BMG, which started from scratch in France a few of years ago, has made a steady number of acquisitions (Francis Dreyfus Music, the catalogues of De Palmas, Louis Chedid and Gold, as well as FKO, home to Fela Kuti's works and the French catalogue of Virgin). Berlow describes the catalogues as "a foundation" which allows them "to be strong in sync and song pitching."
Berlow says many acquisitions, as well as new projects, include publishing and masters, since it has become more and more difficult to find labels that will finance new recordings. "There's less labels and also less labels taking risks, so we have to step in," says Berlow. "Publishing is one of the few music sectors that is not helped [financially], so I hope we can continue to do that."
Local repertoire is dominant in France so continuing to invest in domestic talent is paramount for publishers. In 2013, 17 of the top 20 best-selling albums were by French-speaking acts (Stromae's sophomore effort Racine Carrιe topping the charts with over a million album sales). With Urban, Dance and Pop being the taste of the moment (Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" was one of the most played songs in France in 2013), other music genres are finding it more difficult to access radio playlists. Even Rock as a genre has its own radio challenges, but for genres like Jazz, Classical and World, it is even tougher.
Petra Gehrmann is the German-born founder and CEO of music publishing company Mιtisse Music, which counts among its diverse catalogue such artists as Marina Cedro from Argentina, Jun Miyake from Japan, whose music is featured in Wim Wenders' documentary Pina, or La Caravane Passe from France. She confirms that it is not simply with the financing of the recordings that publishers have to be involved in these days. "More and more companies are closing down among indie labels and distribution companies, so we do more and more management for our artists and try to find opportunities for our artists outside France, where it's become difficult," says Gehrmann.
Gehrmann takes the positive view when it comes to the synch market. With over 200 films in production every year in France, the local industry offers many opportunities to either place music or to provide original scores. "There is a strong film industry in France and it helps," she says. "There are a few music supervisors who work on many different movies and they are quite open. TV documentaries are also a good platform for music. In cinema, when a composer is picked, the publishing is usually grabbed by the production of the movie and we can do a co-publishing deal with a 50-50 or a 60-40 split, and sometimes they take it all if they finance everything."
Flexibility and adaptability are the key word these days for publishers, partly for business reasons but also because, as bluntly put by Francois Millet, founder of boutique publishing house Vital Song, "capturing publishing rights is a national sport, and it impacts every single project you can work on."
Nicolas Galibert agrees: "Everybody wants a piece of publishing. Labels now systematically ask for a cut in publishing. It is part of the contracts. That was not the case." But he also says publishers have to understand when to split their publishing share. He explains, "When it is a musical and the producer of the show takes the financial risk, I don't mind doing a co-publishing deal the revenues will come from so many sources: live performances, radio, TV, and even merchandising. Same when you place a song with [veteran rock icon] Johnny Hallyday. You know he is a market puller, and you are going to benefit from his exposure."
And since publishers end up working more and more directly with artists, more than often financing their recordings, this allows publishers to often own both the publishing and the recording rights, which is a bonus for synch deals. In addition, France has a very sophisticated system of collection for neighbouring rights (performance rights paid to performers and labels for the public use of recordings). "Neighbouring rights are very important and represent over 20% of our masters' revenues," says Berlow, whose company has been building catalogue in both recording and publishing.
Some publishers like Lion or Galibert go as far as registering for neighbouring rights all the demos and recordings that they have paid for from the artists/songwriters signed to their companies. "These can be used in many different ways such as inclusion in box-sets, or as extra songs on albums, and so much for the better if on top they generate ancillary rights," says Lion. "We are going to focus on neighbouring rights," concurs Galibert. "Even our demos will be registered. And we will be producing shows like musicals. We see that segment evolving nicely alongside concert music for films. This is the kind of repertoire that is rarely played live and we see a lot of potential."
Galibert had the opportunity to experience first hand how to structure a music publishing company fit for the digital age when he combined the French units of Sony/ATV and EMI Music Publishing. The integration of the two companies took about two years and is almost complete (mergers in France can take time due to stringent labor laws). "We have a team of 27 people with about 25% in A&R, 25% in the sync department and 50% in admin and royalties," says Galibert. "Our policy was to take the best from all sides, but it was not always easy to achieve. Then we had to put in place processes. Everyone has seen the workload increased, so it was necessary to create processes. The French are really productive, unlike conventional wisdom."
To grow their business, French publishers have joined forces to set up of a database of French lyrics, which after over two years in the making is now fully operational and provides access to the lyrics of 50,000 songs in French, coming from catalogues of both independent and major publishers. The B2B site (paroles.net) is managed by Musicstory and licensed to third parties. "Each publisher keeps ownership of its content," explains CSDEM's Dascier, adding that a deal with global platform Lyricfind is in the works.
"There was no market for lyrics in the physical word, but with digital, lyrics started to get a lot of usage, but usually not through legally cleared platforms. We felt there was a need to do something and we built the database from scratch," explains Dascier, who adds that revenues so far are under 100,000 but growing.
"This has created a new market and a new revenue stream for publishers," confirms Vital Song's Millet, who was involved within CSDEM in the setting up of the database. "It is a guarantee that our lyrics can now be available legally on the net and are exploited on a constant basis. And no site can now take the excuse that there is not legal ways to access lyrics in French. No more excuses!"
A 2010-2011 CSDEM study made among its members by global research and accountancy firm KPMG, based on figures supplied by 53 of its members, showed that their overall revenues reached 196m in 2011 (up 3.6% from 2010), with majors accounting for 80% of that amount.
Rights collected by authors' society SACEM/SDRM represented 64% of overall revenues (126m), up 2% on the previous year, with the increase in performance rights (78m, up from 73m) more than compensating the drop in mechanical income (43m, down from 47m).
At 51m, non SACEM-related income represented about 25% of the turnover, up 13%, thanks mainly to a growth in synchronization revenues (31m, up 31%). Revenues from the sale of sheet music represented 9% of total revenues and were slightly down at 17m.
Local repertoire accounted for 19% of rights collected (24m), while the origin of rights is split 42%-58% between the European Union and the rest of the world, with the US taking a major share.
The total number of works owned by the companies taking part in the survey reached 6.9 million in 2011, against 6.1 million in 2010. The significant rise is due to an increasing number of non-French works represented by CSDEM members.
The amount of advances paid to authors, composers and catalogue owners by music publishers reached 9.2m in 2011, down 6% from 2010. Of that amount, 22% was allocated to new talent, 64% to confirmed authors and 14% for international catalogues (up from 7% a year before).
These figures give a good overview of the music publishing field in France, although they do not cover the whole range of companies involved in the sector, explains Dascier. "These are economic indicators of the sector," she says. A new study is underway covering 2013.