It makes a lot of sense for an organization representing the digital rights of nearly 50 independent music publishers to be an independent entity itself.
UK-based IMPEL was previously a trading name for a group of music publishers who had given multi-territory online rights to the UK’s Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS).
But in January 2018, the org became a fully autonomous company, breaking away from MCPS and touting the move as “the realisation of a long-held ambition” to create “a standalone entity which is entirely focused on its independent members’ interests”.
Those independent members – who now have 100% ownership and control of IMPEL – include a number of respected independent publishers including Bucks Music Group, Beggars Music, Reservoir Music, Kassner Music, CTM and Truelove Music.
In April 2019, the newly independent organization appointed highly-regarded music and entertainment lawyer Sarah Williams as its new CEO.
Williams’ career has seen her represent artists, creators, labels, publishers, promoters, distributors, film and TV production companies, and other media businesses within the creative industries.
Most recently she has specialised in publishing, consulting for companies such as Sony/ATV, Universal, Warner/Chappell and Concord Music.
Just over a year into the leadership role, Williams tells MBW that IMPEL is “off to a great start”. The past year and half with Williams at the helm has seen IMPEL ink a licensing deal with Amazon for its music streaming services in Europe, in addition to expanding its services to Latin America after signing a licensing and admin deal with Uruguay- born LatinAutor.
IMPEL has also recently signed deals with publishers like Faber Music, Mute Songs, Reach Music Publishing.
“As we grow in market share and scope of repertoire, our bargaining position is continually building, and this leads to better deals,” explains Williams. “As we extend our global reach, we’re licensing more services in more territories.”
Here, Williams recaps her first year and half at IMPEL and explains what the independent organization is hoping to achieve for its members…
It’s been a year since you joined IMPEL, tell us about how the past 12 months have gone?
I’ve loved leading IMPEL over this first crucial year. The entire organization has experienced a great journey, which has been propelled by our members’ indie spirit, shared resources and effective collaboration. There’s such a willingness from everyone to work together and contribute, which means there’s really something of a family feel to it.
I’m proud that we have built a strong foundation, having concluded important licences (with more in the pipeline), cemented great relationships with new and potential partners, reinvigorated our mission, strengthened our governance, and increased income for members.
Our partnership with SACEM is also working extremely well. Jean-Noël Tronc, Cécile Rap-Veber, and the entire SACEM team, are very talented individuals who are genuinely passionate about helping IMPEL succeed. The collective spirit is building continually and our members, partners and staff share a real excitement about IMPEL’s future.
In your appointment announcement, you said that “Our vision is to turbo-charge our members’ digital income and energise their digital rights strategy,” could you tell us about the progress made in this regard and plans for the future to achieve this?
We’re off to a great start. Since our first distribution via SACEM, income from the main streaming services has experienced average quarterly growth of over 10%, which is very encouraging. However, our targets are more ambitious. We know that achieving them requires playing a long game and that the real gains will materialise further down the road.
We’re taking a multi-faceted approach. As we grow in market share and scope of repertoire, our bargaining position is continually building, and this leads to better deals. As we extend our global reach, we’re licensing more services in more territories. For example, our new relationship with One Stop Shop in Latin America is giving members the opportunity to plug into a fast-growing market and bring in up to five years’ worth of uncollected mechanical royalties.
On the operations side, with new rights management platforms, members are soon going to be able to easily access granular information about how their works are performing in key services and, crucially, what’s in the pipeline. This knowledge will give them a serious boost when it comes to making decisions around writer relations and marketing spend. In our operations groups, we work hard with members and partners to solve problems and drive efficiency, and this goes to the bottom line too.
Finally, as a member-owned, member-driven organisation, we aim keep down costs for members, so we are always looking at whether we can offer them a better deal. All these approaches combine to grow members’ royalties.
What are the biggest challenges for independent publishers currently?
Going back to first principles, the ongoing challenge of our industry is to ensure songs are given their proper status and value, both culturally and economically.
They are the DNA of the music industry and need to be recognised and rewarded. In the digisphere, songs, songwriters, and publishers have often been treated as the ‘poor relation’, and we are working to change that for the independent sector. Some apps are very song-oriented, such as the educational and karaoke services, and these are getting more and more popular.
So here, it’s a question of bringing the breadth and quality of the independent sector’s repertoire into their song selection. For streaming services, elevating the profile of the song itself is more of a challenge, but there are encouraging signs. For example, Spotify’s songwriter pages, Apple highlighting singer-songwriters, and more services providing credits.
Obviously, the other challenge for the independent sector is making sure that the long tail gets properly identified and accounted for, and that there is fairness across genres. Whilst many independent publishers represent huge hits, the indie sector is often highly specialised.
Therefore, we need to ensure we are collecting everything we can for the niche as well as the more mainstream repertoire. To address these challenges, we are continually working to build relationships with the DSPs in a way that allows for a genuine dialogue between IMPEL members and the services.
