Money & Business

Music Publishing Groups Have New Competitor

By / Oct 31, 2014 Chart-topping artist Pharrell is said to be joining Global Music Rights. (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

With the backing of a legendary music-industry manager, for-profit Global Music Rights has attracted dozens of big names. The group promises that it can help songwriters get bigger royalties than nonprofit performing-rights organizations currently can.

Over the years, Irving Azoff’s fingerprints have been all over the music industry. From the Eagles to Christina Aguilera to 30 Seconds to Mars, Azoff has managed a sizable portion of the radio landscape.

His next target? He’s aiming at no less than the foundation of the music-publishing ecosystem.

Global Music Rights, a company launched through Azoff MSG Entertainment, aims to bring a for-profit player to songwriter publishing royalties, a space that’s long been the domain of nonprofit performing-rights organizations, mainly ASCAP and BMI. Those two organizations currently represent 95 percent of the music-publishing sector.

I vowed when I started this company that I was going to take care of artists.

In comments to The New York Times, Azoff said the endeavor is artist-focused and comes at a time when songwriters are seeing additional threats to their royalties, thanks to the rise of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora.

“I vowed when I started this company that I was going to take care of artists,” Azoff said. “So I tried to identify places where I felt that artists were not getting a fair deal, and the performance rights area jumped out at me. It was a place where I felt I could help our writers.”

Azoff is pledging to get songwriting royalties for his clients that are 30 percent higher than BMI and ASCAP have been able to produce. That promise has been strong enough for Global Music Rights to pull together an impressive early client roster, including Journey, Van Halen, John Lennon, and Pharrell.

The firm will start off with solid financial backing through Azoff MSG Entertainment: Madison Square Garden Company, Azoff’s corporate partner in the endeavor, has promised $175 million.

By going for-profit, Global Music Rights has a significant advantage over its competitors, both of which predate World War II. ASCAP and BMI have long been regulated by consent decrees that haven’t been updated in more than a decade, though the Justice Department is said to be reviewing them.

Presumably, by being a smaller player in the market, Global Music Rights can use its influence to score better rates for songwriters with radio stations and streaming services. The firm also allows for flexibility that has eluded major publishing firms that are essentially stuck with the current rights-management system.

But the benefits of the new system will only show themselves down the road. Many of the artists signing up with Azoff still have contracts with ASCAP and BMI, though eventually those deals will expire.

In comments to the Times, BMI President Michael O’Neill suggested that Global Music Rights was benefiting from regulatory freedom rather than organizational failings by his group.

“We believe that the departure of certain affiliates for such new organizations is driven not by any concern with this methodology, but, rather, by the latitude that these unregulated organizations have to address the needs of the modern rights marketplace,” O’Neill said.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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