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.
This month marks a year since Elena Segal, a widely respected figure in music industry circles, was appointed as Apple Music’s first ever Global Director of Music Publishing.
Segal, a qualified lawyer, originally joined Apple in 2006 after four years as an Associate at Los Angeles-based Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP.
As Legal Director of iTunes, International, she oversaw a range of legal and licensing matters for iTunes and Apple Music. And in 2015, she headed up global licensing for the launch of Apple Music itself, which arrived in over 100 markets simultaneously.
These days, Segal (pictured) splits her time between London and LA, running a division at Apple designed to directly liaise with music publishers and songwriters across the industry.
Segal and Apple have recently swum against big-tech hegemony – refusing to appeal a ‘pay rise’ for songwriters in the US (secured via the market’s Copyright Royalty Board), which has been controversially challenged by the likes of Spotify, Amazon and Google. (Segal’s closest counterpart at Spotify, Global Head of Publishing, Adam Parness, just quit the Swedish streaming service – seemingly in protest at its CRB appeal.)
Reporting to global Apple Music boss Oliver Schusser, Segal just oversaw an interesting addition to her team, with the hire of Google‘s Lindsay Rothschild, who last month became Apple Music’s Head of Creative Services, Music Publishing, North America.
MBW recently caught up with Segal to discuss working at Apple, her personal passion for music publishing – and why the industry needs, in her view, to face the growing complexities of the digital rights business “head on”…
Apple’s initial announcement that it was launching a dedicated division for music publishing and music publishers took the industry by surprise. What’s happened since that news broke?
The past year has really been a lot about building our team and doing a lot of planning. There’s a lot of exciting stuff coming through now.
I’m particularly excited about the creative services piece of our team. That’s something Apple has never done before, but it’s the right moment for it because publishers, in particular, are changing. They’re starting to realize that they can, and should, take a more proactive role in innovation, coming up with new, creative ideas for their songwriters, that help increase the value of their copyrights.
Obviously, it’s been a somewhat bonkers year on the US side of things, for obvious reasons, with the Music Modernization Act [MMA] and the CRB decision.
Apple has stood by that CRB decision, which could increase songwriter royalties in the States by at least 44%. Others, like Spotify, have appealed it, and been accused of effectively ‘suing songwriters’ as a result. What does this tell us about Apple and how it’s differentiated from rival services?
It tells us that Apple really cares about creators and the process of creation, and wants to give life to a healthy creative ecosystem. The concept of [maintaining] a sustainable business model, while supporting the creative ecosystem, is fundamentally important to us. That differentiates us from other services anyway, but our position on the CRB has further differentiated us.
With the position we’ve taken on the CRB, that type of stance isn’t actually new. Apple has been fighting for over a decade to make sure that money flows and songwriters get paid. We’ve definitely done way more than anyone else on that kind of thing. We just haven’t shouted about it.
“With the position we’ve taken on the CRB, that type of stance isn’t actually new. Apple has been fighting for over a decade to make sure that money flows and songwriters get paid.”
Another thing that really differentiates us is Apple Music’s personal curation, and the human element we have – putting the creators first and really focusing on them and enabling their vision.
On that topic, the Beats 1 team do a phenomenal job of digging out the most amazing new music and drawing artists and songwriters out of themselves.
Why is publishing considered worthy of its own division at Apple Music?
Because without songwriting and publishing, there is no music. It’s fundamental to everything.
Publishing is something we’ve always taken care of, but it wasn’t until last year that it had a seat at the management table. It was absolutely necessary.
Songwriters and publishers shouldn’t be an afterthought; I think some services do consider them a sort of afterthought, or an inconvenience. They are not an inconvenience at Apple. They are a fundamental part of the ecosystem.
“To just consider songwriters an inconvenience – not to tackle the issues and actually make sure that the creators get paid – is a massive mistake.”
Yes, there is a great deal of complexity in the publishing business, and in some ways those complexities are only increasing. But we have to face them head on, as a company, and as an industry.
To just consider them an inconvenience – not to tackle the issues and actually make sure that the creators get paid – is a massive mistake.
What kind of complexities most concern you about the music publishing business?
