Exclusive Interview: BMG’s Laurent Hubert and Darrell Franklin—Part 1

Laurent Hubert (L) and Darrell Franklin (R)

BMG Rights Management President Creative & Marketing North America Laurent Hubert and BMG Chrysalis Executive VP Darrell Franklin sat down with MusicRow recently to discuss sync licensing, communication, single strategy and more. MusicRow Publisher/Owner Sherod Robertson and Sr. News Editor Sarah Skates conducted the interview.

MR: How is the music business in Nashville different from other cities?

Hubert: Nashville is a unique place, because songwriting is core to the music business here. That’s not the case anywhere else in the world. For BMG, being in Nashville is absolutely critical. Nashville’s song community is attractive to publishers and writers. In the past five to ten years, Nashville has become less of an island and more cosmopolitan from a songwriting perspective. It is much more open because Nashville writers are starting to write outside of town, and outside writers are coming in.

Franklin: After going back and forth to LA, I see how much control Nashville publishers have, especially getting our own cuts and pitching songs. It’s kind of the last town where that is the main focus.

MR: How does BMG facilitate interaction between Nashville and its other offices?

Franklin: Communication is number one—we are an internationally thinking company. We have an international call every two weeks where for 30 minutes we go through every major act, discussing when they are going in the studio, and what types of songs they are looking for. I started out at Almo Irving, and the strength of that company was the fact that they linked all the international offices together and it was constant connection. BMG is the first place I’ve been since then that has that same focus. It’s all about communication and focus.

Hubert: Internationally, we might have 25 to 30 people on the call. We also have a weekly call here in the US with about 12 to 15 people. We are in about 10 markets, 10 territories, but our goal is to operate as one when it comes to the creative aspect. It starts with philosophy, which is focusing on music. After that, it’s about putting the organization in place that buys into that philosophy and executes on that philosophy. Communication is one part of the equation. The second part is having someone in LA who is dedicated to our Nashville repertoire and interacts with both offices as the ambassador. It started as an experiment this year and is working really nicely. It creates opportunities, and creates a different atmosphere in the LA office, so it’s not purely pop driven. We may create a similar position in New York.

Franklin: It helps with film and TV too; just having that person that’s in their face constantly.

Hubert: I find that Nashville’s sync revenue is typically lower than other catalogues, and I don’t think there’s any good reason for that. I think that [the initiative] starts internally, when somebody realizes this is music that we can place. Perhaps initially, the scope is limited, but it starts with a couple of placements, and then you gain traction.

MR: Has sync licensing become an increasingly important revenue stream in recent years?

Hubert: Generally speaking, you will find that revenue is one-third mechanical, one-third performance, and one-third sync, so sync is definitely a focus, not only for publishers, but for writers. Writers are realizing the record markets are not what they used to be, and will never come back. It’s changing expectations, which puts a greater burden on us to deliver on those expectations. I think some writers are being very clever in the context of writing songs. They are saying, “hey, perhaps there’s a way that I can write songs with a greater potential for TV or film placement.” You want to make sure that you meet that demand.

A lot of people talk about sync when they talk about marketing in the context of publishing, but I think it’s much broader than that. It’s about branding opportunities in this marketplace. Look at digital opportunities, the app world is untouched by music, at least legally untouched by music. What other opportunities are there? We have to start thinking in a more proactive manner in finding other vehicles to promote our music.

MR: What is a specific example of how this has worked for your songwriters?

Franklin: The Civil Wars would be a good one. Their main focus when the band finished their record was to hire a publicist, and then do lots of really discounted licenses, just to get the music out there. They were flexible with the rates so they could grow the brand. Once they built the fan base, the money followed.

Hubert: The film world has not grown if you look at the number of productions. The TV world is where things are happening. But you are competing with a whole host of music for placements. So how do you get through that clutter and place your music? You have to be flexible and creative. You may have to take a lower rate, but out of that you will develop a relationship. You have to be relationship minded as opposed to fee minded, and the relationship element will ultimately bring the fee, or at least give you a competitive advantage over other publishers in licensing your music.

MR: Tell us about your recent string of recent No. 1s. (“Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck,” “Banjo,” “Home,” “Reality,” “Red Solo Cup”)

Franklin: All publishers go through the same process of pitching songs and trying to make sure that you are on every project, and also being strategic. If you pitch a brand new great song to a new artist, maybe you have a better shot at the single. Going to the big acts, your competition is so tough. You can only control getting on the album to a certain extent. Singles are where the stars align and it all works out.

We are very strategic about going for singles. When a new song comes in, we look at the pitch list and see who is cutting, and where they are in the process. Then we go for the best single chance. With “Red Light,” David Nail’s project was winding down, but the song came in. It felt like the right song and they were looking for a big single. It was a no brainer: let’s take that shot rather than go through the hoops of trying to get it on every other big act.

Hubert: You have to be in the singles business and have the radio performances. It starts from the very beginning of the creative process. I think writers are acutely aware that they have to think about singles themselves. But I don’t think anyone has the magic formula. At the end of the day, it’s about the music and you have to be able to push it through. I think we’ve done a great deal this year and expect to continue that way.

MR: Who are some of your new writers to watch?

Franklin: We have a writer/producer, Brandon Hood, I think he’s going to make a big splash next year. Kylie Sackley has been around town for a little bit, but she has the momentum to really take off. And Jonathan Singleton, who has had some success, but is really coming into his own now, so we’re excited.

The interview will conclude tomorrow (10/4) with Part 2. For more music publishing news, check out MusicRow’s upcoming print Publisher issue.   

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About the Author

Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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