It’s clear to anyone who knows BMG Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs, Jeff Brabec, that his respect for songwriters is underpinned by a deep appreciation for creative talent.
A former artist and songwriter himself, Jeff has been drawn to music ever since he can remember. In high school he played in a rock and roll cover band with his twin brother, Todd.
When the twins went to study at New York University School of Law, they formed a band called Reunion, eventually signing a record deal with Audio Fidelity Records.
“We had one record come out right after we left law school,” he said. “It had good reviews but no sales.”
Freshly minted with law degrees, Jeff and Todd moved to Chicago to represent low income groups as legal services attorneys for the United States government.
“After two years we decided to move back to New York City because we were interested in the business and legal side of music,” he explained.
They both landed at the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) where Jeff provided membership and distribution advice for two years. His brother stayed on for 37 years, as executive vice president of membership.
“Working at a collective rights society like ASCAP or CMRRA is one of the best places to start off your career,” Jeff revealed. “It was a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone.”
After ASCAP, Jeff spent four years in private practice before moving to Los Angeles in the late 70s for a new role as the Director of Business Affairs at Interworld Music Group.
“My brother, interestingly enough, was transferred out to Los Angeles five days before I was so all of a sudden both twins went from New York to Los Angeles,” he said.
Jeff stayed at Interworld for four years before moving on to Arista Music, Welk Music Group and Polygram Music Group, which became one of the largest global entertainment companies at the time when Welk was acquired by Polygram.
He eventually landed at British independent music publisher, Chrysalis, which he called home for 18 years. Chrysalis was acquired by BMG in 2011 and Jeff transitioned into BMG’s Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs for North America.
“As you can see, I’ve been involved in a lot of sales of companies,” he laughed. “Somehow though, I’ve always managed to come through it pretty well.”
Established in 2008, BMG is now the world’s fourth largest music publisher representing over two and a half million songs.
“The thing about BMG is that even though we’re a very large company, we try to keep that indie kind of attitude, that we’re here to really represent the writers,” he explained.
The company boasts a catalogue that includes David Bowie, Blondie, Billy Idol, Kurt Cobain, Bruno Mars, John Legend, Roger Waters, ZZ Top, OutKast, Devo, Paul Anka, Steven Perry, Dan Wilson, Jethro Tull, Hal David, Jessie Reyez, Karl Wolf and Lindsay Ell.
Jeff’s primary role is to facilitate acquisitions of music publishing companies, catalogues, individual songs, and writer royalties, co-publishing, administration and subpublishing deals.
“I also get involved when one of our writers writes for a Broadway play or a motion picture or a television show because those negotiations are a bit more complex than your day-to-day,” he explained.
According to Jeff, BMG sets itself apart from competitors by cutting fair deals and being agile.
“We’ve got very few layers so we can move quickly which is really important in this industry,” he noted.
When asked how music publishing has changed over the last twenty years, he notes that music publishers face more challenges today simply because of the internet.
“I don’t think the actual role of a music publisher has changed that much, it’s just more challenging these days,” he said. “Infringements are out there constantly, new types of license structures, new media flying at you all the time, new terminology, new ways of distribution.”
Notwithstanding, Jeff is a huge fan of new technology.
“Technology allows people to consume more music,” he said. “It’s also given artists and writers an opportunity to put their music out there in a way they would not have had in the old days.”
“It’s controlling it and being able to make sure songwriters are being compensated which is the real problem right now.”
Fair compensation is one of many issues discussed around the table by Jeff and his fellow Canadian Publisher’s Committee (CPC) members. The CPC helps provide direction on advocacy, tariff and rate-setting activities, and acts as a voice for CMRRA’s music publisher clients.
“I’ve always respected CMRRA because they are truly there for the writers and music publishers,” he said.
In addition to his work at BMG, Jeff and Todd are the co-authors of Music, Money, and Success: The Insider’s Guide To Making Money in The Music Business.
“We just finished the eighth edition of our book that will be out in October,” he said. “We added about 100 new pages primarily related to new technology.”
Jeff is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music/Business Division where he teaches music publishing and licensing.
“Teaching is a highlight because I love dealing with young students who are about to start a career in the business side of music,” he said.
He is also a contributing editor to Entertainment Law & Finance magazine, co-author with Todd of the music publishing law chapter of The Essential Guide to Entertainment Law: Dealmaking/Intellectual Property, and has written articles on the music industry which have appeared in publications including the New York Law Journal, Advertising Age, Hollywood Reporter, and Entertainment and Sports Lawyer.
“I love to write about what’s happening in the music industry, especially on the licensing side because a lot of people are very confused when someone calls or emails them wanting to use their song,” he said.
Jeff has been awarded the Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music journalism and the Texas Star Award by the Entertainment and Sports Law Section of the State Bar of Texas for his outstanding contribution and achievement in the field of entertainment law.
by Isabelle Speerin