Universal Music Publishing Group and its subsidiary Rondor Music International landed a big one, signing Billy Joel to an exclusive worldwide publishing agreement.
Not only will they supplant EMI Music Publishing for handling his catalog in foreign territories, but — for the first time since Joel regained control of his music publishing in the ’80s — his camp is using an outside administrator in the United States to manage his song portfolio.
“There are few songwriters in the history of music that have created a catalog of such hits, depth and quality,” UMPG chairman/CEO Zach Horowitz said in a statement. “With Rondor’s distinctive focus and care, and UMPG’s global scale, administrative infrastructure and network of worldwide synch specialists, we are uniquely positioned to maximize the extraordinary opportunities that exist for Billy’s music.”
The game plan is simple: synchronization, with a capital S. In the past, Joel’s songs were rarely used in TV, movies or commercials.
“It’s amazing to me there is nothing happening with the catalog in films, TV and commercials,” Horowitz tells Billboard. It turns out that, previously, Joel’s music found its way into synch uses only when music supervisors initiated the opportunity, according to UMPG executives.
Could it be that Joel regards his music as too personal and precious to let it be used in commercials and movies? Indeed, that was a concern UMPG executives initially had and, when they canvassed music supervisors on that point, they found most of them were under the same impression. But, if that was the case in the past, it is no longer an issue now, Horowitz says.
“Joel regards his songs as his children, and as they grew up he put them through school, college and first job,” Horowitz says. “Now, he feels it is time for his songs to go to work for him.”
In addition to generating revenue, Horowitz believes synch use will play a larger role for Joel’s catalog. He put out his last album, “River of Dreams”, 19 years ago, and while Joel’s music remains a staple at radio, it isn’t heard on top 40 stations where new generations could be exposed to it. Consequently, a generation or two has missed out on his music, Horowitz says, which is why synch opportunities are so important going forward.
Moreover, the songs within the catalog easily lend themselves to such opportunities. “His songs are melodic and memorable, and he writes conversationally in universal themes that are timeless and borderless,” Rondor president Lance Freed said in a statement. “Billy’s music is as important to his era as George Gershwin’s and Irving Berlin’s were to theirs.”
Standards written by Joel include “Just the Way You Are,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” “Piano Man,” “New York State of Mind,” “You May Be Right,” “Pressure,” “Don’t Ask Me Why,” “She’s Always a Woman,” “My Life,” “It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me,” “Tell Her About It,” “Uptown Girl,” “The Longest Time,” “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
In order to ensure that music users get the message, Freed says Rondor plans to have two events, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, to bring in music supervisors, advertising executives and the heads of music production at film studios to reintroduce them to Joel and his music and let them know “Billy’s music is here, great and available.”