“I’m sure I have missed a whole bunch of opportunities and I am going to miss others, but I caught a lot of them too. In the end it’s about how many I catch, not how many I lose.”
Pulse Music Group co-founder Scott Cutler loves this quote from Apocalypse Now filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. It’s clear that such a glass-half-full mindset is something Pulse lives by.
“[Coppola] didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the [shots] that he didn’t get,” says Cutler. “He got enough great shots to make a movie. And as long as we’re doing well, and it’s working, it’s good.”
Pulse is definitely doing well. The independent Los Angeles-based publisher, management and services company has shown a knack for signing some of the hottest songwriters amid a ten-year track record of backing talent.
Big recent hits from Pulse writers include Travis Scott’s Sicko Mode feat. Drake via OZ, Maroon 5’s Girls Like You feat. Cardi B via superstar songwriter Starrah and Camila Cabello’s Havana feat. Young Thug also via Starrah. Pulse songwriter Marty James also co-wrote the remix of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s Latin mega hit Despacito, featuring Justin Bieber.
In fact, the company’s roster is responsible for selling over 150 million units of recorded music. Its original declaration of being a metaphorical “sanctuary” for artists, devised by its founders – songwriters Scott Cutler, Anne Preven and songwriter/producer Josh Abraham – appears to ring as true today as it did on day one.
A physical manifestation of the Pulse ‘sanctuary’ is housed behind a large grey, ivy-covered building in Silverlake, Los Angeles, one of two Pulse studio complexes in the city. The other one is a few miles away in Burbank. Designed in 1967 by architect Carl Maston, Pulse HQ feels a lot less like what one might expect a ‘traditional’ publishing company to look like.
“You would go into a publisher’s building and it was like a bank building.”
Originally known as Soundcastle Recording Studios, the property’s two studios have served as the location of recordings by superstars like Madonna, Paul McCartney, the Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen, Tupac, Billy Joel, the Beastie Boys, Dr. Dre and countless others.
The location and legacy of Pulse’s HQ sends a clear message to anyone who ventures through its gates: This company is serious about music.
“I was a published songwriter from the age of 22,” says Cutler, explaining the significance of their current setup.
“You would go into a publisher’s building and it was like a bank building; you’d get off [the elevator] on the fourth floor; you’d sit in the waiting room and you’d walk past a bunch of file cabinets to an office. There was nothing about it that felt [like a music company].”
Adds Abraham (pictured left): “When Pulse first started, we built it as if we were building a label. We only talked about Island Records, A&M Records and Virgin [as reference points].
“But particularly A&M, [whose HQ] was at the Jim Henson Company lot. There was a label inside the studios and we kind of modelled [Pulse’s building] after that.”
Between them, Abraham and Cutler have themselves co-written and co-produced songs that have generated tens of millions of sales worldwide.
Amongst many other hits, Cutler, whilst a member of the band Ednaswap, co-wrote the song Torn, covered and made world famous in 1997 by Natalie Imbruglia, while Abraham has worked with everyone from P!nk to Weezer, Carly Rae Jepsen and Adam Lambert to Slayer.
They’ve been able to draw from their combined experiences in the studio and at the negotiation table to offer a “by-musicians-for-musicians” development service, which works.
“We realized at one point, that we had a lot of answers from all of our experiences,” says Cutler. “I was a songwriter, I had sessions every day. I know what it’s like when it’s going well; I know what it feels like when it’s not going well.
“Being a songwriter is a challenging life, even when you’re doing your best.”
“I understand some of the concerns that songwriters [have]. It’s a challenging life, even when you’re doing your best. You’re constantly writing another song, you can’t really rest on the last song. You have got to keep going. It’s a certain kind of grind that we really understand.”
Cutler’s first-hand understanding of the needs of songwriters and publishers was acknowledged this year when he was elected to join the board of the National Music Publishers Association.
“It was humbling,” he says, of the experience. “I felt like an imposter on day one. Like, ‘What am I doing here with all these guys that have been doing this for so long?’
“But I got over that and I’m going to do everything I can to bring whatever voice I can bring to it. Them picking Pulse to be included was really an honor.”
Pulse started in 2009 after Abraham and Cutler kept ”bumping into each other creatively” and eventually became friends. “We both had similar interest in arts, and we both wanted to buy the same house once,” says Cutler. “It was just a very funny kind of thing where we realized we had a lot in common.”
Cutler was building his own studio complex in Burbank and Abraham was building his own studio in Silverlake at the same time. So, Abraham called Cutler and made him an offer. “I have this idea,” said Abraham. “I want to start a publishing and management company for writers and artists, and it would be great if we did it together.”
With his arm twisted, Cutler got to work with Abraham to start building out a roster. The former, a successful songwriter, was well connected in the songwriter community and the latter, as an in-demand producer, got to see first hand who some of the best working musicians and songwriters were at the time.
Their theory was that, to get started, they would just call up some of the most talented people they had previously worked with. “It would be the one guy in the band that wrote all the songs, and was clearly the gifted person,” says Cutler.
Abraham adds that “the gold mine, or the secret weapon, was the quiet [person] in the corner”.
“That’s the guy I would really want,” he adds. “I was in the room, so I got to see who the talent really was.”
After those initial discussions, they identified a few people that they would approach make offers and signed four people to start off with.
“In those four people, three of the four of them had pretty significant success pretty quickly once we started,” says Cutler.
“I have this idea: I want to start a publishing and management company for writers and artists, and it would be great if we did it together…”
One of those songwriters is Bonnie McKee, who co-wrote Katy Perry’s US No.1 singles like California Gurls, Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.), Part of Me, Teenage Dream and Roar – not to mention Top 10 hits like Britney Spears’ Hold It Against Me and Taio Cruz’s Dynamite.
