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MOOT ON POINT

A Conversation with Warner Chappell CEO/Co-Chairman Guy Moot

The publishing world is red-hot right now, and Guy Moot finds the temperature decidedly agreeable. The Warner Chappell co-head is bullish on the biz, ecstatic about the global marketplace and stoked about the pubco’s signings (and laurels like being named ASCAP's Pop Publisher of the Year). Still, he’s careful to point out, his “mini-major” is still driven by the same passion for songs—and compassion for songwriters—that have been his motivators all along. Though listening to our same old refrain probably tasked his patience.

You seem to be firing on all cylinders right now. How would you characterize this chapter in the company's evolution?
Carianne [Marshall] and I are a little over two years into our journey together as co-chairs. We’ve really focused on building a forward-thinking culture and global strategy that puts our songwriters at the center of everything we do. As part of this work, we also reorganized how we’re structured in order to better serve our writers. We’ve been quite intentional about having a matrixed team with global leads that work across borders—we share a common goal and a common culture and real camaraderie, all of which is helping define Warner Chappell in the marketplace.

When I first got to Warner Chappell, our signing process looked quite a bit different. We’ve turned our focus to building an environment that stands for something; we’re decisive and selective about who we go after and who we sign. Our goal is to bring in culturally relevant artists and songwriters who underpin our global view of the world

Publishing is a complex business, especially in areas like licensing and contracts—but at its core, it’s about having a passion for great music and a belief in great songwriting. Analytics and research are very important, but we still believe in the power of A&R and having a real ear for talent discovery. Our love of music truly drives our whole signing process.

You said that approach drives the process of signing talent. When an artist gets hot, though, what they see are a bunch of big publishers waving checks. How do you contend with that?
I don’t want us to be a “checkbook publisher.” As I said before, we’re selective and decisive in who we sign. We're not in every deal just for the sake of being there, or because we think it's going to get us an extra 0.1% of marketshare for the quarter. We believe marketshare is simply a byproduct of successful A&R and company strategies.

Great music can come from anywhere, which is why signing international talent is a big part of our overall approach. With offices around the world, we’re able to offer talent local expertise with a global reach. We are something of a “mini-major”—we're not as big as the other two, and we're not a fund or just a platform for admin. We’re passionate about what we do as a music publisher, and we sign songwriters with the goal of growing their careers and protecting their craft.

Africa seems to be getting really hot.
Yes, and I think there's a lot more to come. Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda are producing some really interesting music, and South Africa has an incredible scene right now as well. I feel like I’m hearing about exciting artists coming out of Africa every week, which is why we’ve teamed up with Mavin Records along with a few other local labels to work with more of the incredible talent there. Over the next few years, we plan to expand our presence in Africa even more.

As a bit of a publishing nerd, I've always been fascinated with the evolution of songs and sounds. In African music, the melodic top-line phrasing is particularly interesting, bringing new sorts of structures. If you listen to the way certain African artists phrase, it's so different from what’s coming out of the rest of the world right now. People can be obsessed with the beat, and I love that, but it's also melodic phrasing that sets music apart.

These sounds are spreading to the Balearics and Europe as well. And it’s just a hair’s breadth away from some of the reggaeton trap music that's coming out of Latin America, which is really exciting culturally. We’re seeing a lot of music and artists from different continents coming together and blending styles. It’s almost like a universal rhythm. 

What else are you seeing in terms of global influence?
Spain's on an incredible run and is just hitting its sweet spot. A lot of countries follow the big U.S. and U.K. English-language artists. But the cultures of each country and each musical scene are rich assets, and Spain is at the point where you can hear flamenco phrasing meeting contemporary tracks. There’s incredible artistry coming out of the country, with the visuals and videos to go with it.

In Latin America, the crossover of Spanish-language music, which hasn’t been as big as we thought it would be, is now beginning to pick up. We’re talking about very different cultures, but we’re enthusiastically supporting collaborations across our Latin territories, as well as other international markets.

