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PULSE POINTS

“This company was built by creatives,” declares Pulse Music Group co-founder Josh Abraham. “The way we operate is on the frontline.”

“We’re not buying a catalog,” adds Scott Cutler, co-founder of the Silver Lake-based music collective. “We’re making a catalog.”

The company, a boutique publisher that has also begun developing a masters division, boasts an array of artists, writers and producers including Starrah (Rihanna, The Weeknd, Camila Cabello), Bonnie McKee (Katy Perry), Dram, El-P of Run the Jewels, GoldLink, Kaytrananda, Marty James (“Despacito”), G Koop, BØRNS and Galantis.

Its partnerships include Creative Nation, a JV with Nashville movers Luke and Beth Laird and featuring Tyler Johnson (Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles), now in its seventh year; Rick Rubin’s American Songs, now entering year five; and Marc Anthony’s Magnus Media.

The company’s 25-strong executive team, meanwhile, also includes President/Head of Creative Maria Egan, VP A&R Ashley Calhoun, COO Jason Bernard and co-founder Anne Preven, as well as Joe Rangel, who runs film and TV licensing.

Pulse’s roster is youthful and diverse, and so is the crowd that constellates around it, as the packed fall party at its offices in hipster haven Silver Lake underscores: While plenty of familiar industry faces are in attendance, you’re just as likely to meet big crews of aspiring artists, writers and producers. The median age is probably about 30. “Culture is a big part of what we do, and those kids represent culture,” Abraham says.

That culture explicitly references the hothouse environment of music’s great indies, with songwriters working cheek-by-jowl and collaborations springing out of those close quarters.  “We’ll have someone in the building and someone else will want to go hang out with them,” Cutler says. “We once had Run The Jewels in one room and Miike Snow in the next day, and then they collaborated. I can’t understand why there aren’t studios in every publishing company.”

Cutler made his bones as a songwriter and musician (Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” Beyoncé’s “Listen,” Brenda Russell’s “Piano In The Dark”), while Abraham was a busy producer (Foster the People, 30 Seconds to Mars, Weezer) when they first decided to work on the other side of the desk. “It was like being a player and then becoming a coach,” Cutler says, recalling the point when he began to feel “uninspired” about writing gigs. “It’s a bit like, ‘My shoulder hurts—I can’t throw the ball. I’m going to coach and tag someone in.’ Then I became an owner.”

Abraham first floated the idea of launching a pubco with Cutler and writing partner Preven, and version 1.0 launched in 2007. “Pulse was just a studio when this started,” he recalls, adding that while the master side of the business was struggling at the time, “what was certain was that copyrights were going to stay valuable.”

They found that between them they knew an array of undiscovered writing talent. “There was always some talented kid in the studio—maybe playing keyboards—who was the most talented one in the room,” Cutler remembers, noting that he plucked Tim Pagnotta from the band Sugarcult, while Abraham was working with Ima Robot’s Ollie Goldstein; Goldstein’s girlfriend, Bonnie McKee, was also an inspiring artist/writer.

A&R execs didn’t always focus on the right band member, Abraham points out, “because they were laser-focused on the singer. But the true talent was the one behind the scenes. Those were the ones we’d identify.”

“We grabbed these kids who were all disenfranchised at the time and didn’t know what they were doing,” says Cutler. “So we formed the company and started to connect the dots—and it worked.”

The pair have plenty of anecdotes about passing the phone back and forth in the studio parking lot, angling to sign writers but knowing they had no more than $30k to spend.

In short order, they had two #1 Pop songs, and then 10. (McKee ended up working with Katy Perry and Max Martin, while Pagnotta wrote a hit for Neon Trees during his first session for the project.)

"We're not buying a catalog.
We're making a catalog." —Scott Cutler

“We started having some success with a very tiny team of people. At one point we only had one assistant. We had $100k total budget to sign and build the company because we were funding it ourselves. Then it hit me that we needed proper funding; otherwise, it was going to be an unsustainable business for us. We opened that door and once we did there were a few suitors. We ended up picking Ichiro Asatsuma with Fuji Media, who had built Windswept Pacific; they gave us the funds and we started hiring people. Now some of the deals we’ve been doing—and are about to do—are well into seven figures.”

Since the sale of SONGS, the capital infusion in the publishing sector has only intensified, and many in the biz are looking to see which of the indie boutiques will emerge to claim the current-hits lane. While the pair won’t comment on that subject, Cutler notes that its size and versatility has given Pulse an edge in competing with bigger firms holding bigger checkbooks. “There’s always going to be someone with more money, but in terms of creative publishing companies with a lot of A&R support, we are rising to the top,” he says. “We’ve spent most of our money on A&R and the Sync team. Those are the two areas that have mattered most to me as a writer.”

“Of course,” he quips, “I’m also mulling a bid for EMI.”

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