Interview with MILLER WILLIAMS, publisher at Global Talent Publishing for Corinne Bailey Rae (No.1 UK) - Jun 5, 2006
“I had A&R people calling me up saying: who is this Corinne??? I said: “it’s the same thing I played you 6 months ago!” – When they saw her live, they finally got it!”
… says Miller Williams, publisher at Global Talent Publishing in London, UK. He signed Corinne Bailey Rae (No.1 UK) after she’d played him songs in her living room, singing “Like A Star“ with just a guitar. 3 years later her debut album sold 600,000 copies in only 3 months.
Miller, who is a member at the publisher and songwriter community SongQuarters.com, tells about where he learnt to admire the craft of writing a great song, how he works to get Corinne into American Film & TV to break her overseas and why the Swedes are to blame for the high demo standards needed today for songwriters.
How did you get started in the music business?
I’m from New Orleans and began playing guitar in bands as teenager. I studied engineering, got my degree and then worked for a company, but I kept doing music on the side. Then I heard about this college in Nashville that offered a course in music business and music engineering. So, I packed up the car and moved to Nashville.
When I got there, I decided against the course, I didn’t want to do another 4 years at college. Instead, I got myself an unpaid intern job at Tree Music Publishing, which was the biggest independent publisher at the time. I worked in the tape room, making tapes for the song pluggers – mainly country music.
You were into country music…?
Not especially, I had always listened to a wide variety of music – The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin, the Jackson Five - commercial pop music played on the radio. But in Nashville I learnt to admire the craft of writing a great song. Country music by its very nature is all about the song, the words and the melody, and not so much what the track sounds like.
Some people have the talent to make a great song out of a very simple but universal idea. These are usually the best songs – an idea everyone can relate to presented in a unique way. I got to know some fantastic writers like Tom Shapiro, just to mention one of them, who had lots of country hits and wrote George Benson´s “Never give up on a good thing”.
I met people early in their careers, like Kix Brooks when he was just a staff writer, well before the success of Brooks & Dunn. He won’t remember me, because I was the guy who copied the casettes at double speed in the tape factory! We were listening to all the songs at double speed and were still able to tell whether we had the right versions!
How did you emerge from the tape room to launch your own career?
A guy who worked at Tree Publishing had left and set up his own company around the corner called Terrace Music. I went to talk with him and his partner and ended up getting a full time job as “the office guy”, booking sessions, organizing the tape copies, doing a bit of everything.
Terrace Music was pretty successful, we had cuts with Reba McEntire, Randy Travis and other country stars of that era. At the same time we had a sub-publishing agreement with All Boys Music/PWL from England which included the Stock Aitken Waterman material. They had 30 or 40 albums out in those days and some huge hits with groups like Bananarama and Rick Astley, etc. So half the day I was doing country, the other half pop and dance, thus learning the European side of pop.
Is that why you moved to London?
I was at Terrace Music from 1986 until 1989, when the owners decided to fold the company. One of them, Robert John Jones, formed a joint venture with PWL (Pete Waterman Limited) in London and I was hired as the international product manager for this new record company. I had to make sure that our licencees had all the necessary parts to make up the records in their territories.
After about 2 years the company stopped having hits and they had to let some people off. I briefly worked for a management company, and then moved on to BMG Records, doing International Marketing and Promotion. I got to work with Lisa Stansfield, Take That and Alison Limerick until BMG decided to down-size their international department and was made redundant again.
Did they give you some kind of “redundancy payments”?
Yes, I did OK…. but everytime this happened, I thought: OK, time to go back to the States. And instead, the next job would come up a couple of weeks later. Also, I met my wife at BMG.
How did you know about these jobs that were on offer?
Usually through friends and colleagues who would tell me to contact the person who was looking to hire someone and then I would get invited for an interview. At my next Job at Sony they were actually creating a new publishing department and I became part of that new team.
So you moved back into publishing. What exactly was your job?
Everything had to be newly established, signing new writers, working the existing catalogue. The Sony catalogue published the songs of Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, Mariah Carey, and we had Oasis and Shade… part of my job was also to find new ways of using this music. I built up film synchronistation (ie the use of songs in film and TV), then playstations came out and the computer games companies started to want music for the games.
How do they pay for the music for computer games?
With games I was always in favour of a royalty rate, because then if the game is a big seller, the writer gets the benefit of that, whereas with a flat fee, you only get payed once and that’s it. But obviously that’s what the games people prefer. So you have to negotiate.
Which writers did you work with?
Their biggest writer was Elliot Kennedy. He was in the process of being signed just as I started and when I first heard his tape I absolutely agreed that this guy was really good. He wrote some major hits for the Spice Girls, Boyzone, Bryan Adams and Take That. My biggest signing was a boyband called Five. They co-wrote most of their songs, which is unusual for a boy band, and they sold millions of records in the UK and internationally.
What made you create your own business?
Sony ATV Music Publishing grew quickly because of the success of the artists and the writers and because of other catalogues that Sony was able to buy. It was actually created as a joint venture with Michael Jackson, who had bought the Beatles catalogue.
