Interview with HANS CUNY, Creative Coordinator and A&R at Peermusic, Germany - Jun 19, 2002
“It's the publisher's job to place the songs. The songwriter should concentrate on songwriting”
With 30 years of music industry experience behind him, Hans Cuny works as European Creative Coordinator, dealing with national and international A&R, at Peermusic, Germany, one of the world's biggest independent music publishers.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a publisher?
I have never worked with anything other than music. I first did an apprenticeship at Metronome Records, and then worked as promotion and product manager at WEA Music, Polydor Records and Phonogram, which is now Mercury, up until 1988, when I was asked to join Peermusic by Michael Karnstedt, our President. As a product manager at various labels, I have had the chance to work with stars like Elton John, Van Halen, AC/DC, and Fleetwood Mac.
What are your main activities?
Peermusic is a company involved in music production and publishing, so we work at both the master and the copyright ends of the business. At the moment, we have 8 new projects, all of them more or less signed to record companies. Our most successful local act has been Blümchen, a pop/dance artist, and then we also had other pop/dance hits with Captain Jack, The Urban Cookie Collective, and No Angels feat. Donovan. We currently have a hit with Aquagen, "Everybody's Free", and we have 2-3 summer hits coming up.
We try to find good songs, catalogues, and producers with their own projects who also write.
What creative challenges do you face when trying to place songs and when working with songwriters and other projects?
To make hits! We first pitch our songs at a local level, as Germany is big enough and good songs are needed all the time. Secondly, I try to place international songs from our foreign offices here in Germany. And finally, I try to place our songs with known artists at an international level.
Do you also sign songwriter/artists with the intention of develop them into recording artists?
No, we go for the producer/songwriter.
Who are some of the songwriters you have signed?
Stani Djukanovic, the former writer and producer for Blümchen; a techno team called Edition Ground Zero; the band, Orange Blue; and, of course, the Beat Disaster team based around Captain Jack.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Yes. We get around 20 demos a week, and I listen to all of them for one and a half minutes, or until the first chorus has ended. In 99% of cases, that's enough to hear whether it's a hit or not, although sometimes it's not that easy.
Would you sign and work with songwriters and acts from outside Germany?
Yes, of course, from all over the world. If they come from a territory where we have an office, I have to contact the people there first.
Artists and songwriters who make music which they think fits Germany and Europe will try to get a deal here. But we have to tell them that if it hasn't been released in the country of origin, or if they've had no airplay success, it's hard for us to convince record labels here to release it. Occasionally, if it’s a good song, we ask for a period of 6-12 months to work on the song. Sometimes we get it placed, sometimes not. It's always difficult, but never impossible.
Can demos sent to publishers be less professionally recorded than demos presented to A&Rs?
Yes. We are here to listen to less professionally recorded songs, because just a few simple words can make a hit. A little bit more than a guitar or a piano demo with some bits and pieces around it is enough.
What do you look for in a songwriter?
Good hooks and melodies, professionalism and a good business character.
Can you offer some words of advice to unsigned songwriters with regard to contracts?
If a songwriter has a good song and is unsigned, there are two ways. If we want the song exclusively, we use a standard contract, negotiated with the German rights society, GEMA, which stipulates a division of 60% (songwriter/s) and 40% (publisher/s) on the mechanicals, and 8-12ths (songwriter/s) and 4-12ths (publisher/s) on the performing fees. It's all written there, and he or she either signs it or doesn't.
If we want to sign the songwriter to an exclusive deal for a certain amount of time, which is usually 3-5 years, then it's a matter of heavy discussion, and he or she needs a lawyer. The songwriter gets an advance, the amount depending on how well-known he or she is, and has to write a certain amount of songs over the time period of the contract, which could be up to 30 a year.
Do the songwriter and the publisher share the responsibility of getting the songs released?
It's the publisher's job to place the songs. The songwriter should concentrate on songwriting. There are always discussions, of course, as to what type of songs are currently needed for different artists, so he or she can write in this or that direction, but the publisher is ultimately the one responsible for placing the songs with the artists.
What, in general, do you think of German songwriters, producers and artists?
They're very good. Germany is a big market, and German-language music is very well represented in the German charts, from schlager to hiphop.
But it's not as easy to write English songs that can compete in the Anglo-american markets, from which we get tons of good pop songs. German songwriters, producers and artists have to find a niche they can fit into, or do something a bit different.
Few German artists seem to break in territories other than GSA, with the exception of German dance acts. Why do you think this is?
Success in Germany is necessary first; otherwise, nobody in other countries will take notice. If you do something with the right idea, music, and lyrics, then it can happen abroad, as it did in1999, with Lou Bega and his hit “Mambo No.5”. Peermusic published that song in its original form, an instrumental by 1950s mambo king Perez Prado. Lou Bega and his production team recorded a new version and added lyrics, and it was a worldwide smash. German rock bands are also very successful abroad.
What do you think about the radio situation in Germany?
The radio situation in Germany is not good. It’s driven by Anglo-american productions, and only takes into account the Top 40. To convince radio to play a new English-language German production is very difficult.
There was an idea of having a quota-based system, like they have in France (60% international product and 40% national product) but they found out that we already have a 40% German share, which takes in German hiphop, r&b, schlager, and rock. But this was never thanks to the radio stations. It was the result of support from music TV channels, such as VIVA and MTV; support from clubs and local press; and touring. Radio doesn't create hits anymore; they only play songs when they're already a hit.
Has the amount of time German labels give new acts before they break decreased in recent decades? If so, why, and do you think it is a problem?
Record labels always went for what we call “schnelldreher”, meaning projects where you take the easy way. Create pop/dance music, make 12" vinyls for the clubs, and if it places high in the DJ charts, make a video and go to VIVA. No airplay, because it's too dancey.
What the record industry has been saying for ten years now is that they need to do artist development, but, because of these dance projects, they seem to have forgotten all about it. Now they're trying to find bands and solo artists who sell albums, because dance projects don’t sell albums. But they're late, in my opinion.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would like to see more people who really believe in an artist and are not afraid if the first album only sells 5.000 copies, and who will continue to work with the artist because they see potential; I would focus more on the artist's development. We have the big dinosaurs, Marius Müller-Westerhagen, Peter Maffay, Pur, all selling between 600.000 to one million albums, but there are no smaller dinosaurs.
Apart from r&b artist Xavier Naidoo, and a few others, the second row is totally missing. Where are the new bands? Labels went for the quick money. Buy ten dance singles from production companies, release them all, three went into the charts and they covered all the costs. If the first single was a flop, then the project was dropped.
Only the independents have developed artists. Gun Records have Guano Apes, whom they believed in and built up, and now they're big. BMG Munich have a label called Firestarter, home to a band called Die Happy. They did the first album, which only sold 40.000, and the second album has now gone into the charts at No.12 and has sold close to 100.000 units so far. That's artist development, and it costs a lot of money.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career so far?
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to pick up Robert Plant and Jimmy Page from the airport. And I also was on tour with AC/DC. Those were great moments! But if I had another chance, meeting Paul McCartney would be a great moment.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
The same thing. I would stay at Peermusic and make it more successful.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman