Wise Music is one of the oldest and newest names in music publishing.
One of the oldest because it was founded in the 1930s and, across the decades, established itself as a leading light in classical music and the sheet music sector.
And one of the newest because it did all that as Music Sales and only changed its name to Wise Music at the start of the year.
Rather idiosyncratically, the new moniker equally reflects the changes that have led to a new kind of company, but also echo the firm’s proud history.
The publisher has, in fact, been owned by the Wise family since the 1930s, so the 2020 rebrand was as much a respectful nod to its past as a signpost to its future.
It enters its new era as one of the leading independent publishers in the world, with offices in London, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Hong Kong, Copenhagen, Madrid, Paris, Tokyo and Berlin.
It owns over 60 publishing houses and more than 30 distinguished imprints, including some of the most significant names in music history.
Traditionally a company that has not courted the media, in 2018, Wise (then Music Sales) announced it was selling its historical printed music business to concentrate on growing its portfolio of copyrights (of which it now controls over 500,000).
And then, at the start of 2020 came the name change and several high profile signings, including Evan Dando and Ólafur Arnalds.
Here MBW talks to Board Member and CEO of Wise Music’s American Operations, Tomas Wise, on the name change, company strategy, and a life-long appreciation of The Lemonheads…
When and why did you start thinking of a name change? And why is Wise Music better than Music Sales for the company you are today?
When we sold our printed music business in 2018, it seemed like a good time to refocus ourselves as a group fully committed to expanding an already substantial worldwide portfolio of copyrights.
The Wise Music name underscores the fact that we are an independent family business. This reassures our composers and business partners of both continuity and our long-term strategic outlook.
What sort of company are you today? Could you start by giving us some details/numbers about your catalog of songs and roster of writers?
At heart we are an international family of music publishing companies. We operate offices in nine different countries and own over 60 publishing houses and imprints.
“we control nearly 500,000 copyrights across all genres.”
That means we control nearly 500,000 copyrights across all genres. We take special pride in working with over 90 of the finest contemporary composers and songwriters.
You’re very well known for classical music, but Wise Music is much more than that, isn’t it?
We have a reputation as the No.1 independent working in classical, but what makes us unique among independents is the sheer variety of rights and writers we bring together under one global umbrella.
We work with award-winning composers and we own catalogs that span every musical genre and period, notably in pop, jazz, and reggae. We also have interests in other music-related areas including film, TV and stage, book publishing, record labels, and digital music education.
How do you think the classical genre has been impacted by streaming and is treated by streaming services? And has it worked out how to make the most of streaming?
Streaming gives wider access to all genres of music, and that is especially true of classical. A by-product of this increased exposure is an expansion of what the label ‘classical music’ now means.
Our composers/performers such as Ludovico Einaudi and Olafur Arnalds, are labelled as classical, and yet they are streamed in numbers closer to those of pop and indie.
So, by its accessible nature, streaming has opened the possibility of attracting new listeners. On the downside, licensing deals do not yet take into account track length when calculating classical royalties, something that I believe needs to change.
Tell us about some of your recent pop/rock signings? Which parts of Evan Dando’s and 10cc’s catalogs have you acquired? What are your ambitions in this area over the next couple of years?
I’m a huge Lemonheads fan. My brothers and I grew up listening to Evan’s music and, in many ways, it was the soundtrack to our youth.
We represent most of The Lemonheads’ catalog and will co-publish future works as well. Titles include Into Your Arms, Rudderless, and It’s Shame About Ray.
We also represent 10cc in North America, including hits like I’m Not in Love, The Things We do For Love, and Dreadlock Holiday.
What is your general ambition in terms of growth over the next couple of years? Is it all about growing and diversifying catalog? Do you have targets in that regard? Either number of songs, or pop/rock becoming a certain percentage of the total?
We don’t set ourselves numerical targets but we are always on the lookout for copyrights that we think will add value to the business. We’re aggressively focused on acquiring copyrights through outright purchases and more organically by means of new works from our signed writers. At the same time, we can afford to be patient until the right copyrights become available, so the numbers and genre percentages tend to fluctuate year by year.
“We can afford to be patient until the right copyrights become available, so the numbers and genre percentages tend to fluctuate year by year.”
We always strive to be a better music publisher. For us that means scale and a strong global presence, but we always want to retain the nimbleness of a true independent. We don’t want to compromise the boutique aspect of the publishing services we provide or the levels of individual attention we are able to bring to our relationships with our writers and composers.
Can you tell us a bit about what Schirmer Theatrical does – including some of the most successful recent events and how big a sector this is becoming generally?
This division creates film productions screened with live orchestra accompaniments replacing the original score. Recent examples have included The Pink Panther, The Red Violin, and Ghostbusters. We’ve just signed a multi-picture deal with Warner Bros Pictures to produce Aquaman and Wonderwoman live-to-picture with Rupert Gregson-Williams’ orchestral scores.
The Schirmer Theatrical division also creates a variety of other symphonic experiences and theatrical concerts, such as Revolution: the Music of The Beatles, Women Rock and Prohibition. This year we will produce over 200 concerts worldwide.Music Business Worldwide