Pelle needs no introduction. A look at his credits speaks for itself!
Over 140 million records sold ww (albums/singles) during his career as Head of A&R, Managing Director / CEO and European A&R Executive.
Hits and recordings with:
Christina Aguillera, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Celine Dion, Santana, Clay Aiken, Carrie Underwood, Katherine McPhee, Jessica Simpson, Ronan Keating, Sugababes, Danity Kane, Duffy, Christina Milian, Monrose, Danity Kane, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, The Saturdays, Ben’s Brother, No Angels, Thomas Godoj, Shinee, Super Junior, Girls Generation, F(x), BOA, Namie Amuro, Tata Young, Daniel Schumacher, Till Brönner, Thomas Godoj, Cinema Bizarre, Tarja Turunen, Millencolin, Baxter, Sugarplum Fairy, Infinite Mass, Rachel Stevens, and many, many more…
Writers & producers:
Jorgen Elofsson, Anders “Bag” Bagge, Arnthor, Remee, DeeKay, Niara Scarlett, Metrophonic, Jamie Hartman, Sacha Skarbek, Steve Booker, Bloodshy & Avant, Eg White, Peer Astrom, David Eriksen, Blackcell, Rob Davis, JayJay, Karen Poole, Steve Booker, Alex James, Hanne Sorvaag, Martin Hansen, DSign Music, Vacuum, Fridolin, Dalmatian Songs, Harry Sommerdahl, Pelle Nylen, Forty4’s, Paul Rein, Herbie Chrichlow to name but a few.
Speaking with Pelle was an education and an insight into the publishing world. I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I have. Thanks again Pelle for sharing your time! Aaron Bethune.
Interview with Pelle Lidell
My first question is how did you get started in the music and entertainment business?
I had two major interests as a kid, music and sports, predominantly ice hockey and soccer. My father gave me a drum kit when I was a kid and he played guitar, so we jammed together. From Day One, age 7 or 8, I was the guy with the records. I used to recycle bottles in order to buy singles back then in the 70’s. At age 15, the punk thing arrived on the scene and it blew me away totally. It was the DIY thing. The bands weren’t that great in terms of musicianship but the energy and the vibe was just perfect for me. In high school I started booking bands and for some reason, I booked the right bands – the ones that pulled crowds. A year later -I was still in school- I approached clubs in town and went up to the owners, who were old guys … this cocky young 16 year old kid, saying, “I can fill your Tuesdays. I can get your house packed if you allow me to book the right bands.” I started doing that. I made money out of that through high school.
Then, during university, I launched my first label and a music publishing company. I loved the whole scene, anything that had to do with bands, music, songwriters, producers, recording studios – that was my playground. So in the 80s I moved to England for a while and then moved to L.A in the late 80s. There I did my first solo A&R gig for a corporation.
I moved back to Sweden in ’94, where I accepted a gig at Chrysalis Music as head of A&R. We had a run in the mid-‘90s which was truly fantastic in terms of A&R and new talent. We found bands like Millencolin which sold millions of records in the skate-punk scene.
I started a songwriter called Paul Rein, who was actually signed to Warner/Chappell at the time. He came up to my office and showed me about eight nice songs, mid-‘90s pop, Britney-esque/Max Martin style. I thought his craft was brilliant, great-sounding demos, simple pop songs but well-crafted. I said, “I believe you have three, four big hits in this pile of songs but you’re still signed with Warner-Chappel so I can’t sign you.” And he said, “I can get out of the contract because they’ve been trying to get rid of me. So if you paid un-recoup balance or I will pay the un-recoup balance but you will give me the money, I can then sign to you.” Which he did. Three weeks later, I sent over his songs to Ron Fair, who was the top A&R guy at RCA Records (now Universal top executive). He had this new artist called Christina Aguilera. I couldn’t even pronounce her name. She was a Disney-girl. Ron said “I love these songs and I want to pair them with my new artist. A year later, The single “Come On Over” was number one for four weeks in the States. I think it did 4 million singles worldwide and her debut album went on to sell 14 million worldwide.
