Guy Moot on A&R, Warner Chappell… and ‘signing real quality’

Guy Moot, CEO & Co-Chair, Warner Chappell Music

Three-and-a-bit decades ago, Guy Moot would leisurely stroll back from work through the streets of Cheltenham, a pretty spa town on the cusp of England’s Cotswolds, taking in his surroundings. In your head, it’s probably an idyllic milieu.

It was, in fact, a little less picturesque; having left school at 16, Moot spent his weeks working gruelling hours as a welder on a building site – in an era, he hastens to remind us, “before supermarkets, before gastropubs… and a long time before Soho Farmhouse”.

Bespattered in grime and red oxide primer, the 18-year-old Moot would traipse through the town, peering into the windows of offices, marvelling at “just how clean everyone was”. There was no career plan, no intricately mapped-out route to becoming one of the highest-ranked executives in the global music industry. (That trajectory would be kickstarted later, by selling vinyl to local DJs.)

Instead, Moot lived only for a shallow stack of cash, handed over by his employers at the end of each week in a brown envelope. Much of that stack, he admits, got spent down the pub on payday.

You might think it difficult for 2020’s Guy Moot – gym-going, clean-living, adopted Los Angeleno that his is – to trace any direct modern influence from his grubbier, boozier teenage days working in construction.

But he’d challenge you on that idea. He’s thankful for the work ethic it instilled in him, of course, as well as the motivation that, with a couple of wrong moves, we could all one day swiftly tumble back to the low-paid, high-risk jobs of our youth.

But there’s also something more: the prolonged bouts of tedium Moot experienced on those building sites — combined with a relieved appreciation for 15-minute tea breaks, listening to music of all stripes on the radio.

Moot recalls a TV documentary on Calvin Harris – now the world’s biggest DJ – in which the exec spotted a kindred spirit. Harris spent a portion of his youth working at a fish factory in Scotland, dreaming of making it as an electronic music producer. “Boredom can be very inspiring,” notes Moot. “The modern world gives us very little chance to be bored, and I often encourage songwriters to try and escape that.”

Harris was one of Moot’s biggest clients at Sony/ATV, where – inclusive of his time at EMI Music Publishing – the exec spent 30 years, climbing to the position of President, Worldwide Creative & UK Managing Director, before being appointed as global CEO and Co-chair of Warner Chappell in April 2019.

“The modern world gives us very little chance to be bored, and I often encourage songwriters to try and escape that.”

Guy Moot

During those three decades at EMI-slash-Sony ATV, Moot signed the likes of Amy Winehouse, Lana Del Rey, Mark Ronson, Sia, Nile Rodgers, Arctic Monkeys, Jamiroquai and Stargate, as well as overseeing a roster including Ed Sheeran, Harris and Sam Smith.

Moot’s first 18 months as CEO of Warner Chappell have kept his dance-card full. In addition to welcoming marquee signings to the company – including Lizzo, Frank Ocean, Tones and I and more – Moot has developed a successful coalition with his co-Chair (and Warner Chappell COO), Carianne Marshall.

The duo have not only facilitated a more globalized creative structure at Warner Chappell, but have also led the company through macro world developments, including a social justice reckoning, and the COVID-19 pandemic. (If the young Guy Moot pressed his nose up against the glass of Warner Chappell’s Los Angeles offices right now, he’d find them empty. They will remain so until 2021.)

Here, Moot tells the story of his rise through the music industry, while giving his unique viewpoint on Warner Chappell’s place in the modern business, upstart competitors – and running a global company during quarantine…

In the last few years of your career, many people rumoured that you’d end up in a top job somewhere – and 18 months ago, Warner Chappell became that place. How have you found it so far?

I knew from the beginning, like any job of this magnitude, that it was going to be both challenging and rewarding. Even so, it’s been quite a first year. No-one predicted the world would be dealing with COVID, and no-one predicted the world was going to be [addressing] racial discrimination and Black Lives Matter to the extent that we have. Also, no-one told me I’d be dealing with technically almost two IPOs – one [for Warner Music Group] where it didn’t quite happen due to the pandemic, and one where it did, in June.

