Sony’s music and entertainment companies have never looked more united. You can see examples of this ‘One Sony’ philosophy increasingly cropping up in various projects – not least those in which Sony Music Publishing plays an instrumental role.
It’s something of which Sony Music Publishing’s UK Co-Managing Directors, David Ventura and Tim Major, are understandably proud, and something they see as a strong USP when trying to sign songwriters.
Evidence of ‘One Sony’ at work in the UK in the past 18 months has included the soundtrack to the video game HyperBrawl Tournament.
Written and created by celebrated British producer, Steve Levine, the OST is published by Sony Music Publishing and commercially released by Sony Music’s Masterworks. Indeed, Sony Music Publishing’s recent rebrand (from former name Sony/ ATV) is in itself an indication of a more integrated entertainment network at Sony – a family which now includes Sony Music Entertainment, Sony Music Publishing, Sony PlayStation and other creative divisions of the company.
For Sony’s songwriters, there’s plenty of good stuff being cooked up by a new-look Sony Music Publishing UK, where Ventura (President & Co-MD) and Major (Co-MD) took up the reins in May 2019, shortly after Jon Platt was named Chairman & CEO of Sony Music Publishing worldwide. Over the past 18 months, Ventura and Major have re-sculpted Sony Music Publishing UK’s key divisions, including A&R, where Sarah Lockhart now runs a team of 12 overseeing domestic talent signing and development.
This refresh of UK A&R has had a clear impact at Sony Music Publishing, where recent new signings include Emmy winner (and Grammy nominee) Labrinth, plus KOLIDESCOPES, the co-writers and coproducers of one of the hits of 2020 – Joel Corry x MNEK’s Head & Heart. Other recent signings with big futures include BBC Sound Of… 2021 winner Pa Salieu, plus Arlo Parks (with Young Turks) and Beabadoobee.
These writers join a stellar existing lineup of British talent including everyone from Ed Sheeran to Skepta, Sade, TMS, and Gorillaz, who recently re-upped with Sony Music Publishing UK for a new term. Elsewhere, Ventura and Major have re-jigged Sony’s successful Sync team, promoting Sarah Pickering, aka Pixie, to VP of Creative, and Chris Jones to VP of Licensing, with the duo acting as co-heads of the division.
And they’ve hired ex-Wixen specialist Naomi Asher to head a new UK neighbouring rights division. There’s also been something of an admin transformation for Sony-signed writers, led by Jon Platt and his team out of the US, including the launch of real-time inter-company processing for all foreign earnings, plus ‘Cash Out’ – which enables Sony songwriters to request some or all of their current royalty balance to be paid immediately.
Here, Ventura and Major reflect on their first full year in charge at Sony Music Publishing UK – and the (hopefully) oncein-a-lifetime lockdown circumstances they’ve had to navigate…
What does the rebrand to Sony Music Publishing UK reflect?
David Ventura: It’s the evolution of the company, and a new chapter. With 25 years since Sony ATV [was born], this marks the ongoing transformation of the business. Since Jon [Platt] has joined, we’ve taken an approach of a modern and energised music publisher with things like Cash Out, with live accounting, and [new] deals with DSPs. It is a perfect time for us to do this relaunch.
This is the affirmation of the legacy of Sony. You look at the history with the Walkman, the Discman; this is a creative entertainment company, with a solid foundation of technology. Today, we have Sony Music, Sony Music Publishing, Sony Pictures, Sony Entertainment, Sony PlayStation… any writers or artists signed to Sony will feel that, and will be able to benefit from the wider Sony ecosystem.
You’re talking about ‘One Sony’. How much does that affect you in reality running the publishing company?
Tim Major: We are very intentional about [One Sony] and making the most of this unique ecosystem. The name change brings us more in line with the other Sony brands; that becomes more recognisable.
The Hyperbrawl Tournament project is a good example of Sony Music and Sony Music Publishing coming together and really leveraging what we have for the benefit of our writers and for the benefit of the creators within the company.
Photo credit: London Lighthouse Studio
In The UK specifically, you’ve both been running things for over a year and a half. What are the headline changes you’ve been making?
DV: As soon as Jon told us he wanted us to take over in the UK, we decided to assess every single department. We employed Sarah Lockhart (pictured inset) to run A&R for the UK company and she’s been doing an incredible job.
She’s a natural leader and I love her background of running Rinse FM, because I also have a media/radio background; I used to work for NRJ in France for seven years. That hire [of Lockhart] was part of re-energising the company with the right culture and energy. Then we changed the sync team as well, promoting Sarah Pickering and Chris Jones to run creative and licensing [respectively]: Pixie is about ideas, meeting songwriters and pitching, and Chris leads the deal-making process.
Our sync numbers have been on target [in the past year] even though we’ve been hit by COVID, so that’s a pretty incredible achievement. And Tim hired Naomi Asher, which has been a real game-changer.
TM: Since Naomi came in we’ve already seen real growth in our neighbouring rights business, and an improvement to the service that we’re providing. She’s super knowledgeable; she set up IAFAR, she’s very dynamic and she’s been a real asset.
Where else has your focus been concentrated?
DV: We have really undertaken a revolution on the admin side, introducing Cash Out and live accounting. Previously, a writer would have waited 12 months or even more to see royalties from another territory due to delays.
