A&R is biggest challenge for music publishers, says music exec

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‘A&R and finding the right songwriters for the world in which we’re working’ is the biggest challenge for music publishers, a leading music executive has said.

Mike Smith, Virgin EMI’s outgoing president of music, made the comments as part of a panel at the MUSEXPO event yesterday (20 September) exploring the future of copyright.

Commenting, he said while there are an increasing number of challenges created by changes in technology, music is still at the heart of the publishing business.

‘We need to find the right songwriters, to find the right catalogues and the right people to work with. There are so many different challenges in the world in which we work but it still goes back to these fundamentals of finding the right writers and executives. That’s also where the opportunities lie. Get those right and everything will flow accordingly,’ he explained.

Later in the panel he also discussed how the role of the publisher has changed and developed with the community now leading the industry in terms of A&R.

‘In the late eighties as a talent scout, I’d sit down on a Monday morning, go through Music Week, see what’s unpublished. Then we’d try and pick up songwriters from the charts that we could publish.

‘Now it’s the other way around. Increasingly because of the demands on record companies, they aren’t developing acts as much from scratch as they used to, meaning publishers now have an opportunity to step in before record companies and sign them. They have always done that but it’s increasingly happening. A lot of artists are proud of being independent of labels and they’ll just use label services. However, in order to get a kick start to their career, an indie artist will sometimes need expertise and turn to publishers,’ he stated.

Moderator Music Week editor Mark Sutherland used grime artist and recent Mercury Prize winner Skepta as an example. He explained that while Skepta releases his music independently, he is signed to Warner Chappell for his publishing.

Mike made the comments as part of a panel featuring PRS for Music’s Robert Ashcroft, Jane Dyball from the Music Publishers Association, Andre De Raaff from Imagem Music and Rak Sanghvi from Spirit B-Unique.