Fair Pay for Every Play, Ep 23: Chris Meehan - Lessons on Publishing

Fair Pay For Every Play: Chris Meehan The founder and CEO of Sentric.
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Kristian: Welcome to Fair Pay For Every Play from Utopia, a podcast about music technology for music industry professionals. My name is Kristian Luoma and in this episode, I'm joined by the founder and CEO of Sentric, Chris Meehan. Chris has been a music obsessive ever since his youth. He started his career managing local bands before eventually founding the award-winning British publishing company Sentric Music. In this episode I wanted to dive into why publishing is such an integral part of a successful career in music. I also wanted to quiz Chris on what Sentric's new partnership with Utopia means for the wider music industry.

Why is music publishing so important and how can Sentric help us achieve Fair Pay For Every Play? Welcome to the show. Chris, could you give us a short rundown of who you are and what you do.

Chris: So I'm Chris. I started Sentric Music 16 years ago, and I've been the CEO ever since. So, 16 years on, I'm still changing light bulbs and ordering toilet paper and doing all the strategy and everything in between. That never leaves you when you found a business. We've been through a phenomenal time of helping people get paid in the music industry, particularly through publishing and neighboring mites and we've done a great job with a great team of people to get to the point that we were working together with you.

Kristian: Absolutely. What was the seed that inspired you to join the music industry in the beginning?

Chris: I started playing the drums when I was six and I was in primary school. A guy came in to showcase drum lessons and he played Michael Jackson’s Beat It on the drums and all I wanted to do was be able to play, Beat It like Mr. Kelly did. I then picked up a guitar and piano and I’ve been in bands all my life, but I kind of knew that I wasn't going to be doing that for a living. I was really good at business studies and media at school and I found there was a way of being able to put the two together by going to an open day by accident - at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. They had a music management degree which meant I got the best of being able to be around creators and songwriters and artists. I could be in the George Martin Recording Studio that looked like the Starship Enterprise whilst still being able to carry on with the thing that I was good at, which was the business side.

Kristian: Were there any sort of bands or artists that we might know from those days with the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts and the local artist management career?

Chris: Well, we started managing bands, but we didn't really know what we were doing! We used to put on club nights as well as small, independent unsigned artist music festivals. So we would put on The Wombats all the time - we're still really good friends and were at university together. I used to work at a club night with their manager, Simon, who was the year above me at uni. I used to personally manage a band with a South African guy and a few Norwegian guys, all kind of connected through Tord from The Wombats, he’s now St Lucia and doing very well and has moved to Williamsburg, great sounding kind of 80’s music, which is doing really well. So, yeah, it's amazing. Like when you go to the open day of that place, they all say that you will make friends with people that you will be bumping into for the rest of your life and it's definitely true!

Kristian: In 2006 you found Sentric Music, which is an independent publishing company from the UK, but it has expanded tremendously over the years. What inspired you to start with Sentric and what has the journey been like?

Chris: As part of your LIPA management course, you have to do a three-month work placement. I was going to go and work for a big management company that managed lots of the X-Factor / Pop Idol sort of people. That fell through three months before I was supposed to start and I didn't really have anything else to do so. My two options were to be the assistant venue manager at the local o2 academy, which meant putting towels in dressing rooms and beer in dressing rooms, or convince the lecturers to let me start my own business and that's kind of what I did. We got an office, but didn't really have a business plan, but we went to In The City which was a big music conference and everyone said, at the time, you know, go to the bar with the music publishers, because they're the ones with the money, but no one knows what they do. And that kind of intrigued me!

I had some friends who were in bands that we were managing, who were signed to music publishing companies and I asked them what publishing is that they're part of and they didn't know. So we kind of found very quickly that there was a huge problem, there’s all this money getting collected and people don't really know what for, or how to get it. And that was the start of Sentric, really. We wanted to give people access to money. It's actually the first piece of revenue you generate from the music industry, through publishing. So if you write a song and you go and play it live to get some validation, you will get at least £6 in the UK.

Kristian: That's an amazing piece of advice. How would you advise the artist in the beginning of their career to go about the publishing part of music copyrights? What needs to be done right, for, for the money to flow?

