When Heath Johns left his role as Director of A&R at Universal Music Publishing Australia in January 2016, he had grown restless with his hopes for the music industry.
His move to set up BMG Australia and New Zealand in Sydney has ushered in the 21st century approach the publisher has been succeeding with overseas. Now, over a year into its local existence, Johns sat down with TIO for its Fear At The Top podcast to discuss his local plans for the company, what he sees as BMG’s biggest point of difference, and why he believes the music industry is broken.
During his chat with Seventh Street Media co-founder/CEO Luke Girgis, Johns said he felt like he was on a treadmill during his last few years at Universal, and needed to grow.
“At that point BMG represented a real opportunity for me,” he said during the podcast. “I remember reading an article in Billboard, it must have been early 2009, straight off the back of Spotify’s launch – the same week actually,” he remembered. “I was just so blown away that a company had recognised something that I’d been thinking for a while. I didn’t know that I was right. I didn’t know that anybody else felt the same way, but I would quite often site there at UMA and think ‘why is there a separate A&R publishing person and a separate A&R records person?’
“[…] I understand given the scale of that company you have to segment a lot more,” he added. “But in a Utopian world I felt there was some strength to having an all in one, under one roof operation.”
Around the time Johns left UMA to take the role of Managing Director BMG Australia & NZ, he was quoted as saying “the industry is broken”. The comment was of course taken out of context by some, but speaking with Girgis, he said it was not meant to be received as brash or disrespectful, and that he stands by it.
“There are aspects of the industry that are broken,” he said. “I feel as though maybe somewhere along the line the artists have been forgotten about, and I think we’re in a very heavy marketshare-driven economy. I’m not entirely sure that that’s the best way to go about things sometimes.
“I think we’re seeing iconic artists being largely ignored by their labels or their publishers because they don’t necessarily have a cut on the latest Rhianna record – which of course you want as well,” he added. “But if you look at BMG’s international strategy and what we’ve been able to do, there’s definitely been a growing sense of discontent with the traditional recording and publishing industry – and we’ve been there to capitalise on it.”
As the world’s fourth biggest music publisher, BMG currently represents more than 2 million songs and recordings worldwide.
“If the record industry wasn’t broken in some way, there’d be no reason for us to be here and we wouldn’t be having the global success that BMG’s having,” said Johns.