In the beginning we were 6 people and by the time I left we were 24. I was Creative Manager from 1993 – 2000, but in the end it was a bit like working in a factory and I needed a new challenge. Through pitching songs I had met the owners of Global Talent Management who wanted to create a new publishing company, so we sat down, I presented them with a business plan and they decided to back me.
We had quite a bit of success with cuts from our writers in the UK and the US. For instance Graham Kearns, who co-wrote with Lucie Silvas who has now sold 600,000 units.
And right now her album is back in the French charts because she just did a very successful duet with a French artist. We placed songs with over 45 artists worldwide. One of our songs is the X Factor theme music, one the theme for American Inventor. Then of course there was Corinne Bailey Rae, whom I signed 3 years ago.
How do you find your writers?
That is the question everybody asks! When I started out I had a desk, a computer and a phone. So I was calling around all my contacts, including other publishers. Because sometimes they have somebody great but they can´t sign them because they’ve done all their signings for the year.
The first guy I signed was Ricky Hanley, he was recommended by a lawyer to me while I was still at Sony. So when his deal with Sony didn’t happen I invited him to come to us. Graham Kearns was found because he had written the songs for a band that our management company was looking at. My colleague played me his stuff and I signed him.
When you sign artists, what do you offer them?
I’m an independent publisher, so it’s not vast sums of money. Nowadays the big deals are not even on offer from the big publishers, unless it’s a hot new band that everybody wants to sign. But I never get involved in that.
When people come to me, I tell them: I can offer you great pro-active service to make you successful as a writer/artist and when you are successful I am happy for your manager to walk in the door and renegotiate our deal. What I offer is a decent advance and a split that´s anything from 50:50 up.
What kind of advance?
In Corinne’s case we gave her enough money so she could quit her day job at Harvey Nichols (department store) in Leeds and concentrate on her music, and we paid all her traveling expenses whenever she had to go on songwriting dates with other people.
Often writers complain about the big publishers because they sign them but then they don’t do anything for them.
That’s to do with the shear size of these companies. Having worked at a major, I know that there is so much work to do all the time, and such big catalogues to deal with that you can’t spend much time neither on the development of writers nor on one particular writer. That´s where independents are much better.
How did you get to sign Corinne Bailey Rae?
One of my writers shared a flat with her manager, Bob Miller. I had heard about him before, we talked on the phone, and he was really enthusiastic about Corinne and her song “Like A Star”. Corinne had been part of an indie girl rock band 7 years previous in Leeds. They got very close to getting a record deal, but it never quite happened.
So since then she’d been doing music on the side, singing in clubs when she could and she had written or co-written about 12 or 13 songs, most of those co-writes were with a guy called Rod Bowkett. So, first I heard some of these songs on a CD, then we met personally in Rod’s apartment. I heard her sing with just a guitar, and the first song she did was “Like A Star”. I thought, this girl is great and she’s got some great songs. And I proceeded to sign her.
Did you match her with other songwriters?
She wrote with Tommy D, Paul Herman (writer for Dido) and Pam Sheyne (she co-wrote “Genie In A Bottle” for Christina Aguilera), there are some songs on the album that she had co-written with Rod Bowkett before I signed her. She co-wrote with Andrew Hale (Shade), John Beck, Marc Nelkin, Steve Bush, Teitur Lassen and Steve Brown, and she co-wrote with Steve Chrisanthou who then got to produce her album.
She also wrote with Marc Hill, which turned out to be one of the big pieces of the puzzle that helped her get a record deal. (Marc Hill co-wrote a lot of the Craig David stuff and produced it). He produced one of their co-writes - “Young and Foolish” - with Corinne and then put it on an EP, together with other songs and 2 other artists singing.
Then he decided to put a band together and tour to promote that record. So Corinne was appearing as one of the featured vocalists on that tour around England. When they did their show in London, the next day, I had A&R people calling me up saying: who is this girl??? And I said: it’s the same thing I played you 6 months ago! – when they saw her live, they finally got it!
Are these co-writers also signed to you?
No. Apart from Marc Nelkin who has one co-write on the album they are all with different publishers. The appointments came about in different ways. With Steve Chrisanthou, for instance, I had heard about him because he produced Charlotte Church’s record and he also lived in Leeds. So I mentioned him to Corinne, she already knew him and I encouraged her to call him up.
At the same time I had played Corinne’s material to Gary Davies who is a publisher like myself and has some really good writers. He loved what he heard and at the same time he was about to do a publishing deal with Steve. Gary also has a production company (Good Groove Recording) and decided to do a production deal with Steve to produce a record with Corinne. Parallel to that Corinne went on that tour with Marc Hill! So it all came together and the timing was right.
Did you sign her to a record company?
No, because when the record companies were calling me after the London show I had to tell them to talk to Gary Davies because they had done the production deal. By that time Gary had a CD with about 6 songs. Before, Corinne had worked with different writers and producers, so the productions of these songs were going in different directions. Gary got Steve to re-do 6 of those songs and thus make the production hang together as a package. They started shopping her for a deal and signed with EMI.
Had you tried to get her a deal before that?
