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"We go beyond what publishers traditionally do."

SONGS AND STORY

We Get the Publishing Poop
From SONGS' Ron Perry

Ron Perry may be young—he’s been featured in round-ups of hitmakers under a certain age, and whatnot—but try not to hate him. The SONGS Publishing President and A&R head is a partner in the pubco and built the company's entire writer and artist roster outside of Nashville. Despite his tender years, he’s an old-school music guy with great taste, genuine savvy and an appetite for red wine. So maybe he’d had a few too many when he agreed to talk to us.

Tell us about the formation of the company and how you ended up there.
My boss, [Founder/CEO] Matt Pincus, had left EMI in the spring of 2004 and founded the company; he had an incredible vision of starting a service based music publisher that was actively involved launching writer’s careers. He and I met few months later; I was a 24-year-old kid, formerly a singer-songwriter in a band, and had worked in the tape room at EMI music pub. My music career wasn’t going anywhere and Matt took a shot on me. I joined on and soon became a partner.

How did SONGS set out to be different?
Matt’s vision was to start a music publishing company that was going to be around for the long term and be a true partner for songwriters. We offer a lot of value beyond the actual deal. It could be a big sync that changes somebody’s career, a collaboration, a feature on a record, etc. A lot of our day-to-day activities aren’t going to be that different from a management company or a record label. We go beyond what publishers traditionally do.

We’re very involved in making records: currently with Dev and Nelly at Republic, Marsha Ambrosius’ album with RCA, Diplo's Major Lazer, Q-Tip, Conor Oberst’s new record, maybe 7 or 8 others. I always want to know: Where are we going with this project? How can I value add to the artist’s career? I have a great A&R staff, and they’re really involved with every artist and writer on the roster. Even someone like DJ Mustard, whom we signed a little while ago—he’s on his fourth Top 10 Urban/Rhythmic song. We brought him into some of those records. To find somebody and not be involved in their career is not that interesting, really. I’d feel like I wasn’t being that helpful.

Involved beyond the typical scope of a publisher, you mean?
It’s really about the creative opportunities and adding a service. Some of these guys already have money, and publishing is a relatively small piece of their overall business. To have somebody come in and take a load off their plate on a small part of their business, to make the whole pie bigger, makes a lot of sense.

That’s how a lot of these producer-writers see it. These guys also get producer fees, which we don’t participate in, but that adds to their revenue. We may act as more than a publisher by doing things that publishers traditionally don’t do, but we’re only doing publishing deals here.

In today’s age, managers, labels and publishers, on the record-making process, kinda do the same thing. And because we’re so song-heavy right now—it’s a singles market—having the right song is more important than ever.

Of course, there tend to be a lot of credited writers on songs these days.
I’m struck by how splits have gone. Years ago, we weren’t talking about getting 5-10% of a record! But with the singles model and less revenue overall—and more publishers are coming up now—there are more writers on every record. We used to get a majority of a song, now we're fighting over less than that...

Do you feel we’re starting to move away from the dominance of that “factory” model of song production, back to a more organic model?
Absolutely. I signed these two brothers from Ireland called Hudson Taylor, who are signed to CherryTree/Interscope; they’re like Damien Rice or Glen Hansard, very classic. We have a writer named Jenna Andrews, who sounds a bit like a female version of The Weeknd. Then there’s Morgan Kibby, from M83 who co-wrote "Midnight City"; her project is called White Sea. She produced and wrote almost 100% of her record, which is going to be incredible. That’s happening more and more.

Tell us a bit about your team.

My A&R team sits inside of an incredible 30 person company that Matt Pincus has built around what we do.  I think we’ve got the best people in the business, including our 3rd partner Carianne Marshall, who built and heads synch, Rob Guthrie, who heads Admin, and Tom DeSavia, who heads Creative Services.  On the A&R side, Katy Wolaver is my right-hand person on all pop projects. Taeko Saito—we call her Tpain—A&R's a lot of projects in Japan and gets our U.S. writers and producers on them, which is a service very few people can offer. She also gets a lot of left-of-center collaborations on the table.

Greg Johnson and Corey Roberts are in the New York office; they have an incredible understanding of the marketplace. Greg is my Senior A&R person and has been responsible for several hits at SONGS. Corey has a real sense of what's next; he was taught by legends such as Monte and Avery Lipman at Republic.

Drew Witte and Michelle Gonzales let our department run. Gerard Phillips is our U.K. A&R guy. And then we have several joint ventures including one with Crush and Ozone called Mighty Seven; Dave Carlson and Evan Taubenfeld work on that. Our staff is a great balance of music and business. We don’t sign anything unless it’s great, but it also has to be the right fit. Since we've never done an admin deal and are actually partners with all of our writers, we're very particular about who we chose to work with and spend our time on.

I get the impression you’re never happier than when you’re hanging out with an artist in the studio.
I’m a song guy at the end of the day. I really enjoy that process and giving feedback. Even if that feedback is, “Just do what you’re doing.” As someone once told me, sometimes it’s knowing when to get a cup of coffee. But that’s what excites me: being part of the process.

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