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CURATING A CREATOR CULTURE: A CHAT WITH PULSE MUSIC GROUP

You may have seen a recent item around these parts reporting that PULSE Music Group had  writers on the Top 3 songs in the U.S., as well as on three cuts in the Top 10 at Pop radio, the Top 3 albums in the nation and other high-ranking places. It's a big moment for the L.A. company, which has established a rep as a "creative campus" in the creator community. We asked PMG co-founder/co-chiefs Josh Abraham and Scott Cutler and SVP/Head of Creative Ashley Calhoun to give us a sense of how it all works.

PULSE recently had the #1, #2, #3 and #9 songs. How does an indie publisher deliver that kind of market share?
Scott Cutler: The simplest answer is we are very particular about who we sign; we only sign someone if we have a very clear vision for them—and if they are a “one of one.”

Ashley Calhoun: We definitely don’t chase the charts. PULSE has a diverse A&R team that identifies talent that will operate really well within our ecosystem. And then we just do the work. Having a young A&R team helps, because everyone is trying to make an impact and make a name for their clients; they just go really hard for our clients.

In a time when a lot of the focus is on acquisitions of assets, what does front-line music publishing look like in 2022?
SC:
It’s really a different muscle. I have immense respect for “creative” financial people. Buying a catalog is a specific skill. Operating a front-line pubco is something you need to spend years developing. I started at 22 as a writer, and Josh started producing at 18. So we’ve been doing this job our whole lives.

Many of your songwriters choose to renew their deals with PULSE. What makes songwriters not only want to sign with you but to stay?
SC:
The key is to deliver on your promises. Always be direct and honest. The other important thing is to understand what’s next for your clients and be able to present a path forward.

Josh Abraham: Equally important as signing a songwriter/producer is signing executive talent that we believe in. As our company grows, we have learned to delegate to our great A&Rs. Everyone has different tastes and a different specialty—and there is constant communication among all of us.

AC: It’s important to our writers that our company was started by a songwriter and producer. From the top down, there’s a lot of relatability. That shows in our connections with our clients. We also help them build their business. For example, the JV we just did with Starrah or Tyler Johnson, OG Parker and FNZ. Since PULSE was built by songwriters/producers, we really know how to support our clients across all areas of their careers.

As an indie, what is the secret to going toe-to-toe with the majors in competing for new signings?
SC:
We are competing with companies that can afford thinner margins than we can, so we need to have a real vision and real understanding of the artist’s vision if we are going to sign someone. We also need to have an impeccable reputation if we want to thrive. Word of mouth from writer to writer is very important in our model.

JA: And it’s not always a beauty contest. There’s a lot of depth and soul, and people connecting as music creators want to make the best career decisions and surround themselves with the right creative culture. Sometimes people feel more comfortable being with an indie and with people who get them. With us, they can get access to the top very fast; everyone’s accessible.

AC: When someone signs to PULSE, it’s not signing to just one or two A&R contacts—they get access to the whole team, and we can cover ground in every genre. Writers who have the ability to touch other genres and want to expand outside of just one area can benefit from our all-hands-on-deck approach. PULSE also has a true family feel. A lot of companies say that, but we really walk the walk.

When you set out to create PULSE, which you've built from the ground up, did you imagine that it would turn into the community for songwriters/producers that it is today?
JA: My idea was to build our own unique culture. Putting together a group of artists and songwriters that I respect was probably the most important vision I had. Outside of my work at PULSE, I'm an art collector and perhaps that influenced the approach. It was always about, if you like something on PULSE, and you were an artist/writer/producer, then you would be drawn to PULSE and see it as this great canvas of different creators who all thrive together in the right space. When we hear an incredible song, it would be like picking the right painting—it would have the right aesthetic. Our roster is highly curated. When you go to our website, nobody just made it up there without intention and meeting a certain artistic bar. With PULSE, we found that once you build a culture, they come. And that’s what I was hoping for.

SC: There are two types of clients who gravitate towards PULSE: One who's been in a bigger system and felt unseen. And the other who wants that high level of creative community. So they come to PULSE, they get on the campus, they walk up and they see themselves. We’ve created an environment for people that is necessary; if we don’t exist, and if others indies don’t exist, then there won’t be a place for people like this. Even at the highest level, people need help to make the record they want to make, the record that’s going to cross over or help them reach that tipping point. There will always be a need for indies like ours.

Photos: (top) Cutler, Calhoun and Abraham at PMG HQ; (bottom) Abraham, Calhoun, Starrah, manager Nick Jarjour and Cutler mark the founding of JV 3:02 Music Group (credit: Mekael Dawson)

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