Greater agreement is needed on mechanical and performing rights splits. This is very technical, but it is so important.
On different formats – downloads, interactive streaming, non-interactive streaming etc. – there are different splits between the mechanical and performing rights. And these splits are also different depending on which country your [music is played in].
“There are local collecting societies around the world that have, and I’m trying to be a little diplomatic here… rubbed some of the music publishers up the wrong way.”
Generally speaking, traditionally, a local collecting society [PRO] would set the split, but that has started to change in recent years.
There are local collecting societies around the world that have, and I’m trying to be a little diplomatic here… rubbed some of the music publishers up the wrong way. Some publishers feel like they haven’t seen the money that they should have seen, to be frank.
As a result, there are trust issues. These are adding to major historical trust issues in this industry, in various directions – between labels and publishers, and between publishers and collecting societies, for example.
As a result, some publishers now don’t want to just agree to whatever split the PRO in certain local countries wants to set. Theoretically, services like us don’t have skin in this game. If [a PRO] wants to set their split at 70/30, or 50/50, or 85/15, that’s no business of ours, so long as it doesn’t add up to more than 100. But when it gets to the point where it does add up to more than 100… that’s a problem.
“If [a PRO] wants to set their split at 70/30, or 50/50, or 85/15, that’s no business of ours, so long as it doesn’t add up to more than 100. But when it gets to the point where it does add up to more than 100… that’s a problem.”
Everyone seems to agree it shouldn’t be our problem, but it becomes our problem if [the publishers and PROs] can’t come to an agreement themselves and where the two sets of rights aren’t licensed together by a single entity. It is a huge frustration.
Deciding how much of a royalty is a mechanical right and how much is a performing right shouldn’t be up to us. We shouldn’t have to have an opinion, or be involved in that [process].
Is there a conclusion on the horizon, a solution?
No. I would say not.
The thing that makes me unbelievably sad about it is that if these things can’t be agreed, it almost inevitably means that money gets held up in the system, and that means songwriters aren’t being paid – and that is wrong. But, at the same time, the answer can’t be, ‘Well, Apple, you should pay 150%.’
What else would you like to change about the modern music business?
A two word answer: Perfect data. Again, this is to do with money getting held up in the system.
Fundamentally, we want to be able to pay people. Problems with metadata [means] money gets held up, and the solution to that problem is perfect data. People love to point fingers [about why metadata is faulty] and it all goes back to the historical distrust in the industry. But, actually, there are problems at every single point in the chain. There isn’t one magic solution.
“Fundamentally, we want to be able to pay people.”
It starts from the songwriters in a writing session completing a song, and not actually deciding in that moment what the split should be between the different writers. Then, at some point, the publisher registers it, and then, at another point, the label is told – and [information] gets delayed or is wrong somewhere in the chain.
There are still manual entry systems for this stuff, and multiple entry systems, so there can be typos. And then ultimately it then gets registered differently, by different people, in different territories, with slightly different names. This isn’t just about a certain database, or labels delivering better data; there are a whole series of problems that need fixing. So perfect data please!
These issues aside, ultimately, when you look at the entire music publishing ecosystem, do you feel positive about its future?
I really do. I actually think it’s an amazing time to be in this part of the business.
For one thing, there is more engagement by songwriters [in industry issues] than I’ve ever known before. The activism and engagement in the US around the MMA and the CRB, it’s been an extraordinary sort of energy.
I think that’s going to turn into extraordinary creativity, and a lot more impetus to get problems fixed. I’ve been working for over a decade now to try and keep the money flowing, and to get the money flowing when it stalls – and, of course, to generate more money for publishers and songwriters.
We have a better chance to do that today than ever before.
Allow us to ask some questions about you: What were you like when you were younger, and how has that affected your professional journey?
I played a lot of music at school, [across] three instruments. I spent most of my life in orchestras and bands and choirs. Initially I was quite a rule follower, and then at some point I had a rebellious phase, like many people do. But I was very lucky; I would say that I grew up in environment where I don’t remember having any concept of limitations.
