3Mar 2015

Paul Young Interview

Tony Coke:
While at the Music Tech and Features Summit recently in Nashville, I had the pleasure of befriending Mr. Paul Young, actually, Dr. Paul Young of the University of Southern California.
He teaches primarily about the business of music including music publishing, record companies, monetizing music creations and performances.
I jumped at the chance to ask him a few questions about the hardest thing for me to understand in the music industry, which turns out, is also one of the toughest subjects for his students, and that is licensing.

Music Licensing – There’s a lot to it

Paul Young:

You know, licensing comes after you understand the basics, and I think one of the things I run into teaching an intro class about the music industry is: I’m weeks into it right now, this is week six for example, and I’m still having to remind them that a song is not a recording. That kind of thing.

It seems obvious when you start off in week 1 and you say that, especially if they are a musician, but I have people that are, or not, musicians in the same room. I have the popular music performance person, I’ve got a business person, and then I’ve got a music industry person and they have different backgrounds, so some of them will get it, but when they first turn on the radio among their friends, or go to a party, and they say “Oh, I like that song”, and I often will have to say “Maybe you like that song, but maybe you like that recording”.

And so, I’ll have to go through, and then they’ll get me in the beginning when we’re talking about that. But one of the most fundamental things that they’ll get into is just that there are so many rights. You can get into name and likeness rights, you can get into video, and those kinds of areas. And video itself could be separate from the recording, separate from the song.

And so just getting to understand what these properties are, that are actually separate. Once you understand that they are separate and what they are, there’s entire businesses built upon the fact that, this is covered by this kind of copyright, this one’s covered by this kind of copyright, and this one is maybe a publicity right, or privacy right, this one is a trademark right, and those kinds of things.

So, just getting: Oh, now that I understand what that property is, now i get that a music publisher really isn’t a sheet music company, it’s a song exploitation business, it’s how do i get that song placed in any way i can.
And that song is not a recording, so it has it’s own path. So the recording has it’s own path with record labels. Or if I sync, it could be either one of them. Am I synchronizing my recording, or am I synchronizing my song, do I have both those rights? Or are they separate?
The song itself could have cowriters, then copublishers, that are separate from the record company.

When somebody comes up, especially since many of my students are coming up in electronic dance music, and they see someone that is performing as that kind of an artist, it’s even harder for them to really understand the difference because the creation process
wasn’t separate like it was when there was an, Irving Berlin wrote the song and Frank Sinatra recorded it, that kind of thing. That’s simpler to understand, you know.

If you don’t get those fundamental differences of the properties then you can’t get to the next level of how do I market this, which is not that, or I want to market this, but I can’t, because this thing’s in it, that’s not mine.

Tony Coke:
If you don’t yet know or understand each avenue of licensing, you’re not alone.
It’s a system that was created early last century, before most forms of media we use today were even imagined.
There is good news though, organizations are working to simplify and unify licensing in the coming years that should make things much easier for everyone involved.

Paul Young is also an accomplished trombonist.
Photo courtesy of

Marketing is the what artists need to learn most

Next, I asked what the most important subject is that artists need to educate themselves about in the music industry.

Paul Young:

Marketing. Since I came from a record business background, although I wasn’t the marketing guy myself, as I mentioned, I was more of a licensing guy, Marketing is the one thing that I think survives before and after the digital era. It’s done differently, but it is the keys to whether or not your going to actually get above the noise floor.

Because now that the barrier to entry is down, so many people think that is a great thing.
If you are starting off, it does feel like a great thing.
Because now i don’t have to be a package deal that is ready for a record company. I have so many other avenues. That avenue is still there, but that’s for a specific purpose of mainstreaming, a specific goal, and that’s different than I just want to make a living on this, or I have my own way that I want to do it, or I want to do my own thing and either go regional, or go into a specialization or cross over into business products.
Marketing is the one thing, if I were just to chose the word, I would say hasn’t really changed, it’s what’s most necessary.

So whether I’m going through social media, whether I’m hiring an independent marketing company, or whether I’m going to the tried and true record label to get what they do out of that in exchange for giving up my recording, I take money, but it’s not just the money to make a recording, five to ten times the value of that should be what are you going to do to raise my profile in a way that I can’t raise for myself?