Another early Pulse signing was Sugarcult’s chief singer and songwriter, Tim Pagnotta, whose songs have sold more than 12m copies globally.
“So that was it, it was go to the most talented people, create a family environment with them, and let’s see if we can move the needle,” says Cutler.
Having spent “10,000 hours in the studio” themselves, not only are Abraham and Cutler in a position to empathise with the creatives that walk through their doors, but they clearly also know a hit when they hear one. “It’s really a gut feeling of what stands out as the best songs as you’re shaping a record,” explains Abraham.
“You lean in on those songs that make you feel a certain way, and you watch the completion of a song, when you’re producing, that you think might be the hit single. When it goes all the way, you start to trust your gut more. Having that experience, I trust my gut when I hear something.”
Pulse’s co-CEOs wish to make it clear that they don’t chase hits, but instead suggest that they invest in individuals who they feel have the potential to make hits and, ultimately, be a part of the scene and culture they’ve tried to build around Pulse.
“We really haven’t gone after, with any real passion, somebody who just has a song that’s a hit,” says Cutler.
“When you want to be a part of just that song. That’s usually a bad sign for us. Once we’re sold completely [on the person], we just don’t let up. We can connect then. If we think, ‘Oh I like that song, but I don’t know what this person’s arc is going to look like’, then those deals don’t usually work.”
The publishing company grew from that initial roster of songwriters to the independent behemoth it is today, which along with Pulse Management, operates under the Pulse Recording umbrella. In 2014 to drive forward its expansion in publishing, Pulse took on a “multi-million dollar capital fund” from Fujipacific Music (West).
Today, Pulse has 175 active clients, runs six joint ventures and controls over 10,000 copyrights. In fact, the firm’s founders say that the company has added over 125 new copyrights to its books every month of 2019. Its workforce of 25 full-time employees, Cutler says, consists of “bar none, the greatest creative team” in the business.
Pulse’s leadership team consists of President and Head of creative, Maria Egan who heads up the publishing company, and Joe Rangel, the Founder and CEO of Pulse’s licensing division. Egan was previously VP of A&R at Columbia for eight years and Rangel was a film & TV exec at EMI Music Publishing, Capitol Records, and Miramax Films.
“The team is very well-supported. If they want to sign something, we sign it, just no hesitation.”
“Markell Casey [Senior Director, Creative] signed James Blake and Yebba. After he signed Yebba, if he wants to sign something, we just get it done,” says Cutler.
“Ashley [Calhoun] signed Starrah in her first week here. Like, whatever she wants to do, I’m going to support her. And Maria [Egan] sits on top of all of them and helps guide them through their careers and gives them advice and sometimes challenges them on signings.”
“I can still tell when I’m in the presence of a great talent,” adds Cutler of Pulse’s personell. “I don’t have to be a specialist at what they do to know that this a super-talented person, but we trust them and that’s an important part of what works here. The team is very well-supported. If they want to sign something, we sign it, just no hesitation.”
Recent signings include Ty Dolla Sign, Tyler Johnson, El_P, Rich the Kid, YBN Cordae and Bhad Bhabie, the Neptunes’ Chad Hugo and the Strokes Albert Hammond Junior.
Complementing the company’s core team are joint ventures formed with Nashville based Creative Nation, the music management and publishing company owned by songwriter Luke Laird and Beth Laird; Marc Anthony’s Magnus Media; Nas’s Mass Appeal, Rick Rubin’s American Recordings and BEAT HOUSE, in partnership with Tiffany Kumar, a former Global Head of Songwriter Relations at Spotify.
“The first one [Pulse signed] was Beth and Luke Laird, Creative Nation, and that one was just obvious to me,” says Cutler. “Nashville’s its own world. There was no way I was going to go to Nashville and put up a Pulse sign. I wanted a good partner. So, that was incredibly obvious.
“With Rick, we all sat together and Josh told him the same thing he told me, which is, ‘You are around all these talented people. You’re kind of a publisher. You know? You don’t know you are, but publishing is A&R, basically’. Rick agreed, and we’re about five or six years into that relationship. Anything he wants, if he puts his hand up, we just close the deal.
“Marc Anthony came from [being connected with] Maria Egan and her curiosity about Latin music a few years ago and her feeling that it was going to be an important place for us to go. And it’s interesting, because we had a big foothold in hip-hop and a big foothold in Latin kind of ahead of schedule, so that was fortunate for us that we had gone in those directions when we did. That comes from having good partners.”
Pulse currently enjoys an independent music publisher market share (based on top 100 radio songs) of 4.5%, making the company the third largest indie publisher in the United States.
Asked if they’re able to compete with the majors in terms of deals, Abraham gives us an unequivocal ‘yes’.
“For sure, and sometimes we’re the better choice. Sometimes we’re not. But we don’t have to win everything. We just have to do well enough,” he says.
“I don’t know if this is because of the culture that we’ve built, but when we react to something and want to be in business with it, it usually comes to us,” adds Cutler.
“Just by virtue of, not financial [reasons], but because of the goodwill the company has built.”
“when we react to something and want to be in business with it, it usually comes to us.”
With our interview nearing its end, and having discussed Pulse’s impressive success over the past decade, the final question naturally is, ‘What next?’
“We’re right in the sweet spot right now, where we’ve done a lot of hard work to get here, so growing is our plan,” says Abraham.
“We still wake up and talk on the phone at seven in the morning every day,” adds Cutler.
“It will definitely grow. We come here every day – and every day is a new adventure.”Music Business Worldwide