While more transparent artist-friendly terms have become increasingly common among music publisher and indie-distributor offerings — especially since Kobalt Music Group streamlined the admin process when it set up shop in 2000 — the brass at The Orchard and Sony/ATV Music Publishing are confident the partnership they announced earlier this month adds a meaningful new option to the marketplace.
Beyond allowing songwriting artists and smaller labels to park all of their music revenue in a single platform, the arrangement combines the muscle of the world’s largest publisher with one of the industry’s largest indie distributors. And, the latest manifestation of their parent company’s One Sony mantra dusts off a business buzzword from the early 2000s: synergy.
Brad Navin, The Orchard’s CEO, notes that some of his company’s label services clients had sought publishing administration options for more than a decade, but “publishing is very foreign, it’s very different from recorded music in so many ways,” he tells Variety. “I had said, ‘We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball; try to do this just on the recorded music side until it makes sense otherwise.’ Now I think with the One Sony initiative, [Sony Music Group Chairman] Rob Stringer coming into the fold, and [Sony/ATV chairman] Jon Platt coming in on the ATV side, there was an opportunity to start to bring that to bear. … When you’ve got the benefit of the largest publisher in the world and all they can do from an infrastructure perspective — including collections and sync opportunities — could The Orchard expand its value proposition? With recorded music going though different levels of service, the same thing could happen on the copyright side.”
“It’s really about bolstering service options for The Orchard, not only for them to provide distribution and artist services at the level that they do, but they can now seamlessly provide their clients publishing as well through Sony/ATV,” says Greg Prata, the publisher’s EVP of finance and corporate strategy. “Our IT and admin teams have spent a lot of time and effort behind the scenes, working through processes where the publishing royalties will show up on Orchard client dashboards. We’re really just making a fully integrated solution for Orchard clients so they can see all of their rights and the royalties associated with those rights.”
Navin notes that “artists are more in control today than ever before,” and indeed, the landscape finds a panoply of options that allow creators to retain ownership of their works, including 21st century players like Kobalt and BMG Rights Management. Such companies as Downtown Music’s Songtrust, Sound Royalties, Royalty Exchange and RightsFlow offer opportunities on the copyright side of the street. Likewise, independent distributors, including the ones owned by the three music majors, along with several outside consultants have long offered label services, illustrated by the arrangement Warner Music Group’s Alternative Distribution Alliance holds with rapper Macklemore.
The Orchard is a relatively recent player in this sphere, adding label services to its offerings two years ago when it lured former Sony Music Australia GM Tim Pithouse to oversee the initiative. British R&B singer Jorga Smith, Puerto Rican reggaeton artist Ozuna and rapper Joyner Lucas are among the artists who availed themselves of those Orchard options.
Now Chilean rapper Harry Nach, rappers G Hebro and Kiddtetoon, and indie popper Summer Salt have become the first artists to sign on for The Orchard’s Sony/ATV option. Metal label Unique Leader also opted for the publishing administration option.
“We’re already putting meta data together and art work and by nature of how streaming on the recorded music side continues to evolve, we’re collecting all that copyright-level information anyway: songwriter credits, producer information, all of that stuff,” says Navin. “So, instead of having to do that redundantly we can do that in one step for our clients and it becomes a pretty attractive value proposition just on the friction side of the business. … For many, many years there was one type of label deal and one type of distribution deal. Now there are probably more deal types than we’ve had as an industry ever and they’re all happening at the same time. I think it’s been a market force issue more than anything, the advent of technology, of social media, of building audiences, of the ease of recording that just created this storm of activity that ultimately is growing the independent sector very dramatically, year over year, simply because those artists are choosing their own route. They’re staying very entrepreneurial to a wide degree.”
The broader scope of today’s deals speaks to new dynamics playing out in the music industry of the 21st century, illustrated by Big Hit Entertainment’s BTS, the pop group from South Korea that The Orchard brought into Sony’s orbit (the band’s music is distributed in the U.S. by Sony label Columbia).
