MBW’s Inspiring Women series profiles female executives who have risen through the ranks of the business, highlighting their career journey – from their professional breakthrough to the senior responsibilities they now fulfil. Inspiring Women is supported by Ingrooves.
Back in the late ‘90s, Carianne Marshall was bored by the idea of working in music publishing.
She’d spent three years at Elektra Records, after starting her career in live music production, and was at a crossroads. At a show by LA punk rock act X, she ran into a friend, who at the time was West Coast A&R for UMPG.
“She said, ‘Have you ever thought about music publishing?’,” Marshall remembers. “I said, ‘No, copyrights, that sounds boring.” The friend, probably a little insulted, proceeded to wax lyrical about her job, which was, according to her, the beginning of everything and highly creative. ‘There’s nothing without a song.’
Intrigued, Marshall quickly changed her stance and gladly accepted an offer to pass on her resume for an A&R assistant job on the UMPG team. She got the gig, which kickstarted an impressive and highly successful trajectory through music publishing.
That’s seen her take on senior roles at DreamWorks Music Publishing, UMPG, and play a key role in the success of SONGS. Eventually, it landed her in her current role at the top of Warner Chappell Music as COO and Co-Chair.
Fun fact: that friend, Betsy Anthony, today works in Warner Chappell’s creative services team — which was recently set up by Marshall alongside Co-Chair and CEO Guy Moot to create more visibility for its songwriters.
A music lover from an early age, Marshall grew up close to Los Angeles but without a car, didn’t properly immerse herself in the music scene there until she went to college. Then, she could hitch a ride with friends into the city to go to shows and build her network.
Through a friend’s band, Marshall met a self-taught pianist and, inspired by his musicianship, her decision to pursue a career in the music business was set. “He’d never taken a piano lesson in his life and in that moment, I realised some people just have that gift. I decided, How do I figure out how to help people who can just create? I want to be around folks like that.”
The pianist’s manager gave her a job, at Los Angeles-based VOX Productions, which she did while managing and booking local bands. The work experience, and exposure to a wealth of music beyond the albums she bought as a teen and mixtapes traded between friends, solidified that earlier decision.
“The more I learned about the music business as I started to get my feet wet, the more excited I got,” Marshall remembers. “I was such a fan of songs and music in general but didn’t have a lot of access to music when I was younger. Once I started interning and working at Elektra Records, I had access to all this music. And the more music I had access to, the more I was hungry to learn and listen to more.”
After her first job at UMPG, Marshall joined a small team at DreamWorks, which is where she fell in love with music publishing. She started as an A&R coordinator in 2000 around the time that people started to pay attention to sync licensing. “Before that, it was not very cool,” she explains. “And then all of a sudden, TV shows in the states were starting to get known for their music.”
Her boss at the time, the late Chuck Kaye, promoted her to be the go-to sync person at DreamWorks, which was her first executive job. After a few years, DreamWorks was put up for sale and a devastated Marshall had to move on. “I said to my boss [Chuck], you get to retire after this incredible job but I’ve got to figure out what to do next. I don’t think anything’s going to be DreamWorks,” she says.
The next thing was a return to UMPG as Director of Motion Picture and Television Music, after which she joined what was then a budding start-up, SONGS. As the company’s executive leader on the West Coast, Marshall spent the next twelve years helping to build what eventually turned into a roster of over 300 songwriters, including superstars like Lorde, The Weeknd, Diplo and DJ Mustard.
After the SONGS catalog was sold to Kobalt (for circa $160m) in 2017, Marshall again found herself adrift, before the opportunity at Chappell arrived. “I thought, My goodness, Warner Chappell is not nearly as big as Sony and Universal, maybe there’s the ability to make real change,” she says.
Here, we chat to her about what that change has looked like over the last four years, and some of the biggest lessons learned across her career to date…
Your career has spanned a number of companies: what are your stand-out lessons across the various roles?
Community is something I’ve thought a lot about. The reason I left Universal to go to SONGS is because I wanted to feel like I was part of a team, adding value and making an impact. I think about how motivated I am by being part of a team and the wonderful folks that I’ve met throughout the years working in the music business. There’s value in building relationships with people that you trust.
“You want to be well rounded — you want to be able to talk to writers about all sorts of things and show up as you truly are.”
The other thing I wish I’d learned a little bit sooner is to truly be authentic to all of who you are. I had this moment a few years into my time at DreamWorks where I ran into somebody I knew from when I was much younger. He was a very good friend of mine when I was around 17/18. He wasn’t a music fan, which I still find crazy, but I realized I had nothing to talk to him about. I’d forgotten all of these other parts of myself that I enjoyed.
It was embarrassing and I really looked inward after that. It made me realize that as much as I’ve thrown myself into music and love it, there are other parts of me that are important too. I started a book club, joined a recreational softball team and did all these other things that I love. What I realized, which seems so obvious now, is that all of those things helped me become a better music executive. You want to be well rounded — you want to be able to talk to writers about all sorts of things and show up as you truly are. Be more dimensional.
