by Tabassum Siddiqui
As the world’s largest music publisher, Sony Music Publishing represents some of the world’s best songwriters and catalogues, from The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones to contemporary hitmakers like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Olivia Rodrigo, Jay-Z and Ed Sheeran. Despite their powerful presence in the music publishing space, even they were thrown a loop by the pandemic but responded by doubling down on what they do best: maximizing opportunities for their songwriters.
With a network of 38 offices across the globe, and representing roughly 5 million songs across its catalogues, Sony offers the complete range of publishing services, including synchronization, music supervision and licensing. They work in partnership with CMRRA for their collective licensing, ensuring their songwriters are being compensated for all the uses of their music.
Mishelle Pack, Creative Manager, A&R/Synch, is based in Sony’s Toronto office and works directly with their songwriter roster to create opportunities including arranging collaborations and landing those coveted song placements in advertising, TV and film. It’s a unique role that combines the best of A&R’s discovery capacity with synch licensing’s creative and advocacy functions.
Pack, with her background as a DJ, got her start at Sony when her former teacher and mentor David Quilico (Vice President, Creative) brought her on as an A&R intern. She says that when faced with the challenges posed by the pandemic, Sony Publishing’s Canadian team kept their sights firmly focused on the ways they could best support their roster of songwriters, producers and artists, which includes JUNO winners like Lights, Billy Talent, Tawgs Salter, Fefe Dobson, Pitt Tha Kid and plenty of emerging talents, including Ari Hicks, Jaiden Lewis, Forest Blakk (whose music was recently placed in an commercial for Air Canada) and recent signing Valley.
“As the pandemic was hitting and we were all trying to navigate how we work in this environment, we were looking at how to keep things moving for writers and keep creating opportunities – what does collaborating with writers in different parts of the world at home in lockdown look like, for example, especially songwriters who are artists used to being on the road and touring?” Pack says.
“I feel really grateful to be working with this company – there’s a real focus on delivering the best for our songwriters globally and putting everything they do at the forefront. It’s a relentless drive, and we’re willing to tweak and pivot and make changes as necessary on how we create opportunities.”
During the pandemic, Sony opened a new office space in Toronto’s Liberty Village, which the company envisions will become a “creative hub,” with studios for its songwriters and producers, and potential to collaborate with partners like Apple and Spotify, who also have offices nearby.
The last two years presented new opportunities for Sony’s classic catalogue as well:
“Throughout the pandemic, advertising clients were really trying to connect more with customers,” Pack explains. “The best way to do that is through music. A lot of evergreen tracks were being licensed because they were familiar and comfortable. At the same time, you have an explosion in gaming, because everyone’s at home. Games tend to license newer songs and artists, and we work very closely with video game company Ubisoft (makers of the Just Dance, Far Cry and Watch Dogs franchises) who are based in Montreal. With video games you can often see in-game licenses morph into online trailers and all sorts of different promotional opportunities and partnerships for artists.”
While licensing songs for film and television has become an integral part of any music publisher’s work, the fast-moving digital realm presents brand-new possibilities. CMRRA finalized a licensing deal with TikTok during the pandemic, an acknowledgement of the huge audience that was discovering and interacting with music on the platform, and a recognition of the compensation due to music publishers and songwriters.
“Web3, NFTs, things like that are really interesting spaces,” Pack says. “I think that anytime there are new advances in technology and new platforms that launch, there’s an opportunity for additional revenues for songwriters. We see that with TikTok, for example, which on the A&R side was an excellent tool for discovering talent and we now have license agreements with them so when songs go viral on TikTok, or when people are creating videos and using our songs behind them to create those moments, our writers get paid,” she explains.
“With every new platform, there’s an opportunity to monetize it, to add an additional revenue stream – so the royalty payments for songwriters are expanding and evolving. While at one time it may have been ‘here’s your mechanicals; here’s your airplay’ – now, there are multiple revenue sources. I think these all have the potential to lead to opportunities.”
As the Canadian arm of Sony Music Publishing, the team (which also includes Director of Administration, Janet Baker and Synch Manager, Jen Mulligan) work closely with CMRRA to ensure their clients receive the royalties they’re owed. “Our president, Gary Furniss, has been very involved with CMRRA,” Pack says. “As our partner in terms of collecting mechanicals, it’s an incredibly important core function and as a leading publisher, we value their partnership.”
Sony’s dedication to supporting its talent goes beyond the day-to-day work of revenue generation — advocacy and innovation on behalf of inclusivity, wellness, and songwriters’ rights has also become a key part of the company’s outlook. In January, they launched the Songwriter Assistance wellness program, which offers free, confidential 24/7 counselling and mental health supports to its clients.
“Mental wellness has been something that has been very important to our CEO, Jon Platt. Being an employee of this company, seeing how important working on behalf of our songwriters is to him and changing the culture within our company with a focus on creating an equitable and transparent kind of organization has been really incredible,” Pack says. “There certainly was a need, coming out of the pandemic, to really focus on mental health and wellness for our teams and songwriters.”
Pack herself is helping to create change through volunteering as a mentor with the Women in the Studio initiative from Music Publishers Canada, which aims to support the next generation of songwriters and producers through networking and development opportunities.
“There’s a deep desire to mentor, provide training and build a community of underrepresented people in the industry,” Pack says. “It’s pretty tailored to what each producer needs, in terms of helping them get to the next level of their career. It’s generally a small cohort, usually about eight to 10 people, of womxn and people who identify as nonbinary or trans or gender nonconforming. It’s creating opportunities in traditionally male spaces. Working with the program is one of the highlights of my year. It’s great that there are initiatives like this for creators interested in exploring that side of themselves in a safe and inclusive space.”
As they stay hopeful for a post-pandemic future that includes more touring and in-person songwriter sessions, Sony Publishing’s Canadian team continue to scout new talent, tap into Sony’s deep global network and build new relationships that will ensure their songwriters’ work is heard – and that they get paid fairly for it.
“At its core, we’re really about people and music and finding songs. The thing that always drew me to publishing is that you’re really at the epicentre of an entire industry – without a great song, nothing else happens. We’re here because of our songwriters – that’s something we never lose sight of,” Pack says.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Pack turns to one of Sony Music Publishing Canada’s shining stars when selecting a song to soundtrack the bright future she envisions for music publishing in the years ahead.
“Especially coming out of a very challenging time in terms of the pandemic and how that impacted our creatives around the world, one of the songwriters we’re very pleased to represent is Lights,” Pack says, noting the artist has a new album, PEP, releasing on April 1. “She has a song called ‘Up We Go,’ [released in 2014 on her album Little Machines] and it feels like the perfect theme for the future.”
To learn more about Sony Music Publishing’s Songwriter Assistance program, visit sonymusicpub.com/en/songwriters-forward.
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?
Thinking about becoming a client of CMRRA? Already a client but you have questions? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll get you the answers you need.