And we have incredible marketshare on the charts in Germany; we’ve really captured the Deutschrap local scene. Much credit to the A&R team run by Natascha [Augustin].

We’re seeing this happening in Italy, too, and France has had a very big rap scene for years. It’s happening all throughout Europe. Part of our job as a publisher is to say to our writers, “Take this territory seriously; if you get one of your tracks placed with a German or French rap artist, you can stream incredible numbers.”

Do you think the forced confinement of the pandemic has expanded people's sense of possibility in terms of far-flung collaboration?
I think it’s been productive. It doesn't work for all of our writers, but it’s fostered collaboration for most everyone. If nothing else, Zoom is good for get-to-know-you style meetups. Even if they don't write a hit song that day, they’re able to start paving the way for writing a hit song together in the future.

We’ve also managed to do a lot of writing camps in safe environments, where—all credit to Ryan [Press], Ben [Vaughn] and their U.S. and Nashville teams, along with Gustavo [Menendez] in Latin America, and Shani [Gonzales] in the U.K.—we're really pulling together the cream of our roster around the globe. These camps have become a hot ticket; they’re very focused and streamlined. Our Vegas camp was hugely successful last year; I was getting calls a week after it closed saying, “Can I get into this camp?” With travel slowly opening back up, we'll be bringing people from around the world to funnel the power of our roster into particular artists. And not just the Warner Chappell roster. Ryan has made a really smart move by inviting writers signed to other publishing companies to our camps.

Speaking of Ryan, can you say a bit about how you've brought the team together?
Ryan was already at the company when I joined, so we were lucky there. It’s really been about looking at the people we've got and making sure they’re empowered. As a person in A&R, I’ve had a pretty good run with my signings, but I get as much pleasure from seeing other A&R executives develop and become who they need to be and sign writers accordingly. And it doesn't stop there; we also want to see our people develop as executives. Carianne and I have said from the beginning that we want them to feel they can progress in their careers here, and we're holding true to our word.

Ryan’s incredibly hardworking, really cares, and really delivers for his songwriters. He's had a great year. And you put him in tandem with someone like Shani, and incredible things happen. Of course, Shani massively hates me now that I’ve exiled her to that cold, dark island called the U.K.; I told her the weather was great in January and there was no COVID there, but she discovered the truth. Joking aside, I wanted a game-changer in the U.K., somebody to go in there and be a bit more objective and take a different slant. Shani runs international A&R for us, so a U.K. writer can work with Shani and not only be connected to L.A., New York, and Nashville, but also to opportunities in France and Germany. She’s really done an incredible job. And again, it's an amazing opportunity for her to learn and be even more well-rounded as an executive while at the height of her A&R prowess.

We’re also seeing great things from Ben, who leads our Nashville efforts. Same with Gustavo Menéndez, who as I said heads up Latin America for us, and Santiago Menéndez-Pidal who oversees our office in Spain. And I mentioned Natascha in Germany… We've got a terrific young MD in France, Matthieu Tessier. I'm very proud of all of our A&R teams around the world and the MDs driving the business.

Many of our A&R leaders come from creative backgrounds, a bit like my story. When I was younger in the industry, a lot of people didn't think creative people could run a company. The joke was, “How many A&R people does it take to change a lightbulb?” The fact is, creatives can grow as executives, but you can't teach people to have a passion for music; you can’t teach a great ear.

How have the MDs overseas dealt with the various pandemic conditions?
It’s a different landscape everywhere, and while some of our colleagues in parts of the world are starting to experience a return to “normalcy,” others are responding to extremely difficult situations locally. Unfortunately, many countries, especially Taiwan, Brazil and India, are still experiencing devastating surges in COVID-19 cases and deaths. We have a relatively new MD in Brazil, Marcel [Klemm], and we’ve been in constant communication with him and his team to extend as much support and help as we can.  

As a creative A&R person, your job is not just traveling and hearing music; it's absorbing the culture—the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the people. And I think we’re all really missing that connection and travel, no matter where we are in the world.

