‘I would like to see the music industry develop a more positive relationship with technology companies.’

Credit: Melody Rae

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 fulfill. Inspiring Women is supported by Ingrooves Music Group.

At the beginning of this year, Mary Megan Peer became Chief Executive Officer of peermusic — the family-led and owned company that her father and predecessor, Ralph Peer II, helmed for 37 years.

She moved up to the top seat after serving as Deputy CEO, during which time she helmed the publisher’s expansion into neighbouring rights, while also contributing to business growth equating to a 15% year-on-year increase in global receipts and a 12% rise in income collected for clients.

Recent releases peer has a stake in that have helped contribute to that growth include Justin Bieber’s Peaches (co-produced by Shndo) and his Platinum-selling Changes album (featuring music co-produced by Sasha Sirota, The Audibles, Sons of Sonix and Phil Beaudreau and executive produced by Poo Bear).

The company also celebrated a Pulitzer Prize in Music win earlier this year thanks to composition Stride by Cuban-born Tania León, and has a credit on Beyonce’s Grammy-winning Black Parade (co-written by peer client Rickie “Caso” Tice).

Other chart successes have come courtesy of Black Eyed Peas and J Balvin’s Ritmo for the Bad Boys For Life soundtrack, Skrillex, Bieber and Don Toliver’s Don’t Go (produced by Poo Bear), Still Chose You feat. Mustard from The Kid Laroi’s Billboard 200 No.1 mixtape (co-written by Q Gulledge), and DJ Snake’s Run It feat. Rick Ross & Rich Brian, which featured in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings trailer and ESPN’s football anthem campaign.

Today, Mary Megan Peer oversees peermusic’s 38 offices in 31 countries and over 200 employees worldwide — a growing global footprint that she’s played a key role in establishing.

In 2019, that work included leading the acquisition of Korean independent K-pop publisher, Music Cube, adding Korea as the thirtieth country to the company’s global network, alongside 40k copyrights and works by groups including BTS, Red Velvet and AOA.

By encouraging collaboration between peermusic’s Western writers with talent in Japan, China and South Korea, Peer helped the company enjoy charting K-pop releases in all three countries and introduced writers to K-pop labels. This resulted in Korea becoming the third largest territory in the peermusic network in terms of revenue.

Previously, she led the opening of peermusic’s first office in mainland China, which followed the establishment of a successful joint-venture partnership in the country.

Alongside her CEO role, Peer recently produced an album, Last Tango Before Sunrise, featuring works by peermusic classical performer and conductor Jose Serebrier, which was released in August alongside a book about his life.

She is also currently involved in a children’s cartoon project with longtime peermusic writer Donovan, which is based on his music and stories, and is the youngest member on ASCAP‘s board.

Here, we chat to Mary Megan Peer about lessons learned across her career, how to run a successful publishing company, and a few issues faced by the music industry at large.

Before you worked at peermusic, you started your career in Wall Street. What did you learn during that time, that has served you well in music and publishing? 

I only started in this business 12 years ago professionally but my father was always introducing me to writers so I grew up knowing a lot more about songwriting than probably the average person does. 

When I was working on Wall Street, most of the time I worked in mergers and acquisitions for entertainment and media companies so at times I worked with music companies and at times other content creators. I learned about how rights were valued and different ways to unlock that value and how companies did a lot of planning around it. 

Most companies I worked with, but not all, were public, so I also learned about what sort of reporting and compliance issues go into a public company. It’s interesting now that I see so many music publishing companies trying to explore that route.

“it was really important to me that when I joined peermusic, I got to work on the ground and get involved in operations.”

I learned a lot about big picture dealing making but the thing that I didn’t get at all was any experience in operations. So it was really important to me that when I joined peermusic, I got to work on the ground at a company that was functioning day in and day out. 

A couple of years after I joined, I moved to Argentina to the Buenos Aires office and that was the first time I’d really gotten fully involved in operations, rather than doing deals at a high level and then stepping aside because other people were implementing them and working on them on a day to day basis.

Photo Credit: Michael Baca
What have you learned from working closely with your father?

My father has an innate ability to look at multiple sides of an issue and forge towards a common path. I hear this appreciated by colleagues within the industry as he always looks to connect the common interests among music publishers to enhance the market for songwriters. I’ve learnt a lot from this collaborative approach, even when it seems like issues could be divisive.

He also is skilled at seeing both the big picture and detailed side of everything. I think this is a great skill to have in music publishing, where you constantly have to look at broader trends in music, but also be responsible for collecting and tracking micro-pennies of income.