Have you had any mentors along the way and if so, what’s the best piece of advice they’ve given you?
Definitely Chuck, who promoted me at DreamWorks. He sadly passed away two years ago. Chuck was somebody I always came back to. When he promoted me, I was really nervous. I said, ‘I’ve never done this job before, what happens if I can’t figure it out?’ And he’s like, ‘Well, then you’ll get fired, kid. But we think you can do it. We believe in you. So figure it out.’ He had confidence in me and was also very matter-of-fact.
I called him when I was deciding whether or not to go to SONGS from Universal and he was the one who helped me make the decision to take the job and take that chance. When I was at SONGS for a handful of years, I went up to Santa Barbara to visit him and I brought my partner/boss/owner of SONGS, Matt Pincus, with me. We had lunch and Matt stepped away for a minute, Chuck leaned forward and he goes, ‘You did it, kid’. I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ He goes, ‘This is better than DreamWorks. You’re building it yourself’.
He didn’t need to use a tonne of words or take a bunch of time. He just saw things the way they were. He was the first person I called when I decided to go to Warner Chappell because he had run Warner publishing [Kaye was a key figure in the formation of Warner Chappell Music in 1987]. To be able to call Chuck and say, ‘Guess what I’m doing?’ was an incredible moment.
You were at SONGS for 12 years before its catalog was acquired by Kobalt. How did you feel when the sale was being discussed?
Not good. It’s so funny to think about now because I love my job and never would be here if it weren’t for that sale. In retrospect, I’m incredibly grateful, not just for the time and what we built, but for the opportunity I have now which allows me and Guy to make an impact, hopefully, to more songwriters. But at the time, it was awful. I planned on being there forever and unwinding from that was really tricky, but it also helped inform the next decisions I was going to make. There were a handful of people who suggested that I go to another indie or build something from scratch again, find new partners. That didn’t feel right to me. I had great partners in Ron [Perry] and Matt, and didn’t want to try to recreate something that was so special. That felt kind of sad.
I wanted a new challenge and to be able to apply all the things I learned at SONGS. We were able to make mistakes and figure out how to fix them before the microscope was on us, before we had signed those really big writers. We messed up and fixed it and there was no one else to fix it except ourselves. The learning experiences we had by doing it on our own have been incredibly valuable here at Warner Chappell.
What are some of those learnings that you’ve taken with you into your current role?
I know how all the pieces fit together. Going into Chappell at such a senior level, but having done the work more recently than a lot of people who are also senior executives and have had a more traditional path, allows me to see things differently. I’m able to look in the weeds in a different way. I’ll ask, ‘Hey, let’s move this around here’ or ‘How come we can’t do this?’ The questions I was asking and probably still ask are a little bit different than those of many people who traditionally would have come into a job like mine.
You said you joined Warner Chappell with the goal of enacting change. What’s that looked like so far?
I restructured the business in order to make sure our departments and territories were not siloed anymore. When I first started, the company was structured in a way where people weren’t speaking to one another regularly, everything felt very separate. We [Marshall and Guy Moot] built a strategy guide together and executed it and part of that was reworking our organization so it would be easier for people to speak to one another. We put people in positions that were global, across the board, which was the first time that’s happened.
We’re building a creative services department from scratch, which sits between synchronization, A&R, catalog and digital and helps amplify our songwriter stories. So, for example, we do a digital deal and then the creative services department comes in and works on playlisting for songwriters or does podcasts. They just put out a podcast called Setting the Standard that focuses on some songwriters from the Great American Songbook era, like Jule Styne and Harry Warren.
“In a nutshell, it’s about making sure our teams truly collaborate.”
In a nutshell, it’s about making sure our teams truly collaborate. We’ve drilled all the way down to putting together our vision and value statements, so everybody throughout the business globally understands what we’re showing up for every day. It’s a little cheesy but we want people to remember the three Cs: our commitment, curiosity and collaboration. Those three things are at the core of what we’re trying to do every day. Our financial results are reflecting the hard work that we put in and that’s the icing on the cake. There’s always more to do but we feel like we have the culture and strategy in place that will help define us going forward.
There’s an ongoing discussion about how difficult it is to make a living as a songwriter these days. Do you see evidence of that and if so, is there anything you’d change in order to improve that situation?
We’re always fighting for songwriters. The publishing business in the United States has made some headway, fighting for a higher headline rate, the CRB. I think it’s important to make sure songwriters are paid more by digital service providers in the States — that’s a big part of it. The songwriter economy is changing and the way writers are getting paid is changing and we’re always going to fight that fight to make sure writers get paid. But also, there are all sorts of places for writers to write.
