Talking Songwriters, Roadmaps and “Cross-Fertilization” With BMG’s Laurent Hubert and Zach Katz

A year or so ago, Bibi Bourelly was living with her manager and writing songs in her bedroom. Some of those songs found their way to the new BMG and, says Chief Creative Officer Zach Katz, “We absolutely fell in love with her, creatively. We decided to wrap our arms around her.” Cut to the present; Bourelly co-wrote Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” and has multiple cuts with Beyoncé, Pharrell and Usher, among others. BMG’s support helped spark a signing derby on the label side as well (she landed at Def Jam).

“This is such a competitive environment,” notes President Marketing & Creative Laurent Hubert, “that when we take on a writer we have to play to their strengths, as a coach. There’s no #2 in this market; there are no B and C writers. You have to find the quickest way to bring writers to A level, and to keep A writers at that level. You have to understand exactly where their strengths are, where you should and shouldn’t mitigate. That’s our job as a coach.”

Hubert and Katz pepper their discussion with sports analogies—particularly as regards developing the careers of their writers. They describe a “roadmap” for each writer’s path, and the necessity of removing said writer from his or her comfort zone. This may mean sending a rock singer to a pop session, flying a pop writer to Nashville or sending a successful U.S. tunesmith to experience writing in Paris or London for a while. Introducing writers to label heads, A&R chiefs, managers and other gatekeepers is naturally also part of the regimen.

“When I deal with other companies, I say, ‘Who’s your point person?’” Katz asserts. “With our company, especially with the writers we deem priorities, we have an entire team that’s collectively engaged, from U.S. creatives and A&R all the way to international. Everyone feels ownership in a particular writer.”

Bourelly’s is but one of several recent success stories touted by Hubert and Katz, who point out that BMG has writer share on 14 of 18 tracks on Justin Bieber’s chart-topping new set (thanks to writer Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd), as well as 13 of 17 on One Direction’s Made in the A.M. (the latter from John Ryan via BMG’s partnership with Big Deal Music).

Other recent hits from the pubco’s writer roster include the Bruno Mars-co-penned giant “Uptown Funk!,” multiple smashes from Fetty Wap, Bebe Rexha (who co-wrote David Guetta’s monster “Hey Mama”), DJ Snake co-writes “Lean On” and “You Know You Like It,” Dem Jointz’s contributions to Dr. Dre’s Compton: A Soundtrack and Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable; Monsters & Strangers’ work with Nick Jonas, 5 Seconds of Summer and Jason Derulo, among others; and Andy Grammer’s “Honey, I’m Good.” Big Deal writers are also behind Shawn Mendes’ “Stitches.”

As a result, Hubert notes, “Our marketshare increased significantly in Q2 and Q3, hitting double digits.” And all this from a standing start in 2008.

BMG has not only significantly grown its publishing business in the past year but seen the first fruit of its recorded-music side—notably a #1 release from Janet Jackson.

“Cross-fertilization” between the recording and pub sides, Hubert underscores, “is very effective.” In addition to the broader “intra-BMG” opportunities for artists and writers, the fact the company operates in both publishing and recordings enables his team to “take the project, from an A&R perspective, through the entire chain. We’re getting the best songs into the marketplace, and making sure BMG can deliver those songs.”

"We’re getting the best songs into the marketplace, and making sure BMG can deliver those songs.” — Laurent Hubert

The global company, overseen since its launch from Berlin by CEO Hartwig Masuch, recently announced the acquisition of the recorded and publishing assets of Steve Greenberg’s S-Curve (home of Grammer) and re-upped its pact with Big Deal. Last year, BMG bought the influential labels Vagrant and Infectious.

“We’re continuing to build our identity,” Katz declares. “It’s still very early days. The fact that the industry, writers, managers and attorneys see us as a very hands-on, responsive creative partner is exactly where we want to be. It’s all about offering a great service.” 

“We’re very integrated, on the creative side and on the marketing side,” says Hubert. “We don’t think in a vertical way; we think quite horizontally. It’s quite a differentiation point in the marketplace. 2015 has been the year of really forming the recordings business; 2016 will see us grow the business significantly. We have such great reach in terms of our teams, artists we’ve signed and various imprints and labels,” he insists. “We’re very excited about what 2016 will bring.”•

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