You were named CEO earlier this year — what do you bring to the role that’s different from your predecessors?

I never really knew my grandparents in any sort of business role so it’s really my father who I can contrast my experience with. He has never worked outside of music and always felt that was something he missed in terms of his business experience. So we thought it was very important for me to spend time outside of the company, working in different industries and appreciating different ways to do business.

Also, I’m a good deal younger than he is so I’m probably bringing in some new perspectives on how music is going to be used and what we can do with our catalog going forward.

He worked very closely with me but I was the one who led the acquisition to expand into neighbouring rights, which we completed about a year ago now. It was an area that I looked at for a while as a good place for expansion and a way to use our network, resources and technology development to service a whole new area of clients.

What are the key ingredients that go into running a successful publishing company?

Publishing is driven by the creative so having a team who can successfully nurture relationships with talent and see how the talent can contribute to broader music trends is crucial. Having a long-term vision for a writer or producer’s career is important, as is giving them time to make that vision happen.

“Having a long-term vision for a writer or producer’s career is important, as is giving them time to make that vision happen.”

However, as much as publishing is creative, a successful publishing company must be strongly focused on the administrative aspects as well.

Understanding how to register, collect and track your catalogs is crucial, even more so with the diversification in revenues from new digital players.

How has being family-owned and run impacted the way that peermusic has operated?

Being family-owned has given us a long-term vision for both our writers/producers and for the company. We’ve allowed our writers the time to build and develop great songs while building a company with global reach.

Rather than being focused on quarterly reports to investors, we can make decisions based on a longer-term path to growth. I think we can show success in this in that 2020 was our highest year of receipts ever, and because we’ve had many writers signed to us over the course of their careers.

As you know, the publishing sector has long rallied for better remuneration for songwriters. Where do you stand on that debate?

Clearly it’s a big issue around the world because we’re seeing so many governments looking into it. It’s quite gratifying to see the debate enter the mainstream because many publishers, including us, have laboured on these points for a long time, almost by ourselves.

I’d like to see all the digital services pay a fair rate in a manner that’s trackable and transparent to us. The fact that, in most cases around the world, digital rights are paid to us from two different sources, owing to the split between mechanical and performance, makes it very difficult for us to accurately track what we’ve been paid across various uses and service types from each DSP etc. 

“i would really like to receive payment for digital and mechanicals and digital performance rights from one entity.”

So in terms of changes, I would really like to receive payment for digital and mechanicals and digital performance rights from one entity so that we can tie it up and confirm that our writers are being paid what’s owed to them.

What would a fair rate for songwriters mean to you?

This phrase is used in conjunction with digital licensing and to me it means setting rates so that a successful songwriter can support themselves based on the income they get from their career. Since rates are often a percentage of the income a service makes from a subscriber or advertisers, it would help if there was a minimum in addition to a percentage rate.

Aside from the issues that we’ve already touched upon, what would you change about the music industry and why?

I would really like to see the music industry develop a more positive relationship with technology companies. I think there’s so much that technology can and has added to music, from production to listener experiences, new ways to use it and TikTok or other services.

“the music industry tends to view technology companies as a group that is trying to use our product without paying us. It would be great if we could start from a more positive place.”

I feel like the industry, rather than regarding technology as a potentially enabling force, tends to view technology companies as a group which is generally trying to use our product without paying us. Unfortunately, this reputation isn’t totally unfounded but it would be great if we could start from a more positive place.

What are your future plans and ambitions as CEO?

My immediate plans are focused on ensuring the company recovers successfully from Covid and integrating our new neighbouring rights companies. Although we continue to do better than budget, we have seen income around the world dip as a result of lockdowns.

I need to make sure we limit this as much as possible and continue to focus on other avenues of growth. I also want to find ways to offer both publishing and neighbouring rights clients expanded services to improve their income streams now that we have new capabilities.

Longer-term, I plan to continue to leverage peermusic’s global infrastructure to find new opportunities for our writers. This may mean further expansion into new territories or additional focus on specific genres. The film and television business continues to grow strongly and finding ways to meet their music needs will be important to us in the future.

Final question, what advice would you offer to your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is a complicated business and I really believe that if you can’t explain something, you don’t fully understand it.

Virgin Music Group is the global independent music division of Universal Music Group, which brings together UMG’s label and artist service businesses including Virgin and Ingrooves.Music Business Worldwide

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