Is that what you're most looking forward to, post-pandemic?
I do think of Paris and how I used to go there every couple of months. Traveling that much, you get to understand the city, what people are writing about, the environment, the new forms of music coming through, etc. I really miss that.

When I was a young talent scout, I was often at five or six shows a night. I’d be like, “Ahh, I’ve been out four nights this week, and I could do with a night in.” We’re wonderfully blessed in this business, so I'll never complain about that again. Even after 30-plus years of going to gigs, I’m so looking forward to getting back to concerts and festivals.                                                           

I would go see the world's most boring band right now.
You could just set the stage up without a band at this moment!

I’d be remiss if I didn't ask you about the explosion of big-money deals for catalogs and other rights. Do you see it as a bubble, or do you agree that streaming will drive value more or less indefinitely?
Well, we're certainly not spending a quarter of a billion dollars on just one catalog. We believe music publishing is much more complex than this phenomenon of “checkbook publishing.” True music publishing is about extracting value from the creative work that you represent. Every day, we’re looking after our writers and their songs—administering them, growing with them, and tending to them. There’s a moral responsibility that comes with looking after songs, and we don’t take it lightly. It’s a very complex industry and not as simple as buying songs and catalogs and waiting for them to appreciate in value or be discovered. They come with approval rights, restricted lists… And I do think about what will happen as more funds sell up and things start to fracture—for example, can you perform a song on a TV show if someone hasn’t approved 10% of that song?

We’re even partnering with a number of funds to provide sync and admin support and services. And in terms of value, I've been telling bankers and investors for years about the wonders of publishing. Now they're tuned in and calling to ask about our industry. And I do think there’s a world where we can live in harmony with the funds. I’m glad their existence reaffirms the value people put on songs.

Have you seen any “silver lining” to doing business amid a pandemic?
Working from home and the reliance on digital have fast-tracked a lot of innovation. I think that the new publishing revenue streams will continue to grow. We’ll see what happens with livestreaming when live shows come back, but there's definitely potential there. You've got NFTs and home fitness options like Peloton, which we think will only continue to be big opportunities.

I think we’ve seen a real boom of great creative work as well. There's been a lot of repertoire written, so I'm not worried that when artists tour again there will be a shortage of songs.

Building an artist through live will return as a viable route. I'm thinking about someone like Celeste or Ari Lennox, whom we’ve just signed. They're incredible artists, but you need to see them live. People are going to want to go out. When clubs come back, think about what it’ll do to the demand for music. So I think live could help with artist development more than it ever has.

Who are some of the other artists you’re excited about as we head, however gradually, into the post-pandemic landscape?
We’re thrilled about Anderson .Paak. I’m a massive fan. We’re also really excited about Belly, who’s written some of the biggest songs of the last few years. Not only did we acquire 50% of his catalog, but we’re continuing a very long-term relationship. I’m really excited about Central Cee in the U.K., and we signed Masked Wolf in Australia. There’s so much to be excited about around the globe.

And again, I love how there’s so much music coming from so many places. It’s a game-changer when you can merge worlds. I can only imagine what we’ll see when these creators are able to travel and be together again.

 

PHOTOS (from top): The man; Moot and Marshall at the dawn of their rule; Moot and Marshall join SVPs A&R Greg Sowders and Katy Wolaver, A&R Chelsea Gilmore, Biz Dev Analyst Haezy Kim, Press, VP A&R Wallace Joseph and A&R Manager Samantha Sklar at the 2019 ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Awards; worldwide players Augustin, Menendez, Vaughn, Gonzales, Menéndez-Pidal and Tessier; Moot, Marshall and Press toast new signing Belly and manager Wassim "Sal" Slaiby; with Marshall, Press, Milk & Honey's Lucas Keller and Dustin Aquino, proud dad Jonas Jeberg and producer/writer Anton Kuhl; Hailing Tones & I with Marshall, Press, A&Rs David Goldsen, Sowders and Sklar; Moot and Marshall at the 2019 Grammys, just before a fierce karaoke showdown.

 

 

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