Del Bryant Looks Back at His BMI Legacy

Del Bryant

Del Bryant

While the music industry’s current era has been one brimming with drastic changes, an ever-evolving digital terrain, and growing power for independent music labels, some things remain permanent. The often awe-inspiring creativity of songwriters prevails as the lifeblood of an inventive industry that aims to affect the souls of the masses.

BMI’s Del Bryant has understood the triumphs and challenges of the songwriter community since he was a young boy whose parents were songwriters Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, the creators behind songs such as “Rocky Top,” and “Bye Bye Love.” A young boy who counted creating rhythms and rhymes as a natural pastime, it seems that Bryant was destined to be involved in music. “I was raised in that culture, having parents who were songwriters,” Bryant said. “I saw how my parents were nurtured as writers. I’ve helped carry that forward at BMI.”

A Nashville, Tenn., native, Bryant joined BMI in Nashville in 1972. Over the next few decades and an eventual relocation to New York, he rose to Executive VP of Repertoire and Licensing, before being named President in 2004. Bryant served as President and CEO of BMI from August 2004 until Sept. 15, 2013.

After four decades of work, Bryant helmed a company that now represents more than 600,000 songwriters and more than 8.5 million works. As Bryant steps into more of a consultant role with the company (he is succeeded as BMI CEO by Michael O’Neill), he seems as determined as ever to aid the company in its future endeavors. “I look forward to being any help I can be to the writers of this community, and to the BMI execs in this community. I am willing to serve, and I’m a keeper of the culture. I know a lot of the old history and old stories. When Frances Preston was tapped to be President of BMI, she carried a nurturing culture forward.”

Bryant asserts the current struggles songwriters face against consent decrees, low digital streaming royalties from companies such as Pandora, and other challenges are simply the latest in a long line of battles. “In some ways it’s very old information to people such as myself, especially because my parents were part of even earlier injustices—systems to pay [songwriters] almost nothing at all, much less fairly,” he says. “So I’m not surprised that it’s currently a big issue. It’s always been the issue.”

During his career Bryant observed a number of high-profile disputes, including the 1979 Broadcast Music Incorporated vs. Columbia Broadcasting System. The TV network filed an antitrust suit, and alleged the system used by the PROs to collected fees for blanket licenses was essentially price fixing; the Supreme Court held the blanket licenses did not constitute price fixing. Blanket licenses came under fire again in the 1980s, via a Buffalo Broadcasting Company suit.

“There have been very serious issues throughout my tenure at BMI,” he said. “There are many who feel there is so much money in the hands of the major players—the Googles and the Microsofts—that so many of the decisions are hard to fight. I think the balance of dollars has always been stacked against the creator. Though the massive players in the world would rather build their businesses on the back of copyright—also known as songwriters and publishers—I have to think wisdom will prevail.

“We’ve been tied to an antiquated consent decree. We are under one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in the country. It’s time to unfetter ourselves from antiquated consent decrees, or at least have them changed so they are reflective of those that fight hard for copyright, to reflect the true value of it. Writers should be able to receive the value their works have in a free market.”

As Bryant enters the twilight years of his career, or as he calls it, “waving to the crowd on my last lap around the arena,” he is proud of what BMI accomplished under his leadership. “I’m proud people feel there was great continuity between Frances and myself,” he said. “When you go from an iconic leader to the next guy, that is a situation everybody worries about—certainly the next guy, at least. I’m proud we moved through that transition smoothly, providing great comfort to employees and to those we served.” Bryant’s tenure continued not only stability, but growth. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, BMI reported revenues increased by $45 million over the previous year, a gain of five percent, exceeding $944 million.

“It’s a difficult job getting the value up and making those extra dollars and negotiating those agreements, but we’ve been able to do it because of something else I’m proud of,” Bryant said. “Our repertoire has grown dramatically. We’ve done an incredible job of bringing the most talented creators to our ranks, and I’m proud of the growth we’ve achieved and the world has recognized our writers.”

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Pictured (L-R): MusicRow Owner/Publisher Sherod Robertson and Del Bryant.

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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