Interview with PATRIK SVENTELIUS, managing director of Sony/ATV Music Publishing Scandinavia - Dec 1, 2003
“A successful songwriter is well-connected and socially talented.”
Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Patrik Sventelius is the managing director of Sony/ATV Music Publishing Scandinavia.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become the managing director of Sony/ATV Music Publishing Scandinavia?
I started out as a musician and made my first record when I was fifteen. It was a complete flop, but a very educating one! Initially I was a bass player, but I tried a range of instruments. I took a BA in Marketing and started working for a PR company while playing in a band at the same time. Then I got a job at Sonet Records doing international repertoire. Basically, what brought me to the A&R position was the fact that I discovered a band called Atomic Swing (click on artist or song names to listen to Real Audio files – Ed.), who went on to be very successful in Sweden. This was in 1991.
What experiences have helped develop your skills as an A&R and publisher?
Most importantly, having played in a band and having had a record deal, which has enabled me to help and understand other people in the same situation. All the artists I've worked with over the years have been important, because every relationship builds experience. The older you get, the better you get, and experience is of vital importance.
How many songwriters do you have in your roster? Are they all signed to exclusive publishing agreements?
We have about seven exclusive writers and four artists who are artist/writers. Then we have non-exclusive deals with about eight to ten writers.
Who are the most well-known of them?
The most well-known is LePont, who makes up one half of the songwriting duo Franciz & LePont. Their (and our) biggest hit was “More Than That” with the Backstreet Boys, which they also produced. Then there's Anders Barrén from the Jany & Barrén team, who has had cuts with Kelly Rowland (“Haven’t Told You”), Samantha Mumba, Stephen Gately, and many more.
What services do you provide for your songwriters?
A&R, song-plugging, synchronization and administration.
When it comes to pitching songs, what are your primary territories?
We don't focus on a specific territory. The big markets are exciting because of their size, but personally I’m very keen on Japan and the Asian countries. In Europe, France is the most exciting country, because their market is very eclectic. We would like to work more with the US, but it is in many senses the most difficult territory and it’s also very slow. Creatively, Europe is more interesting to us.
How important is it that the production is already there in the demo when pitching a song?
It's really important. We're not a publishing company who also sells productions, which some publishing companies do, but you have to present the song in a state very close to what it is intended to be.
What resources do you use to find out which artists need songs?
All the resources that are available, from reading and networking to gossiping.
Does Sony have an internal worldwide lead-report system?
Do the songwriter and the publisher share the responsibility of getting the songs released?
In a way it must be. Although most cuts originate from us, a successful songwriter is well-connected and socially talented. But with a young, inexperienced songwriter, it's our responsibility alone to start it up.
Do you ever have to give up some of the publishing in order to get a song placed with a big artist?
No. That’s awful and very unfair.
Should there be a standard contract in which rates and time periods for holds are stipulated?
I understand why A&Rs ask to put songs on hold. What is difficult about it is that the information flow is usually too slow and that can be very annoying. I appreciate that it has to work in that way somehow, and I don't think it's a good idea to formalise it contractually. I don't think there should be a standard contract; it's not necessary.
How do you find new talent?
Demos, gossip, gigsclassic A&R tracking. Networking is the most effective means; speaking to people, recommendations and so on.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Yes, and we actually don't get as many as we want. Roughly, I would say we get twenty to thirty a week and our A&R rep, Nicholas Johansson, listens to them all. As for the submissions, over-the-top presentation usually causes a bad impression. If it's something you have never heard of you just listen to it, but you listen in a different way if it’s been recommended to you or you’ve heard about it. A good story is always good, and the same applies to launching an artist.
Do you work with songwriters who are based outside of Scandinavia?
We collaborate with songwriters based outside of Scandinavia, but none are signed to us. Being a international major, it's pointless to sign someone in the UK, because they should be working with the UK office. We also represent the Baltic states, although we have not signed any Baltic writers yet.
Is it artist/songwriters or commercial songwriters who make up the larger part of your signings?
Currently, it's more interesting to find new artist/songwriters than commercial pop songwriters.
What do you look for in a commercial songwriter?
Good songs, discipline, and social talent are three things with which you might go far.
Can the recording quality of demos that are presented to publishers be less professional than that of demos presented to record label A&Rs?
Yes, and that’s more due to the change in the mindset of record company A&Rs than anything else, by which I mean that less artist development is being carried out at record labels.
