Nearly two decades after launching, publisher Reach Music relishes its mid-level status
Michael Closter started Reach Music Publishing nearly 20 years ago in his New York apartment when he was just 24 years old, and since then has been growing the company one song at a time. Today, Reach has eight staffers, a catalog of about 4,000 songs and a roster that includes Public Enemy, Danzig, the Misfits, John Mayer, Keith Shocklee, Pete Rock, John McVie, Steve Porcaro, Ice T, Nate Dogg, the Knack, Common, Fat Joe, Lisa Loeb, Jack Johnson, Remy Ma and Less Than Jake. The company also serves as an administrator for Dangerbird Publishing, whose roster includes Fitz & the Tantrums and Sea Wolf, and music supervisors Alex Patsavas and Scott Cresto.
While the firm started out based in R&B and rap music, it has expanded into other genres through the years. Closter says the company does a mixture of ownership, administration and hybrid deals with its artists and songwriters. "Besides Dangerbird, we haven't delved into doing deals with other music publishers," he says. "We don't want to overload the infrastructure by taking on large administration clients."
Closter began his career thanks to the music business program at New York University. After interning at various music publishing companies, he landed a gig at the publishing arm of a label run by Hank Shocklee and Bill Stephney, which was handling the Public Enemy catalog. Closter recalls that when the label S.O.U.L. Records, which went through MCA, folded, he started Reach Music, with Public Enemy as the first client.
Now, Closter says he sees an opportunity to become a mid-level publisher because of the vacuum in the industry. "BMG has steamrolled all the midlevel companies, so there's a huge opening in the middle ground" between major publishers and smaller music companies, he says. "We are the only one that I can think of that has been doing this for 20 years without private equity behind us. With Reach Music, there is no endgame -- we want to be your publisher for life. All the other firms [that used to occupy the midsize publishing space] have sold out or have private equity backing them, while Reach is financed by Closter through a combination of cash flow and a traditional line of credit from its bank.
"We have a great administration structure, with systems based on Counterpoint, which provides an administration software package for music publishers," he continues. "For foreign territories, Reach Music uses a hybrid system, being affiliated directly with international right societies in the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Sweden and Germany, and working with traditional subpublishers in other territories."
Recently, the company has watched the act that started the company, Public Enemy, enjoy chart success in the United Kingdom thanks to the selection of its song "Harder Than You Think" for a high-profile synch as the theme for the 2012 London Paralympics. Based on its use in a trailer for the games, the track ranked No. 4 on the U.K. songs chart for the week ending Sept. 2, according to the Official ChartsCo.
Reach's song portfolio is represented by Chris Brown's "Sweet Love" single, through a co-publishing deal with co-writer Jason Perry; Usher's "Dive" on current album Looking 4 Myself, through a co-publishing deal with Frank Romano; a Public Enemy sample used on Nas' song "Reach Out," which features Mary J. Blige and appears on his new Life Is Good set; and through an administration deal with producer Young Grye, on behalf of the publishing company of T-Pain, who co-wrote "How to Hate" on Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter IV".
Other songs in the company's portfolio, thanks to co-publishing deals, include hits like "Be Without You," "There Goes My Baby," "SOS," "Just a Dream," "My Sharona" and "Down With the King."
What Reach has going for it every day, according to Closter, is a staff that is focused on its manageable song portfolio and very hands-on with the ability to get its music in front of the right users. About 18 months ago, Reach moved from New York and consolidated operations in Burbank, Calif., with a new office to be closer to the TV and film industries, while also trying to flesh out its catalog. Closter says a key person at Reach is executive VP Scott Rubin, who has helped build the company since joining in 1999.
"We look at ourselves as having premium copyrights with iconic songs," Closter says. "When you are dealing with top, iconic songs, you have to communicate with music supervisors and be aware of pricing fees. Not getting undercut takes skill, finesse and experience to know the proper fees you should be getting. But, in addition to knowing when to push the envelope, you also have to know when to pull back."
Closter concludes that "large publishing companies could never focus the time and attention to make sure the fee is right for every client and copyright."