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Do Publishers Make Good Label Heads? Sony Bets Yes As Ron Perry Leaves SONGS To Lead Columbia 

Can a successful A&R executive from the publishing world can transform into an equally successful record man?

Can a successful A&R executive from the publishing world can transform into an equally successful record man?

That question is about to be put to the test again, as SONGS Music Publishing’s president Ron Perry gears up to take over as chairman/CEO of Sony’s Columbia Records Jan. 2, following the sale last week of the SONGS catalog to Kobalt Capital’s fund for about $140 million, sources tell Billboard.

While Perry helped build SONGS into one of the leading indie publishers, signing new songwriters such as Lorde, The Weeknd, Diplo and DJ Mustard, the track record of publishing execs in record land has been mixed.

“Many great record label people started in publishing,” NOTES says Charles Koppelman, chairman/CEO of C.A.K. Entertainment, who moved from publishing to labels when he and his partners, Stephen Swid and Martin Bandier, opened SBK Record. After EMI bought SBK, Koppelman was promoted to chairman/CEO of EMI’s family of labels in North America.


Other notable success stories include UMG’s chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge, who launched PolyGram Music Publishing UK in 1986, turning it into one of Britain’s top three publishing companies in five years before jumping to UMG’s Polydor in 1993 and ascending to managing director of the British label. Motown’s Berry Gordy, meanwhile, started both a publisher, Jobete, and a label, Tamla, in 1959; Clive Calder started publishing’s Zomba Music before opening Jive Records, and Chris Wright with his partner Terry Ellis started Chrysalis with both a publishing and label operation. (Chrysalis signed David Bowie to a publishing deal, though on the label side, missteps included turning down the chance to sign Bowie to a recording contract.)

Sometimes the shift hasn’t worked out long term. Gary Overton left Sony/ATV to head up Sony Nashville, but was replaced after four-and-a-half years by Randy Goodman. Cameron Strang, who headed up Warner/Chappell Music moved over to lead Warner Bros. Records in 2012, but he is being replaced by a management team that includes RCA’s outgoing president/COO Tom Corson, who will start as WBR co-chairman/COO in January. Interscope’s A&R president Aaron Bay-Schuck will join WBR as co-chairman/CEO later next year.

A&R executives on the publishing side can have it easier than their label counterparts for several reasons: they sometimes have the luxury of getting to sign acts after a record deal is already in place, and don’t have to worry about signees’ appearance or charisma. “When you are signing writers, you don’t care if they look like Shrek,” one executive says. And, says another, on the label side “it’s more costly to break records. You have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, on top of the talent spend.”


But Perry isn’t a typical publishing executive because he helps develop records for many of his clients. A hitmaker known for his creative chops, he worked on the recording of Lorde’s Melodrama album, for example, as well as Daft Punk’s collaboration with The Weeknd, “Starboy,” and Noah Cyrus’ single “Make Me Cry.” 

He and SONGS founder/CEO Matt Pincus are partners Barry Weiss‘s RECORDS label, in which Sony has acquired a stake, sources say.

Koppelman says publishers “should make great record executives because you can’t have hits without a hit song. It doesn’t matter how great the singer is, it starts with the song.”

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 23 issue of Billboard.