By Jonathan Dekel
There is no doubt that the current pandemic has forced the majority of the workforce to shift how they do business, but for Natalie Madaj, Warner Chappell’s Vice President, Digital Licensing, North America, little has changed. “I have been extremely lucky to work remotely fairly often during my time with Warner Chappell,” Madaj says, “so I’m pretty used to it.”
The only East Coast member of the Digital team, Madaj, who currently calls Washington D.C. home, spends the majority of her day communicating with her compatriots in London, UK and America’s West Coast, making sure they stay atop the constantly evolving licensing and technological landscape.
“Generally in digital, we’re focused on keeping an eye on new features and technology,” she explains. “We’re working to build partnerships and ensure that digital service providers are getting the appropriate rights up front so [a lot of my time is spent] making sure that we’re reaching out to them and helping guide how they’re thinking about licensing music.”
As the head of Digital Licensing for North America, Madaj is at the forefront of a new era, working with a young, diverse team to not only work with new platforms but also with the newly established Music Licensing Collective (MLC) appointed by the United States government, helping to update and shape this legal and musical frontier. Madaj, who holds a position on the subcommittee for the MLC, shares, “We’re considering how issuing voluntary licences for mechanical or reproduction rights for the U.S. is going to go moving forward.”
Madaj also had the opportunity to work with the Copyright Royalty Board. “It was fascinating because you got to see exactly how the rates get set for the majority of audio-only music services in the U.S.”
While the majority of her work is now in the digital space, Madaj’s admiration for music very much began with the physical. The eldest of five children, she grew up in a musical family where every member learned an instrument from grade one through high school graduation. “So, I love music,” she smiles. “But I’m not a performer.” Instead, she chose to pursue the music industry at USC and while attending a music law class, she found her raison d’être. “I really fell in love with the idea of working on contracts in the music space,” she laughs.
Naturally, law school soon followed and before long Madaj landed a legal fellowship at the National Music Publishers Association in D.C., where, for nearly five years she worked her way up to becoming Senior Legal Counsel, Business Affairs and Enforcement.
“I got to do a lot of anti-piracy work, but I really enjoyed working on licensing agreements where we’d identify a need within the music publishing industry and negotiate an opt-in model. I realized publishing was where I wanted to focus my efforts.”
She next took a job as Director of Business & Legal affairs at Global Music Rights, a budding LA-based start-up headed by music mogul Irving Azoff, offering an alternative to the traditional performing rights model. “It was super exciting,” she recalls of her time at GMR, where she worked on the rights of some of the biggest names in publishing, including Drake, Gershwin and Springsteen. “I had the opportunity to learn from a lot of really cool knowledgeable people in that space. And you know, it being a start-up, I got to dig into some really interesting projects.”
All of which made her the ideal candidate for Warner Chappell’s North American Digital Licensing division. “It’s the most exciting kind of licensing to me, allowing me to be at the forefront of the innovative ways that creators are looking to integrate music into their new products and/or services,” Madaj says.
Add to that a fresh, star-studded roster – “we recently added Lizzo,” she shares – and Madaj says she feels she’s in the perfect position to make a big impact on the industry while still shaping how it moves forward. “Being part of such a small team that generates so much revenue for the business has definitely been something that I’ve been proud of and happy to work on,” she explains.
Of course, being on the digital end comes with its own challenges. Madaj and team are working with a lot of metadata and reporting, given the volume of digital content that’s now readily available. “And then of course, failure of licensees to appropriately value music is a constant challenge,” she says. “But conversely, I’d say there’s some big opportunities like digital fitness classes, which are naturally very popular right now.”
All of which fits nicely into the inclusive mentality that has guided her from the moment she fell in love with music. Asked the value of a song, she states, “The value of a song is completely subjective and depends on the memories and emotions that that song conjures up for a particular listener. Hearing a certain song can do everything from transporting the listener back to a completely different time in place, to simply providing the necessary motivation to get a good workout in or provide the soundtrack to key life moments. I can’t wait to see how music will be used next.”
Natalie Madaj sits on CMRRA’s Canadian Publisher’s Committee.
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