EMI picks up Motown beat

Capping a year of on again, off again talks, EMI Music Publishing has paid $132 million for 50% of Jobete Music, the publisher founded by Berry Gordy and which boasts many of the chestnuts of the Motown era.

The deal is a coup for EMI as Gordy has entered into talks several times over the past 20 years with various companies interested in buying Jobete, but the deals never closed.

It also signals the end of an era for Jobete, which was the industry’s last major catalog to be independently owned.

EMI, which has been representing Jobete in an overseas sub-publishing pact for the past 15 years and was viewed by the industry as having the inside track in an acquisition, also acquired Jobete sister company Stone Diamond Music.

Industry insiders characterize the $132 million pricetag as a fair one for the golden catalog which sports tunes penned by such songwriting greats as Holland-Dozier-Holland, Marvin Gaye, Ashford & Simpson and Smokey Robinson, among others.

Typically, publishing deals in the ’90s are based on 15 or 20 times the publisher’s net.

Sources said Jobete nets more than $15 million annually, half of which is expected to flow directly to EMI’s bottom line as part of the deal. Many insiders believe Jobete is worth at least $350 million. EMI has a five-year window to acquire the other half at a pre-determined multiple of net revenues.

The catalog earns its lion share of income from synchronization license fees, which permit the use of the songs in film and TV projects, as well as from performances, compilation recordings and artist covers, though the latter is a more difficult nut to crack in this era of the singer-songwriter.

But EMI is getting into Jobete at a time when there is a resurgence in the Motown era’s music, and several TV and film projects, including a 40-year Motown anniversary miniseries with ABC, are in the works.

Gordy, Jobete’s chairman, is said to have sold half the catalog — which in effect puts him in partnership with EMI — in order to have more time to spend working on projects, including those related to Jobete’s music.

He was also having difficulty finding someone to run Jobete and effectively exploit the catalog’s tunes in the wake of the death last year of respected publishing vet Lester Sill, who oversaw the workings of Jobete.

“I always told Berry to hold on to his copyrights,” EMI Publishing chairman/CEO Martin Bandier told Daily Variety. “But he decided the time was right to sell, and I’m honored that he will be our partner as we build on his already enormous success.”

Jobete bowed in 1959 and became the backbone of Motown Records and its sound, which defined the music industry of the ’60s and ’70s.

With such hits as “My Girl,” “I’ll Be There” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in the repertoire, the label and publisher can lay claim to more than 100 charttoppers by artists such as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, the Temptations and Marvin Gaye, among others.

“Because I’m still a songwriter at heart, I had to find the right company and the right man to take care of my songs and the songs of the extremely talented writers who built this remarkable catalog,” Gordy said. “I’m thrilled that the songs are in (Bandier’s) hands, that their future is secure and I will be working with a friend.”

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