I realized “ I love pop music!” I also started working with a guy called Anders Bagge who was trading under the name BAG . BAG went on to produce big, number one hits – 98 Degrees, Celine Dion, Madonna, etc., But while I was still at Chrysalis, he said, “You, my partner Christian Wahlberg and I should start our own publishing and production company.” Which we did: a company called Murlyn. I headed and co-owned the publishing company there. We started in ’98. Between ’98 and 2005, we created 5000 new copyrights, with international sales exceeding 85-90 million records. We had Jennifer Lopez, Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Sugababes, Ronan Keating etc – all of those recorded our songs. I think we had 45 writers on our roster.
Then, due to disagreements between the owners I decided to resign in late 2004, but I kept my part-ownership in the company. I had planned to take a year off and travel, find myself…but 24 hours later, I shook hands with Paul Connolly, the president of Universal Music Publishing in Europe. He gave me a very respectful offer to do what I did at Murlyn, but for Universal Music Publishing in Europe, and I have been with Universal ever since. We have scored a lot of hits, American Idols number 1, number 2, tons of hits over here in Europe. I manage our A-list roster of writers, from predominately the UK and Scandinavia, as the best writers in Europe are either from England or Scandinavia.
So that’s pretty much what I did. I love the gig. It’s totally, totally creative
In your own words, what would you classify music publishing as being?
It’s a variety of things. If I find an aspiring songwriter, who might work a day-time job, but has a fantastic talent, what I do is to turn that person into a full-time pro by advancing him or her enough money to live on, for rent, utilities and all that. I guide that person. I usually team them up with more experienced writers and create their careers. There is something in return for me: we as publishers have our cut of all publishing revenues. So, for instance, a year ago, I found this fantastic song-writing team here in Stockholm called Trinity. They were in a song-writing school, young guys, just over 20. We didn’t sign a deal, but I was their mentor for a year. During that year I managed to place a bunch of songs, on various recordings, which actually made them quite a lot of money. Other publishers moved in on them, because “They are Trinity, these new guys, etc.” Basically, I had to offer a proper worldwide music publishing deal, and they exclusively signed to Universal Music Publishing for the world. Now they’re collaborating with some of the biggest songwriters in the world – they’ve got a song on hold with Leona Lewis in New York; they’ve got interest from major labels in the U.S and U.K. to deliver to their artists. The New York Times was over here a couple of weeks ago and he asked me for help to hook me up with songwriters and he fell especially in love with Trinity. He did a long interview with them and he portrayed them as the next generation of big-hit songwriters.
Song-writing in Sweden is a big business. Last week on Billboard, five or six out of the top ten songs on Billboard were written by Swedes. It’s a new record. With a population of only 9 million, we’re still the 3rd largest exporter of pop music and popular music is the world. Per capita, we’re number one given our small population.
We take a lot of pride in this. Even though I work on an international basis, I am obviously proud of what we, as a small country, have achieved and are still achieving. There is a tremendous amount of talent in this country and I love signing new Swedish song-writers because I usually know what I get. They’re the hardest working people I know. Very professional; They never get fucked up on drugs or anything like that. They just love the craft. I love that environment.
If you’re a band or an artist, you have your time in the limelight, right? You might…Very few survive five years. Obviously you have the big dinosaurs – the ones that have been around for ages, like the U2s, etc. But with song-writing, you can be 60 years old, as long as your ears are tuned on new sounds. If you’re still interested in great pop music, or rock music, then age is not a problem. But age has always been a problem if you’re an artist. That’s what I like with song-writing. I think that’s why I gave up working with bands, because I was tired of getting phone-calls at 3a.m., waking my kid up, because the bass player was arrested because he had drugs on him or whatever. I want to work with music and when I work with songwriters and producers, I get people who are on the money, hard-working professionals, they deliver on time, there are no problems attached to their work. Which means I can have a normal life when I’m not in the office.
What makes a song-writer’s catalogue appealing to a publisher?
It’s the craft. Has this person a feel for what a hit song is? Can they combine chords and lyrics that appeal to the general public? That’s pretty much it. I hate people coming in saying “I’ve got a hit.” Then when I play the song it’s just an okay song. Why do you use the word ‘hit’? Usually when you hear a hit for the first time, as a demo, you know within 16 bars that this could be something big. It’s just a gut feeling. It could be that special hook, a punch-line in the lyrics, a melody line, it varies from song to song, but a song has to have these qualities. I just try to picture myself listening to the song on the radio. If I knew the formula, the recipe in a strict scientific way, I wouldn’t be able to describe it.
How do you find out about new music?
