The four-day 2019 Music Biz Conference returned to Nashville for its fifth year this week where music business professionals experienced informative industry panels, hands-on demonstrations of the latest products on the market, and endless networking and professional development opportunities. Held May 5-8 at Nashville’s JW Marriott, it was also announced that Music Biz will return to Music City for the next two years.
James Donio, president of the Music Business Association, observed that the conference’s turnout was the largest it has been in 17 years with 2,400 people registered and executives from 20 countries outside the U.S. in attendance. He also revealed that the conference would be back in Nashville for May 11-14, 2020 and May 10-13, 2021.
Billboard attended the 2019 Music Biz Conference. Here are highlights from the four-day event.
Copyright buyers are changing
The panelists on the seminar “Selling Your Copyrights” said they’ve been seeing much activity with varied types of buyers as of late. These buyers range from major music publishers to investment funds and investors who are simply focusing on buying certain income streams instead of trying to buy ownership of the copyright.
Songwriting or record label “assets are sold for many different reasons,” explained Linda Edell Howard, a partner with the law firm of Adams & Reese LLP. “[Many] of my clients are deceased, so I often deal with the family who don’t have the [emotional] connection to the asset,” and they may decide to cash out.
“Or it could be newer clients who can only see short-terms and all they can see is the upfront cash that a sale would bring,” she added.
“You need to understand who you are selling to,” observed Entertainment Financial Services CEO John Kelly. When a copyright owner is going to sell, he urged them that “the more you can do on the frontend to make sure the data that you have is consistent in song databases,” like the various PROs around the world, the easier it will be to make a sale because it helps the buyer do their due diligence. By doing this, the buyer won’t find any inconsistencies that could slow down or kill the deal.
Howard echoed these sentiments and reminded that liens on the asset and divorce decrees could impact sales, so she urged copyright owners to make sure they do their due diligence to help the sale process.
Zane Lowe and Hayley Williams on the rise of streaming
The tables were turned on Zane Lowe from Apple Music/Beats 1 on Sunday evening when he was interviewed by Paramore’s Hayley Williams. The afternoon keynote had Lowe, the global head of artist relations and host of Apple Music, discussing his unconventional rise to prominence.
Lowe admitted his initial struggles when joining Beats 1 in 2015. He couldn’t book A-list artists because labels and management didn’t know quite what Beats 1 was. So, he began showcasing independent artists and small bands and success grew slowly from there. It took six months of struggling to accept his new role on the streaming platform after leaving BBC Radio 1.
“Beats 1 wasn’t a radio station, it was a livestream,” he said. “Everyone is thinking about ways to do this in a creative way…I always put the artist first. Without the artists, there are no fans.”
The keynote also addressed music discovery in the rise of streaming. Williams confessed that it took her a while to get on board with streaming and playlists. She prefers going to Nashville’s local record store Grimey’s to find new music, discovering new bands from tour lineups or reading who her favorite artists thanked in their liner notes. Social media and streaming do have their perks, though: “I feel more connected to the listener now than I did from 2007-2015,” she noted, explaining how streaming cuts out the middleman.
Lowe was adamant that the rise of streaming won’t change the album creation process. “It’s about understanding your audience. As long as artists want to make albums, albums will survive,” he stressed. “I’ve never heard someone say it’s emotionally rewarding to make one song.”
Highlighting female artists and music education
For the opening session on Monday (May 6), Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern welcomed the Music Biz convention to Nashville for the fifth straight year; and also observed that the CMA are celebrating its 60th anniversary. In addition to the organization’s main mission to support country music around the world, they also worked with Ken Burns on his upcoming documentary, Country Music, which “we expect to have a huge impact” on the genre. She further explained that the documentary will tell a “great story about our music heritage.”
Another effort CMA is involved in is “improving and sustaining music education around the county,” Trahern said. “We have invested more than $25 million. Our mission is simple: to help [those schools and students] to develop the skills to become the industry leaders of tomorrow.”
CMA continues to support the growth of female artists as well. In doing so, the CMA brought Kassi Ashton, Cassadee Pope, and Danielle Bradbery to open the day, each performing two songs.