I always knew coming into Warner Chappell that it was a great and stable company with incredible catalogs and assets, and many really good people. We’ve augmented all those positive things. And I’ve gotten used to a different corporate structure, which is actually quite empowering and entrepreneurial compared to the last place.

Why do you find WMG’s structure more empowering than Sony/ATV?

[Warner Chappell] is a smaller entity, for one thing. When I got to Warner Chapell, I found an entrepreneurial spirit, but within that, the discipline of a corporate company. It’s less silo’d because it’s not this huge company that’s been bolted together.

Also look at Warner’s investments; they’ll [put money] into startups, apps, musicals and films. That all enriches Warner Chappell’s catalog and our sales pitch – because when you sign to Warner Chapell, you also get the benefit of Warner Music Group.

Credit: Atlantic/press
What are the things you had to solve after you came in?

Improving global collaboration – having an open culture where people at whatever level, in whatever territory, have input. I now feel we’re more globally co-operational than anybody else, and not just in A&R – although we really are connecting German hip-hop producers, for example, with US artists.

We’ve got this global song pitching tool, ARROW, so someone in China can go, ‘I need an up-tempo, Bruno Mars-like record,’ and quickly find a load of options. There’s still a certain cynicism out there – ‘What do publishers actually do?’ type of thing. We’re trying to turn that around, adding real value.

“In terms of our A&R strategy, we’re decisive and selective in what we sign. I don’t want us to be at the table for artists and writers just because every lawyer wants us to be.”

In terms of our A&R strategy, we’re decisive and selective in what we sign. I don’t want us to be at the table for artists and writers just because every lawyer wants us to be. The [music industry] wastes a lot of time in the chase, because people think they have to be at those tables. It’s like, no, let’s focus. Recently, we’ve seen [companies] chasing these huge TikTok phenomenons that ultimately don’t have legs and wouldn’t be able to tour, even in non-COVID times.

We’ve deliberately avoided those, and concentrated on signing real quality – rather than blowing six or seven million on a TikTok record that doesn’t have longevity and leaves you going, ‘Oh shit.’ We’re building a culture, and major signings are obviously key to that. Signing Lizzo was so important: what she stood for, the broadness of the music, but also the fact she was so incredibly well defined as an artist.

Is there a concern on your side that the industry is getting drawn towards tracks rather than artists, especially in the TikTok age?

People are definitely being drawn to the chase and the competition. Warner Chappell has money to spend – we’re very well financed and competitive – but I’ve never gone to work a single day in my career and thought, ‘I’m just gonna overpay for that thing because I want to look good and I don’t want the other company getting it.’

“We have to restore where publishers sit in the food chain; somehow as an industry we’ve let publishing A&R be devalued over the years.”

We have to restore where publishers sit in the food chain; somehow as an industry we’ve let publishing A&R be devalued over the years – and some of that was down to bad A&R people, frankly, who got lazy and went to the pub all day. But in an age where anybody can get discovered very quickly, real A&R, real talent development, is more important than ever. I want to see us develop more stuff from an early stage. We want to build real support and collaboration with our roster.

The UK is an interesting example. I know how much the UK market is worth [in a global context], and how much having a No.1 record in the UK is worth. I can’t blame UK managers and artists for taking big checks, but I think those checks are a bit out of kilter [with the commercial realities of a UK-only hit] and a little bit about vanity at the moment.

What needs to change in the UK market?

Even when I was still working in the UK, some people were starting to redefine what ‘success’ meant. To be considered [a real success] in my view you have to look at global and international impact, and I’m not just talking about revenue. How many people are really hearing your music?

How many streams is it getting globally? The music industry needs ambitious people who want to be stars – that’s part of what makes working in the music industry so exciting. It’s great people can monetize their own streams [without a label or publishing partner], but in the step beyond that, some parts of the UK industry have been given a false impression of what success really looks like. We need more ambition, particularly more international ambition.

