Interview with SIMON PURSEHOUSE, co-founder of Sentric Music a free music publishing and rights management service - February 15, 2010
“There must be thousands of artists in the UK alone unaware of royalties they are entitled to … We can collect for them money every time they play live and every time they get played on radio.”
Being unsigned is no longer a barrier to making headway in the industry thanks to pioneering artist-friendly companies like Sentric Music.
We’ve seen that hit singles are within grasp of the label-less, as demonstrated by our recent interview with online distributor Ditto Music, and now the gates of music publishing have been cast wide open. Helping the unsigned and independent collect royalties, secure syncs in TV and advertising, and all without stripping them of their precious copyright, is Sentric Music.
Sentric co-founder Simon Pursehouse talks with HitQuarters about the reasons why so many artists are unaware of the royalties they are entitled to, how his company has synched up unknown songs with well known clients, and whether the publishing freedom they offer is the mark of things to come.
How did you first come up with the idea for Sentric music?
A few years ago my friend Chris and me were both at university managing artists and we were trying to sort out performing royalties for the bands that we were looking after. After a little bit of research we discovered that there were quite a few barriers - the cost to sign up, the chase and then all the admin … We knew a lot of other bands and artists around Liverpool that were all in the same situation and so we thought that there must be an easier way to do this.
After two years we realised we had quite a few artists on board and a big song catalogue and so we began looking into the world of syncs and that's when we started getting music into TV and advertising. It’s something that’s good for the exposure of the artist and there’s also a lot of money involved.
On paper we are an administrative independent publisher. The artist can have their copyrights back whenever they want with a 28-day notice. It is as artist friendly as possible.
If you compare your service to a normal publishing company, what would you say the key differences are?
Although we’re not taking away the artist copyright, we can’t pay cash in advance like a traditional publisher would do.
If you're an artist and don't have a traditional publishing deal this is mainly because: (a) You don't want to sacrifice your copyright or (b) There's no one who wants to invest in you - which is obviously common in the current climate. We offer you an easy artist friendly publishing deal where you can get your music on adverts or into film and we try to make as much income off your copyright as possible.
It's an option of either doing nothing or spending half an hour every now and then on updating your profile on our site.
I think it's a bit unfair to even compare us to a normal publishing service. I see us more like just another essential thing you need to do if you are an artist and want to make some money - you sign up to MySpace, to Facebook, and you sign up to Sentric.
Who are the main people your service is targeted at?
The royalty collection side of the service is open to anyone in the UK who performs or writes original music. We have around 1,700 artists on board, which growing by the day, and there's a handful that we work with more closely.
The sync side is open to everyone. If we get a brief from a popular fast food restaurant, for example, then the next thing we do is send out an email to our mailing list and say, "We need a song that sounds like this ... Have you got anything that fits?" The artists then send in suggestions and we A&R the best ones and send them to the client.
When you look at your roster what kind of artist are mainly interested in your service?
It's a real mix. We have lots of artist that are just starting out and we’ve had artists signed to major labels. We’ve had artists on Island Records or big indie labels like Mute. We have bands that have supported big bands like Muse or the Sex pistols in arenas. There’s a big variety of everything.
Do you have any big name artists signed with you at the moment?
Well, I don't want to miss anyone out, we have Grammatik, , Gallop's or Kid Adrift, who just signed a major record deal … There’s so many it depends what genre you are into and in what part of the world you are.
How many people are working at your company?
There are three people working full-time and one part-time.
Would you say there are a lot of bands out there that haven't signed up with PRS or don’t take care of any administrative things, and as such are missing out on a lot of money?
Oh yes, without a doubt! There must be thousands of artists in the UK alone that are unaware of PRS and royalties they are entitled to get. They don't realise that every time they play live and every time they get played on radio we can collect money for them.
The way we set up the website and the money we spent in developing our software means that 15 minutes after signing up and having given us the information we need, we can go off and start making money for you.
What do you think the main reasons are for people not signing up to the PRS or other performing rights societies?
Education mainly. I remember when I was learning music in school and it was all about playing Greensleeves on the keyboard. There was nothing about what you can do with your copyright.
Can you give me an idea of how much you can earn with a performance?
It's all about the size of the venue that you play. If it is a tiny venue around the corner that holds about 20 people then it averages around £5 a gig. That might not sound like much but it soon adds up. Barfly-size venues are about £20, Brixton Academy is about £40-50, all the way to festivals like Reading or Leeds, which can go up to £1,000 for a performance, and arenas where you can get a few thousand.
Would you say you do something that a normal person cannot do by themselves?
You can obviously join the PRS yourself - we never say that you can't. But from our experience most of the people that sign up to us as well are getting more royalties than they did before, even after our percentage cut. We have expertise in chasing up and collecting royalties.
Other than that we offer sync. I spend a lot of time connecting with people all over the world. We had adverts in Asia, Australia a lot of TV in America. If you're an artist doing this by yourself it can be incredibly difficult because a music supervisor would rather talk to someone that is representing a catalogue and can give them an honest opinion than speak to an artist who is just going to say, "This is great if you use it."
How did the alliance with Ditto music come about?
Lee Parsons has crossed my path quite a lot in various different music industry events where we’ve been on the same panels. We’re both quite young and both do things a bit differently. We met at the music conference In The City in Manchester last November and realised that it was about time that we do something together because we both look at the same kind of roster, unsigned bands and artists.
Do both your companies now complement each other?
I think yes. Distribution and putting things on Spotify and iTunes was never the central point of our business. We provide that service in a limited form for artists that request it, but we are chiefly a publisher and are more about collecting royalties and making sync deals.
