by Tabassum Siddiqui
CMRRA is examining the future in 2022. With change as a constant in our world right now, we examine the future opportunities in music publishing. We’re asking leaders in the music publishing space what is next. What changes are happening at their companies right now? What are their predictions? Is there a song that soundtracks the future? Can we keep up?
It’s perhaps no surprise Toronto-based boutique publisher CYMBA’s name is actually an acronym for Crushing Your Music Business Apathy. Even a few minutes into a conversation with its founder and president Vince Degiorgio gives one the sense that this music-business veteran is anything but apathetic.
Over the course of his career spanning four decades, Degiorgio has worn numerous hats in the music industry — going from retail to becoming a well-known club DJ, label owner, hitmaking songwriter and producer, A&R executive, and now, publisher.
“I grew up in a household where a bad record was never played,” Degiorgio recalls of how he first became enamoured with music.
“I started out in the disco world and have been involved in the rhythmic side of the music industry for about 40 years. I always maintained being a songwriter at the same time, and I ended up parlaying that into being a pretty successful writer. And now I’m in the publishing world because I want people to surpass my journey — that’s always been my goal.”
Degiorgio started his own company, Chapter 2 Productions — which also encompasses CYMBA — in 1990. The publisher currently holds over 4,000 Canadian copyrights, with 20-plus writers (including Davor Vulama, Anwar McDonald, Barbra Lica and more), and 20 Canadian artists (including Monowhales, Shred Kelly and Matt Dusk among its notable clients) with a growing roster of international artists on its roster including American, Kelsie Watts.
But Degiorgio’s road to becoming a publisher really began with the foundation that underlies all music publishing: great songwriting.
While releasing dance-music singles in the mid-1980s through his own label, Power Records, Degiorgio began writing and producing songs himself, including several that became big hits.
“I’ve been very lucky as a songwriter to have different points in my career where I wrote or co-wrote something that was life-changing,” Degiorgio says. “From the get-go, I became very interested in the international market, because in 1983, I co-wrote a song for my record label called ‘My Forbidden Lover’ by [Toronto band] Tapps – a dance record made for 800 bucks.
“When we couldn’t get ‘My Forbidden Lover’ on the radio in Canada, a label in the Netherlands called us. And it actually went to number two on the Dutch dance charts. So I realized that there was a whole world out there — ironically, every one of the big hits I ever had as a writer have all been bigger hits outside of Canada,” he adds. “We control the master and the publishing on that song. And the subsequent follow-up from Tapps ended up doing equally well.”
Degiorgio scored another win with producing Toronto singer Eria Fachin’s 1988 single “Savin’ Myself,” written by David Lodge. The track became an anthem in gay clubs, charted on the Billboard Hot 100, and was even featured in the beloved British TV series Coronation Street.
Flash-forward a decade and Degiorgio found himself in New York as the vice-president of international A&R for RCA Records, signing a then little-known boy band called *NSYNC.
“I collaborated with them on the song ‘Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,’ which has paid for Christmas for 25 years,” Degiorgio says with a laugh.
But even while at the pinnacle of the major-label world, Degiorgio still wanted to keep a hand in songwriting, and ended up collaborating with Toronto friends who had formed the electronic dance act Love Inc., co-writing their popular 1998 track “You’re a Superstar.”
“It was a big hit in Canada, the U.K., and beyond. It was actually a hit in the U.K. two years after it was released in Canada, which just goes to show the power of a good song,” Degiorgio notes.
By the time he left RCA in 2001, in pondering his next steps, Degiorgio realized all his years as a songwriter and industry veteran segued perfectly into the publishing realm.
“At a certain point, I thought about what I wanted to do next, because I’ve honestly done all I aspired to as a writer, after my success with Caro Emerald. Today, I only want to write with my heroes and my dearest, closest friends. So I’ve moved into becoming a full-time publisher — and my job as a publisher is to try and take all of these insane journeys that I’ve had and turn them into a clear roadways for my team.”
Figuring out what sort of publishing company he wanted CYMBA to be came with its own twists and turns, Degiorgio points out.
“CYMBA’s journey to try and build our roster went through so many different iterations. And now we work with bands like the Juno Award-winning group Monowhales. I met them in Germany, and immediately said, ‘This is a golden opportunity here. How is nobody hearing this?’ And then of course this year they won Breakthrough Group of the Year at the Junos,” he says.