A variety of things: I’ve got managers contacting me all the time; I have my network of people that I collaborate with. Since I have a good reputation in the business, a lot of people approach me directly. So I’m blessed in that sense. I read a lot. All the music magazines, there might be something cooking underground. You want check it out. I check out YouTube, and so on. But usually managers or writers, unmanaged, contact me.
Is it mostly writers that compose both lyrics and music? Or do you get lyricists and music composers separately, writing teams, etc..?
Usually, what I want to hear is a good-sounding demo. Here in Scandinavia, especially Sweden, the art of making a perfect-sounding demo is everything. The thing is that since technology is what it is today, if you spend a little time on a demo you can make it sound almost like a master. If I hear something from a writer that takes care of his or her craft – meaning they present a vision, sound-wise and lyrically – that works well, it means that they take care, that they value their own talent the right way. If they do that, I usually am interested. When I pitch songs to labels and to artists, I want the demos to sound as good as possible.
I rarely sign a lyricist only. But I do sign so-called top-liners, the ones who can create a great melody and lyrics on top of a musical track. Over here people have a tendency of teaming up… duos, sometimes trios. Trinity, for example, they’re 3 guys and they’re 100% self-contained. They play all the instruments. They’re great engineers, lyricists, and as a combo they deliver the right stuff. The stuff I want to hear.
What medium offers the most revenue from publishing?
Traditionally it’s been mechanicals, CD sales and legal downloads. But synchronization revenues have started to become more and more important for us. Obviously, performance, radio, live, is very important as well. I would say in that order: mechanicals, syncs and then performance.
So with that in mind, what is your opinion of free music downloading and how does that affect publishing?
I’m not against free music downloading, as long as it’s approved by the writer. But illegal downloading is killing culture, it’s killing the music, without a doubt. I actually think that a writer has to write – if the writer wants to give the song away, share as much as you want. But if people are taking the food off the table from songwriters who rely on royalties, then I oppose it.
Why is Internet excluded from the rest of the civilized world? Why is copyright and immaterial rights suddenly not valid?
I come from a generation where if you want something, you have to pay for it. If you want to pay for it, you have to work. “In an ideal world, I would love to have fine sports cars, and fine houses around the world, a hot model wife, and a couple of mistresses, etc” (said a s a joke)., but reality is another thing. The problem with the “gratis generation” is that they want everything but they’re not prepared to pay for it. So they come up with a bunch of lame excuses why music should be free. “Well, the artist is getting free publicity, they can make more money on live gigs, etc.” But that’s just a fraction of the whole music business, isn’t it? What about the song-writers? The song-writers are usually normal people, with normal families, normal incomes. Not everyone is Max Martin or Ryan Tedder. I will always stand up and protect those guys.
I think it’s all too easily forgotten, people see it as the fact that bands are going to sell more merch, more tickets to shows, but the writers are the people who get affected. That’s another part of the business, and an important one too…
The music business isn’t only about bands and artists. There are song-writers as well who write. I know a guy who writes a hundred brilliant songs a year. Out of those hundred, if he’s really, really good, 25 of those will be recorded. He relies on the royalty income for those 25 songs. So if someone takes his food from his table, he won’t be able to support his family, pay his rent, or mortgage, or whatever. That is rape.
I’m going to Bulgaria on Friday for a seminar, and Bulgaria is by far the biggest pirate country in Europe. The partners I work with over there are very honest, very hardworking people who are lobbying hard within the territory for fair trade and respect copyrights and respect song-writers and artists. It’s an uphill struggle, but at least they’re trying.
How do you give monetary value to music? You were mentioning that sync fees is something that has become more and more important. If someone shows you a song, how to you put a value to the music?
If I have a great song, which I feel is worth a million sales, then I would obviously target the right artist with that song. Let’s say you’ve got 2 artists. They both want the same song. One of your artists might not be 100% right to build your career. The other might be in the long run the safer bet but you won’t get as much in return on this track. That’s where I come into the picture, and recommend the writer to choose this artist. It’s not always about the quick buck, it’s always about building a career.
Let’s say if you’re an ice hockey player, you might have an offer from an NHL team but you’re not sure if you’re going to make the final cut. Stay one more year and play in the minor leagues just to get more experience and build more strength, etc., before you make the move. I don’t know if that’s a metaphor that works, but in my world it does.
What do you see in the future as being some of new media which publishing could be branching into?
