Take a second to imagine your favorite songs—classics, hit singles, deep tracks, guilty pleasures… Got them? Sony/ATV Music Publishing probably owns them. As the leader in music publishing, this giant owns a massive catalog of copyrights to over 3 million songs by nearly every big name you could think of including classics like The Beatles and Michael Jackson, as well as current artists like Taylor Swift and Kanye West (Sony/ATV Music Publishing, 2018). For the entirety of 2017, Sony/ATV songs topped Billboard’s list of the Top 100 songs at Number 1 (Lewis, 2018), but titans are not made overnight, and Sony/ATV has quite a storied history.
Lew Grade, an English businessman founded Associated Television (ATV) in 1955. This company went on to buy Pye Records, which owned such valuable assets as the copyrights to The Beatles songs. Michael Jackson acquired ATV in 1985 and merged with Sony ten years later, forming Sony/ATV Music Publishing in 1995 (Sony/ATV Music Publishing, 2018). In 2012, the company acquired EMI Music Publishing for $2.3 billion, making it the biggest music publisher in the biz in terms of market share (Beech, 2018). This acquisition was monumental for Sony/ATV, as it gave them the rights to songs by other major artists and put many iconic artists under one company. In 2016, Sony bought out Jackson’s 50% share for $750 million and became the sole owner of the company (Christman, 2016). Today, Sony/ATV is headed by Chairman and CEO, Martin Bandier, who previously ran EMI and bought it for Sony in 2012 (Sony/ATV Music Publishing, 2018).
Martin Bandier has held his post as Chairman and CEO of Sony/ATV since 2007. If his name sounds familiar, it is because he endowed a music program here at Syracuse University, his alma mater, called “The Bandier Program for Music Business and Entertainment Industries” (Lewis, 2018) so that kids who share his passion can pursue a career in the music business too. He is also known for fighting for songwriters’ rights. At the 2017 National Music Publishers’ Association Centennial Annual Meeting, he gave a speech and said, “Without the songwriters coming up with the words and music in the first place, there would be nothing for the artist to record and no music to stream” (Christman, 2017). With Bandier at the helm of the company, Sony/ATV has experienced many years of success.
Though its headquarters are in New York City, Sony/ATV operates out of 37 offices, in 29 cities, across 22 countries (Sony/ATV Music Publishing, 2018). Sony/ATV is a company built on licensing songs. While a record label owns the rights to the master recording of a song, the music publisher owns the song itself—the music and lyrics. Anytime a song is made available in some way, it has to be paid for by the party (record label) that is supplying it to consumers. These are called mechanical licenses (Passman, 2003). For each unit (song), Sony/ATV is paid 9.1 cents, if the song is less than 5 minutes long. If it is longer than 5 minutes, the rate is raised to “1.75 cents per minute, or fraction thereof” (Oesterle, 2018). This may not seem like a lot of money to make per song may but as Bandier has said, it is “a business of pennies and nickels” (Creswell, 2009).
Let’s take a specific example from one of Sony/ATV’s own artists, Taylor Swift. Her critically acclaimed song, “Mine” was on the Speak Now album, released in 2010 by Big Machine Records (McKenna, 2017). This album sold 1,047,000 copies in the first week and Big Machine was responsible for paying Sony/ATV 9.1 cents for every copy of that song; that amounts to $95,277, and that’s just for one song off the album (Oesterle, 2018). There were fourteen in total (Vick, 2010). If we multiply that amount by the number of songs on the album, that comes out to $1,333,878 in licensing royalties to the publishers.
Synchronization licenses are also a major source of revenue for Sony/ATV. A synchronization license is one that allows for the use of a song on television or in a movie. Fees for these licenses can typically range from $25,000 to $1 million (Passman, 2003). Numbers this high can mean a huge payout. Is there a Christmas movie in existence that does not include, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas?” Guess who owns it (A Guide to, 2017)?
With the shift from purchasing albums to streaming songs, the music publishing industry is doing very well. Sony/ATV still makes money from everyone who actually buys albums, but instead of just getting paid for one-time purchases, Sony/ATV rakes in revenue every time someone streams a song.
In 2017, Sony/ATV Music Publishing accounted for 27.3% of the revenue made globally in the music publishing industry. In comparison, one of its biggest competitors, Universal Music Publishing Group, made up only 19%. That 27.3% equates to $1.34 billion of the total $4.92 billion made in 2017. In 2016, streaming service licenses accounted for 44% of the revenue, physical sales- 30.2%, downloads- 11.2%, and other (use of lyrics, for example)- 11.4%. Last year, Sony/ATV and Sony Corp’s other publishing company in Japan totaled $670.5 million, an increase of 11.8% from the previous year (Christman, 2018b). Sony/ATV is flourishing, and hopefully its success will persist throughout the transformation the company is about to undergo.
It has recently been announced that after 11 years as the head of the company, Martin Bandier will be leaving his post at the end of March 2019 (Aswad, 2018). Jon Platt, the previous Chairman/CEO of Warner/Chappell Music Publishing, will succeed Bandier (Halperin and Aswad, 2018). Bandier and Platt worked together for 17 years at EMI (Aswad, 2018). Like, Bandier, Platt is known for his charitable endeavors. He is set to receive the City of Hope’s Spirit of Life Award at the City of Hope Gala next month. According to Billboard, “The award is the City of Hope’s highest honor, presented each year to a philanthropic leader whose work fundamentally impacted music, film or entertainment” (Billboard Staff, 2018). In addition to sitting on the Boards of the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, the Motown Museum, and the Living Legends Foundation (Billboard Staff, 2018), Platt founded the Big Jon Platt Scholarship Program in 2005 to help send deserving high school students from his hometown to college (“Colorado High School Students,” 2018). His opinion on songwriters mirrors Bandier’s as well. In talking about his reaction to the Spirit of Life Award win, Platt said, “‘It’s no secret that I don’t like being the center of attention, that’s for the songwriters’” (Billboard Staff, 2018). A change in leadership will definitely be an adjustment, but given the flourishing state of the Sony/ATV’s business, and the similarities between Bandier and Platt’s business styles, it seems safe to say that Sony/ATV will continue to thrive.
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