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Nice Work If You Can Earn It: Raleigh Music Group’s 5th Anniversary

While the principals of Kobalt, Big Deal and other music publishers are making tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars selling to investment funds like Hipgnosis and Primary Wave during this booming period for song catalog sales, Raleigh Music Group co-founders Peter Raleigh and Steven Storch continue to conduct their publishing business using the traditional and unflashy principles on which they built their company. “We don’t chase deals, and we ain’t in the business of outbidding people,” says Storch. “We sell our company as one that’s going to deliver service, and we win deals based on what we do.”

Established in 2016, Raleigh Music Group provides creative and administrative services to a portfolio that includes work by legendary composer George Gershwin and rock’n’roll icon Elvis Presley. The Gershwin catalog includes songs from the 1951 film classic An American in Paris and the 2012 Broadway musical Nice Work If You Can Get It, as well as such Great American Songbook entries as “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” and “Summertime.” Presley titles include “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.” Other song catalogs administered by Raleigh include works by Hugo Peretti, co-writer of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”; R&B icon Bo Diddley; boxer-poet Muhammad Ali; 1970s rock band America; and contemporary artists Baby Goth and Hollis Brown, as well as producers Eric Hudson and Ezra.

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali in 1963. S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

Raleigh’s global royalty collection network operates in over 75 countries and includes offices in New York and Los Angeles. The publisher’s contemporary songwriting catalog contains 60,000 songs, and the company says it’s still diversifying as it moves into production music while also mining rock, pop, R&B, hip-hop and even country. “We want to provide great service to great catalogs and also sign new songwriters who can develop the standards of tomorrow,” says Raleigh. Storch calls the company “a throwback to what traditional music publishing used to be.”

Collectively, the partners have 40 years of experience in the music publishing business: Raleigh’s prior credentials include stints at Cherry Lane Music and BMG before a five-year run as head of copyrights at Imagem. There he met Storch, who at the time was the company’s CFO. Before that, Storch had worked for over 16 years at Sony, where he started out as a financial analyst, then moved into CD manufacturing, sales and budget/revenue projections in various roles at Sony Music, Sony International and culminating in CFO at Sony/ATV.

The two executives, who mark their fifth year in music publishing in March, discussed their strategy for the administration of estate catalogs and their “high-touch, high service” approach to A&R, which prioritizes close relationships with their clients.

What made you decide to start your own company?

Peter Raleigh: We were at Imagem for five years when it was put up for sale [to Concord]. I always wanted to start something like this — it was just the question of finding the right business partners. When I met Steve, I thought, “Let’s take it to the next level.” The industry was changing. We could see that when catalogs were acquired, only the top songs were taken care of. The rest of the catalogs were neglected. We saw a niche that we could offer: bringing value, service and monetization to great catalogs.

How did you finance the business at first?

Raleigh: We asked our longtime clients if we could have their business. I have known Susan Aberbach, one of the owners of the Elvis Presley catalog, for 23 years. I had met her in my days at Cherry Lane, and I had done a lot of work for her, including reclaiming 400 copyrights. I thought I could get her business, and she responded, “You already have my business, but can I invest in your company?” That took our breath away. We could not have started the company without her and her partner Richard Mincheff’s support.

What percentage of your net publisher’s share comes from administration as opposed to publishing?

Steven Storch: When we began, we were 100% administration, but as we have grown, we have been able to acquire more copyrights — through small acquisitions of existing songs as well as co-publishing deals that we have with artists and songwriters. So our NPS [also known as gross profit] now is approximately 50% administration and 50% ownership.

What deals have you cut recently?

Raleigh: We met some of Denise Rich’s people at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards. We finally met with her and did a presentation with the Raleigh team. A week later, we negotiated a deal. She is one of the most prolific songwriters of the 1990s. Her songs are the modern standards of the last 20 or 30 years. For a writer of her stature to trust us with her catalog — that’s a huge milestone. We worked hard to acquire that catalog.


What is your A&R philosophy?

Storch: The company is client-centered, and they appreciate our expansive experience and our high-touch, high service approach. We recognize that a lot of the business is changing, and we feel that our niche now, to a certain extent, is independent artists and songwriters. It’s becoming a very important and growing sector. That’s where we really focus our A&R.

