For DIY musicians and songwriters who want to venture into song licensing and placement, but who have little in the way of industry connections, a good music publisher can be a powerful ally. Where music publishing has historically been thought of in the context of getting music into print and onto records, more and more publishers are turning their focus to the wide-open market of song placement and sync. Unlike music supervisors who essentially represent their company’s interests, the right music publisher represents the interests of the artist—and not only that, but a good publishing house will also have the ear and the trust of a number of supervisors, giving indie artists an inroad to the marketplace that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
For Jessica Cole, founder of Lyric House Publishing in Denver, Colorado, helping good artists and good songs with song placement has become a primary passion. In this latest installment of our series “Indie Musicians, Publishing and Song Placement,” Jessica shares her unique perspective on the relationship between the publisher, the artist and the marketplace.
MIMO: Let’s start by asking about your story—how you got started, how Lyric House got started and how you came to your current role in the music industry.
Jessica: I have always been involved in music, ever since I was probably 6 years old. I started playing piano and putting together songs. My mom always said that after school, I would go straight to the piano and create these crazy tunes and think they’re amazing, and she loved it. Ever since then, I’ve been in love with music; it’s a love affair.
When I was in high school, I was really involved with musical theater…then I transitioned into recording my own stuff and recording covers in the mix. That brought me into “Let me learn a little bit more about recording, songwriting, and the music business.” I just knew that I wanted it to be a huge part of my life.
I entered UC Denver as a music business major…I really enjoyed the songwriting performance aspect of it, but I resonated a lot with the music business side, too. In that process, I ended up doing a couple internships, [including] one at CMT, Country Music Television. That went really, really well, and it opened my eyes. You can read about it all day long, but when you live it and experience what actually goes on in the music industry, then it’s a whole different world. I got to work with the artists, as well as get behind the scenes of what goes on in music television. That piqued my interest into the TV world and how music gets on TV, and that whole process. At the time, I was still trying to figure it out; publishing was not even in the back of my mind.
I finished up school and I got into artist management for about a year, and then I was a little bit feeling like I needed a little bit more. I transitioned into songwriting fulltime, going back to Nashville, co-writing with people…I really wanted to figure out the process of how does one pair a songwriter together–how do hit songs come to fruition? I was just so interested in the business side of the song…That’s what brought me into the publishing world.
When I came back to Denver, I started small…I brought together the people I knew from school who were great songwriters, and we pretty much started out as a songwriting association and brought together a little catalog. As it was building, I was like, “I think we should do this as a publishing house and bring on more people. I feel passionate about these songs. I want to get them heard.” That is how Lyric House was born. Now we’re a full-service publisher. We pair together songwriters, but we also pitch and place in film and TV. We’re connected worldwide with every leading publisher in every territory of the world, which is incredible for royalty collection for pitching everywhere and placing in different countries.
MIMO: What do you say is your primary thrust as a publisher? Do you look to get your songs pitched to mainstream artists, or do you primarily go for song placement? Where is your main focus?
Jessica: Our main focus is TV, film, and ads. That wasn’t intentional, but it just seemed like our catalog just kept going in that direction, that the majority of the music in our catalog is really TV/film sync-friendly. It’s great that we have that focus, but we also have songwriters writing to TV and film opportunities. Since we built that, we’ve been now focusing on building the cut side: writing for artists, working with other publishers, working with A&R people to see what artists are looking for songs.
MIMO: What is the advantage to an up-and-coming songwriter, performer, or artist to go with a publisher, as opposed to holding all the copyright themselves, making their own publishing company, and keeping their own publishing? What’s benefit to hooking up with an organization like this one?
Jessica: Basically, it allows the artists to just be artists, and be creative. Not every publisher or licensor is going to resonate with them; it has to be the right fit obviously. Once you find that right publisher that has your back, has such passion for your music, and has the Rolodex and opportunities for you, then it’s amazing.
MIMO: What is the tradeoff—do you do a standard split with the royalties like most publishers?
