As traditional revenue streams of the music business dry up, modern music publishing companies are innovating accordingly. Noted in descending order: Sony/ATV, Warner/Chappell, Universal Music, Kobalt and BMG, monolithic companies dominate the business. But this is only part of the equation. A new generation of companies is inventing advanced business models for success. In this feature, MC speaks with representatives from three such entities as they explain how their respective firms are contributing to robust new income streams for songwriters through talent development, media platforms and branding.
Company: 3 Ring Circus Music
Songwriters and Artists: Jeffrey Steele, Adam James, Davis Naish
Based in Nashville, TN, 3 Ring Circus Music is an independently owned and operated music publishing company established by multiple award-winning songwriter and producer Jeffrey Steele, who has had 10 No. 1 singles and has written for some of today’s top artists including: Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Montgomery Gentry, Zac Brown Band, Cher, Miley Cyrus and many others.
Darrell Franklin is the General Manager of 3 Ring Circus Music. Previously he handled A&R duties for producer Dann Huff, and together they formed Crosstown Songs, which was acquired by BMG Chrysalis in 2009 when Franklin joined BMG as Executive VP. In March 2013 Franklin launched Franklin Publishing as a joint venture with BMG Chrysalis.
Please describe what makes 3 Ring Circus Music distinctive.
First, the company is totally independent. We’re self-administered. Jeff has been that way for 11 or 12 years now. There is no outside funding. Having come out of corporate publishing, and several joint ventures before this, your hands are a bit tied, and you’ve always got someone looking over your shoulder, saying, “Are we where we need to be? We’re a year into this writer.” Jeff totally understands the time that it takes to develop these guys.
How do your songwriter signings relate to the changes in modern country music?
Jeff is not a chaser of what’s going on right at the moment. He looks at what’s coming next. The writers we sign are that way too. Having that flexibility means they’re not saying, “I’ve got to write a ‘bro-country’ thing which isn’t my cup of tea as a writer.” We sign these writers because of their unique styles and this environment allows them to develop.
We are well aware of how the changes in the music industry affect songwriters. How do they, in turn, affect publishers?
Obviously the biggest impact is the money. We were all so used to seeing it come in from big cuts. Now, you can get two or three cuts on a high-profile artist, but if you don’t have a single it doesn’t yield much in terms of financial benefit.
How has 3 Ring Circus adjusted accordingly?
It’s impacted us in that we have to be a lot more than a publisher now. We have to get product out ourselves. This biggest revenue stream is when you not only control the publishing but you own and control the master. We have to be thinking like a record label or a management company where we have ownership to make some money.
Is this reflected in the songwriters that you sign; that they are also performing artists?
Not every one, but we definitely have to have that artist development component going on. The artist we currently have, Adam James, is a tremendous writer aside from his artist side. He has a Dierks Bentley cut called “Roses and a Time Machine,” and we’re hearing rumblings of a single. Adam also has a Darius Rucker cut. It’s called “Momma’s Boy.” It will be on the upcoming record.
Who are your writers making inroads?
We have another writer, Davis Naish. He might now be a major record label guy, but he’s going to see some inroads on the indie market. He just did his first album. We have a single with Jeffrey and a writer/producer named Brandon Hood on Jana Kramer. The third writer on it, Alyssa Bonagura, was signed to a short deal with us so we control that whole song.