- 22 Nov 19
Back in 2008, Hot Press spoke to three publisher members of IMRO, current board member Michael O’Riordan of Rosette Music and president of the Music Publishers Association of Ireland (MPIA), former board member Peter Bardon of Bardis Music, and current board member Steve Lindsey of Elevate Music, regarding the challenges and opportunities facing Irish music publishers and IMRO into the future. The interview, which was for the IMRO Annual Report 2007, turned out to be a fascinating and in many ways prophetic one. Here it is in full...
Michael O’Riordan, Steve Lindsey and Peter Bardon have had much to be proud of over the past year. O’Riordan, who publishes tracks on Daniel O’Donnell albums, among others, celebrated the breakthrough of the Irish star in North America. Apart from the placement of songs in the TV series CSI: Miami and in ads for a wide range of products, including Yoplait, Lindsey has acquired a clutch of bright new signings in Cathy Davey, Irish film score composer Niall Byrne, Mickey Harte and Electric Penguins, alongside the ever-inventive Autamata.
Bardon had a similarly busy year. Apart from continuing to oversee the works of a solid catalogue of compositions by various writers, including Ronan Hardiman, Bardon achieved a major coup with a Niall Toner composition placed on the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto 4, with sales exceeding $7 million to date.
All three welcome the arrival of Victor Finn to IMRO. Bardon also welcomes the placement on the board of James Morris, formerly of TV3, but warns, “We should expect some difficult years ahead,” adding the hope that the IMRO board will show leadership, and pare costs back accordingly. Steve Lindsey is concerned about the assumption, deeply ingrained in some quarters, that anyone can casually use music without payment. “It isn’t only publicans,” he says. “Even top film directors feel they can use any piece of music for free, as if doing us all a favour. As music publishers, we must insist that music has a value.”
Peter Bardon concurs, and reckons that, without IMRO, “Nobody would pay, and publishers and songwriters wouldn’t survive. IMRO performs a fantastic function for both writers and publishers in that regard.”
Michael O’Riordan adds that “if songwriters are not paid for their creativity, the pool of new songs, the raw materials of the music industry, will simply dry up. MCPS and IMRO are encouraging organisations like YouTube to pay for using music, and MPAI supports their efforts in that. Our industry suffered from piracy and counterfeiting, and new technology has increased the opportunities for people to use music for free, and it should be stopped.”
A lack of legislation in certain areas allows some music users to avoid paying, but as Bardon explains, “It’s very simple. If you don’t feel that music is of benefit to your business, don’t use it. Music is a commodity that must be paid for, like electricity or a telephone. I agree with U2 manager Paul McGuinness’ view that if sites host music illegally, they should be removed.” Bardon points out that music has been legally free to the public for private use via radio for years, but that doesn’t mean that anyone can use another person’s work without complying with their legal obligations. In this part of the world at least, radio stations pay for the privilege of using music.
“It costs money to write, arrange, record, release and market new music – we can’t be expected to give it away for free,” he stresses. It’s a perspective which suggests that there is further work to be done by IMRO, and other interested parties, in educating music users regarding copyright issues. There is a general sense that IMRO’s immediate priorities must also include a pro-active engagement with the new technologies and those who use them. There are major changes in the way publishers earn income on behalf of their clients, and while the new technology is opening up new income streams, record sales continue to drop.
As Lindsey emphasises, “The music industry is a completely different arena from 15 years ago, but opportunities have sprung up from the proliferation of TV stations, radio stations, the internet and mobile phone usage of music. Yet record sales, although decreasing, are still, along with broadcast and live performance, key sources of revenue for publishers, with digital sales accounting for only about 10% of income.” The expectations of some songwriters can seem unrealistically high, not only in their evaluation of their own artistic work, but also regarding its earning potential. Bardon observes that “nobody sets out to write a bad song, but songwriters may need to work more with artists, as there are fewer opportunities to get songs covered. Brendan Graham has had enormous success with covers of ‘You Raise Me Up’, but that’s an exceptional case of a classic song.
IMRO has been very supportive over the years in bringing experts like Canadian songwriter Ralph Murphy for seminars – but there’s a reluctance by many writers to accept there is a craft to songwriting that they need to learn.” The advent of so-called 360 deals – giving one ‘agency’ control over every aspect of an artist’s earning potential, including songwriting, recording, live performances and merchandising – may put further pressure on publishers. Lindsey is opposed to such deals. “There is too much potential for conflict of interests in 360 deals. Furthermore, no organisation is capable of being that good at so many facets of what is an increasingly complex business, so I don’t see 360 deals as having much to offer me as a music publisher,” he states.
With record companies investing less in new talent, there may be a need for music publishers to take on more of the role of nurturing new artists. Lindsey agrees – but Bardon believes that music publishers have traditionally done so anyway, adding, “We can’t make money for our clients if there isn’t a sensible structure in place. If an artist signs a deal with a major label and their publishing company, the publishing arm does nothing to promote the act.”
The thorny subject of Irish music on Irish radio rarely fails to quicken the pulse, but Bardon, himself a former shareholder of an Irish station, is sanguine about the topic. “There’s a big myth about this. How do you define Irish music? The Country and Irish lobby didn’t regard U2 or Van Morrison or Chris de Burgh as Irish music, although the radio stations did. We have to accept that stations have to make a profit to survive and give their audience what they want. That said, there are lots of opportunities for good Irish music to be played on Irish radio.”
On the other hand, O’Riordan feels that more could be done by both Irish radio and government, to help new talent. “Radio’s attitude will not change as long as the bosses are chasing money. Irish radio stations often simply reflect the success of records in the UK and America. Instead of setting trends, they follow them. Despite all the music in Ireland, there’s no weekly Irish music programme on television. The government could be more pro-active in putting money into the development of new talent, perhaps assisting independent producers to produce programmes that give exposure to Irish talent, including our songwriters, then helping those shows to tour the country,” he maintains.
O’Riordan reminds us the MPAI played an important role in the establishing of IMRO. “Now, Irish publishers and songwriters control our own destiny. IMRO has done a marvellous job in issuing licences, often to people who were reluctant to begin with. It’s encouraging to know that such an organisation is working on behalf of Irish publishers and songwriters,” he says. While acknowledging the need to adapt to a changing marketplace, all three publishers are optimistic about the future.
As Lindsey puts it, “The widespread developments in the music industry, as well as commercial pressures, have made us all examine how we invest money and time on every project, and I believe this is already leading to a greater efficiency that will benefit us all in the long run. So I am exceedingly optimistic about the future for music publishing – and the role IMRO will play in that future