That has never really changed, just the methods have become fragmented of how you do it.
So, what is it that you are marketing as your product, how do you intent to do it?
And I think a lot of people feel that if I can then just raise my profile, then the riches will spill upon me, but that’s really speculative and in most other businesses, that’s not a business plan. To say, if I go ahead and gain a lot of attention here, somehow money will just fall upon me. Most people will not invest in that. No, I need to know what your strategy is.
So, still being able to have a marketing strategy of this is what I want out of what I do.
So I don’t just make free music or mix tapes, or sell this at my shows, what is the end game of what I’m trying to accomplish?

If I want eyes on my product, if I make free videos on YouTube as a cover band, then I might get 10,000 to 10,000,000 views on that, what am I doing?
I could have actually lost an opportunity if I don’t know why I did that.
So what is it that you hope to get out of this before you necessarily start making moves towards something, otherwise it’s kind of getting in your car and driving and not knowing where you’re going. First I know where I want to be.

Then, it’s almost like a war plan. I know I want this outcome, and I’m going to make this plan, and then at least since I know where I want to be, I’ll adjust for the realities when my boots hit the ground on this, for that didn’t go well, or that did go well.
Everytime it didn’t go well is an opportunity to learn something instead of saying “Jeez maybe I’m not cut out for this.” A lot of people get beat up when they hear all of the no’s, or “that’s not working out”, “I don’t agree with your vision”, or “you need to retool that”. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong.

Overtime I’ve ever heard no, or my students say, “What should I do? I got a really bad kind of review, or I got checked out by an A&R person, and once they put it to the company, it was a resounding, defeating feeling”, kind of a thing. You learn something from that. Do you want to take that advice? Do you agree with what they are doing? Or do you want to do something different about it?

Tony Coke:
This totally hit home with me.
My band Scary Cherry and the Bang Bangs, when we released our last album, we thought, we’ll put it on iTunes, hire a PR firm, go on tour, and get tons of album sales.
But we really didn’t have a marketing plan of our own in place.

If a song is on iTunes and no one listens, does it really make a sound?

Paul Young:

Making it available doesn’t mean anybody knows it’s there.
We were just at this convention together, you and I, we were just hearing, on Spotify, with the millions of tracks there, about 50% of them have never had a single play.
So just making it available is not enough. What am I going to do to differentiate myself and draw traffic to what it is I want people to see?

In the record business, it’s always been, why do I go to a record company?
I want marketing first, an advance to make a certain kind of record I couldn’t make on my own, and a lot of people can make a record on your own, but do I want that sound? Do I want to work with that kind of producer? do I want a studio environment like this? Do I want sidemen or featured artists? These are professionals along the way and they want to be paid.
So I’m there for marketing, advance, and distrubution.

You could say, I don’t need them for distribution because I can get to iTunes and Spotify through so many other avenues, or just put it out free for myself, and that kind of thing, or on a mixtape site, or i’ll see the torrent myself. That is distribution, but why did you do it?

It could be yet more of the endless supply of things that are, that aren’t actually seen. So distribution would be strategically placed to some goal. That may be money and it might be that that leads to my concerts or something like that. Those three basics, we’re still solving the same questions.

“Let me quote my USC colleague, Prof. Mark Goldstein, when I say ‘The essential question hasn’t changed: {added by Paul Young after interview} How do I create it, market it, distribute it, monetize it.”
In record company world it’s still about, I’m going to them for the advance, distribution and marketing. And if I don’t want a record label, then how am I going to solve those problems, because now, I am a record label and I’m having to do that job.
Now I’m a company of one, you know, doing the same mission.
Do I have all of the skill sets to replace that? Are the tools that great that I can replace teams and staffs that do that?

If you can and you want to, that’s available to you. You might have a difference in scale of where you go.
So, it’s just a matter of what kind of scale do I want, what’s my objective, where am I trying to go.

Tony Coke:

So as a musician, it boils down to how do you create your music, how do you market it, how do you distribute it, and how do you monetize it?

Typically in the past record companies have provided all of this from the monetary advance to the distribution and the marketing, but if you want to do it on your own, these are problems you’re going to have to solve yourself.
Chances are, you’re going to have to start doing it all on your own, before a record company will even take notice.

We can all do it, we just have to arm ourselves with knowledge and think about what it is we really want, and have a plan to get there.

Special thanks to my guest Dr. Paul Young of the University of Southern California, my name is Tony Coke of Bands Rising.