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Sony cashes in on country music

The popularity of country music exploded in 1993 and Sony Music’s Nashville operations were there to collect.

In 1989, Sony added Nashville-based country publishing giant Tree Music to its growing roster of entertainment companies.

To insure synergy between its film and music holdings, Sony transferred all administration of its far-flung publishing entities to a single location: Sony Publishing in Nashville. For motion picture and television producers this meant that synchronization fees and authorization fees could be taken care of in one place. Sony Hollywood, meet Sony Nashville.

When the boom in country music began, Sony Tree and Columbia Records Nashville were ready with the goods. And because of the synergy within the Sony organization and Sony’s show biz connections, they didn’t have to go far to find takers.

Tree branches out

Tree placed the country song “Walking Dream” in the movie “Rudy”; “Act Naturally” in “Wilder Napalm”; “Heartbreak Hotel” in “Honeymoon in Vegas”; “Crying Time” in “Indecent Proposal” and “The Beverly Hillbillies”; “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” in “Son-in-Law”; “Little Bitty Tear” in “True Romance”; “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Nightlife” in “A Perfect World”; “Ride ‘Em High, Ride ‘Em Low” in “Eight Seconds”; and “Never Mind” in “The Firm.”

Sony Publishing, Sony Tree’s parent company, placed songs in “Free Willy, “”The Three Musketeers,””City of Joy,””The Coneheads,””Made in America, “”Judgment Night,””A League of Their Own” and “A Bronx Tale.”

In 1993 Sony Tree also scored with 16 No. 1 country records and was awarded ASCAP’s, BMI’s, and for the third straight year, Billboard Magazine’s Publisher of the Year honors. Billboard acknowledged Sony Tree as the No. 1 country music publisher for the 21st straight year.

On the motion picture side of Sony’s synergy, Sony’s TriStar Records had their first-ever hit records in 1993: “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Last Action Hero” went platinum, and “Poetic Justice” went gold.

Sony’s Columbia/TriStar Pictures 1988 purchase agreement with EMI sent all copyrights assigned prior to 1988 to EMI, but in 1993 alone, Columbia/Tri-Star added 1,000 new copyrights to its catalog.

In 1993 Sony moved to bolster Nashville Columbia Records’ slipping market share. They installed a new management team, again with the focus on synergy.

Former Sony Music VP Paul Worley was given the top A&R post. His knowledge of Tree’s 80,000 copyright library, coupled with the Columbia records country music library of 60,000 “classic” country masters, is the embodiment of synergy. To exploit this collection of masters Worley created a film/television department.

“On the music side we’ve created a film-television department headed by Margie Hunt,” says Worley. “She’s been with the company for 17 years and she has a really great knowledge of the catalog. Her film and TV division will represent Sony Music Nashville to the film industry.”

“Sony Nashville, the Country Music Division, is getting ready to come into film and television music in a big way,” says Hunt.

“We’re getting a lot more involved in film and TV in terms of utilizing and exploiting the over 60 years of country catalog that this label has.

“On ‘Beverly Hillbillies,’ although not one of our soundtracks, we had the Joe Diffy cut ‘White Lightnin’ ‘ and then Ricky Skaggs was on the Jim Varney cut of ‘Hot Rod Lincoln.’ We’re the only record company in Nashville who has a full-time film and TV person on staff,” says Hunt.

Natural mates

Worley and Country Music Association president Ed Benson both see the film/country music marriage as a natural.

Worley feels that because country music is “lyrical music, it’s easy to find music that works with a storyline.”

Benson: “There are so many country songs that deal with real life situations, that you can almost find a country song of some kind that can fit the context of any motion picture.”

Worley offers another view of the synergy within Sony. “I signed songwriter/screenwriter Alice Randall to Tree. She came to me with a collection of poems. As we dug into where these poems came from, it was evident to me that there was a real story there, so I put the charge to her to create a script. She wrote this incredible script, it was so powerful that we went ahead, created a joint venture called Black and White Pictures.

‘Out to Hollywood’

“We started going out to Hollywood,” Worley continues, “presenting these treatments and scripts and now there’s a script in development with Quincy Jones called ‘Mother Jones.’ She’s currently working on a CBS-TV show called ‘X’s and O’s’ with Brandon Tartikoff. She’s the principal writer and producer of the show , Brandon is the executive producer. The entire TV show will be filmed here in Nashville.

“And on the record side we hope to be involved in the music that spins off of the series or anything that Alice does. The possibility of soundtrack albums and things like that are very attractive to us.”

Worley doesn’t want to leave anyone with the wrong impression: “Tree Music and Columbia Records are not just here to service Sony Pictures. We’re here to service the movie industry as a whole.”

Has the multinational ownership of these venerated country music establishments been a positive force in Nashville?

CMA’s Benson thinks it has. “The multinational ownerships of country music publishing and recording companies, simultaneously with motion picture divisions , makes for a more nurturing environment, or at least makes the scenario more interesting. I think the multinationals and the Japanese particularly have a viewpoint of maximizing their investment opportunities in terms of their holdings. That’s a good example of synergy, and it really is good for country music.”

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