Ditto music is offering a far more comprehensive distribution package and they do it very well and we are very much in tune with their ethos. We like the way they work with their artists and the service they offer. So what we do with them is, if you are a Ditto music artist and you use the Sentric music service, we sacrifice our admin percentage on any MCPS royalties as a result of digital download sales. So if you go through Ditto you can receive the highest download rate compared to all the independent distributors.
Can you take advantage of your service if you are from outside the UK?
Not at the moment unfortunately, but we have just been discussing this topic at MIDEM. We found six different territories throughout the world that we can potentially penetrate very soon and rollout a similar kind of model.
If I'm not the only writer on a song and the other writers are with different publishing companies can you collect just my share?
Yes, we just make sure that any registration we're doing is done correctly.
What information do you require to register a song properly?
We just require the song title, the people writing on it and if there's any previous information like, has it been published before or has it been registered with a certain society?
To sign up to Sentric music and to start-collecting royalties for live shows only takes 10 to 15 minutes. I'm currently working on a bit of software that will make it even easier where you can take your gig history from your MySpace. We're trying to make it as easy as possible.
How do you register a gig with you?
You submit the set list and the date and then we have quite a comprehensive database of venues, so if you start typing it will come up automatically. It literally takes 10 to 15 seconds to fill in.
If I played shows two years ago but register the songs that I have played just now. How far can you backdate a claim?
It currently depends on if you were already a member of the collection society at the time. If you were, we can go back up to three years. But in the vast majority of cases you’re looking at six to 12 month, depending on when you registered with us or the PRS.
We just had quite a big meeting about this with the PRS because we were asking them for the reasons why they cut off dates and changed the conditions. It is quite complex and it took me a couple years to get my head around.
How does the money flow work - are you getting paid your share directly from the PRS?
If the artist is a member of a collection society our 20% goes straight to us and the 80% goes straight to the artist but if they're not affiliated with anyone the hundred percent goes straight to us and we pay out the 80% to the artist. In that case their material gets published through our publishing umbrella.
How do you get the syncing opportunities for you artist?
It's a mix of talking to the brand directly, the advertising agency, who is creating the adverts for the brand or the music supervisor who is picking the song.
They are normally giving us a brief like, for example, "We are looking for a song that does this,” and then lots of adjectives that portray the emotions in 30 seconds, but with no vocals on it. Sometimes they give you the visual so you can watch your music with it. Then we submit what we think works best from our catalogue and if they like it we start negotiating terms.
There are a lot of favours going out and about. I know that if you can help out with a bit of music on one occasion where there's not much money then on one with a big budget they’ll look at you with more preference.
Then there are the occasions where they want a particular song. They find out that we are the publishers and so come directly to us.
There is a lot of competition out there and it's very hard to get syncs.
Can you give me some examples and explain how it worked out?
There is a TV advert in the UK that came in through a music supervision company called Recall that got in touch with us. The brief was very simple - up-tempo indie music. We had a track from an artist called Carlis Star with a very catchy guitar riff at the beginning. The university that the track was for really enjoyed it and so we then started negotiating fees.
It's all about what media they want to use it on, how long does they want to use it for, what are the terms for it, and once we found a figure that everyone was happy with we go through with it.
We try to negotiate so that it's fair for the artist and for the brand. We have been doing this for a few years now and in the last 18 to 21 months we saw upfront sync fees drop dramatically because there's less money in advertising. It’s just started to pick up again.
Does it work any differently for the US market?
For the US TV market it’s a bit different sometimes. I have quite a few contacts with people who are doing the music supervision for the TV programmes. Often they have a song they can't use because it's too expensive and so say, "We want a song that sounds like this Coldplay song but we can't afford it. Do you have something that's kind of similar?"
I also send them regular updates every couple of weeks - new music that we are working with and music that is good over here. And they come back and say, "Oh, that song that you sent me a while ago, is that still available?"
At the same time the artists will get good performance royalties from it and good exposure, especially from US TV shows where you can actually see the sales increase a week after the placement.
What cut do you get on syncs?
The upfront sync fees are divided into 50% on the publishing side and 50% on the master recording side (for whoever owns the masters). From that we take half of the publishing side (meaning 25% of the net receipts).
Then we take 20% off any PRS and MCPS income streams.
How can I make sure that if I'm one of those 1,700 artists on your site that you put my song forward for a sync opportunity? How do I stand out?
Artists are always helping us by keeping us updated with what they are doing. Every time we e-mail out a brief and ask for a track you have to make sure you respond and have instrumentals available. Never submit a song for a brief if the song doesn't fit because it just annoys everyone.
There's a blog on our www.sentricmusic.com website that gives you some industry advice. For example there is one topic called ‘66 tips to make your music more attractive for sync.’
What do you hope to achieve at SXSW this year?
Mainly network with music supervisors, the sync agency that is responsible for music on TV over there, and scout for new talent.
Also America is one of the territories that we want to move into in the next couple of years and so we will be meeting up with people from ASCAP and BMI.
Are you just filling a niche with your service or do you think the freedom and independence you offer could become standard for all types of artists?
I don't think it will become the norm but it will become far more regular. I mean we’ve had artists turn down traditional publishing deals in order to stay with us.
Some artists see signing to a major as the goal and some artists already realise that it isn't. It's good getting offered a lot of money in advance but at the end of the day if you cannot make that back it can be bad for your career. As Lou Reed said last year at SXSW, “Copyright is king, you should never sacrifice it.”
Interview by Jan Blumentrath
Next week: Professional Demo Review returns for a new season
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* Co-founder of Ditto Music, online music distributor and Sentric Music partner on achieving number 1s with unsigned artists