“BTS and Big Hit and what they’ve done just speaks volumes to everything that’s going on in the world right now,” says Navin. “All the paradigms have changed. It doesn’t have to be English language. It doesn’t have to come from the U.S. or the U.K, like the history of some of the most mainstream recorded music. With the right production, the right entity behind it and sticking to everything with the fan in mind. It informs what they do. It’s always about the fan first and they don’t care about what the history of the U.S. recorded music is, and how you do radio, how you do this… They say, ‘How does it affect the fans?’ And that’s exactly what we’re talking about.
“You could say that about a big portion of some Latin superstars right now and you could say that about a big portion of hip-hop stars right now who have sort of thrown off all the norms, radio be damned, album cycles be damned, whatever it might be, I’m playing to the fans. I’m going to drop a single just because it’s a Tuesday. I’m going to do this just because it’s what the fans want and that’s what BTS has done.”
Sony/ATV’s Prata notes a new emphasis on indie artist who moonlight as writers and likens the Orchard alliance to the partnership the publisher announced in April with online production marketplace BeatStars. “It’s been a strategic focus for us within the last 18 months since Jon Platt arrived at the company,” he says. “We’re really specifically going out to the indie market which we had not done before. … We thought teaming up with The Orchard would be a great opportunity for us, servicing mini-label clients, but even going down to the individual independent songwriter and artist. We’re thinking differently and much broader with Jon than we used to at Sony/ATV and we’re working on several opportunities that are really exciting but not ready to share just yet.”
Navin notes there isn’t a clever name to brand The Orchard’s partnership with Sony/ATV. It’s just an option available to an ever-evolving market. “It’s never going to be one size fits all. Some people are going to be comfortable with having all of those rights in one place and some are not, I totally get that.”
And of transparency, Navin boasts, “We’ve had it for more than a decade on the recorded music side; Kobalt always touted their transparency from the pub admin side. You can marry those things now and someone can see all activity across revenue streams, efficiently, conveniently, on-the-fly in real-time. That’s where the artist is today, by the way. These kids are built with a phone in their hand. They’re use to instant everything and we’re trying to bring that together because that’s what time it is in the world.”
While synergy was a big buzz word in multiple businesses during the early 2000s, the concept bore little fruit for AOL when it acquired Time Warner, and few companies outside of The Walt Disney Company got mileage from the concept. But, Navin and Prata say the One Sony mindset has been a key focus for several years, and it’s delivering results.
“When I came into the fold, I used to wonder how does it work? Why wouldn’t you use a great artist in a new flatscreen commercial or why wouldn’t you put that song in the next new Sony picture? And, the PlayStation is another whole opportunity on top of that. Those opportunities now exist more than ever before and the companies have come together to start sharing in plans and practices,” says Navin.
“It’s about just keeping things top of mind, knowing that we have partners and collaborators within the organization and that Sony/ATV is bigger than just Sony/ATV. We sit within a larger platform,” says Prata. “Similar to other major music companies, there’s the masters side of the business and then there’s the publishing side, but what’s really intriguing about Sony is that we can offer so much more to artists through our sister entertainment companies. We have Sony Pictures, Sony Television, Sony PlayStation. Sony is not just a music company, we’re a true entertainment company and it goes into electronics and everything else.”
Navin further sees the Sony/ATV partnership as an opportunity for The Orchard to remain nimble in an ever-changing marketplace. “It’s a different business, but I think you’re starting to see the lines blurred between high level distribution-plus services and whatever a frontline label is,” he says. “There are things that are done at the highest level that we’ll never do: high-touch A&R, production, stylizing and collaborating; that’s not what we do. We don’t create the shiny pop brands that become global, but we empower artists who are wildly successful, like BTS, like Ozuna, like Joyner Lucas, like Jorja Smith.”