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Sony Publishing’s Jon Platt on the Catalog Boom, Diversity & His Path to Power (Music Biz 2022)

"Catalogs have been sold forever. What's new is the press release about it."

You can find all of Billboard‘s Music Biz 2022 coverage here.

In a wide-ranging keynote interview at the Music Biz convention, held in Nashville May 8- 12, Sony Music Publishing chairman and CEO Jon Platt talked about his transition from a highly successful A&R into a leadership executive capable of running a company; why the industry’s executives should reflect the diversity found in the creative community and the customers it reaches; and what the growing trend of songwriters selling their catalogs for big paydays means for the industry.

Platt was interviewed by Music Business Assn. president Portia Saban, who asked the Sony executive if the trend of songwriters selling their catalogs for escalating valuations is a bubble that will burst or whether it will continue.

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“There is no one side of an answer to that question,” Platt said. “For legacy songwriters who want to secure their future…I think it’s fantastic.” But for younger songwriters who think they can sell now and then go out and write another catalog, “you should think long before you do it,” he continued. “No one is buying catalogs to lose money,” but overall, he added, “It’s great to see songwriters being valued.”

Platt also pointed out that the current trend of song catalog sales isn’t anything new. “Catalogs have been sold forever,” Platt said. “What’s new is the press release about it.”

Moving on to the changing industry and the increasing role that technology companies are playing in music, he acknowledged that tech is good for songwriters because it can supply a virtual moment, but technology should understand that “they still have to pay the songwriters…that creators have to be compensated.”

During the interview, Platt also announced that Sony Music Publishing, in partnership with Domain Capital Group, has signed a global deal with Ashley Gorley, who has written over 400 songs released by such artists as Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Thomas Rhett, Blake Shelton, Dan + Shay, Kelsea Ballerini, Cole Swindell, Bon Jovi and Weezer, according to a press release. The deal includes a going-forward component as well.

Jon Platt, Music Biz
Graham Dodd

To the delight of the conference attendees, Platt brought Gorley, who also runs the publishing company Tape Room Music, to the stage to participate in the interview. During the chat, Gorley was asked about being a songwriter and a publisher at the same time.

“I am still developing as a songwriter and I still have a long way to go,” Gorley responded. “When I am a publisher then I am the coach for our writers.” But being a songwriter also helps him coach other songwriters, he said. “I think about the things that have helped me [in writing], so I help [writers] figure out what they are doing right and wrong,” he said, adding that artist development happens in songwriter sessions, so it’s helpful for writers to get feedback during the process — particularly if it’s a direct session with the artist and the producer.

Earlier in the interview, Platt talked about his career path, noting that when he worked at a Colorado sporting goods store, he met and became friends with a DJ. Before long, he became a roadie for that DJ, which soon led him to launch his own career as a DJ playing music at parties, clubs and events.

Soon he was being pitched music to play, sometimes by friends who were starting out on their own music industry career paths. Two such pitches turned into wins for both Platt and the artist: In one case, he was being acknowledged for helping break Arrested Development beyond the Atlanta market; in the other, his DJing led to a relationship with Chuck D and Public Enemy, who invited him to see and hang out with them when they were in town.

One day, according to Platt, Chuck D asked him, “What’s next for you?”

“What do you mean? I’m the man here,” Platt said he responded. He claimed that Chuck D then answered, “But that’s all you can be here,” and started suggesting different roads for Platt to take. That conversation was what planted the seed that led Platt to pursue an executive career path in the music business.

Eventually, Platt was attending conventions like Jack the Rapper and the New Music Seminar, where he began meeting industry people and gaining relationships; he also read books like Donald Passman’s All You Need to Know About The Music Business.

Through a combination of his DJing ability and relationships, Platt was eventually hired by then-EMI Music Publishing executive Jody Gerson, who is now chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group. He went on to work at EMI for 17.5 years, starting out in A&R and hitting home runs by signing the likes of Jay-Z and Usher.

Platt said coming to the Music Biz convention reminded him of why conferences like this are important, while acknowledging that he had a moment of doubt after agreeing to do the keynote interview. “But when I got to the hotel and saw people with badges carrying bags, that brought me back to my early days attending conventions,” he said. “When I looked back on my journey and my career, some of the most important things that happened to me [were] because of people asking for favors,” which subsequently turned out to benefit him as well.

As he become a very successful A&R for EMI, Platt said realized he wanted to do more — namely running the company. So he began privately, quietly and out of his own pocket investing in a process that would help transform him from an A&R executive into a business leader, including hiring an executive coach who helped him understand what it would take to expand his role. That coach was hard on Platt, telling him he didn’t know what running a company was all about. Despite all of his success, he claims the coach told him, “You are still doing the same thing you did when you started at [EMI]. You are successful at that so they gave you more money and higher titles but you are still in the same place.”

That’s because Platt didn’t have anyone reporting to him, which meant that he lacked the skills to run a company, the coach told him.

Despite all the initial negative feedback, Platt hung in there with the coach, who he said broke him “into pieces and then put me back together.” After five days spent going through that process, he left to return home, and for the first time noticed all the books about leadership at a bookstore in the airport.

Platt said he was lucky to begin the journey that would transform him into the upper echelons of industry management while he was still in the best part of his career, as opposed to being a cold A&R executive.

When asked if he was the highest-ranking Black executive in the music business, Platt responded, “I am the highest-ranking, not just in music but in entertainment. I am the only one running a global business.” He pointed out that the music industry is diverse from the talent and consumer perspective, and that he “sees no reason why it should not be diverse inside the companies too.”

That’s why he wanted to change things when he started at Sony Music Publishing, he said. “I want our company to represent what the music is. I want to be intentional about that.” Moreover, he concluded, change means learning how to “be comfortable being uncomfortable.”