Are songwriters generally knowledgeable about the music industry?
No, there's a big information gap and there's a lot of education to be done in terms of understanding what makes a good song, why it works, how an A&R person works, and how the industry as a whole works. Knowledge of these things makes communication easier when you discuss songs, what you can do with them, how they can be adapted, and in terms of radio.
It’s also great to have an idea of economic and legal aspects. Perhaps that’s a lot to wish for, but the more knowledge you have about these things, the better the collaboration.
When you sign a new writer, what does the agreement generally include?
Term and advances, and so on.
How many songs do they have to deliver per year?
It depends on their situation. If you're producing and writing, you can't do as many songs as you can when you're just writing.
How long are contracts generally signed for?
That’s also depends on the person and the person's situation.
Are there options involved?
Have publishers started to play a more important role in finding and developing artists?
I would definitely say so. Record labels increasingly look for finished product.
Are publishers more involved with the A&R work than they were before?
Why sign exclusive publishing deals as opposed to per-song deals with options on upcoming songs?
I believe in relationships and if you do a song-by-song deal, you're going into banking, which is not fun.
Isn’t the fact that songs can get locked a disadvantage for songwriters with exclusive deals?
Yes, if you have a bad relationship. As a publishing company, we live from the song rights, so we have to try and get as many rights as we can, but only as many rights as we can actually work with. It’s more of a theoretical problem that songwriters feel that their hands are tied by their publishers. Although you also sometimes hear about songwriters being annoyed by their option deals.
How involved are you with the Swedish record releases in terms of marketing, promotion, tour support, and so on?
I firmly believe that record companies or other marketing professionals should handle the marketing. Publishers should be involved in the strategic discussions as partners though, because they are in a better position to think long-term than record companies, who need a quick return on their money.
How active are you when it comes to synchronization?
Very active. We have one person working on it full-time, and it's developing nicely for us. Every publisher today would say that it is becoming an increasingly important part of the business, in compensation for the decrease in mechanical income as a result of the decline in record sales. Record companies also work with synchronization, although from a marketing angle: they give away the use of a new song to promote records, whereas we work with a back catalogue.
If we have a lead for a commercial, we look at our 300,000 songs and select the songs they can choose from and what the angles are. We want to find the song that works best, which is a lot better than the record company perspective of selecting the upcoming release.
Do your artist/songwriters ever come across the controlled composition clause, which record companies often include in artists’ contracts?
Can its existence be justified or is it just a way for labels to get a larger slice of the cake?
I would say the latter.
What do you think of the clause?
People should get paid for their work. It's rare in Europe, because it doesn't fit in with the way things work here. It's based strictly on the American system, so it's hard to understand from our point of view.
From an international perspective, how do you see the Swedish music industry developing in the next few years?
The Swedish music industry has been booming for many years, and we were lucky enough to have a second boom with the Swedish rock bands. We have built a network and I think we will be involved internationally, even more so in the future. We will see more Swedish people working at various levels at labels and publishers worldwide.
How do you think the Internet will affect the business models of record companies and publishers?
It may be a huge opportunity for everyone involved. The owners of the masters used to be the record companies, but in the future I wouldn't automatically draw that line. It’s very exciting for publishers, although maybe less so for record companies.
Are there now more avenues for publishers to pursue with their artists, rather than just going for a record deal?
There will be in the future. In a way, we will almost be master-owners ourselves. Right now, ring tones and downloads are where it’s at, but I firmly believe that the new technological platforms will create avenues that we cannot envisage at this stage. This may affect a lot of things, even music itself. Songs may become longer or shorter in accordance with slots and different formats.
Will record companies have to change their business model?
What aspect of the music industry is in need of drastic change?
It would be fantastic if the record industry made an effort to explain to the public what we actually do, so we could get rid of the bad-guy image. There's a total misconception about record companies in terms of corporate infringements and downloads. The record industry is very bad at communicating what we are defending.
The second thing would be to make record labels better at understanding the product in terms of being able to work eclectically with it. That means to be able to take risks, signing things with small budgets and letting them develop over time. The long-term view and eclectic rosters are essential for a healthy music industry.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career so far?
The first day I started to work at a record label. When I sat down in my room, I just realised that I would be able to listen to music and get paid for it. That was a revelation!
What do you see yourself doing in five to ten years’ time?
Hopefully, something extremely exciting within a new field in music.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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