Big Machine Music Publishing Celebrates Fifth Anniversary With Brett Young, Luke Combs Successes

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Courtesy of Big Machine Music
 BMM’s Jillian Whitefield (Assistant, Publishing), Alex Heddle (Senior Director, Publishing) Mike Molinar (General Manager) and Michelle Attardi (Manager, Publishing)  

This week, Big Machine is celebrating a milestone: The publishing arm of the company, Big Machine Music, launched five years ago Thursday (June 1). And it’s been quite the successful endeavor: The company has charted 16 top 10 songs on the country charts -- and nine No. 1 singles -- including Brett Young’s “In Case You Didn't Know,” which ascended to the top of the Country Airplay chart this week.

“We really feel like we are just kicking into gear," general manager Mike Molinar tells Billboard. "We’re still a very moderate or midsize publishing company, when you look at some of the majors. To see the talent that has been on this roster, and a couple of songs and moments that have transcended our level of success really into the culture of country music, there have been some very proud moments.”

Several of those moments have come very recently. In addition to the success with Young, the company has watched as Josh Thompson has earned a No. 1 with Jason Aldean’s “Any Old Barstool” and Luke Combs landed his first chart-topper with “Hurricane,” both within the past four weeks.

“It’s said that a publishing company turns the corner after about five years -- if you can hang around that long,” Molinar asserts. “We started with a three-pronged mission that Scott [Borchetta] gave me, and that was to help internally with development; to pitch songs internally to BMLG; and to build a catalog that was represented externally to other labels. Looking at where we are in 2017, we are doing all of those on a top level.”

What does Molinar feel sets the publishing company apart? “I think mostly it was experiencing writer development," he says. "I think that was a strength that I personally brought to the table, and the staff that we have hired, everybody has that on their resume. I also think that the proximity and the vantage point into the record label has really helped us to grow more precise in our pitches, and the understanding of the needs of the artist. I think as my staff has become more acclimated to the label and the management teams and their challenges, the more focused and narrowed we've become on being song pluggers.”

Molinar says that the challenges that face publishing companies can seem daunting; in addition to several legal and copyright issues that are being discussed and litigated on Capitol Hill in Washington and in the Department of Justice, there are the internal challenges of connecting individual artists to songs that work for them, rather than just trying to get an artist to only record hit records that demand constant airplay. "There’s a balance in trying to be a good partner to the artists and protecting your income streams," he explains. "An artist needs to do so many things to make a living. They need to be everywhere -- the Today Show, The Voice, online, interviews. It’s choosing where we can help to educate them and become a better partner as to where the royalty is paid."

Then, there's the issue of artist payments as a whole, with the rise of streaming introducing an entirely new consumption and business model for the music industry, one that rewards hit songs far more than album cuts, and can thus become tricky territory for songwriters who make the bulk of their money through publishing royalties. “You had Kip Moore announcing last week that he was going to compensate writers who didn’t get a single from his album; that’s a bold move and we’re grateful for that type of insight," Molinar says. "Songwriters provide a value by writing a song that gets recorded, even if it’s not a single. But they can’t survive on album cuts. They’ve got to have those hit singles."

As BMM looks back on its first half-decade, Molinar is quick to credit Borchetta for establishing the credo at the company at its inception. “I remember him saying, ‘You develop songwriters. They’ll develop. Go and sign them,'" he says. "[Scott] let us have the freedom to sign the right writers, and take the time to build the roster. You look at where we are in 2017 and how it’s paying off, it’s because of that patience that he has provided.”