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GUT CALL
A Conversation with Matt Pincus and Ron Perry of SONGS/RECORDS

Interview by Simon Glickman

SONGS and RECORDS Founder/CEO Matt Pincus and President Ron Perry are celebrating a #1 chart bow by SONGS writer Lorde, on the heels of big successes from The Weeknd, Major Lazer/Diplo and other pub signings, and strides from label-side breakout Noah Cyrus. That said, the two—who've built SONGS together since 2004—are doubtless singing a song of woe after having to talk to us.

Say a little about the making of the Lorde record and your involvement in the A&R process.
Ron Perry:
I think it really started with working together on the [2014] Hunger Games soundtrack, which Matt initiated through his relationship with the President of production at Lionsgate; that cemented my role in her life as her “A&R person,” for lack of a better term. That process turned into conversations about who she wanted to work with, what sound she wanted to accomplish. Coming off of such a gigantic album and a few gigantic songs, it’s not easy to come back. In a way, she achieved everything on the first go-round—success, credibility, everything---so young. Where do you go from there? You make Melodrama.

Now, with the new album, you have all 11 songs on the record in the Spotify Top 200, for the fourth day in a row—that doesn’t happen with pop records. Her single, “Perfect Places,” is at Alternative radio right now and doing really well; Republic will cross it over down the road, and the video’s coming soon. That’s my favorite song on the record. One other fun stat: She didn’t do a ticket bundle, to compare her to some of the other records that have come out lately; her sales are better than most out there. She’s well ahead of most recent releases.

What’s on deck?
This new Major Lazer track, “Know No Better,” looks like it’s going to be a hit. It’s a song with Travis Scott, Camila Cabello and Quavo. Diplo has lots of other records coming this year, and we just signed XXXTentacion; I’m excited about the music he has coming out. We have a new X Ambassadors single and album coming out soon. And of course lots of upcoming singles by our writers in the second half of 2017.

I wanted to ask your thoughts on the costs of deals. How do you measure the cost-benefit as these deals get big?
Matt Pincus: There’s a general feeling of positivity around music publishing right now. I think people are seeing the streaming market developing in a real way, as opposed to when it was theoretical two years ago.

"We started at a time when most people within the music publishing business were fundamentally focused on cash flow and financial characteristics. We came in with a heavily creative point of view."—Matt Pincus 

I also think that music publishing is at a point now that’s the closest it’s been in many, many  years to where it began—a creative business of setting up collaborations between songwriters to make magic—and there’s a general feeling that if you’ve got a good creative team and are in a position to create that kind of value, that there’s value to be created there in the marketplace. Whereas 15 years or so ago, when the big deals were going down for rock bands, publishers had relatively little influence on that process. Now you have many people working together to create a hit single, and artists want to collaborate in a way that they didn’t before.

I’d like to think that SONGS had something to do with influencing the conversation back towards creative, because we started at a time when most people within the music publishing business were fundamentally focused on cash flow and financial characteristics. We came in with a heavily creative point of view. The people capable of generating that kind of work go up in value. Some of the valuations you’re seeing are in response to that. I also think there’s a lack of marketing-driven music in the marketplace right now. There aren’t a lot of Wilcos in the world—guys that aren’t on the radio but sell albums.

Perry and Lorde endure a photo op with HITS' Simon Glickman and Samantha Hissong; Perry and Pincus winning
Indie Publisher of the Year at the ASCAP Pop Awards; signing Desiigner

Music driven purely by audience, in other words?
The middle has largely dropped out of the market. The market has become either Top 40 high-velocity music or music that is fighting its way into the marketplace. I think the streaming business will bring that back in relatively short order, which will be a really good thing for everyone across the music business. But that leaves certain acts on the Top 40 end of the spectrum going for eye-poppingly high prices, though the overall spend may not be increasing by that much because there aren’t as many deals going on across the spectrum.

So there’s a little bit of a scarcity-of-water phenomenon—when there’s less water, the price of water goes up. To compete, you either need a big checkbook or the best creative service. We’ve been able to hold our own against the majors by focusing on the latter. We talk a lot about how the music publishing business is more about being right than it used to be. So you need to really understand the writer that you’re going to sign, what the path to success is for your writer and how that translates into a return on the deal. And that means being really intimately familiar with the music and also the way that music performs in the marketplace now. So when we go after stuff we have a strong thesis. What could this become? How far could it go? How can we contribute to the conversation creatively to make magic around this artist, writer or song?

"For the most part, I think the label business is about putting out great music and making gut calls. Since the majority of labels and publishers are looking at the same data, traditional A&R is making a comeback."—Ron Perry 

Ron, what are the latest developments with RECORDS? Do you agree that in the current era the differences between publishers and labels have diminished significantly?
Ron: We’re excited about Noah Cyrus, obviously. For the most part, I think the label business is about putting out great music and making gut calls. Since the majority of labels and publishers are looking at the same data, traditional A&R is making a comeback.  And yes, publishers and label A&R people are all making records the same way.

With SONGS and RECORDS, we believe it’s a similar model to what Jive/Zomba was in the ‘90s, where you go in hand-in-hand and hopefully you use your own writers, and maybe some outside writers, and put them on your record—keep it all in house. That’s a great model for us. We’ve got Barry Weiss, who was obviously a huge part of what they were doing in the ‘90s. It’s fun for us to play a publishing role, but at the same time take real shots on radio as well as have a great dialogue with our partners at Spotify and Apple Music, to make those calls, all in the interest of breaking new artists.

Matt: With the record business a lot of the conversation now has become: How do you effectively build a catalog over a long period of time? Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s you would build a label first, and then a publishing division next. We turned that around, because by investing a relatively modest amount of capital we could have a broad-based music publishing catalog, and that supports the infrastructure of our business—and then taking shots on records we believe in creatively on the RECORDS side is something we can afford to do, because we’ve got a broad catalog already under our feet.

How do you and Barry work together?
Ron: We’re true partners. Barry’s got his 30 years of experience in the music industry and I have my perspective on how things should be done. I’m very involved in the music, but we work on a lot of things together as well. It’s a small company; I can’t really say that there’s a division of duties per se. With Barry we talk about every single little decision and every call a hundred times. It’s a pretty tight ship.

What’s your vision for growing your catalog on the RECORDS side? We love alternative pop.  But we’re going to be a multi-genre label. The key is not to get too frustrated with initial data, as there are definitely a lot of records out there that take a minute to grow. Top 40 is so competitive now that you really need to build a story and pick your shots. 

 

 

 

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