“Think about Michael Jackson’s stake in music publishing,” says Nick Jarjour, global head of song management for Hipgnosis. “How much would his half of Sony/ATV have been worth if we were using today’s valuations?”
The answer to his hypothetical question, without adjusting for inflation, is that the $95 million Jackson got for selling 50% of ATV to Sony in 1999 would be worth more than $2.3 billion using 2021 multiples. Jarjour’s flight of fancy reflects how Hipgnosis, led by CEO and founder Merck Mercuriadis, has rewritten the book on so-called “song management.”
A Los Angeles-based Canadian, Jarjour started advising Hipgnosis in 2019. He also leads a joint venture — Hipgnosis Songs Group / JarjourCo. — which is currently enjoying a Latin pop airplay No. 1 with Selena Gomez’s “Baila Conmigo” as well as a Spotify Global top 50 hit with Kali Uchis’ “Telepatia.”
If you want to ask about how Hipgnosis specifically values the assets it pursues, he’ll refer you to another executive. But, ask the man who has managed such hitmakers as Starrah (Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You”) and Cirkut (Ava Max) about Hipgnosis’ potential in today’s music industry and you better get comfortable.
What’s your take on the eager pursuit of music assets?
Music is one of the most solid assets in the world because it has an ROE — return on emotion. It’s the only thing in the world that you could experience for free which can change your mood, change your emotion, change your energy; songs can essentially bookmark your life.
Music companies are showing steady income that’s consistent, guaranteed and unlimited, because every single day there’s a kid in a bedroom creating the next future hit song that’s going to be worth millions of dollars.
Define “song management.”
It’s about approaching each song with the manpower and quality care to create opportunities. On a deeper level: each song and catalog has a soul, and we look to help connect those songs with the right creatives and the right technology to further maximize the value and the legacy. For example: the song “Buss It” by Erica Banks is exploding on TikTok and it features a sample of “Hot In Herre” by Nelly. Hipgnosis acquired the Nelly catalog and now you see “Hot In Herre” exponentially grow, along with the new song, on streaming. That’s what song management is about: creating real-time situations and aha moments that are organic and bridge the gap between young artists and songs of the past.
Understanding and identifying the best talent on earth and being able to have those relationships with them really helps me, Merck and the creatives who invest in this side of the business. It’s really about relationships and trust because you want to go look at an opportunity for a catalog beyond just sync or sampling or interpolations. You want to know about what opportunities there are for those catalogs, look at them very closely and work with the creatives who built those catalogs and understand their vision, as well.
Hipgnosis always resisted calling itself a publisher. Then last year it bought respected indie publisher Big Deal Music, now called Hipgnosis Songs Group. How does this acquisition fit within Hipgnosis’ structure?
HSG is an active song management operation and they’re incredible. Look at their track record: focused on pop and country hits, they now have Latin records like Selena Gomez’s “Baila Conmigo” and Erica Banks’ “Buss It” on the producer side. The level of knowledge, experience, and quality of work that Kenny MacPherson and his team have delivered over the years is second to none. They’re also the best administrators in America; it’s logical that we brought Big Deal in.
I personally work with them every single day and it’s an extreme privilege. It’s business as usual for them; they’re growing and continuing to expand and help the next generation of hit makers. They really specialize in helping writers and producers build businesses around themselves. It’s really a five-star company.
Some music attorneys advise artists and songwriters to keep, rather than sell, their catalogs. What’s your view?
When making a very important decision like that, there should be a number of factors put in place, including the right wealth management. I’ve seen reports from some business managers which indicated that the cash that these writers, artists or producers get from these sales can yield them exponentially more than if they’d retained the catalogs. I’ve personally seen Merck, on every single deal, really vet those clients and talk to them and make sure that they have the right plan in place, because he wants to see them continue to grow and expand their wealth.
Describe your role at Hipgnosis.
I act as a bridge between those legacy hits and the next generation of hits and creatives. A lot of this happens organically. … You want to be there to facilitate and to set it up, but most importantly, you want to be there to manage the situation once the magic happens. Then you help enhance it once things are activating and bubbling.
How does the company create those organic opportunities?
Hipgnosis did a songwriting camp at Abbey Road right before the pandemic hit. We had Richie Sambora and Nile Rodgers working with Starrah, creating records that are now appearing on her upcoming album, “The Longest Interlude,” coming out March 17. … Recording in the same room as the Beatles once did … that speaks volumes as to how important it is for us to be a music company and a company that cares about songwriters, producers, creatives and artists first.
How does Hipgnosis fit into the greater music ecosystem?
What you’re seeing right now is something that no one could have predicted 10 years ago. That level of disruption and innovation is unprecedented and for it to be created by one company or one person is even more rare. That’s why Hipgnosis stands out as its own thing.
If someone were to say, “Nick, do you think Hipgnosis is the next Warner Music or Universal or Sony?,” I would say, “No. I think Hipgnosis is the next Apple.” Merck is an innovator and a disruptor who’s steering the ship with such a powerful vision. It’s not only changed the music business, it’s changed where the songwriter sits in the economic equation.