I had approached a few select A&R people early on, and most were: “Oh, interesting, keep us posted on what’s happening.” But at the time, no one was interested enough to put an offer on the table.
Did Corinne have a say in the production?
She was in the studio with Steve all the time when the record was being made.
Who picked the songs for the album?
I let everybody know which were my favourites, but we all agreed on which songs were the best ones, the ones that really made the album. We had about 30 songs to choose from. Corinne, Gary, Matt Rumbold (the A&R for Corinne Bailey Rae at EMI Records UK) and myself, we all pretty much picked the same songs. The album came out February 29th, 2006.
So why is it so successful?
Right thing, right place, right time and right songs that everybody just likes. Also, EMI had released an EP with 3 different songs, amongst them “Like A Star”. Corinne was known to some people through the Mark Hill tour, she had been mentioned a little bit in the press and public radio had played songs where she appeared as a vocalist. So, the idea was to press up 4000 CDs as a taster for the album that was to come, to be given out to those who already knew her name.
The EP was taken to some radio stations, and then Jo Whiley, who is a Radio One DJ, made “Like A Star” her record of the week and started playing it. Others caught on and it went up to No.32 in the charts with no video and no other promo around it. Just off the strength of people hearing it on the radio! We then got Corinne to do a one month residency at a club in London and we invited fans, press, TV, etc. She played there every Wednesday night, and everbody really loved it. So when the album came out, it just sold by itself.
What are you doing for her songs now?
I put the sheet music together so a book with her songs is coming out, because people do want to learn and play the songs themselves. I spend a lot of time on synchronisation work for her, particularly in America, where her album gets released on June 20th.
Either radio is going to like it or not. So what can help her success in the States is the use of her music in film or on TV. “Like A Star” has already been used in “Gray´s Anatomy”, one of the biggest US TV series right now.
Who do you contact to place your music in TV and film?
I call the music supervisors, who are either working inhouse or independently. Music supervisors pick the music that goes on a production and you have to get to the key people who make decisions. For example Anne Klein in L.A. who does “E.R.”
I ask them if they have heard of the artist, which they sometimes have, and if they have the CD, which they usually haven’t, so I send one over. I tell them that we´d appreciate any kind of synch opportunity and could they please contact me via email or phone if they are interested. Corinne played in L.A. in March and I flew over for that. I invited music supervisors, film and TV people and I had a very good response after that.
How do you get paid?
They pay the record company a master license for the use of the track and they have to pay the publishers the synchronisation fee. There is no performance income on top of that. Europe and the States work differently. In the UK for instance, TV stations have a blanket agreement, they don’t have to license the track but you get performance income when your song is aired, whereas in the States, for every use, the TV company has to get a license.
That’s how it works for film worldwide: if you use a piece of music in a film, you have to pay for a synch license. If you are Joe Nobody it’s peanuts, but if you are well-known it’s a different story.
When you’re pitching, what’s important in the way you present the songs?
The song has to fit the artist and the demo production has to be amazingly good because standards are very high these days. I blame the Swedes, because they make such high class demos. I would never say never play to just piano, but A&Rs are now used to hearing very good demo productions.
Because so many artists now write their own?
Absolutely. Right now in the UK we have mostly artist-driven commercial pop music. Like Corinne, where the artist at least co-writes. So what I try do with my writers is to get them together in a room with recording artists. That way there is more likelood that the song gets recorded because the artist is involved.
But we do get cuts placed in other countries, like Southeast Asia or Japan, where they will take a song and then translate it into Japanese, and yes, we had cuts in the US, but here in England right now, it´s all artist driven.
So, last question, tell us your advice for all those budding, unpublished songwriters out there.
1. Be persistent. Because most people at your level eventually give up.
2. Go and move to a major music city. If you write country, it’s no good sitting in Paris.
3. Integrate yourself in that community of writers, make contacts with everyone in the business and make friends. That’s what the music business is about.
4. Even if you have a publisher, show initiative! Make 5 phone calls a day. You may not ever hear from them but if you keep at it, somebody will find you.
5. Listen to what is in the charts! Analyse and learn from the hits!
6. Be on the lookout for the next great artist, the new kid on the block, and write for them, because when they get up there, you do too.
7. I’d also like to recommend a really good book by Jimmy Webb called “Tunesmith”.
And one other thing I want to mention: writers think somewhere else is their panacea - "it's hard in England so we need to go to the US", or vice versa. I think we're now a truly global music community so I would say, if you write songs that are Europop then Europe is proabably the best place to be (or South East Asia); if you do country, move to Nashville; if it's urban/R&B, then the US is the source for this type of music. But overall, I believe that if a writer or writer/producer is really good, they'll get noticed wherever they are.
So how can a new songwriter get your attention?
I have never signed anything that has come to me unsolicited through the mail. I usually get a recommendation from a manager, a lawyer or an A&R guy. I would like to sign a fantastic female lyricist and music writer like a Dianne Warren since all my writers/producers are guys, but of course the bar is very high, since I would always compare them to Corinne!
For budding writers, the best way to get to me is through a professional in the industry! You don’t know anyone? Well go and meet some people!!!
Interviewed by Monica Rydell
Next week: Professional Demo Review
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