New Music Publishing Company Saves Industry By Destroying Souls

Oct 26th, 2007 // 12 Comments

hihowareyou.jpgApparently in the olden days musicians made a living by exchanging their product for money. But, as you may have heard, this is an outdated model rooted in pure evil, so the music business is looking to change the way money gets thrown around, and leading the way is Primary Wave Publishing, which aims to buy up artists’ catalogs in order to stick your favorite songs in every last filthy corner of commercial media it can find.

The past few years have been unkind to record labels, which have seen CD sales plunge by about a third since 1999. But many believe that music publishers–which control the rights to original songs–will thrive in the digital future. For example, even if fans illegally download Beatles tracks, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the publisher of those songs, can still make money by licensing them for use across the increasingly fragmented media landscape.

That’s why Primary Wave Music Publishing–a startup backed by the Credit Suisse Group and the Greenwich, Connecticut, hedge fund Plainfield Asset Management–has recently spent roughly $150 million, according to a source close to the company, to buy publishing rights from songwriters, including a reported $50 million for some rights to Nirvana songs. As a rights holder, Primary Wave collects money whenever one of its songs is played in public. But C.E.O. Larry Mestel, former chief operating officer of Virgin Records, is also aggressively marketing songs in Primary Wave’s portfolio for use in online media, videogames, movies, TV shows, and ads.

So, assuming you lost your copy of Nevermind and you just can’t bear to pay for another, you could either download it illegally, or participate in this new wave of the future and just wait to hear the songs in commercials or video games! Fun, right!?

Publishers also believe that there will be a growing demand for licensing music to other media, which can bring in between $10,000 and $300,000 for films and $5,000 and $40,000 for television. Primary Wave has licensed the Nirvana song “Breed” for use in an Austrian telecom ad, the videogame Major League Baseball 2K7, and the movie Shoot ‘Em Up. The new publisher has also placed a song by critics’ favorite Daniel Johnston in a MasterCard commercial and is trying to put together a Hall and Oates tribute album to generate exposure as well as revenue.

I hate to dredge up the illegal downloading debate–especially because I’m completely ambivalent about it and quite frankly sick of the argument–but if it has helped create this scary publishing robot hellbent on saving the industry and keeping musicians afloat with innocuous corporate marketing bullshit, then we’ve really gone to a sad place. Case in point: The MasterCard version of the Daniel Johnston song “To Go Home.”

And this is what Daniel Johnston actually sounds like:

Not that bad commercial covers are anything new, but should they really be the future of music?

Rock-and-roll fantasy? []
[Photo by MKJ]


  1. Weezy F Baby

    just got a promo package from primary wave. its a carved, (real) wooden “heart shaped box”.. hand numberedm, and when you open it, it plays the nirvana song, and it has a couple cds in there.

    i cant even imagine how much money they sunk into these things.

  2. dog door

    but Daniel Johnston approved that because it’s his song, right?

  3. wakeupbomb

    @Weezy F Baby:

    Can I have it? haha

  4. JohnOO

    Ah! I was wondering what was next in the music biz. Sounds like a good piece of “thinking outside of the (heart shaped?) box” in order to make loads of cash.

  5. Weezy F Baby

    @dog door: not necessarily. depends on whatever contract he signed with primary wave.

    most smaller bands don’t have the clout to demand approval rights with a publishing deal, but daniel johnston probably does.

  6. Delicate

    @Weezy F Baby: close, but not quite. it depends on what kind of publishing deal he did: administration, co-publishing or full publishing.

    i do know that daniel johnston had an administration deal with bug music before going to primary wave, where he did indeed have full approval rights over his catalog. actually, his brother did most of the talking for him.

  7. Delicate

    on second thought, you could build in approval rights into any agreement. so yeah, haven’t seen his deal so can’t say.

  8. queensissy

    @Delicate: I don’t know who you are, but I’m guessing you’re either working on your budget right now or you just ate a lot of cupcakes.

  9. Anonymous

    hey all, im new to this whole comments section, but thought this article was intriguing.

    Kate is very astute in (hesitantly) drawing a link between this new business model and downloading. im not saying it is a good or bad thing, but interesting to note how tv/film/corporate etc. placement seems to be where people are predicting the industry to head.

  10. Anonymous

    NERD said: “Music publishing is one of the greatest legal scams in existence.”

    I was hoping you could elaborate on your sentiments or at least provide some quality links for further reading on the subject. This area of the industry is new to me and I’m eager to learn more about it, especially why it seems to evoke such hatred among the music (or at least the Idolator) community.

  11. nerdsausage is a busysausage

    @queensissy: Anyone who’s spent the time necessary to wrap their heads around the arcane world of music publishing will blurt this stuff out if they ever get half a chance. It infects your brain and demands to be let out from time to time.

    As Delicate said, depending on how Johnston’s deal was structured, he may not have had any say in the transfer to Primary Wave. It’s also possible he won’t have any say in how his songs are used, as long as he gets paid. Music publishing is one of the greatest legal scams in existence. Spend some time reading about compulsory licensing if you don’t believe me.

  12. Anonymous

    Publishing is the only way most artist’s make any money now and days. Touring and merchandise used to be the way they did it, but now even record labels have sucked that dry. 360 deals take merchandising and artist’s finance their own tours. Commercials are always going to use music, so why not get paid for them. I bet most artist’s are thankful for publishing money. Everyone talks of “selling out”, and commercializing, but anybody who has a job they don’t like does that everyday. If artist’s don’t like their music getting commercialized, then they shouldn’t give up their publishing rights.

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