The rise of The Orchard and importance of songwriters
Keynote speaker Richard Gottehrer was highlighted during an interview with Brittany Hodak. Gottehrer, who co-founded the Orchard, currently the largest independent distributor in the world, also co-wrote hit songs like “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy,” produced the first two Blondie albums, and co-founded Sire Records. These major career accolades were highlighted throughout the talk, with Gottehrer also remembering his time as a performer with his co-writers for the songs they recorded as the Strangeloves.
Gottehrer got his start in the music business at the legendary Brill Building, where back then anywhere from “49th Street to 53rd Street [in Manhattan] you could knock on doors and all these music companies would listen to your music,” he remembered. “You could get lucky and have them pay you $25 for a six-month option” to try and get the song recorded by a hit artist.
“At some point, like an idiot, I stopped writing and became a producer and I applied the aesthetic of being a songwriter to other people’s work,” Gottehrer said. However, he reminded the audience that “the songwriter is the highest and most important thing in our business.”
Throughout his years in the music business, he has seen a lot of change and noted, “We are living through tremendous change now and if we think we have seen the end of it, it’s just the beginning.”
When he and Scott Cohen started the Orchard, “we anticipated [the Internet and digital delivery] by six years and got digital rights too” in their distribution deals, even though back then the online retailers like CDNow and Music Boulevard were using the Internet as mail order operations to sell CDs and vinyl.
“The early songs I wrote made me proud,” he said. The Orchard was a bigger accomplishment because it “was able to open the floodgates for independent music to give them opportunities” to have access and to help them to become successful and make money, without the gatekeeping that occurred in physical distribution.
Paul Rosenberg and Def Jam’s new chapter
Another keynote question and answer session included Def Jam CEO Paul Rosenberg, who talked with Joe Levy about his efforts to restore Def Jam to its rightful place on top of the hip-hop world. “I was a massive music fan—I started buying 45’s when I was nine,” he revealed. “But when hip-hop came along, the Red Sea parted for me.”
As a young man, one of the smartest things Rosenberg did was decide to pursue a career in something he was passionate about. He wanted to be an entertainment lawyer and then told the story of how he met Eminem in the mid-1990s, who he still manages today.
He later moved to New York, where he interned at PolyGram and with lawyer Fred Davis. When his career didn’t take off immediately, he decided to find his own clients: “If somebody told me now that was their plan, I would say, ‘Good luck, kid.’”
Rosenberg eventually began working with Eminem and both their careers took off. While he likes working with Eminem and helping him with the Shady Records, he decided to start his own label for acts that he liked but didn’t fit on Shady. It was this decision that ultimately led to Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge offering Rosenberg to head up Def Jam Records.
That offer was too good to turn down. “Def Jam for me is a hip-hop label—there was Def Jam and then there was everybody else,” Rosenberg says. “My goal for Def Jam is to make it the place that everyone connected to the [hip-hop] culture wants to sign with again.”
One of the first things he did was go back and reconnect with the artists that helped build the label who were no longer affiliated with it. “Some older artist were unhappy” with the label, he said. “They were doing really great and all of a sudden people aren’t as interested—that’s not easy. If the team cuts you and didn’t do it in a nice way, there is the potential for some bitterness.” He reached out to those artists “and told them we valued them.” He also worked to bring the best of the young hip-hop artists into the fold too. Since he came aboard at Def Jam, he and his team have signed more than 20 artists.
As part of their efforts to launch these artists, the label set up the Def Jam “Rap Camp.” The experiment brought all their young artists together in Los Angeles to work with one another and collaborate in the studio. As a result of those efforts, in March they released Undisputed, a compilation album featuring 17 of the label’s artists.
“We figured there will be interesting things happening so why not capture the content to see what we get?” he added. That idea has resulted in eight episodes being place on the Def Jam YouTube channel, which have already amassed 30 million views.
“We came up with ‘Undisputed’ because we believe it’s undisputed Def Jam is the greatest hip-hop label of all time,” he conceded.
Additional reporting by Annie Reuter.