In late 2014, when Pharrell Williams' "Happy" and John Legend's "All of Me" were nominated for Grammy Awards, Martin Bandier used his platform as chief executive of the world's largest music publishing company to excoriate digital services like Pandora and Spotify for undercompensating artists. In a fiery letter to staffers that went public, Bandier groused that the songwriters of those hits had barely earned any royalties from streaming and on-demand airplay. In the first three months of 2014, 55 million plays of "Happy" had generated just $3,400, and 43 million plays of "All of Me" made $2,700. "This is a totally unacceptable situation and one that cannot be allowed to continue," he charged in the letter.
Bandier is doing more than complaining: He has threatened to completely withdraw the Sony/ATV and EMI Music Publishing catalogs from all performance rights organizations unless changes are made in how songwriters are compensated. Such is Bandier's power that this is no idle threat. "We have taken every legitimate approach we can to get better rates for our songwriters," he tells Billboard. "We are hoping for the best, but we are preparing for the worst."
Meanwhile, the chairman, who's married with three children, dealt with more at year's end. Email leaks from the Sony Pictures hack had Sony corporate executives considering the sale of its music publishing assets. Bandier maintained, with typical cigar-chomping brio, that while no such sale was in the works, "given we are without a doubt the world's leading and best music publisher ... who wouldn't want to own a company like that?"
Fair point: In its most recent fiscal year ended March 31, 2014, Sony/ATV's annual revenue grew to about $664 million for the year, up from $560 million in the prior year. Additionally, Sony/ATV, in a joint venture with the Michael Jackson estate, owns 39 percent of EMI Music Publishing, which itself generates about $750 million in annual revenue.
"Sony/ATV produced the best year I ever had as the head of a music publishing company," says Bandier. "Look at the Grammy category for record of the year: Sony/ATV is a publisher for each song nominated. We own The Beatles and Motown song catalogs." In short, he declares, "We are the greatest content holder in the music publishing era."