Why has there been a big change at Warner Chappell in the UK, with Mike Smith leaving and Shani Gonzales coming in? And why hire an American to run the British company?

Mike and I came to an agreement. Mike and I have a high respect for each other, but we have slightly different views – nothing was acrimonious about it. Then I started looking at candidates [to run Warner Chappell UK], and I needed to find someone dynamic. Shani was… well, Shani was a pain in my butt for years when I was at Sony [and she was at BMG]; every deal I signed or had signed, she would come after, including Labrinth.

And I was like, ‘Who is this Shani person? She’s based in LA but she’s all over my shit from the UK!’ I kind of admired it. But then when I met her, I saw her incredible passion and affinity with songwriters.

“We brought Shani into Chappell last year [as Head of International] and she was an overnight sensation.”

We brought her into Chappell last year [as Head of International] and she was an overnight sensation. The Europeans loved her, and producers in different countries were suddenly getting connected to big records all over the globe. I genuinely believe we’ve got the best A&R team in the world.

If someone in France calls up and goes: ‘We really need some help getting this writer signed,’ we actually make it happen. Shani was in LA originally when she worked at BMG, and we brought her to New York where she had family. And then it was like: this is crazy, you’ve got such a good record in the UK, and you’re internationally-minded, would you be interested in [the UK job]? It became apparent she could be fantastic.

Let’s talk about your personal history: Where did you grow up and how did you get from there into the music business?

I grew up in a pretty provincial place; I was born in Cheltenham, but not in the posh part of town. Then I moved to the Cotswolds. Boredom was my catalyst and my stimulation – there was nothing to do.

This was before supermarkets, gastropubs, and a long time before Soho Farmhouse. I’m not very proud of this bit: I was bright at school, but I had no patience for school. I wanted to get out into the world and start earning money. My first job at the age of 16 was as an agricultural contractor – I drove tractors, basically. Then I started working on building sites, mainly as a welder, when I was 17 or 18.

Welding is a dangerous job, no?

I would start at 7am, three stories up, holding an iron girder while somebody welded it. It was physical work; we weren’t exactly following every safety rule.

We got jobs because most people hired a crane and we didn’t – it was a cowboy outfit. Being the youngest on a building site, you get the shit ripped out of you every day, and it toughens you up a bit. My treat would be a 15 minute tea break in the transit van listening to the radio; that was my main source of entertainment.

“However bad your day is going now, if you do a job that you love, you’re so lucky.”

At the end of each day your eyes would hurt because of all the ultra-violet, I’d come in and wash my overalls, covered in oil and red oxide. I was living just outside Cheltenham, and I’d be like the guy passing the posh offices at the window, ‘Those people are so clean!’ It was tough, but aren’t we all much better for doing shit jobs?

I want my kids to go and get shit jobs today, because it helps your perspective on life forever more. However bad your day is going now, if you do a job that you love, you’re so lucky.

Then you started selling records?

I was in Banbury at the time, selling records to DJs: ‘You’ve got to play this mate!’ Then I started ordering and stocking 12-inch imports from the US.

They came with a high wholesale price, but I was passionate about it – this was early electro, early hip-hop, early dance. And I suddenly realized, ‘This is almost like A&R; that’s what I want to do with my life!’

So I bought a really shitty car, drove around the Midlands and southwest watching bands and sending in gig reports to record companies, meeting sales reps – just trying to get noticed. And eventually [in 1984] I got my first job at what was ATV Music.

How was that?

Amazing: I’d come from a provincial town, and I was suddenly in an office in Mayfair, with an expense account. They gave me a [VW] Golf. That was the first time my late father looked at me and went, ‘German? You’re doing alright son!’

Everything was great… then Michael Jackson bought the company and fired everybody. After that, I was at Chrysalis Records for about 18 months where I met Danny D, Roy Eldridge, loads of great people. That was when I learned that I didn’t much like records; I liked publishing. I was so passionate about the music, I couldn’t understand why somebody in the promotion department didn’t quite ‘get’ the record I wanted to sign.

