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Spirit pries publishing from passive rep

Music for Screens: Summer 2012

To get an idea of the value of indie music publisher Spirit Music’s biggest recent acquisition, one has to look no further than the Aug. 12 closing ceremonies for the 2012 Olympics, which climaxed with the Who performing a quartet of Pete Townshend compositions.

Spirit, which purchased the Townshend/Who catalog in January, has big plans for its high-profile new holding, says president Mark Fried, who founded the company in 1995.

“It was my thought that while a small bit of the best-known works of Pete Townshend solo and the Who were everywhere, that the larger collection of work — decades worth of individual albums and rock operas and projects — were kind of fading, because there wasn’t focused promotion, locally or globally,” says Fried.

Townshend’s music will witness increasing attention in the near future. The musician’s autobiography “Who am I” is scheduled for publication in October; a Who tour centered on the rock opera “Quadrophenia” hits the U.S. in November; the band celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014; and Townshend has a new musical theater piece in the works.

Fried envisions another potential revenue stream from Townshend’s catalog: “I’m a huge fan of the Beatles’ ‘Love’ and what was created there,” he says. “It’s a completely unique universe that so well serves the Beatles music, but comes from another creative place. So Pete and I have been talking about starting to think about a multimedia event that shines a light on much of his music through history, but also the pop culture iconography of the times.”

Of course, Spirit’s catalog does not begin and end with Townshend’s work. The New York-based publisher also handles more than 90 catalogs, including the songs of iconic rockers the Grateful Dead, Chicago, Lou Reed and T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, as well as the Go-Go’s, Wang Chung, Marilyn and Alan Bergman and Charles Mingus.

From the start, Spirit has focused much of its energies on working its holdings to film and TV.

“When I had just 20 or 25 songs in the catalog, I was coming out to the West Coast for a week every month for years,” says Fried, “to get close to the creative heads of music departments in film and TV, the music supervisors, the editors, to understand their needs and to see how we could collaborate.”

A lot of pro-active work is involved in spreading Spirit’s songs into various media streams.

For instance, Bolan’s songs have recently been employed in features like “Get Me to the Greek,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Somewhere,” and TV skeins such as “Friday Night Lights” and “United States of Tara.” The company has sought to increase visibility among younger listeners unfamiliar with the ’70s glam rocker’s tunes.

“One of the first things we did was get tracks on Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which were bringing well-known music and under-the-radar music directly to kids,” Fried says. “It was a great tie-in.”

While many of Spirit’s most familiar songs belong to the rock era, one evergreen from a recently acquired catalog secured immediate traction on film. Though Domenico Modugno’s “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu” — better known as “Volare” — won song of the year honors at the first Grammy Awards ceremony back in 1959, it scored major sync use just this year in Woody Allen’s “When in Rome.”

“That came out of one of our most recent deals with (Italian publisher Edizioni) Curci,” Fried says.

But Spirit’s efforts don’t end with working formidable old compositions. Last year the company entered into a joint venture with the Jim Henson Co. Under its aegis, Spirit writer Chaka Khan wrote and recorded a new album on the Henson lot (formerly the home of A&M Records) in Hollywood. “We’ll get together as a team with Henson and start to talk about where to go with the music and the content without constraints,” Fried says.

The company’s aggressive acquisitions, strategic partnerships and pro-active approach is paying off: Fried notes that Spirit places a song in a top-10 wide-release pic every other week, between six and 11 network or cable shows a week and three or four ad campaigns a month.

He says, “We’re not the sort of company that sends out a lot of samplers and crosses our fingers and hopes that somebody’s going to figure something out.”

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