who don’t have the same access and encouragement throughout their careers or lives.

Some will say music hasn’t had its big Me Too moment, why do you think that is?

I wish I had a clean answer for that but here does seem to still be lots of people with bad stories, and there are a few people who have been exposed for egregious behaviour who still seem to be getting rewarded by the industry with new jobs and new companies.

In some cases it seems like there’s been penalties but when you look at the recent story of the Google executive [Andy Rubin] who was pushed out but got a $90m exit package, it’s bizarre.

Do you think that whole Me Too conversation and revelations have been helpful?

It has to be helpful, as painful as it is, for people to know that they are not the only ones that have been putting up with bullshit. Thankfully I haven’t had any extreme assault scenario but I’ve had enough icky uncomfortable inappropriate dynamics where I was like, Why do I have to put up with it?

In general, I don’t think the people who are doing the icky inappropriate uncomfortable behaviour know that it’s out of line, and it’s still hard to confront those things in real time because of the work that’s required by the woman.

It sort of aligns with what I was saying about developing your teams and people of all different dimensions to be successful in companies, and it takes the men to be the ones to say, If I notice something, I’m going to call it out. More people need to be ready to do that.

Final question, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned across your career?

I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to work with really smart independent business people who run their own companies, make their own decisions and call the shots. It’s tremendously inspiring to me to see how much strength you can have from your own passion and viewpoint.

When I was getting my start I just had examples of people that I met, books that I would check out at the library or that my father would give to me, but now you have so much more opportunity to determine your own career and path because you can research anything online. I think that’s really exciting.

I’m probably in my mid career by how old I am, but I feel like I am just getting started in a way. I still want to learn new things and am pretty enthusiastic about what there is I don’t know so I guess that is the main thing that I try to carry through.

I also think about having a balanced life — I went a little bit crazy in my ‘20s and wish that I had slowed down a little bit. I was so productive and I can be proud of what I accomplished, but I would tell my younger self to drink water and get some sleep!

MBW’s ongoing Inspiring Women series is supported by INgrooves, which powers creativity by providing distribution, marketing and rights management tools and services to content creators and owners. INgrooves is a leader in the independent music distribution and marketing industry, provides independent labels, established artists and other content owners with the most transparent and scalable distribution tools including analytics, rights management services, and thoughtful marketing solutions to maximize sales in today’s dynamic global marketplace.

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