Corner Office: Danny Strick on a Post-Jody Gerson Company and ‘Wild West’ Publishing World
The publishing veteran on company culture post-acquisition, the looming battle with PROs and Jody Gerson's exit.
When Danny Strick, 58, told his father in 2000 that he was leaving his position as the U.S. president of BMG Music Publishing to become a senior A&R executive at Madonna’s Maverick Records -- a company that operated without corporate titles -- he says with a smile that his dad, a Beverly Hills doctor, replied: “Are you having a midlife crisis or do you need a shrink?”
Although Strick would distinguish himself at Maverick by, among other things, signing multiplatinum artist Michelle Branch, his pops presumably breathed a sigh of relief in 2004 when Strick headed to Sony/ATV Music Publishing, where, since 2007, he has been U.S. co-president with Jody Gerson, under large-living chairman Marty Bandier. The company has vaulted from fourth place to first in terms of market share thanks to its 2012 acquisition of the EMI catalog. (Sony/ATV’s revenue as of the year ended March 31 was $650 million.)
Today, some 55 staffers answer to Strick, who has oversight in New York, Nashville, Miami and Latin America. The big question is whether his authority will expand to the 40 employees that Gerson oversees from the West Coast when she leaves at the end of the year to take the reins of Sony/ATV rival Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG), currently No. 2. (Read on for his answer.)
Strick lives in New York’s Westchester County with his wife, Cheryl, the talent booker for local NBC series Talk Stoop; his son, Ben, 20; and his daughter, Josie, 16. A master griller and Broadway-musical fan, his recent favorites include Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and Next to Normal.
When Bandier arrived, he brought in Gerson, with whom he’d worked at EMI. How did you react to going from U.S. president to co-president?
I was comfortable with the change because my responsibilities actually grew as our company acquired a number of catalogs and significantly enhanced our talent signing budgets. Marty had successfully employed this management structure at EMI for many years, and it works for him.
When EMI came into the fold, what were the unforeseen difficulties?
It has been a little over two years, and it took almost that amount of time, from a [work] culture standpoint, for people to mesh together as a single team. We’re run as one company from an A&R perspective -- there’s not an EMI team and a Sony/ATV team. And that gives us a lot more power.
Now that Gerson is leaving for UMPG, will your co-president title change? And how has your role changed?
I’m not sure exactly how [my title] is going to change. Obviously there’s an opening on the West Coast for the moment. My role right now is giving tremendous support to the L.A. team -- and it’s a great team -- to continue making deals there.
What is your day-to-day interaction with Bandier like?
Marty is a strong manager. He wants to understand what’s going on in every aspect of the company. On a day-to-day basis, that could be playing him music by someone we want to sign, or asking for his help in terms of ideas to beat the opposition on a deal. There are also lots of sporting activities and excellent meals.
Has he ever given you any words of wisdom?
Marty is a great fan of Winston Churchill, and he often quotes the speech that Churchill gave at the Harrow School near London in 1941: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in… ”
What artists from the Sony/ATV roster are you excited about right now?
Colbie Caillat’s “Try” is really starting to go hot [at adult contemporary radio]. It’s a big priority for Universal Republic, and has a tremendously viral video with more than 21 million views. It’s a great female empowerment message that’s ringing true for a lot of people. Then there’s Charli XCX. Rich Christina [Sony/ATV senior vp A&R] played me her next single, “Break the Rules,” which sounds fantastic. I’m also excited about Kongos, on Epic. They had a long-running No. 1 alternative hit with “Come With Me Now.” Brian Monaco, who’s the new worldwide head of our advertising, film and TV division, and his team have done a great job getting a lot of syncs on it.
Calvin Harris recently prevented ex-girlfriend Rita Ora from recording a song he wrote for her. How often do Sony/ATV artists or writers withhold permission for other acts to perform their work due to personal reasons?
I’m not sure of the actual reason that the sync was rejected, but I have heard the speculation. The fact is when a writer has absolute sync approval written into their contracts, they don’t have to give any reason for denying a particular sync.
What was the biggest challenge of taking on the EMI publishing catalog?
For me specifically, it had to do with making sure that artists, writers and producers feel like the transition works for them from a creative standpoint. In any roster situation you have talent that is self-sufficient, some with managers that are tremendous partners, and some that need more attention. Not only do we judge talent when we sign them, as time rolls on, we evaluation who really has the potential to go to the next level, and we put our focus there. I’d say the other challenge, which is always a challenge, when you’re on this side of the business, is the challenge of continuing to grow organically through new signings and by identifying what’s going to be happening in the future.
Are you involved in preparing Sony/ATV to withdraw from the publishing rights organizations (PROs)?
That’s being handled by Marty and Peter Brodsky, who’s our worldwide head of business affairs, but I participate in any way that I can in the conversations. The immediate solution would be that the consent decree should change and that we’re not bound by something from the 1950s that didn’t have any sense of what would unfold from the technology [of today]. And I think that if we were able to do a partial withdrawal of rights -- digital rights -- where we can negotiate those rights on behalf of our writers, that seems like the solution, at least for this moment. That’s the struggle that’s going on in [Washington] D.C. right now.
What’s your take on the boutique PROs like the one Irving Azoff has created?
This is a very fluid time in our business. It’s a little like the Wild West because, as I said, rights and types of rights are changing. And there’s real opportunity for super entrepreneurial people like Randy Grimmett, who’s backed by Irving, to seize the moment. That feels positive.
Do you see a solution?
The immediate solution would be that the consent decree should change and that we’re not bound by something from the 1950s that didn’t have any sense of what would unfold from the technology [of today]. And I think that if we were able to do a partial withdrawal of rights -- digital rights -- where we can negotiate those rights on behalf of our writers, that seems like the solution, at least for this moment. That’s the struggle that’s going on in D.C. right now.
There have been whispers that Marty’s thinking about retiring in the next couple of years.
That would be very surprising to me. I’ve never seen a more engaged guy.
A version of this article first appeared in the Sept. 13th issue of Billboard.