“And the other journey CYMBA took as a publishing company was pitching pop songs to the export market. We’ve had so many cuts in Japan and Taiwan. We were one of the first publishers from Canada to go to Korea and meet people.”
Current CYMBA artists finding success in the Asian market are Halifax jazz guitarist Sam Wilson and Fredericton chamber-pop duo Pallmer, who first charmed Degiorgio with a small but creative marketing ploy: handing him a matchbox with a slip of paper inside featuring a code to listen to their music online.
“I’m working with the jukebox of my own lifetime, but I’m also trying to create the next generation of jukebox fillers with the new artists that I work with,” Degiorgio says.
In addition to pitching songs and artists to the international market, another ace up CYMBA’s sleeve was their early enthusiasm for songwriting camps — 20 years before such sessions became commonplace in the industry — something that came directly from Degiorgio’s longstanding experience with collaborative songwriting.
While drawing on his own background to ensure CYMBA’s writers and artists have similarly fruitful careers, Degiorgio is mindful to look towards the future and not just the past.
“The challenges we have today is that the volume of music that is out there almost supersedes what is really, really good,” he says. “So what I need my writers and artists to do is excel in a way that leaves no choice. But we are not a ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’ publishing company. If I love you and I believe in what you’re doing, I’m going to find room for you.”
Degiorgio admits he’s not one to focus too heavily on the latest tech, whether it’s NFTs or new audio platforms, but recognizes that publishers need to keep up with how technology-driven the entire music industry has become.
“When it comes to our business, data is the zipper on the wallet for all publishers. But I don’t want data to be our conscience, either. So it’s a really delicate dance,” he says.
“I think that the data-driven things show their worth if you can actually understand the process. You have to be ready to educate yourself at a moment’s notice.”
He notes his work over the years as a board and committee member for several organizations, including the Songwriters’ Association of Canada, the Juno Awards and the Grammy Awards, has been a key part of staying connected to fellow publishers and industry trends.
“Being a board member of Music Publishers Canada is a real thrill, and I was also chair of the board for six years. Given everything I’ve done in my career, it’s important for me to give back and collaborate with peers in the industry.”
Degiorgio also credits CMRRA as a vital partner in that ongoing collaboration within the Canadian music-publishing realm.
“Whenever I have any sort of issue, I never speak to just one person at CMRRA. With CMRRA, I really feel like I’m part of a wider community. The work that they’ve done on the back end of the matching tool and helping members learn how to use it properly is just one example,” he says.
“It’s really amazing to work with their team, because when your questions get answered, you have the opportunity to give good news to people. And sending a positive message out as a publisher reflects on us all — we just want to be poised to win, and CMRRA really helps us do that.”
Even amid the myriad challenges facing publishers today, Degiorgio is optimistic about the future of music publishing as he continues to find inspiration in the power of an exceptional song.
“I think that everything I’ve done in my career has led to connecting the dots as a publisher,” he reflects. “You know, the funny part of it all is that now, I am my own publisher. When I decided it was time for me to take a different path and be purely independent, the one thing I wanted to do is to always be surrounded by what inspired me. As a disco kid of the ’70s, I now have several songs I loved back then in my catalogue. One of the mentors I drove nuts when I was 17, I’m now his publisher.
Cymba’s international sub publishing arm, Intercym represents numerous catalogues such as Edition Bjorlund from Sweden, Elements Music from Finland as well as Musigamy from France amongst many others.
“Another mentor who took me aside when I was 19 in New York, these people saw something in me that I can’t really express — I don’t quite know what it is. But they trusted me and now I represent some of my heroes. So that’s overwhelming for me — I really am like a kid in a candy store,” he continues.
“CYMBA was born as a place for opportunity — I always say my vision for the company is to replicate the golden era of a record store, and somehow someone will find exactly what they’re looking for.”
When asked what song that comes to mind when he thinks about where publishing is headed, Degiorgio mentions a classic that’s been a lifelong favourite.
“The original version of ‘The Look of Love’ by Dusty Springfield is as perfect a pop song as you could ever write, and the ABC version hit with the same title is like the second chapter of my career from fan to publisher,” he says. “I’m still looking for ‘The Look of Love’ version 3.0, and I think I found that with ‘CTRL^^^’ by Monowhales, and ‘Let Go’ by Rachel Cousins.
“‘History Repeating’ is not just a great song by the Propellerheads — it’s my ambition as a publisher. It’s a joy to get to do what I love to do.”
To learn more about CYMBA, visit their website at cymbamusic.com.