And I always, always hated stereotypes. As an example, until fairly recently, I pretty much refused to cook, because I knew women were expected to do so – and I refused to meet that expectation. Then I learned that it’s actually quite nice to be able to feed yourself and your friends!
I always had a pretty good work ethic, as well. I was always determined and self sufficient, and I think that has stayed with me through my life and my career. I’ve always had quite a lot of drive to sort of prove myself in some way.
Do you feel you faced any undue professional barriers as a woman over the course of your career, and are you hopeful or optimistic for a more equitable future gender-wise at the top of the music industry?
I’ve really never felt many barriers in the music industry. The only one [came] when I was 16, and I did work experience at Air Studios, which was in Oxford Circus back then. I really wanted to be a sound engineer; I loved music and I loved technology.
[When I arrived for work experience], they thought I was there to answer the phones and become a receptionist, which I was not very happy about. But once I explained to them that actually I really wasn’t interested in that, the whole experience was actually brilliant. Other than that, I’ve had no barriers in the music industry; although I’ll say there still seem to be many fewer [senior] women on the record label side of the business than in music publishing, so that’s a little weird.
“While working in the sports business, I had a fairly significant #MeToo experience…”
I did have a brief time, before getting involved in music, in the sports industry. [One of Segal’s great passions beyond music is tennis, where her friends to this day include three-time Wimbledon doubles champions, Bob and Mike Bryan.] While working in that business, I had a fairly significant #MeToo experience – very much along the lines of all of the movie industry stuff that’s come out recently – [involving] someone quite powerful.
I then told some people about what had happened, and he didn’t like that. He threatened me and basically said, ‘If you tell anyone [else] about this, I’ll make sure you never work in this business again.’
The point of me telling you that story is partly because I’ve never experienced anything like that at Apple, obviously, or in the music industry. But one reason I’m actually kind of happy you asked the question, is that even as recently as two years ago, I would never have mentioned it.
The reason I have hope for the future is because everything that’s happened in the last couple of years has made me feel a lot more empowered and brave enough to tell that story to a journalist.
I suppose it’s extra important when you think who might be reading it.
I would hope other people [in the current climate] are brave enough, and have the confidence, to tell their stories too.
Hopefully by doing so, it helps stop these things happening – and it stops people leaving industries because they don’t want to deal with things like that. I wish my story was in any way unique, but it’s not. Sadly, it’s common as muck.
Who have been your professional mentors, and what did they teach you?
There are four people I can think of. The first one was the headmistress I had at school; she was a big part of the reason I never felt like there was a glass ceiling or any kind of limitations. She was just an amazing, amazing woman who sadly died a few years ago.
Another one was actually in the sports world; she was the tournament director of a tennis tournament, and she taught me that it’s okay to have opinions and voice them – that you can speak your mind and still be respected and liked, even if you’re a little bit terrifying. She also taught me that the best leaders are people who don’t consider anything to be beneath them, and will roll their sleeves up and dig in when things need to be done.
“Oliver is a great communicator, and has taught me the importance of effective communication with your team.”
And then there’s Russ Frackman – a very senior partner at the law firm I was at in LA [Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp] before coming to Apple. He litigated the Napster case, as well as Grokster and KaZaA and all that. He taught me that nothing quite compares to hard work, and that there’s always room for improvement.
The last [mentor] I would like to mention is Oliver Schusser. I’ve worked closely with Oliver now for over 13 years, and I think he’s always been an amazing person to work with. He’s a great communicator, and has taught me the importance of effective communication with your team.
I’ve also learned from him that nothing compares to genuinely caring about people and not faking it. You see that when he’s meeting with labels and publishers and artists and songwriters as well as his team: he exudes passion for music, people, and about doing the right thing.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If you ever feel like you’re making it up as you go along, don’t stress too much – everyone else probably is, too.
MBW’s ongoing Inspiring Women series is supported by Ingrooves, which powers creativity by providing distribution, marketing and rights management tools and services to content creators and owners. Ingrooves is a leader in the independent music distribution and marketing industry, provides independent labels, established artists and other content owners with the most transparent and scalable distribution tools including analytics, rights management services, and thoughtful marketing solutions to maximize sales in today’s dynamic global marketplace.Music Business Worldwide