I signed one artist at Chrysalis, Ian Broudie [of the Lightning Seeds], for records and publishing, and my boss, who was Head of A&R at that time, said: ‘He’s never going to happen, Guy, he looks too weedy.’ [Amongst multiple hits, Iain Broudie would go on to write and perform the platinum-selling Three Lions with Baddiel and Skinner.] At Chrysalis there were a lot of leather trousers and bad jumpers, and most probably a lot of cocaine going on – which wasn’t my thing, by the way.

“Marty smelled of wealth and power, like someone from a TV show, but he had this very common touch.”

The only person who survived at ATV Music was Sally Perryman, who went to SBK, and I called her and said: ‘I really wanted to get back into publishing.’ She gave me a job as a talent scout. Marty Bandier interviewed me in, by his standards, a very small office, sat there with a cigar, braces, feet up on the desk. He smelled of wealth and power, like someone from a TV show, but he had this very common touch.

My first signing [at ATV] was We Call It Acieed by Danny D’s D Mob, then Ten City, the early Chicago house group, and then I signed Jamiroquai. I was living the life — rare groove, Norman Jay, all of that. I used to go out to clubs a lot, but as a music head.

It was the summer of love, then rare groove and funk came in, then it was early house music. I went through every genre at the time. Then When You Gonna Learn? and Virtual Insanity by Jamiroquai happened, and that really was the breakthrough moment in my career: I suddenly got a 50% pay rise. And then SBK became part of EMI.

What was your experience of EMI under Terra Firma?

When Terra Firma had just bought the company, I was Head of A&R for Europe, and I was getting a bacon sandwich from the canteen. The then-head of corporate comms tapped me on the shoulder and said: ‘Guy Hands would like you to introduce him at the company Town Hall in Hammersmith.’

I kept it short and sweet, and then he proceeded to [tell the music company’s staff] about motorway service station toilets and how he’d cleaned them up. I have to say he was always very good to me; he was a very bright man, although he obviously got some things wrong at the time. Then EMI went through a ‘pre-pack’ – a posh word for a repossession – and I had 18 months or so of Citigroup owning the company.

They didn’t mess with us, and were quite supportive. And then obviously a Sony-led consortium bought EMI [Publishing, in 2012, for $2.2bn]. In terms of big signings for me during that period, Stargate were seminal, and there was also Scissor Sisters, and obviously Ronson and Winehouse.

Throughout this time, from SBK through EMI and into Sony/ ATV, Marty Bandier was your boss and mentor. Now you’ve got a bit of distance between today and that tenure, how would you characterize his impact on your life and career?

Marty is an incredibly classy guy. He’s very warm, he’s inspiring, and I guess he was a bit of a father figure for me. He would always make me show passion [ahead of signings].

He initially didn’t love the Amy Winehouse deal, and I don’t mind saying that because it was expensive – and I’d have been asking the same questions he did.

But in asking those questions he always heard me out, he always made time for me, and he always made me show that passion: ‘We have to do this deal!’ Even when I was a young talent scout, a junior A&R, Marty always gave me time.

To this day, and this applies to Steve [Cooper], I enjoy having a boss who you want to do well for, and who makes you want to do well for your owners. You wanted to do well for Marty; he embraced your vision, he empowered you, and once he trusted you he’d let you take risks.

“Marty is an incredibly classy guy. He’s very warm, he’s inspiring, and I guess he was a bit of a father figure for me. He would always make me show passion [ahead of signings].”

Marty would also always say to me during my time at Sony, ‘Who’s your successor?’ That mentorship mentality was very important. At Sony/ATV, I got to develop [the firm’s now-UK heads] David Ventura and Tim Major, who I still think very highly of, are good friends and I’m sure will do a good job there.

