When Canadian Publishers Committee (CPC) member and Vancouver-based Nettwerk Music Group co-founder Mark Jowett reflects on his journey to music publishing, a single theme emerges: gratitude.
Thanks to an incredible business partnership formed in the early 80s with three friends, Jowett finds true joy walking into his office each day to work with some of the world’s most talented writers and artists.
“Honestly, I feel really lucky,” he said. “I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do.”
Jowett moved to Canada from South Africa when he was ten years old, eventually settling in Vancouver. He went on to study theatre and creative writing at the University of British Columbia and joined electronic band MOEV as a guitarist.
“I was playing lots of music at the time and living in an art gallery,” he recalled. “I felt a bit like an alien on campus with my dyed hair and big trench coat.”
MOEV went on to be signed by San Francisco-based record label Go! Records and Jowett and his bandmates moved to the Golden Gate City to record and release the album Zimmerkampf.
Eventually Go! Records went bankrupt, leaving the band to find another label and publisher for their work. Jowett and Terry McBride (MOEV’s manager at the time) returned to Canada determined to find another way to release their music.
“We took out a $5,000 bank loan so we could start Nettwerk and release our new music,” he said. “At the same time, we found Skinny Puppy and The Grapes of Wrath, so we decided to release them as well.”
That was 1984. Thirty-three years later, Jowett and his co-founders – Ric Arboit, Terry McBride, and Dan Fraser – still share one of the most enduring and envied business partnerships in Canada’s music industry.
“We argue sometimes, laugh a lot other times,” he said. “But overall it’s a healthy, vibrant relationship that helps steer the ship of Nettwerk.”
Nettwerk first specialized in electronic music and later became a powerful player in pop and rock in the late 80s and 90s, with clients including Coldplay, Sarah McLachlan, Dido and Barenaked Ladies.
They started out publishing the acts they signed to the label side of the business.
“We weren’t quite sure how it would be advantageous, but it was ultimately very important,” Jowett acknowledged. “As our acts started to get international interest, we leveraged our sub-publishing relationships to help us grow them visibly into other markets.”
Nettwerk began signing writers outside of the label and spent decades building an impressive publishing empire with more than 30,000 copyrights, including the entire Electronic Arts game soundtrack catalogue.
In a surprise move, the company sold eighty per cent of their catalogue to Kobalt in the summer of 2016.
“As we grew, we felt our relationships with our writers were suffering so we decided to sell part of our catalogue and put that money back into signing new writers and artists and servicing them very well.”
Today, Nettwerk is still very active on the publishing front, signing three to four artist/writers or producer/writers each year from all over the world, including the United States, Australia, and Europe.
“To a large degree we always will try to sign Canadian writers, but our approach is quite agnostic, we sign writers from anywhere if we can add value to their careers and help make them successful,” he said.
One of Jowett’s favourite parts of the job is setting up co-writes.
“It’s awesome setting up ideal co-writing situations because what comes out of that are some songs that are very meaningful for our writers’ careers so that’s something I really enjoy.”
Jowett also likes to keep on top of industry developments and serves on the board of the Canadian Music Publishers Association and the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra. He joined the CPC last year.
“I am proud to be a part of the great work CMRRA is doing to raise rates for writers and publishers in Canada,” he said. “It’s so crucial at this moment, especially the way music consumption has changed.”
According to Jowett, Canada’s streaming rates need to remain competitive with international territories.
“It’s important to understand that for companies that have labels and a publishing arm, what happens when the streaming rate so heavily favours the master is that companies just want to find artists,” he said.
“If the publishing rate is so much lower than the master rate, they would rather spend their money securing more masters because it’s less risky and potentially more profitable to be signing masters.”
Jowett points out that publishers will invest in more Canadian writers if streaming rates were higher.
“If streaming rates start to rise everywhere but Canada, publishers like us are not going to sign writers in Canada because we can’t afford to… period,” he said.
Jowett travels internationally three months a year to Nettwerk’s satellite offices in London, Hamburg, Los Angeles, New York, and Boston. He still finds time to practice playing the cello for an hour each day.
“I have been playing cello for about ten years,” he said. “Classical music is a whole other world and it’s been very, very inspiring. It’s opened up my musical palate in an infinite way.”
Playing in the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra helps Jowett reconnect to his love of playing music.
“It takes me out of the pure business where I have to focus on charts and contracts and percentages and mechanicals and I’m actually just playing for the joy of playing music,” he said.
In addition to being an orchestral cellist with the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra, Jowett is a published author of Tubers, a collection of nine short stories that take place in the subways of three major cities and has a new series of short stories to be published in the fall of 2018.