There’s a real opportunity now to not just focus on the big hits, although that’s important, of course, if that’s on the cards, but there are all sorts of other things to do. You can make a living as a songwriter if you write a pop song, you get a song in a television show or multiple television shows, you write a score for some visual media, there’s something happening on TikTok, bits and pieces of radio. It’s less about putting your eggs in one basket and really thinking about how to have a broader reach.
That’s a lot of what we did with our writers at SONGS: how do we make sure there’s opportunity to write songs for a living? What that looks like now is different to what it looked like five or 10 years ago. And I need to remember that too. As technology continues to evolve, there are all sorts of different places to put content and I’m sure there’ll be tons more in the future. It’s up to Guy and I and our team to make sure that we’re at the forefront of thinking about how we can get our writers involved in all sorts of new technology and content going forward.
What are the most exciting things happening in publishing today? Do you see any developments or changes on the horizon that will impact the business?
It’s exciting that people are talking about songwriters more. I think about myself in 1999, rolling my eyes at publishing when my friend brought it up. It’s exciting that people know what publishing is now. You see it in the marketplace with all these catalogues being sold — although it’s interesting when they’re referred to as assets… they are songs! The fact that there are songwriter pages on Spotify and Apple and all of these different digital service providers is a big deal too. It’s exciting to see what is going to be happening in the technology and content space, which means there’s going to be more and more opportunities for our songs to get placed. Everything is moving so quickly so we need to make sure we’re in a position to be nimble enough.
“The globalization of music is pretty exciting. We’re seeing more and more music travel from territory to territory. We’re seeing all sorts of really exciting local language music that has cultural relevance becoming more popular and cross borders.”
The globalization of music is pretty exciting. We’re seeing more and more music travel from territory to territory. We’re seeing all sorts of really exciting local language music that has cultural relevance becoming more popular and cross borders. The collaborations that we have between our different territories is a lot of fun — we’re seeing so much happen between Latin America and Spain. I think that’s partially because of what’s happening in the ecosystem and partially because of the way that we have rebalanced our team to make sure that we’re no longer siloed. We did a writer camp between Brazil and Nashville because there’s a huge country music scene in Brazil. I don’t know if any of those things would have happened a handful of years ago. In Germany, there’s an incredible local language hip hop and rap scene. It’s been a lot of fun to see local music get the notoriety it deserves.
How about the biggest challenges currently faced by the publishing industry?
The fact that so much content is being released is really tricky. Especially as a songwriter, if you’re not writing 100% of a song, let’s say you have four or five co-writers, it’s trickier and trickier to make money. When so much content is being released, how do we make sure our songs are standing out? That’s one of the things the creative services department works on and it’s a really big challenge.
Being a publisher in 2023 is so different to what it was previously — you can’t just sit there and hope the song’s value will be appreciated, you’ve got to do the work. Guy often says, ‘You can buy a garden but do you know how to tend and grow the garden?’. We talk about that a lot. How do we make sure that we grow these songs, that we keep them alive for different generations?
“When so much content is being released, how do we make sure our songs are standing out? That’s one of the things the creative services department works on and it’s a really big challenge.”
It’s much harder to have that one moment, certainly they happen — Kate Bush and Stranger Things is a great example, or a big hit song on the radio. But there are fewer and fewer of those opportunities. We try to think about how to have our songs placed or heard in as many places as possible so we’re not just focused on that one thing.
You never know which thing is going to create some stickiness, whether the entry point to a young person will be watching a new show or listening to a friend’s playlist. One of the things that’s also really exciting for songwriters is that young people aren’t so concerned with songs being new anymore. It’s just about discovering what resonates.
What would you change about the business and why?
I would like songwriters to get paid more. We’re starting to see a change but even though there is more awareness of music, publishing and songwriters, there’s still not enough education or information about how it works. I want our songs to be thought of in the beginning of the new technology being formed, instead of, ‘Oh shit, we can’t clear the song at the end of our campaign and publishing is such a pain because there are five writers so we’re just going to use another song’. We want to be at the forefront of those conversations and we’re trying to be. As publishers, we don’t want to make things difficult but we want to make sure we keep the value high and that we’re protecting our songs.
If you could go back to the beginning of your career and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?
Don’t forget about all these other things you love because that informs all of it. I am a song person from the beginning; I made mixtapes for all my friends and tried to find the weird deep cut on the album. I saved lists of all the playlists I made for everybody — some of them are embarrassing, some of them I’m like, I did pretty well for lack of access to music!
But I just know that had I been more aware of being more well-rounded, I would have felt a lot more competent in certain scenarios and would have found my footing earlier. I’m doing okay! But there were definitely some years where it was a little bit lopsided. I don’t regret anything, I just try to always learn, but it would have been nice if somebody had said to me earlier, ‘Hey, be yourself. It’s okay to like all these other things, too.’
MBW’s Inspiring Women series profiles female executives who have risen through the ranks of the business, highlighting their career journey – from their professional breakthrough to the senior responsibilities they now fulfil. Inspiring Women is supported by Ingrooves.Music Business Worldwide