For our latest ICMP meets the music publishers interview, we got in contact with Jake Wisley of The Bicycle Music Company in the United States.

(Originally published in ICMP Global Briefing, 15 September 2014)

How did you get into music publishing?

I was a teenager in the thriving 1980's alternative music scene in Minneapolis where I interned summers at the seminal indie label Twin/Tone Records, original home to The Replacements, Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, etc..

Husker Du also rented an office there, and we were all located above Nicollet Studios, where so many of those artists recorded. I was surrounded by that DIY ethos, which motivated me to publish fanzines (Uncle Fester and Sheet Metal) from the ages of 13 to about 19, at which point I started my own label, Red Decibel, Inc.

We released something like 17 albums by some great forgotten talent before I was offered a job running the Midwest membership office of ASCAP, where I finally came to understand the opportunity in music publishing. Stints at Universal and EMI Music Publishing then lead me to Bicycle.

What concerns do you have in your market?

My biggest concern for years has been tech firms building their business on the backs of intellectual property owners without permission or fair compensation. While we've seen great strides in rights clearance through better understanding and services like HFA's Slingshot, with a modicum of leverage through the Copyright Act, there remain offenders in the streaming of user generated content, through search engines and through file-sharing.

There are many services to optimise UGC earnings and Rightscorp to enforce and monetize file-sharing and BitTorrent, which are helping to make the best of a bad situation, but it can feel like an uphill battle. I'm also concerned about the consent decrees that bind our PRO's and limit the benefit of a free market for creators and rights holders. And finally, I'm concerned that record labels are not paid a terrestrial radio performance right in the US, nor are they paid for digital transmissions of pre-1972 recordings. The record business is starting to look something like the publishing business, so we need to support efforts for compensation.  

What’s a typical day like for you?

Given the variety of rights we control, the diversity of genres, eras and territories we deal with, not much is typical other than the constant turn of contracts, spreadsheets and royalty statements. I can typically also count on our creative department showing me great uses of our songs or recordings in commercials, TV shows, films or trailers; our copyright department showing me results from deep research in problematic catalogs through successful claims; and our royalty department finding lost revenue for our artists, writers and investors and making tremendous efforts in reporting to our royaltors and investors both accurately and on time.

What is your relationship with your local collecting society?

To the extent that more than one-third of our publishing revenue is derived from performance, and we are constantly registering and transferring songs, as well as settling counterclaims and tracking income, deep relationships within ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are of paramount importance. We select our sub-publishers around the world for their society relationships as well, desiring local representation who speak the language and are aware of territorial nuances. Even while mechanical income has declined, mechanical rights organisations such as HFA and CMRRA are no less important to an indie, offering a clearing house of digital rights and blanket agreements we would not be able to efficiently negotiate and track on our own.

Any legislation coming up in your market?

All US creators and rights holders should support the Songwriter Equity Act, the RESPECT Act and the Free Market Royalty Act (or the omnibus version thereof). Boiled down to their most basic tenents: the first would amend the Copyright Act to allow for a market value to be considered by the Copyright Royalty Board when determining rates, the second would require US digital music services such as SiriusXM and Pandora to pay performance royalties on pre-1972 sound recordings, and the third would require all US broadcasters to pay performance royalties for non-digital transmissions of all sound recordings. These three pieces of legislature begin to level the playing field between rights holders and licensees, songs and recordings and territories desiring reciprocity.

How do you see your market evolving over the next ten years?

Globalisation and further convergence of technology is inevitable in all industries and no less so in music. Besides greater reciprocity in neighbouring rights from the US, we'll see more foreign language success stories, in line with the growth of US immigrant populations and changing demographics. The online music discovery community will continue to tear down walls between genres, eras and territories, promoting eclectic tastes amongst music consumers. We'll achieve a critical mass in US streaming to help ease lost physical sales, based largely on mobile listeners. All the while, vinyl will continue its resurgence as US music consumers still want something more tangible alongside their playlists.