President/CEO Troy Tomlinson heads the Nashville offices of Sony/ATV the world’s largest publishing company and a Music City cornerstone with roots that reach back to the founding of Tree Publishing in 1951. Tomlinson rose up through the ranks “old school,” starting in the tape copy room. On his journey he learned from publisher giants like Rick Hall (Fame Music) and Jerry Bradley (Acuff-Rose) and worked with incredible songwriters like Dean Dillon, Whitey Shafer and many, many more.
When Sony/ATV purchased Acuff-Rose in 2002, Tomlinson transitioned to the catalog’s new home. A few years later (2005) the Portland, TN native was chosen to succeed Donna Hilley and promoted to his current Sony/ATV post.
The following conversation happened last week in Tomlinson’s 4th floor office immediately following a creative team meeting. The mood was buoyant and carried over into our interview.
NEKST.biz: History placed you in the role of stepping in after Donna Hilley who was revered by the community and her Sony/ATV songwriter family. You spoke beautifully at her memorial service and her portrait hangs in the conference room. Do you ever feel her smiling or watcing over your shoulder, proud of how you’re protecting the company legacy?
Troy Tomlinson: People can talk to me about hits, growth or years at No. 1, but the times when someone says something to me that in any way puts Donna and I in the same sphere as it relates to love of writers, that’s the greatest compliment that I could ever receive. Following Donna is impossible, but hopefully my strengths, what ever they are, will prove right for the moment and for the company.
NEKST.biz: You were quickly called upon to play a key company role with the EMI acquisition. Describe the process?
Troy Tomlinson: The EMI deal started to get real during Spring 2012. By June it was clearly going to happen and the acquisition was completed in July. Nashville is a close knit community so the logistical problems of blending two writer rosters and creative teams was relatively easy here compared with other territories around the world where the Sony and EMI offices may have been in different cities. I contacted all the EMI writers as soon as possible to personally let them know what was happening. The most difficult part was not being able to bring the entire EMI staff over. The final priority was treating the folks right that weren’t going to be able to make the transition and making sure everyone arriving understood—from that point on, we will all develop, grow, work and succeed together as one big family.
NEKST.biz: This was pretty ambitious.
Troy Tomlinson: It took time to reassure all those writers who had written for our No. 1 competitor before the merger how much we valued them. The key to success was the willingness of the six EMI staffers we brought over to jump on board and the spirit of the Sony/ATV employees who welcomed them with open arms. Preparing for this change meant coming in on Saturday and Sunday for months in advance, spreading out everything on conference room tables and devising a plan. We got all the necessary support we could ask for from Marty Bandier and the finance team which was critical.
NEKST.biz: What about the admin department?
Troy Tomlinson: Sony/ATV worldwide administration was at the old Acuff Rose property at 65 Music Sq W. but space there was already maxed without the added admin duties of EMI. Staying on the Row would have been wonderful, but we simply couldn’t find a property that was right for our needs. Dale Esworthy is Sr. VP of Admin so that quest became his responsibility. We wound up with a space at the Fifth Third building downtown and if all goes well we’ll move about 150 employees there at the end of the year.
NEKST.biz: What are some of the deal changes facing writers these days?
Troy Tomlinson: Writer advances have eased downward for beginner and mid-level writers. However, because of the shift in PRO performance income due to the new radio deals and contracting album sales and mechanical royalties, we’ve had to look closer at the higher end advances. Ten years ago, for example, we might advance say $100-$150k a year for some writers because we could recoup with just a few album cuts on huge albums. And then the single we might get from those cuts was the gravy on the deal. Unfortunately, today we have to be a bit more cautious.
NEKST.biz: Artist co-writes?
Troy Tomlinson: Now, more than ever we spend time managing writer schedules. Writing with artists is a large source of cuts. But what if a writer ends up putting a lot of eggs in one basket with a new or proven artist who then either doesn’t break or record the songs? We have a creative A&R team that actively manages co-writes. Writers are going to be drawn to co-write with the artists and writers they have relationships with or where the artist is requesting them, but our creative team is there to help balance the process.
NEKST.biz: Your job is highly demanding and yet right in the middle of a major acquisition you agreed to serve as Chairman of the CMA. Why?
Troy Tomlinson: When we stop serving we might as well leave. I mean, leave the planet. The greatest moments of a human being’s life are when they are serving others with no compensation. So to be asked by my peers to participate in a role like Chairman of the Board for the CMA, an organization I knew and revered even as a child, there was no way to refuse. My plate was plenty full a year ago when we were simply Sony/ATV. Then came EMI and the CMA role began six months after that. So right now you could jokingly say, “My cup runneth over.” Does it require a lot of time? Absolutely. But, with the right attitude it’s relatively manageable.
NEKST.biz: Are you still acquiring song catalogs and bullish about the future?
Troy Tomlinson: Overall my attitude for the future is super positive. I can’t escape several basic points. Right now more people want music in more configurations than ever before in history. They are able to get music more economically than ever before and the delivery or distribution of music is fast and hassle free even from your phone. With all that happening, how can I not be optimistic about a future where we can monetize that engagement at a fairer level. But we aren’t there yet. People used to say publishing was a penny business, unfortunately, today it’s becoming milli-pennies and there are inequities that disproportionately punish the very creators of the songs. I honestly believe though that most everyone would say, “I want those people that wrote the song my wife and I used at our wedding to be fairly compensated.” So long-term I believe the future is good.