Sony/ATV Hopes 'Yesterday' Appeals to Tomorrow's Beatles Fans

Courtesy of NBCUniversal
Himesh Patel as Jack Malik in Danny Boyle's Yesterday.

The publishing company licensed a record 17 songs for Danny Boyle's romantic fantasy

As Yesterday opens in theaters Friday (June 28), Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which handles the Beatles catalog, hopes the music resonates with the listeners of today.

"Our goal is that the new generation understands it and other films [and] other brands want to use the Beatles’ music,” says Brian Monaco, Sony/ATV president, global chief marketing officer. “It's a pretty healthy business for the Beatles in general. So will it get bigger? We don't know, but there's a hope there.”

Sony/ATV cleared 17 Beatles song copyrights for the Danny Boyle-directed fantasy that imagines what would happen if a lone singer/songwriter, played by Himesh Patel, was the only person who knew the Beatles had existed and claimed the Fab Four’s songs for his own. The number is the most Beatles songs Sony/ATV has ever licensed for a non-documentary, feature film.

"Any chance that we get to take a catalog like that and put it back in the marketplace in a different way is great for the songwriters," Monaco says. "You don’t always see those opportunities come across your desk.” 

The romantic comedy also stars Ed Sheeran, which Monaco believes will help bring in a younger demographic.

The publishing company became involved around two years ago when it signed off on screenwriter Richard Curtis’s concept. The filmmakers had the run of the Beatles canon. “The catalog was open and they had an idea of ‘This is the group [of songs] that we’re thinking of using and we’ll come back to you as we’re going through the process,’” Monaco says. “We opened it up and said, ‘We’re in. We want to be part of this project.” 

Even after the film locked, the negotiations continued up to two weeks before release on marketing usage for the songs outside of the film. “It’s an ongoing process for us, but we’re happy with the end result,” Monaco says. 

Billboard estimates that the licensing costs could total around $10 million. Sony/ATV declined to comment on the figure, but Monaco added, “we never discount the Beatles ever. We try not to discount any of our songwriters or any of our catalogs, but the Beatles are very personal to this organization and how this organization was built.”

In fact, the Beatles are so revered within the halls of Sony/ATV that a special Beatles committee convenes to discuss opportunities. “Everything comes through me globally and I sit down and call meetings and we talk about which [opportunities] we want to do.” If the request is for more than two songs, Sony/ATV usually brings in Apple Corps, the corporation that oversees the Beatles’ business dealings, “to make sure we’re not running down a path that they’d be totally against,” Monaco says. 

Sony/ATV is also the publishing home to the Queen catalog and saw a massive streaming jump after the release of the last fall’s biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.  In December, Universal Music Group announced that the 1975 title track has become the 20th century’s most streamed song, in excess of 1.6 billion global steams. For several months following the movie’s release, the song topped 7 million streams weekly. 

“We’re curious to see what happens with streaming when Yesterday comes out,” Monaco says. “Will the streams move in the right direction? I assume that they will.”

Yesterday includes only one master usage -- the Beatles recording of "Hey Jude" that plays over the end credits.

The movie follows Sony/ATV licensing "Help" for a Google commercial this Spring, as well as clearing several Beatles’ tracks for Netflix’s children’s series Beat Bugs. While Monaco cautions that signing off on a Beatles’ sync doesn’t happen “in a day or two,” he’s on a mission to let people know that the catalog is available “because I think there’s an assumption sometimes that ‘Oh, it’s the Beatles. They wouldn’t do it.’ So awareness is the biggest thing you can do with a catalog like that. That’s why you are seeing more and more uses."

Capitol Records, which controls the Beatles’ masters, released the Yesterday soundtrack to the film June 21. Additionally, UMe (Universal Music Group’s catalog division) and Apple Corps have devised a global marketing campaign to drive streaming engagement through social media, playlisting and online and theater advertising. 


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