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Apple Music launches new team to enhance songwriter and publisher relationships

By | Published on Thursday 31 May 2018

Apple Music

Half the internet seemed to be getting all excited last night about the news that Apple was moving into music publishing. Well, with the big “Spotify and Apple are going to become record labels” prediction not coming true, why not have the tech giant become a music publisher? Except that’s not what it’s doing at all. It’s just planning to start talking to songwriters a bit more. Imagine that, talking to songwriters! I talked to a songwriter once. They were nice. I don’t know what everyone was worrying about.

The news is that Apple has promoted one of its long-term music-focused legal directors to the new role of Global Director Of Music Publishing. Elena Segal will head up a new team that will manage relationships between the Apple Music streaming service and the mysterious world of music publishing and songwriting.

Digital music companies have always enjoyed much more proactive relationships with artists and record labels than songwriters and music publishers. This is partly because song rights are often licensed by collecting societies rather than the publishers direct. And even where some publishers do license Anglo-American repertoire through direct deals, unlike labels, publishers aren’t constantly pushing new content into the streaming firm’s servers, and don’t tend to have marketing teams constantly pitching to playlist curators.

This is partly why the loudest critics of streaming within the music community are often found on the songwriting and music publishing side of the business. Spotify has put quite a lot of effort into expanding its partnerships and enhancing its relationships with publishers and songwriters in recent years. Not that doing so stopped all those American songwriters from suing the streaming firm over unpaid mechanical royalties.

Presumably Segal’s team will be likewise charged with the task of strengthening publisher and writer relationships, both in terms of licensing and commercial deals, but also with creative and marketing partnerships. And maybe doing some work on songwriter credits and song ownership data. The creation of the new role and unit follows¬†the appointment last month of Oliver Schusser¬†as a VP of Apple’s streaming platform.

There has been much chatter in recent years about streaming firms possibly launching their own labels, so to reduce their content acquisition costs. Though, while some execs at the streaming firms do seem to quite like the idea of directly signing artists, the commercial benefits of doing so are debatable.

Becoming music publishers would be even less useful for streaming firms, given the complexities of song rights. It’s also hard to exclude the collecting societies from the digital licensing process, even in the US where there is quite a bit more flexibility in that domain than in Europe. So signing songwriters directly wouldn’t really reduce the royalty burden of the services, which would be the main reason for setting out on that course.