by Isabelle Speerin
Casting a forensic eye to his clients’ statements is one way that Wixen Music Publishing founder, Randall Wixen, sets himself apart in an increasingly competitive publishing industry. “Most publishers are just collecting and processing through automatic exchange of electronic files,” he explained. “We actually look for missing money and incorrect rates. We are very, very audit-oriented.”
Wixen’s trademark success can be tied back to a chance encounter with guitarist James Young from the rock band Styx when Wixen was just starting out in the music industry over forty years ago. Young introduced Wixen to his business manager who hired the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) economics graduate to review statements and do some hourly royalty work.
“One day they put a pile of cheques and statements on my desk from a new client named Tom Petty and asked me to check for anything unusual,” he recalled. “I picked up the first statement and went through the recording contract agreement and noted a $125,000 advance. On the second statement, there was also a $125,000 advance charged against earnings.” It turns out Petty had been incorrectly charged for the same advance on two consecutive statements. “When Tom heard about it – that this new kid the business manager just hired to look at statements discovered this error – he was extremely gracious because that was so much money for Tom back in those days,” he said. “He sent over an autographed copy of Damn the Torpedoes that said ‘Randall, count every cent! Love Tom.’” From that day on, Petty appreciated having Wixen around.
Four decades later, the late Tom Petty remains on Wixen Music Publishing’s client roster, along with another 2,000 songwriters and recording artists from all genres of popular music, including The Doors, Missy Elliott, Janis Joplin, De’Wayne Jackson, Dennis DeYoung and Styx, Andrew Bird, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Black Keys, Santana, Otis Redding, Three Days Grace, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
Their vote of confidence in Wixen speaks volumes about the high-quality administrative services, scrutiny, and negotiating power that comes with working with an independent, bespoke music publisher. Wixen notes that Tom Petty’s song I Won’t Back Down, which he co-wrote with Jeff Lynne and released in 1989, is a frontrunner when it comes to songs that have had a demonstrable impact on people’s lives. “I Won’t Back Down has given people a lot of courage to move forward in very difficult situations and it has been an internal anthem for a lot of people,” he said.
Fans still write letters to Petty’s estate, revealing deeply personal stories about how the song helped them fight fourth-stage cancer, wake up from a coma, survive the loss of a loved one, or remain resilient in dark times. While the song’s direct and powerful message resonates with so many people, Wixen acknowledges it’s sometimes a double-edged sword. “Unfortunately, the song has also been used without permission by people like Donald Trump as a campaign rallying song,” he said. “On the one hand, it has done a lot of positive things as a song and on the other hand, it requires constant vigilance as to who is using it and how.”
Wixen has built an exceptional team of 25 people at his US and UK companies who keep a watchful eye on where and how his clients’ songs are exploited. His team, most of which have been with the family-owned business for 10-15 years, know the catalogue intimately. “We have a fairly small number of songs that we handle, around 80,000 songs,” he explained. “We don’t just sign anything that walks in the door and that allows our team to actually know what you wrote, what it sounds like, make good suggestions and better understand client needs.”
Another advantage of being small and agile is that Wixen is not beholden to stockholders or investors and isn’t part of a conglomerate with a record company attached to it. “It allows us to be very aggressive in terms of going after infringers as we don’t have to worry about pissing off an internet service that some of the majors own stakes in,” he said. “We have far less conflict of interest and we’ve been able to go after mass infringers and get good settlements for our clients and police what’s going on where others might be conflicted in taking similar actions.”
Wixen is encouraged by the prospect of a very healthy music industry in terms of earnings growth in the near future due to the work of the Mechanical Licensing Collective and a likely positive result on the appeal of the Copyright Royalty Board ruling increasing songwriter rates for interactive streaming in the U.S. “I think that over the next five to seven years, you will probably see 8-15% compounded revenue growth to get up to where it should have been before digital services launched,” he said.
With that said, Wixen is concerned by the steady stream of songwriters selling publishing rights to their songs during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I feel so many of these writers are being taken advantage of by selling now to hedge funds and offshore investment vehicles, when their catalogues will be worth twice as much in five years,” he said.
While the pandemic has seen some industry disruption, it’s also given publishers like Wixen a chance to refresh the coffers. “A lot of the acts we have historically worked with with are heritage acts like The Beach Boys and Jefferson Airplane,” he said. “In addition to those classic acts, there are lots of amazing contemporary writers out there that we’d love to work with and we’d love the opportunity to prove to them how much more they could be earning and how much better their songs could be protected.
In addition to his music publishing career, Wixen has authored The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing, considered one of the best guides to modern music publishing around today. He has lectured at various universities, law schools, symposiums and for industry trade groups. He is a voting member (producers/engineers) of the recording academy (NARAS).
When not advocating for the rights of songwriters, Wixen is penning his second book, a memoir. “My sons keep telling me I have to get some of my music businessstories down on paper,” he laughed. “Like the time I got a collect call from prison inmate Charles Manson about the song Never Learn Not To Love and having Donald Trump yell at me on the phone because Neil Young didn’t want to play the grand opening of his Riverboat Casino.”
Wixen lives in California with his wife, Sharon Maroko Wixen, who is also one of four co-owners of the company.
#withIMPACT Music Publishers are the heart of our industry. In 2021, we’re highlighting eleven Music Publishers with impact. We’re also discussing songs. We acknowledge that there is not one measure that quantifies a song’s success, so, we’re discussing all the ways we can think of qualifies as impact – songs that started revolutions, launched movements, were the catalyst for change, started love stories or just plain inspired.
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