Marc Driskill is Executive VP/GM at Sea Gayle Music. The Nashville native’s career journey has taken him through a variety of publishing and copyright gateways the sum of which have prepared him for running a successful publishing company in challenging times. Driskill graduated Sanford University with a degree in accounting and worked at several CPA firms. Eventually he got a call from childhood friend Chris DuBois saying that ASCAP (where Chris was working at the time) needed a person to communicate about royalties with writers and publishers. At first Driskill wasn’t interested, but DuBois said, “Trust me this will line up exactly with your skill set and interests.” Over his next 8 years at ASCAP, Marc mastered the ins and outs of performing rights.
“But eventually it hit me all I know is performing rights,” Driskill remembers. That realization led to his next opportunity at Big Loud Bucks where, “I got a kind of Doctorate in the rest of the royalty business.” Years later, Driskill returned to ASCAP, this time in an expanded role as GM. “My ASCAP experiences were divided into three great sections,” he says. “The beginning was with Connie Bradley, the middle with Tim DuBois and the last was with me.”
Again it was a call from Chris DuBois that sparked a new opportunity. “The chance to reunite with Chris was very exciting,” says Driskill. “I realized PROs are going to face difficult challenges in the coming years but didn’t know how much influence I could have over that process. However, at Sea Gayle I knew I could contribute directly to its development.”
Our NEKST interview lasted about an hour but flew by quickly. We discussed the formation of Sea Gayle, artist development strategy, the tangled web of royalty issues that publishers and songwriters are facing and the ongoing need to develop additional revenue streams.
NEKST: Sea Gayle’s genesis was unique. Its partners contributed three of publishing’s main table legs—artist/writer (Brad Paisley), writer/operator (Chris DuBois) and producer/writer (Frank Rogers).
Marc Driskill: Kudos to them and their co-venture partner EMI for seeing that vision. It worked because of the specific talents of those three guys and their ability to work as a creative team. It takes an enormous amount of trust. The timing of Brad getting a record deal and being so well received at radio was crucial. They each knew their roles. Brad was the artist. Frank was producing and writing. Chris’ responsibility in addition to being a creative writer, was to leverage his accounting degree and good business skills. Overall, I believe the partners’ ability to empower each other was a big part of the reason for their success in the initial stages of the company.
NEKST: Describe the challenges facing publishers today?
Marc Driskill: Talk to any college kid and you’ll quickly see that streaming is the cool factor. The youth generation isn’t focusing only on terrestrial radio. Publishers and writers have been spoiled because corporate America has essentially paid for performance royalties through advertising. Some of the new platforms are relying on the consumer to pay. In the meantime, the challenge for publishers is to make enough money to keep the rotation going—finding new talents and investing in their development. It means making sure your writer deals are based upon what is going on today. The $100k and co-pub from-the-start, deals are challenging at best for an independent company. Publisher/writer contracts are a partnership. We have to rely on each other to make sure that the deal works.
NEKST: Are publishing royalties out of step with the new reality?
Marc Driskill: The Consent Decree that limits what the PROs can collect certainly seems like it is. It may have made sense in the 1920s for the government to say ‘you can’t operate as a monopoly’ and to limit the money you can make, but not today. It’s not their place any more. Pandora can increase their subscription prices to offset additional costs of doing business. So how is it possible that songwriters and publishers don’t have the same ability? The PROs are discussing this with the justice department to see how we can change things to create a more level playing field.
NEKST: Isn’t part of the problem the vastly different royalty split between what goes to label/artists and publisher/writers?
Marc Driskill: That stems from the PRO’s inability to negotiate a fair market rate and is directly related to the Consent Decree. That’s what the Songwriter Equity Act is trying to fix. It’s saying ‘add the fair market element into the discussion.’ This issue is a vital piece of the next phase of this business and will perhaps force publishers to re-evaluate if it’s better to be in a collective licensing society like the PROs or if they are better off creating their own fair market value. In the sync world the master is often paid the same rate as the composition. So why is there such a great disparity in all the other uses? These issues are coming front and center and people will have to determine if this structure is still relevant. Quite frankly we might have to adapt to changes we don’t even see coming yet.
NEKST: Does the royalty discussion inspire you to find new revenue streams for Sea Gayle?
Marc Driskill: Yes. In artist development, for example. It’s hard for a publisher to invest so much into artist development without getting some sort of return from that next stage of their career.
NEKST: Are you saying artist development costs so much now that publishers need to share in artist revenue streams beyond just song royalties?
Marc Driskill: Yes. Publishers are seeing the labels as partners with those artist writers rather than someone you just hand them off to. That doesn’t mean the labels are any less important. They have the machine to make these artists household names. But the investment we have in them has value and that’s the bottom line.
NEKST: Tell us about AIMP (Association of Independent Music Publishers), and your current role as President?
Marc Driskill: The Nashville chapter started a few years ago with Kevin Lamb as President and he did a fantastic job of leading the board and developing the infrastructure. The business model for major publishers is about cash flow and marketshare. They are trying to meet quarterly financial numbers and aggregate market share so they can negotiate deals. But for independents the bottom line is still the value of the copyrights. Therefore independents need a voice in the discussions about modernizing the copyright law, Consent Decree changes and more. AIMP is about creating a platform for us to stay engaged in the conversation and knowledgable about what needs watching. Collectively our voice is pretty big.
NEKST: Any suggestions for NEKST’s Songwriter chart?
Marc Driskill: Songwriters are what the industry is built upon. Spotlighting their chart success also highlights their hard work and dedication. I love it. Brett James didn’t sit at No. 1 for so many weeks without working his tail off for years and years. If I’m a label, A&R exec. or producer I’m paying attention to that chart to see where the top songs are coming from and where to go for more of them. It’s also about the guys entering the list for the first time. It’s fantastic for the industry to now be able to watch some of those trends.