Chris: Well, you have to be aware of it. So education is hugely important and there's lots of resources like on Sentric. We've got a What The Fuck Is Publishing? blog and, there's tons of resources online now, back in 2006, there was none. I think people like us have done a really good job of creating transparency around what you get for a radio play or what you get for a live performance. You've got to engage with it as soon as you write the song, because the money doesn't sit around forever. As you develop as an artist, your revenue grows, but as you kind of slow down as an artist and the one constant is your publishing revenue. It's really important to understand it and make sure that you treat it as seriously as you do distribution or a booking agent, or a manager from the beginning.

Kristian: Protecting publishing rights is part of the joint mission between Utopia and Sentric. What was it in particular that made you excited to join the Utopia journey?

Chris: It was like we've all been singing from the same hymn sheet without knowing each other and living in different countries! The options that were available for our company were to go and carry on the mission on your own, to go and join a bigger thing that probably doesn't say the same vision. When we had the discussion with Roberto, when we came over and met you guys, it was, we were all saying the same thing. The talent around the table at Utopia just made us really excited to be able to do more of what we started doing in 2006 and do it bigger and doing it better and do it for more people with great people around the table.

Kristian: You have a slightly new role at Utopia Music. Could you elaborate on what you're building at the moment?

Chris: I've been the VP of Royalty Management Services, continuing to grow the publisher's administration, which we've got a great start with in Sentric. We’re building up our neighboring rights and UGC collection. It is something that already exists, we just need to look at the scale of that. And then we've got a whole new world of working with collection societies and working with data that we're just starting to get stuck into and work out and the strategy, as to how we can help them, where we can help and where we should prioritize. I thought it was busy at Sentric running that, this new but it's, it's brilliant.

The teams that we have and the vision that we have and the things that we can achieve just by all being together - even some of the other businesses that have come in - there's not really anyone in the music industry that we can't get in touch with, or we don't know. It's really exciting to be able to give a much broader range of services to the music industry than just what Sentric did on its own.

Kristian: And talking about growth. We’ve already announced that we want to expand, especially on the engineering side in Liverpool. Could you speak a bit to that promise and objective? What are we looking for around Liverpool?

Chris: We keep all of our operational base here. So even though we have people all around the world, all of our royalty administration and our copyright administration is done in Liverpool. A lot of our artist services and client services are in Liverpool. We had a relatively small tech team of 11 people and Liverpool being, in the Northwest of England, with some fantastic universities in Manchester, in Preston and obviously the ones in Liverpool itself, we see this as a real opportunity to hire some of the great tech talent that exists.

The tech scene here is very vibrant - there's a few unicorns over in Manchester - there's lots of tech businesses, there's lots of startups, but none of them are in the music space. And I think the USP that we have here is that you can come and work on great technology, with a great team of people, but you can do it to help music. And that is literally why every one of our 11 developers joined, because they could work in any sector, but music is something that excites them. I feel like we've got the history of music in both Liverpool and Manchester and the talent that's around, we've got a real opportunity to build a great team here that can service the whole of Utopia.

Kristian: Absolutely amazing. I do fully encourage everybody to sign up for those opportunities around Liverpool and the rest of the world. Just to close this interview, Chris, you've been seeing firsthand the impact of technology in the music landscape. What's your forecast? Are we going to a better place or a worse place from the creator's point of view? Will the creators have better chances at monetizing their music in the future with technology advancing?

Chris: Well, it's funny because in 2006, when we started, technology was a threat because it changed the dynamic of revenue and we saw traditional music publishing revenue decline. Then technology came along and then brought them back up, which has an obvious positive. I feel like the technology for the consumer is always 10 paces ahead of the technology for the industry that relies on it to make payments.

So while the technology is providing more money into the music ecosystem, it is doing it as such a scale data-wise that the backend needs to catch up and that's something that's really challenging. I think, absolutely, there is more money, for the creators, for the songwriters and for the recording artists. I think that the challenge is going to be making sure that the industry can cope with the scale of where it’s at now and where it’s going in the next 10 years. And that's why the partnership with Utopia can change the way that people get paid.

Kristian: Excellent. Thank you so much for your time, Chris. Absolutely excited to call you my colleague.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Fair Pay For Every Play by Utopia. Utopia Music is dedicated to giving Fair Pay For Every Play. We provide the solutions to make royalty payments transparent, efficient, and fair. The artists and rights holders for the music featured on this podcast have been rightly paid for their contribution. As always, please remember to subscribe on Apple Music, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts or your favorite music. To find out more about what we do and the mission we're on, please go to utopiamusic.com