At EMI, I also went through an era with Roger Faxon who taught me a very different skill set. I learned a lot; much of [Faxon’s] strategy was sound, even if some of the people implementing it weren’t. He taught me another side of running a company; Marty was the flamboyant entrepreneur and [Faxon] was from more of a ‘new management’ school. I was lucky to be able to learn from both.

Today you share Chairmanship of Warner Chappell with Carianne Marshall; between the two of you you’ve hired new global heads of Admin, Sync, Strategy and Creative Services. How’s your professional harmony as co-Chairs?

We actually, genuinely really like each other. I’m really happy I’ve got a co-Chair.

A lot of the one person [leadership] thing in this industry is more about ego than it is the realities of running a large business with many moving parts and different challenges. I could never have taken this job if I didn’t genuinely like Carianne; I just wouldn’t do it. Running a business is difficult enough without friction to deal with.

We immediately got on very well; she wore jeans and trainers to our first meeting and was very down to earth. We started to share more and more about our vision of music publishing, and the further we got, the more we were very aligned.

We usually come to the same conclusions and we know where our respective areas of strength are. But on any big decisions, we share responsibility.

I must ask about the pandemic. What are the good things that might come out of this for the music industry?

Far less jet lag, number one! Seriously, we’ve learned a lot as a team. I’m speaking to my European MDs [as one] every two weeks on Zoom, and thinking, ‘Why didn’t I do this before?’ I would have phoned them individually or tried to travel to see each of them.

Hopefully some of the protocols of these times will remain, and obviously there’s some great music being made. If they found a vaccine tomorrow, and hopefully they will, I’d be kind of disturbed if we all just went back to ‘normal’. People are addressing their quality of life as a result of this: ‘I don’t just have to do ten [songwriting] sessions in five days; I can do some of that remotely, which gives me more time in my life.’

One major downside for me has been the lack of experiencing culture; going to France, Scandinavia and elsewhere, keeping connected to those local music cultures via that freedom of travel. Most of my life has always been transatlantic, from a very early age going from London to America. I love LA, but I always say I love it more when I leave and come back.

“On the business side, with bars, clubs, restaurants [all shutting due to COVID] it’s going to have an impact. Anybody who talks about their numbers in publishing and doesn’t mention that just isn’t dealing with the realities.”

And then there’s the energy in the business; we give out a lot to a screen [over Zoom etc.], but you just don’t get as much back, apart from blue light. The other week I was in the UK [where lockdown has largely been lifted] and I had this rise in adrenaline, I was feeling on top of my game, and I realized it was because I’d done four or five meetings in person.

On the business side, with bars, clubs, restaurants [all shutting due to COVID] it’s going to have an impact. Anybody who talks about their numbers in publishing and doesn’t mention that just isn’t dealing with the realities.

By the way, I don’t think collection societies should be first to sing the blues here. Some are good, some aren’t so good; some feel like allies and partners, but some are inefficient, holding on to money and charging high commission rates. I hope they can do something to push more of this money through to [rightsholders].

That global network of publishing collection societies, when you see how much money is retained overall, is potentially the most inefficient layer of the modern music business.

I could bang on and on about this. When you’re objectively looking at the PRO landscape, you would rightly ask some questions: Why has it gotten more, not less, complicated in the digital age? Why are some of these guys holding on to so much money? I won’t go into individual cases; I think PRS in the UK is doing a good job, trying to change things. But there are a few around the world that are verging on corrupt.

Does a local artist know they’re paying a 23% commission to his or her collection society? Publishing has been so ripped apart for its lack of ‘transparency’ in recent years, and that’s something we take very seriously at Warner Chappell. We get audited by our bigger writers every year, and we come out very clean.

We’re open to audit – collection societies aren’t. Nobody asks enough questions of certain collection societies: What are they buying? Why do they have a property portfolio? Whose money are they using?

We’ve seen a number of social justice initiatives in the wake of Blackout Tuesday and the widespread Black Lives Matter movement. How has that impacted on how you run a company?

