by Jon Dekel
For the past decade, Mary Megan Peer, the newly minted third generation CEO of independent global publishing powerhouse peermusic, has been tracking a path laid out by her paternal grandfather, Ralph S Peer.
The elder Peer, known as the progenitor of popular folk songs, built an empire by mining for publishing gold where few thought to look: first in the 1920s with his recordings of southern music and the blues (Jimmie Davis, The Carter Family), then in subsequent decades with Latin (Pérez Prado, Consuelo Velázquez) and Rock and Roll (Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Buddy Holly). 90 plus years later, Mary Megan is echoing Ralph’s frontier-busting expeditions by bolstering peermusic’s reach with precinct investments in high-growth markets, including bold expansions into neighbouring rights and Asia.
Speaking over Zoom from her home in Amsterdam, Peer explains that such foresight can be attributed to the company’s agility. “We’re a global independent,” she says. “That means we’re not beholden to the financial market and we don’t have to continue to show our own growth rates. This has allowed us to be a little bit more strategic in the deals that we look at.”
Take, for example, the company’s recent acquisition of K-pop publisher Music Cube — a move which, seemingly overnight, led Korea to become peermusic’s third most profitable territory. When Peer recognized the Anglo markets were becoming overburdened, she shifted the company’s interest to a region that was showing promise but where there was a lot less competition for deals. “Since we have a global network of offices in 31 countries, we are able to deploy capital where we’re seeing value, as long as it’s going to benefit other companies in the network,” she explains. “This kind of thinking was something that my grandfather actually founded the company with. We’ve taken that ethos around the world and it continues today.”
In that sense, Peer sees parallels of her grandfather’s pioneering work in Latin America in the company’s success with the Columbian-Canadian artist Lido Pimienta. “[My grandfather] was certainly one of the first publishers to look at territories outside of the US,” she explains. “When he was [still working A&R for Victor Talking Machine Company], he was sent to record music in Mexico City, and that was the source of some of our best known Mexican standard songs “Besame Mucho” and “Granada.” We ended up taking those songs around the world. That still happens today with an artist like Lido who sings in Spanish. We’re one of the only publishers who would be able to work with her in a global sense, so we can work her music in Canada and the United States — we have co-writes happening in Miami and LA — but also all the Latin markets and we’re looking into positioning her in Europe as well. ”
This past December, Peer succeeded her father, Ralph Peer II, as Chief Executive Officer, becoming peermusic’s fourth CEO and second female to run the company (her grandmother Monique I. Peer took over from her husband following his death in 1960). While, from the outside, this passing of the baton may have seemed preordained, according to Peer, the reality was not always so set in stone.
Growing up, she recalls her father regularly wondering if any of his children would even be interested in running the family business. As a result, peermusic’s catalogue would constantly soundtrack their daily lives. “My father took great pride in his job,” she says. “I remember playing a lot of Taco in the car because we had the “Put It on the Ritz” master.” Ultimately, though, it was another catalogue classic that made a lasting impression. “Particularly growing up, “You Are My Sunshine” had a big effect,” she recalls. “I understood it as an important copyright for us, but I came to appreciate how broad of a cultural touchstone it is around the world. There’s probably been over 1000 covers of that song and it still maintains its importance in the sync market. Even in places like China and Eastern Europe, where a lot of other Western music doesn’t travel extensively, there is an association with that song, feeling homey and putting an importance on family.”
Ultimately, it was this interest in the impact of intellectual property that led Peer to take a job in investment banking, focusing on media and the entertainment industry, after graduating with an MBA from Columbia Business School. But it was only when the economic crisis put the sector in a standstill, that she finally decided to embrace her birthright.
Due to her experience with deal acquisitions, Peer began her tenure at the company working with peermusic’s CFO on business development, catalogue growth and generally “trying to better understand the fundamentals on the publishing side.”
“I was very interested in how the catalogue grew over time,” she explains. “Understanding how long-standing relationships are nurtured, like the ones we have with Donovan or David Foster or The Tragically Hip, was important to me. And also understanding just how the company was growing.”
After two years in business development, Peer took on management roles in Argentina and Asia, learning the “nuts and bolts” of working in such a global company. It was at the latter post, as President of Asia Pacific & Strategic Markets, that Peer began to really make her mark, opening the company’s first offices in mainland China and taking notice of the coming K-Pop sensation. “Japan has always been a very strong music market but we started seeing significant revenue out of Korea,” she recalls. “At the time, we had a sub-publishing relationship with a large independent publisher [Music Cube] in Seoul.”
Looking at the numbers, Peer began investing in the company and by 2018, purchased the remaining share, adding 40,000 Korean copyrights and works to peermusic’s catalogue. Just as importantly, she folded Music Cube into peermusic’s worldwide network. “It is extremely important for our writers around the world, particularly our Swedish writers, to have direct access to that market,” she points out. “In fact, we recently took out an ad in Billboard congratulating our Swedish writers on having nine number one songs in Korea last year. I think that’s a powerful testament to our impact on that market.”
More recently, Peer has had her eye on another burgeoning market that many of the major labels have ignored: neighbouring rights. “We identified it as a growing space,” she says. “It complemented our business, and we could utilize our global network of offices to increase collections from developing neighbouring rights societies.” With this in mind, instead of building a division from the ground up, Peer felt it would be more pertinent to buy into the space, “to work with experts in the field and an established group of performer and master-owner clients.”
In October of 2020, peermusic acquired Premier Muzik, All Right Music and Global Master Rights, adding a neighbouring rights client roster of 300+ record labels and 2500+ performers including Rihanna, Billie Eilish, Imagine Dragons, Metallica, Jacques Brel, Jean-Michel Jarre, Leonard Bernstein, Megan Thee Stallion, Finneas, Lizzo, Panic! At The Disco, and David Guetta. The move established peermusic as an instant powerbroker in the field, with clients from peermusic neighbouring rights represented in 23% of 2020’s Year-End Top 100 songs in the US.
As for the future, Peer is already seeking the next growth market while trying to navigate the evolving world of global publishing in the digital age. “The market is constantly changing,” she explains. “In terms of signing writers, that has become increasingly difficult because there are more songs being published and less placement opportunities. Meanwhile, the market for catalogue acquisition, which used to be fairly niche, has swung dramatically. I’d say we’re on the extreme high side right now. Clearly, there’s a lot of money being spent in the area.”
That being said, Peer believes there is still a lot of value for a global company such as peermusic to invest and nurture talent; especially in a market such as Canada, where it has had offices since the 1940s. Led by Neville Quinlan, peermusic Canada’s Managing Director, they represent established and upcoming talent including Death From Above 1979, The Tragically Hip, Lido Pimienta, July Talk, and the OBGMs.
“Obviously, how things get signed and how things are worked have really changed over the years, and certainly over the last 20 years,” says Neville Quinlan. “We have the ability to work slowly and have patience with artists, start with a sync representation deal or a short-term administration, and then allow ourselves to grow with that writer as it happens. The result is we’re really willing to stick our necks out for new artists and for developing artists, and to spend that time — it could be four to five years until you really start seeing traction, especially in international markets. As a global independent company, we’re really able to go and take those steps towards developing that trust and that relationship.”
It’s also, Peer says, why peermusic has been a long-time member of CMRRA.
“As an independent publisher, we think it’s important to get involved and serve our local rights societies,” she explains. “The head of our peermusic Canada office, Neville Quinlan, serves as Chair of CMRRA’s Canadian Publishers Committee and joined the Board in 2002.”
“CMRRA is a leader in royalties and advocacy for music creators and music publishers in Canada. They continually look for ways to provide value, service and transparency for their membership.”
#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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