Sam Kling serves as Senior Vice President, Creative Operations for SESAC Holdings, Inc., where he oversees the company’s growth strategies for artists affiliations, music publishers and new business opportunities within the creative community. Kling also manages the Creative Services team in London, New York, Nashville and Los Angeles, where he resides.
Since joining SESAC in 2014, Kling has installed an innovative client services structure as well as elevated the company’s affiliate roster by collaborating with some of the industry’s most significant artists, music publishers and managers. He has led the department’s strategic effort to secure songwriters and composer affiliations such as Green Day, Zac Brown Band, Mariah Carey, Randy Newman, Kings of Leon, Robin Thicke, Rosanne Cash, and many more.
On a personal note, you came to SESAC having worked years for BMG Music Publishing and boutique publishing company peermusic. How different have you found the two experiences?
Before BMG I had a management company. I worked with artists, producers, writers, DJ’s, and mixers. That’s how I learned the value of and the business surrounding music publishing. So when I went to BMG – which was really my first job – it was an eye-opening experience. First of all, I took that job full well knowing the company would be sold and that I may or may not have a future with the buyer. By taking that risk, my experience there really taught me that holding on to an entrepreneurial mindset in a big firm can lead to fantastic opportunity.
At BMG, well, FirstCom Music really, is where I cut my teeth in synchronization. But, I was also able to play a role in the creation of Gnarls Barkley’s smash hit “Crazy.” When I fully transitioned into BMG, getting to work with the likes of Chris Martin, Adam Levine, Pete Townshend, Robert Smith, and R Kelly was mindbogglingly cool.
While I was at peermusic, the company was celebrating its 85th birthday (they’ve now had their 90th). Their long-term approach to publishing manifests itself in the writers and songs they have. Be it the Carter Family, Hoagy Carmichael, Augustine Lara, David Foster, or Donovan, peer copyrights are timeless. Even many of the hits we had while I was there – like “Firework” (Ester Dean) or “Single Ladies” (Tricky Stewart) were pretty much instant evergreens. Those songs will be well known for decades to come.
You possess a strong background in TV and film music. Why are we seeing such a new gold rush in those platforms for writers today?
Examining music publishing’s income sources, synchronization is really the only one where there is a fair market value negotiation on a song by song basis. Sync is also the only licensing platform where a songwriter gets to make a decision based on his/or hers perceived value of the opportunity. That’s a very potent tool for a songwriter.
Sync has been lucrative for a long time. Some writers only care about the money whereas others deeply consider how their art dovetails with the scene and plot. Others are simply looking for the opportunity to have their music heard. Irrespective of the writer’s approach, there’s a formidable sync marketplace and for songwriters with the right music, it can be powerful.
SESAC in recent years has acquired a number of music related companies such as Rumblefish, Harry Fox Agency, and CCLI. How can writers take advantage of these various platforms, and not necessarily be signed to SESAC?
Rumblefish, HFA and CCLI are ongoing businesses that address different needs in the licensing marketplace; so, it’s not essential to be a SESAC writer to take advantage of the other offerings. We’re happy to facilitate introductions for songwriters or publishers interested in working with one or more of SESAC’s companies as appropriate.
SESAC has long prided itself on keeping a more exclusive roster of writers. Is that still the case?
It is absolutely still the case. By design, we keep our roster small and can have a sustained close relationship with our writers. We’ve got a great team of creative executives affiliating songwriters and composers about whom they’re passionate. It’s our job to know and interact with our writers, their managers, lawyers, and business managers. We also like to make sure that there is the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship… beyond distributing performance royalties, we like to be able to augment a writer’s team to the extent it’s welcomed.
SESAC has signed on a number of highprofile artist-writers recently, such as Mariah Carey and Adele. What is the PRO doing to attract more superstars like them?
High-profile songwriters and their teams know that we’re easy to deal with, have deep expertise and that their clients will be in excellent hands. They also see SESAC as a forward-looking company that is uniquely positioned to value their creative works. We have made substantial investments in technology and as the county’s first music rights organization, we are able to add value.
Erika Ender is one of the SESAC writers of the biggest song of the year, “Despacito.” Why do you think this song caught on the way it did and what do you think it will do for her career?
I don’t want to Monday morning quarterback why “Despacito” has been so successful other than to say there is a long and rich history of great Latin songwriters and music having tremendous success in this country, Erika and this song included. I’m very happy for her. She’s been with SESAC for a long time and is one of the hardest working songwriters we’re fortunate to represent. I think the song’s success is confirmation of her tenacity and talent. It will exponentially expand the types of opportunities available to her.
Our good friends over at the A&R Worldwide Conference recently named SESAC Performance Rights Org. of the Year. It’s so rare that PROs get acknowledged and in a room full of international executives. What were your thoughts in accepting the Award?
Being acknowledged as a PRO in that room was incredibly special. Sir Lucian Grainge [Chairman of Universal Music Group] was in that room. So were Monte Lipman and Avery Lipman [Republic Records], and many other power players. Having [A&R Worldwide Founder] Sat Bisla put us on that stage was a terrific honor and testament to our songwriters and publisher as well as the SESAC team. The award itself is on proud display in our LA office boardroom.