What is the role of the independent publisher in 2020 and how is it changing?
In one key sense, the role of the independent publisher hasn’t changed. Indies are specialists, creatives, risk-takers and innovators. Each has its own unique personality determined by the character of its leaders; and indies will always be the industry’s engine room for sourcing and developing songwriting talent.
“Indies will always be the industry’s engine room for sourcing and developing songwriting talent.”
The health of the publishing industry is utterly dependent on there being a vibrant independent sector. How that core spirit plays out in 2020 is changing, though. Multi-territory digital licensing is having an impact on the sub-publishing market, and I think that new approaches need to evolve to respond to that.
These days sub-publishers might not be collecting digital revenue streams in their territory. But, if they are good, sub-publishers are still doing an incredibly important job for their original publisher clients and they need to be rewarded and incentivised.
So, maybe the business model has to change. We are in a rapidly-evolving landscape so publishers have to respond with fresh thinking. Thankfully, independent publishers tend to take decisions quickly and are able to be nimble. I am confident they can handle the challenges.
How healthy is the independent publishing sector?
We can’t discount the impact of COVID-19 on all areas of the music industry but, from where I’m sitting, the independent publishing sector is still very healthy. It’s weathering the storm despite the downturn of the global economy.
Midia Research just reported that last year, independent labels strongly outperformed the majors in streaming with an annual growth of 38% compared to the majors’ 22%.
“Streaming is providing new business opportunities. As new services launch and existing services expand into new territories, publishers have the chance to promote and monetize their catalog to additional markets.”
I think we can assume that the trajectory is similar for publishing. Streaming is providing new business opportunities. As new services launch and existing services expand into new territories, publishers have the chance to promote and monetize their catalog to additional markets.
The major DSPs are also engaging better with publishers, so there are some real positive trends for those who are ready and willing to seize the moment.
What are the benefits for an independent publisher to be an IMPEL member?
With its unique model, IMPEL provides members with numerous benefits. These include licensing your catalogue with better terms and higher rates as a result of aggregated market share; collective problem-solving and shared resources; transparency; higher levels of income; DSP attention; cutting edge technology with online accounts, access to granular data; multi-territory licensing and efficiencies and lower overheads.
IMPEL has inked deals with Faber Music, Mute Songs, Reach Music Publishing since you joined, tell us about the significance of those companies joining IMPEL?
Having Faber Music, Mute, and Reach Music Publishing join IMPEL has been meaningful in several ways.
Each publisher is very well-established with rich catalogs, active songwriters and experts at the helm. These are independent music publishers that bring a lot to the table. They could sign with almost any society – and they chose IMPEL.
As our membership grows, the word is spreading about our progress and that we can offer benefits to the independent that are most typically afforded to a major. We’re thrilled to include their fantastic, diverse catalogs in our licences, and harness the knowledge and experience of their executives.
IMPEL signed a licensing deal with Amazon in February, tell us about the significance of that deal for IMPEL’s members?
Well, who wouldn’t want to be in a great deal with one of the major players?! Not only does the deal itself have significant value, but the growing relationship with Amazon’s publishing team is highly beneficial.
Since we signed the deal, our members have been able to meet with the Amazon team, learn about their music strategy, and exchange thoughts and creative ideas. We have found them to be very responsive, and really hope that the channel will further develop to help both sides actively innovate and better understand each other’s interests and concerns.
At the time you said to “Watch this space for more major agreements in the near future,” can we expect to see any more deals announced in 2020?
I am very confident that you will be hearing lots more good news from IMPEL in 2020!
IMPEL expanded into Latin America last month – What are IMPEL’s plans in the region and tell us about what the deal means for IMPEL’s members?
IMPEL’s approach to global growth is to work through great partners and to offer a la carte options to members. Since the expansion into Latin America is new for IMPEL, it’s important that we now embed ourselves in the market and work with our partners to deliver the highest value and transparency.
“IMPEL’s approach to global growth is to work through great partners and to offer a la carte options to members.”
By striking the deal as a collective, we are able to create cost savings for our members in comparison with average sub-publisher rates. Also, IMPEL members will have advanced online tools, access to unclaimed reports, underclaimed reports and a host of things that are very unlikely to be accessible through other mechanisms.
We will also be setting up an operations group for members and partners to solve problems and create more efficiencies for the region. We believe this is going to open up Latin America for our members in a way that a more arm’s length approach to licensing couldn’t provide.
What other regions are a priority for IMPEL to sign deals in (or to be working towards signing deals in) over the coming months?
China, South East Asia, and North America (in no particular order).
What are IMPEL’s aspirations over the coming months and years?
To be the best and most obvious choice for digital licensing for independent publishers worldwide. Period.Music Business Worldwide