Now, the second a penny hits an account in Bulgaria or Australia, a Sony Music Publishing songwriter will be [notified of] that money. It’s been an absolute game-changer, especially with the pandemic.
We’re also extremely involved with diversity; what happened in the US last year was a trigger for change and as leaders, not doing anything is unacceptable.
Sony raised a fund of $100 million, and [in the UK] we have been investing in and supporting a few associations, as well as launching our Diversity Committee. It’s a constant, ongoing process because we all have to be better and strive to reflect the world around us.
David mentions the disruption of the pandemic lockdown. How has Sony Music Publishing’s team responded to that?
TM: Amazingly. The day that the pandemic became a reality, like everyone, we all got a bit of a shock – I was definitely hoping that [lockdown] wasn’t going to be as long as it has been.
We were suddenly working from home, and the teams adapted so quickly. We didn’t have any hiccups in our accounting; we didn’t have any hiccups in our administration. The A&R team have been busier than ever. Business hasn’t dropped and it hasn’t stopped. We’re really proud of the team.
What changes did you want to make in A&R and how does that fit into the UK’s role in the wider world as an exporter of talent?
DV: Do you want the French person to answer that [laughs]? When I first joined [EMI Music Publishing in London from NRJ in France], I was intrigued by how the UK looked so much at the UK. I was this French guy who was used to being in France and surrounded by Spain, Italy or Germany.
“Today, I think the UK has opened up so much more to the world, and that fits with us at Sony Music Publishing because we look at A&R through a global lens.”
Today, I think the UK has opened up so much more to the world, and that fits with us at Sony Music Publishing because we look at A&R through a global lens.
Also, we want an A&R team which reflects every single genre, every single taste. We don’t just focus on what’s in front of us or just on one country. We have a lot of ambition for songwriters. For example, we signed KOLIDESCOPES at the end of last year, who co-wrote Head & Heart by Joel Corry & MNEK, and that song has reached Top 40 [radio] in the US, when originally some might not have believed that was possible.
How does Sony Music Publishing differentiate itself in the UK market from any other publisher?
TM: We always put the songwriter at the centre of everything we do – globally. We have what we feel is an incredible creative team in the UK, but we also have a global approach to A&R, with access to our creative teams around the world.
We’re ahead of the game on administration, and we have simply incredible sync teams around the world, who are really joined up with our A&R teams, meaning we’re very joined up on what we’re signing. And then you look at what we can bring as Sony, and the access that brings to these incredible entertainment brands.
“We’re ahead of the game on administration, and we have simply incredible sync teams around the world.”
DV: [Running a music publisher] is like a gigantic puzzle that you have to do every day. When you go to bed, it’s more or less made, and then when you wake up the next morning, the pieces are everywhere!
That is music publishing in a nutshell, and it means every day you’ve got so much to do. We have the energy that this job demands, and we always adapt and evolve with a focus of delivering the best opportunities to our songwriters and catalogues. We are also grateful to work with a dedicated team who cares deeply about songwriters and makes them the priority.
How has Jon Platt changed the company in your eyes?
TM: Jon’s brought a new energy and momentum. He’s got a real passion for a change in the culture of the company, which I think we’re achieving, but it’s a process that continues. I know we’ve talked about Cash Out and live accounting a lot, but that’s a great example of Jon’s ‘songwriters first’ philosophy – it was a big, big undertaking for a company this size.
A different leader to Jon might say, ‘Actually, let’s not do that; it’s going to cost too much money. It’s going to be a major administrative burden,’ but we did it, simply because it’s better for our songwriters.
DV: Jon’s been here 18 months and he’s changed this company inside out, all for the better. He’s an A&R person; that’s what he comes from, and you can see it in how he values songwriters, and how he values his relationships with songwriters. Jon knows that experience of not sleeping at night because of a deal you’re trying to renew, or a songwriter you love you’re trying to sign. That’s really refreshing to see.
One of the big headlines in music publishing this year has been the acquisition of catalogs by newer entrants in the market. What’s your observation of what’s going on as a major publisher?
DV: I’d be lying if I said it was something we didn’t talk about a lot. We see those headlines every day, just like everyone. It’s an extremely interesting time in the publishing business, where something that works for one songwriter might not work for someone else. That’s probably why some people decide to sell, while some people decide not to.
I remember saying this to someone who’s actually about to sell – I won’t say who – and he asked me, ‘What do you think?’ I told him, it’s really hard for me to advise you because it’s a very personal decision. Your songs are part of you, an extension of you – so maybe it’s more a conversation to have with your kids and your wife or partner than anyone else.
“It is the duty of publishers to make sure that evergreen songs remain part of culture.”
We can just reinforce what we do as a publisher: protecting our songwriters and championing their songs. I point to the work our sync team has been doing with catalogues such as Queen: Stop any mum or dad with a six year-old kid in the street today and ask them if they know a [Queen] song, most of the time the kid would say yes – not necessarily because they heard the song on the radio, but because that song has been ingrained in our popular culture, whether it’s in a streaming playlist, an advert, or a movie.
It is the duty of publishers to make sure that evergreen songs remain part of culture; we have a duty to make sure people are hearing those songs forever.
This article originally appeared in the Q1 2021 issue of MBW’s premium quarterly publication, Music Business UK (pictured), which is out now.
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