‘Everything we do is long term. We’re not building a company to sell. We’re not building a company for a public offering,’ says David McGinnis, head of Mute Records’ boutique publishing arm Mute Song.
The publisher is preparing to round off a great 2018, and David is mulling the company’s place in a gene pool teeming with multinationals, conglomerate-style independents and a growing number of private equity-funded players.
‘There is a bigger gap between niche indie companies like us and the giants,’ he continues. ‘As the big publishers get bigger, the smaller, more specialised music publishers without distant investors to please are ever more vital to support music as an art form rather than a commodity.’
And it is Mute Song’s status as the latter which has helped the company flourish this year.
Just a few weeks ago, Mute songwriter Nadine Shah scored a Mercury Prize nomination and an AIM Award win for her third studio album Holiday Destination.
The company has signed a raft of innovative new talent this year, including Carla dal Forno, Hannah Peel, Nik Void, Pessimist and former Charlatan Tim Burgess. Also in 2018, it has expanded into North America, learning the ropes of a whole new rights administration system.
With all this going on, David shares his thoughts on the current publishing climate and where Mute Song is headed…
You only work with artists whose music you relate to – can you explain a little more what that sounds like?
We enjoy music that is unique. We enjoy music that is challenging. We are not concerned about genre. We enjoy working with any artist who is saying something new and interesting about the world or about art and music.
How do you usually come by your new signings?
We are culturally alert. We pay attention to what’s happening is music, cinema, television and art. Most artists we work with come to our attention through their own interesting activity in the world, but we do get a lot of referrals from our artists, managers, lawyers and other trusted friends.
How competitive is it out there at the moment?
There is a lot of competition for artists who are already enjoying commercial success, great press or massive streaming numbers. We tend to get involved earlier in an artist’s career or explore areas where commercial success is not the immediate goal. Our main competition is with publishers who want to work with artists we represent after they have become a proven commercial success.
What does Mute Song offer artists and composers at the start of their careers?
The main thing we offer artists at the start of their career is sound advice, career guidance and general moral support. Artists often come to us without management, so we find ourselves offering advice and guidance on all parts of their career. The advice might be legal and technical, or it might be purely creative. Of course, we also provide financial support and look after their rights and promote them for sync, but all good publishers do this. We feel Mute Song is different because we support the whole artist and their whole career, especially in the early stages.
Why did you decide to operate independently in North America?
Independence in North America was the next essential step in Mute Song development. We strive always to provide a better service to our writers and we have done this in North America.
How’s that working out and what have you learned about the territory you didn’t already know?
It’s very rewarding having hands-on control of our business in North America. Learning how BMI, ASCAP, SESAC and SOCAN actually work is great. Every performing rights organisation around the world is different and we are learning new things about the North American organisations every day. We have been directly active with US and Canadian artists with and sync in North America for over 20 years so there is not much new to learn there but the nitty gritty of copyright administration in a new territory is fascinating.
How has Mute Song evolved over the years?
When Mute Song began most of our artists were working with Mute Records. Artists working with the Mute record label are now a much smaller part of what we do. We have expanded our musical horizons while keeping to our independent and ‘alternative’ roots. I am delighted with how much technology has improved what we do. When I joined Mute Song as licensing manager we did not have a web site, we faxed messages to artists and I did sync pitches by post and courier. All these things seem medieval now.
How has the publishing world changed around you?
A massive influx of investment capital from outside the entertainment industry has changed the music publishing landscape. Investors now see music copyrights as a good place to park their money for a few years. This has given rise to huge new publishing ventures and colossal mergers and made many smaller companies disappear. There is a bigger gap between niche indie companies like us and the giants. As the big publishers get bigger the smaller more specialised music publishers without distant investors to please are ever more vital to the support of music as an art form rather than a commodity.
What’s keeping you busy at the moment?
Looking after our artists every day is what keeps us busy. Every day there are new events, challenges and opportunities. We are always handling copyrights, issuing licenses, doing effective sync marketing and taking care of international administration but it’s the everyday needs of our artists outside all this that keeps us on our toes.
Today I was trying to clear the rights in some poetry for a choral composition and yesterday I was thinking about possible remixers for tracks on an important new album. The last two Public Service Broadcasting albums have needed extensive research which I enjoyed very much. Every day is different.
What’s next for the company?
In the short term we will be doing more of the same to the very best of our ability. Our long-term plan is the long term needs of the artists we represent. Everything we do is long term. We are not building a company to sell. We are not building a company for a public offering. We are building a company that will always be a terrific place to nurture wonderful artists and great art.
Listen to Simon Ballard’s (Mute Song’s licensing manager) playlist he recently curated for M.