I can see what you do for classic catalogs, but what do you bring to independent artists and songwriters?

Storch: A lot of the independent artists and songwriters don’t necessarily have a lot of experience and don’t have big teams around them. Peter and I can teach them the business and fill in the gaps for them, whereas a larger publisher wouldn’t have the resources, time or focus. We nurture these artists.

Raleigh: We found one of our younger artists, Shawn James, on the internet and signed him to an administration deal. He is developing an incredible catalog of future standards. One of his songs, “Through the Valley,” is in a Sony video game, The Last of Us Part II. James is an example of crossing boundaries. He doesn’t have a top 10 song on radio, but he has great songs and a loyal fan base.

Where are you focusing your A&R?

Raleigh: We are interested in signing producers and top line songwriters because both are equally important.

Storch: The most successful companies in publishing have a little bit of everything, so we are interested in music from all genres to create the most rounded and diverse portfolio. It’s good to have ownership, administration and co-publishing deals. We are also looking for strategic partnerships. We recently did a joint venture with Kevin Jonas, who is the father of the Jonas Brothers. This joint venture will give us exposure to country music in Nashville, where we always wanted to be.


What about the Wall Street interest in buying catalogs? Have you gone there?

Storch: We bought a writer’s share from one of the writers of “Bawitdaba,” the Kid Rock song. It has been used in so many TV shows that it turned out to be a good acquisition. We own a piece of the Madonna song “Superstar.” We’re happy to see the value for songs increase through acquisitions. Private equity buyers should hire us to help them buy and administer the catalogs. We sit back and observe, but it is so far outside our purview. It’s not what we do; it’s not in our mindset.

What kinds of deals are attractive to you?

Storch: Our interests are pretty much all over the board, but we don’t chase deals and we ain’t in the business of outbidding people. We don’t try to win on the highest advance or the lowest fee rate. But we are not afraid to pay a big advance if we believe in the artist and the structure of the deal is flexible. We sell our company as one that’s going to deliver service, and we win deals based on what we do. We have a service mindset that is different from a lot of other companies out there.

What are the highlights from your first five years?

Raleigh: Some of the big synch licenses that we landed with big brands. Wrigley’s Extra gum used Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in ads for four years. We are really proud of that license, which helped elevate the copyright of that song.

Storch: Every time we see one of our contemporary artists or songwriters get a synch in a TV show or movie, it’s incredible. We got one of our young writers, Eliza Shaddad, a synch as the end title to the first episode of a new Netflix series, Behind Her Eyes. The producers wanted a custom use of “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and we arranged for her to go into the studio. She had the right sound for it. It’s something we totally put together for her. In that deal, we retained the master. She is an up-and-coming developing songwriter. That placement will be very important to her career. In addition to the catalog, we will have contemporary songwriters pumping out today’s hits — that’s our challenge now. To keep the balance of the catalog.

Raleigh Music Group Co-Founders Reflect on
Raleigh Music's Raleigh (left) and Storch at their offices in New York. Courtesy Photo

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the firm?

Raleigh: It really hasn’t impacted us the way it has other companies. We are doing the business of publishers, getting songs placed and doing synch licensing.

Storch: Even though we saw television and film production slightly slowed down, we still did a lot of business with reality shows — like The Twelve Days of Christmas, America’s Got Talent and The Voice. Commercials were still very strong for us. Advertisers were looking for classic songs. People were looking to be comforted by nostalgia, and we have it. Last year was still our best year ever.

What are your goals now?

Storch: To keep building by carefully signing songwriters and new catalogs. We have a business that actually works. We are not beholden to a private equity [company] or financial sponsors. We do have a close relationship with our bank, Pinnacle [Financial Partners] and Andy Moats [executive vp/music entertainment director]. Andy knows our background and has worked with us in the past, so it’s like an old-time traditional banking relationship with us as trusted clients. We are lucky to have that.

With prices the way things are now, are you concerned that your heritage catalogs might decide to up and sell?

Storch: We have worked with the heirs of the copyrights we represent for many years. They have special relationships with their catalogs and have decided to retain control of the songs so that they are looked after in a way they are comfortable with. But what we are doing is proactive estate care for our clients by making sure the songs are being promoted. Whether they want to keep them for future generations or sell them, we will help them build value.

This article originally appeared in the March 13, 2021, issue of Billboard.