Garage-punk/psych-rock/skuzz-funk label Burger Records has launched a publishing company with Mothership Music, which will administer and provide all backroom services for Burger Music Publishing.
“When we started in the music business, we knew absolutely nothing about ownership, publishing, licensing, or masters,” Burger co-founder Sean Bohrman tells Billboard. He started with Lee Rickard the Fullerton, Calif.-based label in 2007 and its separate record store in 2009. “Seven years ago, I thought if you wrote a song, you owned the song, it was yours, the end. Through years and years of putting out music, I learned that is not the case.”
Burger Records has been idolized in the independent and DIY community for its all-encompassing “artist-friendly” ethos, which extends to the founders and even some of the artists living in the record store space, logging long hours doing absolutely everything themselves, and generally awesome initiatives like rescuing a kitten and enlisting artists for her benefit compilation.
More importantly, it’s has been growing at an “exponential” rate. The label put out 300 releases last year, with 20 to 25 percent of its cassettes and reissues come from bigger-name indie acts signed to labels like Secretly Canadian and VICE, and its annual Burgerama in neighboring Santa Ana tripled attendance from 2013 to 2014.
“This year has been a learning experience,” Bohrman adds. “It’s our first year getting into [publishing], learning new vocabulary, dealing with people in the business you’re not used to dealing with. It’s been kind of a whirlwind.”
Danny Benaire, a licensing expert, former music publishing executive, and founder of music marketing company Natural Energy Lab, brokered the deal between Burger and Mothership Music, run by founder/owner of Epitaph Brett Gurewitz and Island and Maverick Music chief Lionel Conway. “Danny was the middle guy. He called me and said, ‘Are you interested in doing something with Burger?'” Conway tells Billboard. “I’ve always been a fan of Burger, so I said, ‘Let’s see what we can do together.'”
The deal was reached a week ago and they’re currently in signing discussions with four artists whom Conway declined to name. “Instead of just a record deal, they now have a publishing outlet,” he says. “We’ll fund it, and they’ll have the whole creative process. They’ll choose the acts they want to sign for publishing.”
“It’s going to change the way we do contracts and business-type stuff,” says Bohrman, who up until this point released one-offs from artists. “Even I don’t fully grasp everything that’s happening, which is scary for me. Sometimes I’ll send a band a contract and my heart will be racing. It’s like I’m about to call a girl to ask her on a date.”