Exclusive: Inside Warner/Chappell’s Revival
When Cameron Strang came on board as Warner/Chappell Music Chairman & CEO in January 2011, he brought an entrepreneurial spirit with him that created a positive shift company wide. That spirit—established while building his own New West Records—has combined with keen strategies for a string of hits across all genres.
With 17.1 percent market share, Warner/Chappell recently secured the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s second quarter Publisher Airplay Chart. Contributing to the tally are stakes in monster pop/rock hits Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” fun.’s “We Are Young” and the Wanted’s “Glad You Came.”
On the local front, the Nashville team led by VP/GM Phil May notched a string of nine No. 1 hits in as many months, racking up 15.1 percent of country radio airplay, more than any other publisher in Q2. It is Warner/Chappell’s first time leading Billboard’s country airplay chart since Q3 2010.
“We’re having a really good year, and when we sit back and think about what is working for us, it is two fold,” explained May during a recent interview. “Since Cameron Strang came on board with his entrepreneurial background, he’s really changed the way we operate locally because he empowers us to take A&R risks when we find someone we really believe in, which is fantastic. The second part is that we work and operate as a small company even though we’re a worldwide company. Our decision making process, in deals and especially in relation to signing writers, is very quick.”
In the last several months, May and VP A&R Steve Markland have used this agility and careful planning to ink new writers Dean Alexander, Josh Abbott, Laura Veltz, and duo TJ and John Osborne.
Since taking on their current roles about three years ago, May and Markland have focused on maintaining a roster with the right mix of songwriters. “We’ve worked to keep a balanced roster,” explained May. “We have developing writers and then our veteran hit writers, as well as rising artist writers, which we hope will ultimately get a label deal.” Indeed Alexander and Abbott have signed separate recording agreements with Warner Music Nashville.
Strang elaborated on the company’s initiatives: “At the core of Warner/Chappell’s strategy is an uncompromising commitment to service. We are forging long-term relationships with incredibly talented songwriters, composers and publishing partners, based around their needs in the music publishing business. At the same time, we are building an ambitious team with an entrepreneurial spirit that is completely dedicated to providing superior music publishing services.
“Our recent success in Nashville is a good example of how that vision is paying off. Phil, Steve and the team are well-connected, fast-moving, getting great results for our writers and showing real leadership in the Nashville community.”
Local Warner/Chappell songwriters Wendell Mobley and Michael Dulaney have celebrated multiple No. 1s in recent months. They co-wrote Jason Aldean’s “Tattoos On This Town,” Dulaney penned Aldean’s “Fly Over States” with Neil Thrasher, and Mobley wrote Rascal Flatts’ “Banjo” with Thrasher and Tony Martin.
“It’s great for us when we have multiple writers on a song,” said May, “but the most important thing for us is getting the best songs. Sometimes that’s when one of our writers has a great connection with writers [from other publishing companies]. There are those writing teams that gel well together and that’s one of the things we try to do is find those people for our writers.” To facilitate this, Warner/Chappell often organizes trips or camps with songwriters from different publishing companies.
Among these successful collaborations are Mobley’s numerous hits with Thrasher, and Ben Hayslip’s (Warner/Chappell/This Music) slew of chart-toppers with fellow Peach Pickers Dallas Davidson and Rhett Akins.
Also contributing to Warner/Chappell’s recent string of hits are Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley (“We Owned The Night”), Brett James (“Reality”), Johnny Bulford (“A Woman Like You”), Brantley Gilbert and Jim McCormick (“You Don’t Know Her Like I Do”), and Ashley Gorley, signed with Combustion Music (“Good Girl”).
Elsewhere on the charts are singles by Warner/Chappell writers Sean McConnell, Blair Daly (with Combustion Music), and Tim Nichols and Marv Green (both with This Music).
“From our standpoint the country market is very strong,” continued May. “We’ve had years of decline in terms of record sales. Now we’re doing really well from a performance standpoint, from radio airplay, but that’s why it’s key to have writers that are writing successful, commercial songs that work in the current market on radio.
“We’re also seeing real growth in other markets, whether it is film, TV, or online. On the TV side, the most recent interesting thing for the country market as a whole is the new show Nashville. It’s very well done, and what’s different than other shows is that the producers want the characters on Nashville to be known for their own songs that aren’t already hits by someone else. We are pitching songs to the music supervisors that are uncut songs, which is very rare. They’ve really engaged the Nashville community, instead of just using publishers’ film and TV offices in L.A. Shows like that bring people to our market who we might not otherwise reach. The number of people using music is probably greater than its ever been and that’s a really good trend.”