Jessica: With us, every artist is different for with they want. We can offer just staff writing; that’s a totally different contract than it is for a full deal where we have royalty administration. We have pitching, and we negotiate up front licensing fees and all that. If you’re doing a full pub, it is a standard 200% publishing scale–layman’s terms, 50/50.
MIMO: What is the difference between your role as a publisher and that of a music supervisor for an organization that is receiving and doing the syncing and the licensing?
Jessica: We bridge the gap between the artist and the supervisor; we’re the liaison between the two. We provide the music supervisor with the music that they put to picture. That involves a sync license, which we negotiate on behalf of the artists for the music supervisor. They license the copyright; we represent the copyright.
MIMO: Unlike music supervisors who usually want a mastered product, some publishers say they don’t need mixed or mastered versions of the songs, that they’re able to come in on the demo end. Is that where you are, as well? Once you find a song that works, do you help facilitate getting that song recorded, mixed and mastered, and ready for placement?
Jessica: It can definitely go either way. We have artist who come to us with demos and say, “What do you think?” If we say, “This is going to be great, we just have to get it mixed and then mastered,” we can definitely facilitate that. [On the other hand], it’s always nice to have someone prepared and have a product that’s ready to go, because the TV industry turnaround time is very quick. We don’t always have time to mess around.
MIMO: So you will consider a piece that is not in completed mastered form to add to the catalog, if you will.
Jessica: Yes. Even if the song is a demo but it has this phenomenal hook… I would tell the artist honestly, “I want to get you with this great producer and I think he could bring this to life, and then you’ll have such a polished song. I’ll set it all up, and then we’ll pitch it.” It’s totally up to the artist, obviously, but that would be something I would do.
MIMO: What successes have you seen so far, since you started venturing into placement?
Jessica: We’ve had a lot of great ones. Going back to the demo quality thing, generally, we will not pitch anything that is a demo quality or a home recording unless requested, which is very rare. We ended up getting a request across our table for a gritty male vocal country song that was about a certain scene. It had to go really well with the subject matter in the scene and it also needed to sound like a home recording. Of course, I hadn’t signed anything that sounded like a home recording, but we always remember and have a little folder for our submissions that we want to go back to just in case anything ever comes up.
We remembered a really nice gentleman who submitted to us months prior. He had a song I thought was really close to what they were looking for, but we needed, if he was willing, to change the hook so it fit the scene exactly. I gave him a call [and] said, “Can you keep it the home recording and just change the hook to this theme?” He was like, “Yes, yes, yes.” I said, “Can you get it to me in 12 hours?” He said, “Absolutely.” He ended up getting it to me within 12 hours and I sent if off. Of course, it’s a shot in the dark every time you send off a pitch. Within the day, I got an email that said, “$5000 coming your way.” It was a really magical experience because the guy had never had a placement before and it was one of those very unique placements. It just totally confirmed why I do what I do,
We’ve had a lot of great and unique opportunities and successes, but that is definitely one in particular that stands out to me. We’ve also have a lot on VH1, we’ve had MTV, we work with Style Network, E!, NBC, Altitude Sports; pretty much, we cover all the major networks, we’ve just had more on certain ones.
MIMO: What advice would you give somebody coming into your office that had never had any experience in this field but wanted to consider bringing their music to you for placement and/or artist development? What would you say to me to help that person get started?
Jessica: Three things: If you’re going to submit to us, what we look for is quality of recording, unless it’s a special situation where it happens to fit and we’ll get it re-recorded. We also look for relate-ability; you can write a song about something that happened to you in your life, and it can mean so much to you, but it can mean something else to someone else because of how you worded the lyrics. That would be a big deal, relate-ability in the universal meaning. Then being current is a big deal, as far as following trends and what is hot right now–what’s licensable but still being completely authentic and unique in what you do. If that means you are blending EDM with folk, awesome; be the best at it. Do something new, but still keep in mind and research what is licensed.