Execs Discuss Collaborative Chemistry, What Goes into Writing Great Songs, and Writer-Publisher Relations
The music industry, now more than ever, continues to be an evolving arena with genres, trends and radio formats increasingly blurring. The indomitable mark of digital technology is perhaps the primary reason for such rapid change. One thing that remains steadfast is executive influence; the ability to curate talent, identify what’s next, and to have an eye and ear open for potential hit songs and promising music creators.
Upon chatting with Warner/Chappell executives Katie Vinten, Ryan Press and Marc Wilson, we see why Jon Platt, President of Warner/Chappell, North America, speaks so highly of them and what they bring to the publishing organization.
“At Warner/Chappell our main mission is to put the songwriter first,” Platt states. “We do everything in our power for the songwriter to succeed. Katie Vinten, Ryan Press, and Marc Wilson, along with other members of our creative team embody that mission every single day. The results speak for themselves. It is an honor to mentor these young executives, and other talented members of our team. Music publishing’s future is in good hands!”
As VP of A&R, Katie Vinten works directly with a number of prominent Pop songwriters, producers and artists, such as Justin Tranter (Fallout Boy’s “Centuries,” Selena Gomez’s “Good For You,” Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself,” along with upcoming songs for The Knocks, Rita Ora, Christina Aguilera and Justin Beiber), Julia Michaels (Selena Gomez’s “Good For You,” Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself,” Nico and Vinz’s “That’s How You Know,” upcoming songs for Rita Ora and Justin Beiber), Nick Monson (Lady GaGa’s “Applause,” Selena Gomez’s “Good For You”), Captain Cuts (the writing-production team behind the smash “Shut Up and Dance” for Walk the Moon, and upcoming music for Hey Violet, Halsey, etc.), and Audra Mae ( Miranda Lambert’s “Little Red Wagon” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Heartbeat Song”). Vinten also works with British Pop singer/songwriter Katy Tiz (Atlantic Records), Warner Bros. recording artist Greg Holden (also writer of Phillip Phillips’ “Home”) and exciting new Interscope Records signee Billy Raffoul, among others.
Marc Wilson is Director of A&R and oversees numerous publishing signings in the Rock, Pop and EDM genres; among them are the red-hot careers and copyrights of world-renowned international EDM DJ Steve Aoki, songwriters Ian Kirkpatrick (Producer/Co-Writer of Jason Derulo’s “Want to Want Me” and “Cheyenne,” Andy Grammer’s “Good To Be Alive” and Nick Jonas’ “Levels”), Sean Douglas (co-writer of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty To Me” and “Wiggle,” David Guetta’s “Hey Mama,” Thomas Rhett’s “Die A Happy Man,” Chris Brown’s “Zero” and also a co-writer on the Nick Jonas single “Levels”), and newly signed Columbia Records artist Alec Benjamin.
Ryan Press is VP, A&R, for both Warner/Chappell and Warner Bros. Records. He’s brought a number of popular songwriters, producers and artist-writers to the table, including Mike Will (Miley Cyrus, Future, Rihanna, Kanye West and more ) and the entire Ear Drummers roster/venture (Pierre “P Nasty” Slaughter, Asheton “A Plus” Hogan, Marquel “Marz” Middlebrooks, Justin “JBo” Garner, rap duo Rae Sremmurd, buzzin’ new artist EARZ, ILOVEMAKONNEN and more), Priscilla Renéa (Fifth Harmony’s “Worth it,” Chris Brown’s “Don’t Wake Me Up,” Pitbull featuring Ke$ha’s “Timber,” plus songs for Miranda Lambert and Rihanna), Nolan Lambroza (Nick Jonas’ “Jealous,” Selena Gomez’s “Good For You”), Ross Golan (Andy Grammar’s “Good to Be Alive,” Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love,” Lady Antebellum’s “Compass,” plus songs for Justin Bieber, Maroon 5 and One Direction), DJ SPINZ (Rich Homie Quan’s “Flex,” Future’s “Commas”), KEY WANE (Beyoncé’s “Partition” and “Mine,” Ariana Grande’s “Best Mistake,” Drake’s “All Me,” Big Sean’s “I Don’t F*ck with You” and “Beware”), The Runners (Rihanna, Usher, Chris Brown, DJ Khaled and Lil’ Wayne, the latter who Press has been publishing since 2006), artist PARTYNEXTDOOR, artist/activist Aloe Blacc, and Norwegian singer-songwriting duo Nico & Vinz.
According to Billboard magazine, during the second quarter of 2015, Warner/Chappell Music scored its highest market share — 19.4 percent (running neck and neck with Sony/ATV) — since Billboard began ranking the top 10 publishers in the second quarter of 2006. Leading the way for Warner/Chappell was the quarter’s top song, The Weeknd’s “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey).” The company placed 42 titles in the top 100, the same number it had in the first quarter, when its share was just 14 percent.
In April, Warner/Chappell songwriters took home an impressive 14 “Most Performed Song Awards” at ASCAP’s 32nd Annual Pop Music Awards, with wins going to Aloe Blacc (“Wake Me Up”), Beyoncé & Jay-Z (“Drunk In Love”), Priscilla Renéa & Jamie Sanderson (Pitbull featuring Ke$ha’s “Timber”) and Timbaland (Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors” and “Not a Bad Thing”). At the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Awards, held in June, “Songwriter of the Year” accolades went to co-winners Timbaland and Jay Z. Timbaland, Beyoncé and Jay Z also received the award for “Top R&B/ Hip-Hop Song” for “Drunk in Love.”