Legal downloading services and streaming services have become extremely important. I have to say one thing – if you look at Korea and Japan, both these countries’ entertainment and music business worlds are very impressive. They are not hurt by illegal downloading whatsoever. They are years ahead of the rest of the world, in terms of servicing the fans with easy access to songs, remixes, memorabilia, merchandise, etc. I just came back from Korea two weeks ago and I was gobsmacked by how professional labels are, artists are, and how dedicated the fans are in supporting their artists. They shit numbers, we’re talking 7-digit sales.
I don’t believe the future is in the West when it comes to entertainment revenues. It’s in the East. We’ve seen nothing of China yet. It will happen. If you look at China, all the consumer goods, all luxury brands in China are exploding – cars, standard of living, entertainment, all these things from the West, they love it. However, when it comes to artistry, they want their artist to sing in their own language, they want local stars. But when it comes to song-writing and production, the West is many, many years ahead. On an annual basis, I’m scoring a lot of hits in Japan and Korea. I’m making a lot of money for my writers. They are extremely professional to work with.
You mentioned that the top 6 Billboard writers are from Sweden, and they’re getting into the American market. How does someone who is in North America get into the Asian market or the European market? What would be a first move?
I’d say the North American market is already in the Europe market. Not everything from America, Canada or the States automatically works in Europe. I think the music business overall has become a lot stronger regionally. There used to be, in the 80s, a big hit in the UK or in the US, automatically spreads out to the rest of the world, but those days are gone. North American artists, in order to break Europe, they need to tour here as well. They need to be present. Just like European artists, in order to break American, they have to be on the road, do the radio tours, and obviously live shows, etc.
Let’s take Lady Gaga as an example. She’s a very American artist, but her sound is totally European, co-written and produced by a Swede. So that’s why I think Lady Gaga is so big, because she combined the best of both territories.
Korea right now is the biggest force in Asia when it comes to exports. It’s called K-pop. It’s very urban driven in terms of beat. But melodically, it’s more European. It’s a mix of both. So in order to sell records over there, you have to study their market. The sooner you do that, the sooner you will get hits in those territories. That’s the trick.
I come from a small country. I can’t rely on my own market. Frankly, I don’t care about my own market. I care about the international market. But the North American market is so big that some stars over there don’t have the drive to conquer other territories. Americans’ narcissism is probably their biggest enemy. If they start looking at the world as other countries, as other cultures, where you have to study each territory’s special mechanics, psychology and all that, that’s when we’ll start making proper business. The more you study the world, and the different markets, the more successful you will be.
You’ve talked about the quality of the demo, but is there anything else that you could say would stand out and how to go about pitching, if you’re a songwriter, your music to an artist, or someone like yourself, as a publisher?
Any writer has to do their homework. I think many writers are too keen sending out material. It’s extremely important to be selective. Don’t burn any bridges by sending out okay material. If you’re looking for a deal, if you’re looking for a cut, you’ve got to send out the ‘wow’ material. I remember when we pitched Toxic to Britney Spears, that song was originally written for Kylie Minogue, and EMI and Kylie passed on the song and we couldn’t believe it. We pitched it to Steve Lunt at Jive Records; he fell in love with that song, he wanted it for Britney. So I really do believe in the power of a song.
What should a writer not do, if they’re trying to succeed in this business?
A writer should never be a follower. Don’t try to copy reigning styles, styles that are hot for the moment. If you deliver a song now and it’s cut, that song will be out in 6 months if you are lucky, but it usually takes a year, a year and half before it’s released. So think ahead and dare to be different. Especially in terms of the sound, dare to be different. That’s my piece of advice to any writer. So I really don’t believe in copying styles. Create your own forum, your own platform.
Do you think that writers should start their own publishing company and then find sub-publishers, or should they pursue a publishing deal with an established company right away?
That’s a tricky question. Most writers I know are extremely good creative people and seriously shit business people. It’s very time-consuming to run a publishing company, it’s a nickels and dimes business times a million, that’s when it becomes really profitable. Personally, if I were a young writer today, I would find a great publisher, a great A&R person. Then once you have built a catalogue and you have a career, then decide. Then you might even make enough money to hire a person to take care of your catalogue, and then do a sub-publishing deal or an admin deal. But as a starting point, I’m not so sure. Very few new writers have catalogues that ever sound super-interesting.