Mathew Knowles is best known as manager of Destiny’s Child and, of course the father of Beyonce and Solange. Over the past two decades, his Houston-based label and management company Music World Entertainment has overseen the careers of those artists as well as From Above, Andrea Helms and Bryan Courtney Wilson — and a label that includes works from Earth Wind and Fire, The O’Jays, Chaka Khan, Kool and the Gang, and Johnny Cash.
He no longer manages Beyonce but continues to oversee Destiny’s Child, who are currently inactive but dropped a new compilation, “Playlist,” last month, with a DVD to follow in February 2013.
As a manager, executive and songwriter and a 20-year career as a corporate exec (including recognition as one of the top salesmen at Xerox), Mathew has a unique perspective on the value of sync, placement and licensing in building an artist’s audience and contributing to the bottom line. He talked with us about licensing challenges and opportunities — both as a creator and seller — the evolving market, and sync’s importance in artist development, marketing, discovery, breaking an artist, branding and revenue-generation.
How does sync licensing, as a business line and revenue source, play into your strategic thinking as a record executive, manager, songwriter and publisher, and how has it changed over the years?
Traditionally, sync was an ancillary revenue source, and to some degree a brand-building tool. But as a market channel for the artist, it took a backseat to radio, videos and touring. [Today] it has become much more important. It’s a strategic way to expose potential fans to new music, and really one of the primary methods to gain exposure, promotions and discovery for artists.
Is licensing overtaking radio in importance?
Well, radio is still important, but as the market, and the way the fans discover music, changed, sync’s importance as a promotional method has steadily risen.
See, it used to be a simple equation: audience equals sales. And I believe, in general, it still is. However, today’s market and fans are more nuanced and diffuse. We’re going for the same eyeballs as a lot of other media and with all the options available, fans’ attention spans are short. So to connect the fan to the artist, we have to make sure that artist and their music, are promoted across all available media. And sync is a vital part of making that happen.
We’ve all seen how many artists are now broken by sync: Getting a song in a car commercial, an Apple ad, on the soundtrack of a feature [film], can be the difference between fame and obscurity for a new act. You get in front of 80 million eyeballs and ears with a major brand and you see the corresponding jump in sales. There’s a direct connection.
And how has licensing worked out for Music World artists in particular?
It depends. A lot of our catalog, like the O’Jays, Kool and the Gang and, of course, Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé and Solange, as well as many of our country tracks, are popular with music supervisors and generate significant revenue. It’s pretty amazing – between Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé and Solange, our artists have been in over 45 commercials, including Samsung, Cody, Pepsi and L’Oreal, with the majority of these including placements of music. And that doesn’t even get into what we’ve done in other media like film [“Austin Powers in Goldmember,” “Dreamgirls,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Pink Panther”], and interactive [the Samsung B’Phone].
And that’s been very valuable for the artists and your company.
One of the things that we’ve done here at Music World is to look at our marketing and promotions – and every aspect of how we work with artists – in a very strategic way. Coming from the corporate world, I’ve always taken a very strategic approach in terms of how we use every tool at our disposal to generate greater exposure, a bigger audience of fans and ultimately more sales. Our approach to placement has always been to take the long view, meaning that we look at every opportunity in terms of how it helps our artist to connect with fans and create revenue opportunities from all sources – not just the simple financial payday from a license or endorsement.
How has working with your artists been successful for licensors’ audience-building efforts?
Take the example of the “Pink Panther,” which featured Beyoncé on the soundtrack and in the film.¨The film initially had a very low test demo of African-Americans – like 5% – but when you add the right artist and the right song, that demo lifted significantly, and this lift translated into a better bottom line for the studio.
What was the best deal, from a purely financial point of view, that a Music World artist received?
Definitely the deal for the B’Phone between Beyoncé and Samsung, by a wide margin. For straight licensing, the best deals are ones where we participate in both the publishing and master licensing. Take a song like “Independent Woman” – it’s a double whammy and that much better a payday…
How have your strategies worked for the rest of the entire Music World roster?
We work with more than 70 artists at Music World Entertainment and we’re in the business of breaking new artists and getting maximum value for all our musicians – and as we work to break these artists, I believe this is where bringing technology into the sync equation can be really useful.
Let’s look at our gospel roster. Music World Entertainment has one of the best gospel rosters in the world, bar none. It’s great, commercial, eminently useable music for sync, but because of prejudices some people have against using any music termed “gospel,” it’s hard to get music supervisors to connect with some of our best and most commercial music … which leaves money on the table for us and missed opportunities for buyers to discover and get the right music for the right purposes. The way sync works now, people are looking either for specific tracks or, depending on budget and need, something that sounds like a track they cannot afford. And we may be able to provide them with the perfect track at the right price, but …we can’t even get these tracks in front of a possible buyer now because of the label or genre.
If there was a technology that could connect people looking to buy licenses with the music that sounds right, costs right and is based on criteria that matter — mood, BPM, usage, etc. — rather than looking or getting matched based on narrow parameters, combined with a roster of great content, this would create many more opportunities.