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"Some larger companies ... fish ten meters from the surface of the water in a very small space, and it’s a check-writing contest for artists who are already breaking. I’m sure I’ll lose that kind of contest. But what’s motivating the writer to sign that up-front deal is the premise that publishers really do nothing."

A LIFE, NOT JUST A HIT SONG

Talking Songwriting, Self-Knowledge and Suits With Songwriter-Publisher-Exec Billy Mann
Billy Mann began his career writing spontaneous songs for passersby, but after a couple of decades in the biz he’s been able to write his own ticket. A hit songwriter/producer (he’s worked with Cher, P!nk, John LegendDavid GuettaMartina McBride, Take ThatBackstreet BoysSting and too many more to list here), Mann also served as President of International, New Music for EMI and as a consultant for Sony, Warner/Chappell and other companies, and has quietly built a publishing company (the BMG-affiliated Green& Bloom/Topline), management firm (Manncom) and now a label, thehitlife/records. The inner-city Philly native has retained a robust sense of humor and gratitude over many years in the biz, but appearing here will likely inspire him to pen a very sad song indeed.


Tell me about your new label.
We just closed a distribution deal with Caroline/Capitol; I love Dominic PandisciaMike Harris and the team there, having worked with many of them during my EMI years. I'm really excited by what they're building. 

Meanwhile, your publishing company, Green & Bloom/Topline, now has more than 35 writers.
Yes. In addition to many core songwriters, we're also able to be a source for early A&R development. We’ve got Allen Stone, who’s on Capitol now and recording his new album but also wrote for the Macklemore record; Vassy,in the EDM/Dance world, who’s been slogging it out, had a #1 single on her own, and is now on the new David Guetta/Showtek single "Bad," which is #1 on Beatport, and is working with Afrojack, among many others; we have Sway Clarke II, who’s on tour with HAIM in Germany and is featured on Tinie Tempah's latest; Justin Stanley, who’s produced and written with Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow and Gary Clark, Jr.Kay, an artist/DJwho has a Ryan Seacrest-produced TV show and just had a #1 in Japan. There’s Oh Honey, a Brooklyn-based duo who made an EP, SiriusXM picked up their single, “Be Okay” and it sold 10k singles and was featured on the 100th episode of Glee. They just signed to Atlantic. The EP just went to #13 on iTunes pop album chart. 

Green & Bloom was really based on signing "Rocky Balboa" types I believe in, not just on a musical level, but personally, who have stamina and share similar values with the rest of the roster. What I love most is seeing the writers believe in each other and gossip about each other's successes, instead of the typical "me show." I think that positivity is in part why we've been able to scale the business in only two years without losing the integrity of our goals: writers want to be a part of it. And if ever we need the extra firepower, we have BMG as a partner. They’re a great strategic ally for us; I've had Hartwig [Masuch's] and Laurent [Hubert]'s support from the get-go.

You’ve defined the company in terms of community and transparency, and emphasized the “teach a man to fish” concept.
It really started after I’d served several years as an executive. While I loved breaking artists at EMI like Guetta, Pablo Alboran and others, I also experienced a lot of the internal bullshit that some days made me feel like I had climbed my way up to the bottom. And just after I turned 40, I started looking back after 20 years and wondering, “What do I wish had been there for me when I first started, and ‘how would my experience have been different if when I was first signed I had been given some skills, tools and camaraderie?”

I wished someone had taught me simple things like how the financial piece works; you may get paid a certain amount of money, but it doesn’t all end up in your pocket after you pay your lawyer, your manager, your accountant and your taxes. How do you budget? Do you audit? How do you network? How do you manage your expectations? Creative people who do break are still in the dark and think it’ll last forever; that’s why this business is so dense with artist bankruptcies.

How does your approach to deals benefit the writer?
For example, we don’t do front-load advances. It’s not that I won’t go dollar-for-dollar with another company, but for the $100k advance I can do for a writer, I feel spacing that out over 18 months is healthier for a songwriter. If something happens and suddenly there’s a large chunk of revenue, we can always accelerate that money to the writer. I’m committed to trying to provide a more balanced way for each songwriter to grow creatively. In some ways, that’s a co-publishing deal. In some cases, that’s an admin deal with small margins and we as a company only eat what we kill for our revenue; either way, we’ve got to make shit happen. In general, I think if a creative person feels more financially stable for an extended period of time, they will actually be more productive. And it's working for us.

Even so, it must be daunting at times to go up against the giants.
You know, the cornerstone of publishing for some larger companies is that they fish ten meters from the surface of the water in a very small space, and it’s a check-writing contest for artists who are already breaking. I’m sure I’ll lose that kind of contest.  But what’s motivating the writer to sign that up front advance deal is the premise that publishers really do nothing. That’s what nobody likes to talk about but most reps will say to their clients privately. GBTL is just a boutique alternative, a Williamsburg or Silverlake for songwriters with a lean fixed cost structure in a creative community where everyone looks out for each other in that neighborhood. We have great people in L.A. and on the East Coast, and our idealism hasn't hindered our ability to develop great talent and get on big records.

In addition to developing their musical chops, a lot of songwriters also need to develop collaborative, networking and social skills in a relationship industry. So we host retreats and bring in speakers to talk about everything from finance to copyright infringement to social media to nutrition. And we build healthy travel funds into all of our deals, except that a writer can only get those funds approved if they submit a short business plan for the trip they want to take.

You’ve also been emphatic about the work/life balance.
Pretty much under the radar, I’ve managed to write for and produce artists I love for a really long time, and I’ve tried to make it less about obsessing on the hit song, and more trying to balance it with a hit life.

The fact that I’ve been on the charts for 20 years as a songwriter, manager, producer and executive, I’m fucking proud of it. But I'm more proud of my marriage and my kids. But that's corny and no one sounds cool talking about that. But that's actually exactly what I want for the artists and writers I work with: a life, not just a hit song.

Has your feeling about the business become more or less positive?
I love the music industry more every day—not because it’s perfect, but because it’s forgiving enough that it leaves room for people to try and fail and try again and even while everyone wrestles with the technology, a great three-minute record can still change anyone's life forever.   

One thing I admire about the top executives in our industry is while they’re all different and quirky—they all have a sandpaper side and they are all romantics deep down. That’s what I grew up with: true Philly. Alecia [aka P!nk, also a Philly native] and I always joke about how Philadelphia has been voted the friendliest city in America and the murder capital in the same year. We'll "brotherly love" you, but don't get it wrongwe'll fuckin' kill you. Isn't that the music business? It's home to me.










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