It’s been perhaps the most stressful, but also the most informative, and the most emotional, period of my career. I grew up quite naive; from the moment I moved to London, I had Jamaican friends, African friends, we all went out clubbing. But moving to America and running a worldwide company, feeling the weight of decades of very little progress in terms of racial equality and inclusion, it’s like, ‘Whoa.’

I have to be responsible for [that process], because we’re a global company. We had a town hall and African American employees talked about their individual experiences. I knew racism goes on, but hearing those [stories] was shocking. We’ve looked at our own company and learned that, not by design, we’ve got a very diverse [workforce], and we’ve had reports and tests to back that up.

But we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a new head of diversity and inclusion [at WMG, Dr. Maurice Stinnett] and we started the [$100m anti-racism and social justice] fund. One big thing is that it’s tough in America if you’re from the wrong neighborhood to get your [break in music]: we’ve got to make sure we reach those communities more often to recruit talent.

There’s a new wave of acquisitive companies in publishing – not least Hipgnosis, plus Round Hill, Primary Wave, Reservoir, Downtown etc. How does a company like Warner Chappell compete when people are buying rights for huge multiples?

I don’t blame writers for selling [their rights]; I used to tell my writers for decades, ‘You should never sell your house.’ But when you’re getting offered an 18/19/20 times multiple? I can’t look them in the eye anymore and say the same thing.

There’s a lot of happy writers, a lot of happy managers, and a lot of happy attorneys out there. No one’s getting hurt. And if those investors in a few years find out that they’re not getting what they thought they might be getting, they’ll lose some money – that’s life, and that’s investing.

Warner Chappell does acquisitions; we have our own capital and we have access to outside capital too. But as much as there are great songs and great catalogs out there, people are overpaying right now. To be very clear, there’s a difference between someone with a checkbook and a music publisher. Some of those checkbook investors can masquerade as a publisher, but they’re not.

“To be very clear, there’s a difference between someone with a checkbook and a music publisher.”

They don’t know how to extract real value [from rights] like a publisher does. My analogy on this is that you can buy the garden, but that doesn’t mean you’re a gardener – it doesn’t mean you can maintain it or grow it. That’s what publishers do. Whatever the future holds [for rights ownership] – whether its funds, whether it’s individuals, whether it’s institutions – you’ll always need publishers. In the streaming world, how are you going to keep catalog alive? If you don’t sync your song, or have it sampled, allow someone to work it, I’m not sure.

The one thing I don’t think anybody’s really thought through is, what happens when these investors all scatter and sell? When they say, ‘Oh, I’m better off putting money in manufacturing now, or natural resources, or commercial property?’ Who’s going to be doing the sync clearances? Who’s going to be registering the songs? There’s the potential for a lot of confusion in five years’ time.

Let’s pick an example: You’re a superstar artist, and you’re going to play the Superbowl. We need clearance [for your song catalog] immediately – we’re going to make the deal, we’ve got 48 hours. ‘Erm, there’s 5% of a song [uncleared] here. We don’t know where it is, or who to contact. It was acquired by a fund and then sold.’ That song doesn’t get performed at the Superbowl. That scenario doesn’t just affect the songwriter; it affects artists, big sync fees etc. I fear it could cause chaos.

What about the multiples people are paying for rights today? Where will it end?

We’re bullish as a company, but you’ve got to be realistic. There are companies out there with business models that I can see hitting the rocks before too long, particularly with the effects of COVID.

There is going to be an impact on live performance [from the pandemic] that will take a year to wash through the [publishing payment] system. Also, the CRB appeal is still not resolved in the US – and that could be an issue.

You’re a CEO now: What’s left in terms of your personal ambitions?

As far as personal ambition goes, I tend to throw that away at the end of each week. I would like Warner Chappell to be recognized as a company that adds real value for songwriters, while building steady growth for its owners. Most important to me is our reputation; people wanting to sign to us, and work with us. It’s about more than just grabbing another percentage of market share, or writing the biggest check.

This article originally appeared in the latest (Q3 2020) issue of MBW’s premium quarterly publication, Music Business UK (pictured), which is out now.

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