Many of these hit singles came through the efforts of young and emerging songwriters and producers. Creating these collaborative opportunities is a very important component to many of today’s biggest hits. “We try to sign new writers that respect our process, and who trust us,” says Katie Vinten. “We’re betting on them but they’re also betting on us when they come on board. It can take six months, a year or several years but we’re putting them in as many focused sessions as possible to see where their strengths are highlighted and complimented. We try to find or create writing teams and keep that consistent, especially in the Pop world. In turn, we’re branding our writers.”
Ryan Press concurs: “It’s about helping writers and producers find the right chemistry,” he says, “whether it’s another writer signed to our roster or someone somewhere else. Instead of involving writers in a million different things, we try and find the right people that they gel with. All you have to do is look at what Katie has done with Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, matching up two people that have great chemistry. That’s when you get the best results.” Chemistry just doesn’t apply to writers andproducers. It’s also important on a company or executive level. Based inside the Warner/ Chappell L.A. headquarters, Vinten, Press and Wilson all have offices next door to one another – which is not a coincidence.
“When I look at what we do, chemistry is super important,” says Marc Wilson. “It’s vital that we’re always on the same page and working closely with one another. The writers see that and realize the entire company is behind them. Their careers are not in the hands of just one executive.”
“We all have access to different projects – different levels of relationships,” says Vinten. “For instance, there was a song that we believed to be a potential single. It’s a 100% Warner/Chappell song but to get it to the next phase, per the label, they believed it needed a hot rapper featured. Admittedly, my rap relationships are not as broad as Ryan’s. So, I hit him up and he delivered on it. Now, the song has a real shot. If I had kept this situation all to myself, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Warner/Chappell prides itself on taking a long-term approach when it comes to signing and developing writers, thus avoiding signees that could be considered flavors of the month or one-hit wonders. “I don’t think that’s a good business structure. That’s too short-lived,” says Press. “If someone has a hit song and you believe in them then you should definitely be in business with them. There is a part of the business that dictates you have to do business that way, per se, but I don’t think that’s where any of us are currently in our careers. At Warner/ Chappell, we’re trying to sign people that can write another hit song, create another great song a year from now or possibly 10 years from now.”
“As a company, I think we tend to buy into a songwriter’s potential as opposed to the hype,” says Vinten. “We’ve passed on a lot of stuff. Hype can be bought, but potential and artistry cannot. We have to see the long-term vision for the writer and the artist. Otherwise, we have just another writer on the roster that we have to answer to. If we don’t understand them beyond this one song, that can yield a negative ripple effect.”
So what do songwriters expect from their publishing representatives? “We’re a worldwide publishing company. We’re copyright administrators. We ensure all of the songs are copyrighted correctly and are being paid for,” notes Wilson. “We ensure that money is collected from around the world. Those royalties are very crucial to a songwriter’s career and we believe we are the best at it. We know what projects the labels are working on at any given moment. We’re pitching songs directly to them for their artists and relaying that information to our writers.”
“We bring value and opportunities that our writers may not have necessarily found on their own, or maybe it would’ve taken them longer to find,” says Vinten. “While they’re in the studio trying to come up with a hooky chorus, we’re using our relationships to advance the careers of the writers. We’re a vital piece of that. You can have a great song on your iTunes library, but if it’s just sitting on your computer then there’s no value. We all know one song can change someone’s life and the trajectory of their career in many ways. We don’t take that lightly. We just don’t give you an advance and hope that it works. As publishers, we come with a strategy, feedback and emotional support when and wherever necessary. I remind writers quite frequently that songs have to be great. Yes, the writer may have delivered a really good and solid song, but you have to cut through the clutter of maybe 1,000 people who sent a song for Artist X. Your song has to truly stand out. ”
With A&Rs constantly getting bombarded with new music and demos, and with musical styles and trends ever-shifting, how does one know when they’re hearing a hit or that a certain song is right for a particular artist? “I feel like it all goes in cycles,” Wilson replies. “EDM is at the forefront for a period, then in another second it’s Pop music, Hip-Hop or R&B. It’s a very exciting time for music in general. However, regardless of the format or genre, a great song or a hit song will typically give me those goose bumps – something that’s so hooky, I’ll have it stuck in my head from the first moment I heard it.”
“Music is always evolving. Amazing songwriters should be great storytellers and versatile,” says Vinten. “Sometimes it’s really clear. I know which artist I will pitch for this song first. In many cases, you just know it’s a great copyright and there are several artists in a genre that could record it. So, you go to the A&Rs that you have the best relationships with and who are working on the most relevant projects. They typically are the ones that you know will listen and possibly give the song a shot.”
“My thought is a great song is a great song. It doesn’t matter the genre. It’s a feeling and it doesn’t require a lot of description,” says Press. “I think the least you have to say about the song the better. You don’t have to really explain it and it’s a gut feeling. If I’m leaving the studio and I can remember the melody or the chorus once I get into my car…for me that’s when it hits home!”
By David A. Mitchell