Is Take That’s songwriting democracy a “publishing bottleneck” for America?
2006 heralded the era of reunions with Take That and The Police leading the pack. Take That, without a doubt, had the biggest comeback in music history. We have analyzed the ingredients that made Take That’s massive return possible in our blog post titled “Take That: The Ingredients of a historical comeback“. In the battle of the comebacks, Take That won on every dimension – singles sales, album sales, and tours. Most importantly, they manged to shake off the confining mold of being a “band of yesteryear”. They are undoubtedly a “band of today”. Yet, how is that one of the biggest bands in the world is absent in the US – the world’s single largest market for pop music?
Before I dive into the reasons why this is the case, let me qualify what the word “absent” means in the context of Take That in America. First, terrestrial radio has still not woken up to Take That (their programmers clearly live in an insular and pitiful bubble!). As a result, the “average music listener” in the US has no idea who Take That is and continues to believe that the Backstreet Boys and N Sync were the pioneers of the late 90s boyband movement. Second, none of the post-reunion Take That material is available in US digital music stores (iTunes, Amazon MP3 etc.). The only exceptions here are the songs “Rule The World” (available on the “Symphony of British Music” Olympics album) and “When We Were Young” (featured on the “Three Musketeers” soundtrack). In a nutshell, if a US-based Take That fan wants to buy any of the band’s post-reunion material, that person has to buy an overpriced “Import CD” off Amazon or get the CD shipped from overseas. In a world where digital downloads have become fairly standard, American fans have to resort to the most “old school” approach to buying Take That’s recent material. The only other approach to getting music is via the illegal practice of piracy. It is safe to say that besides the die-hard Take That fans in the US, no one would fork the money for an import CD. One cannot help but wonder how much money Take That loses in America because of illegal downloads.
Many have suggested that Take That is not “interested” in breaking America – and that is the reason for their new music not being available in America. If Take That is not interested in breaking America, how is it that their old music from the 90s is available in digital format in the US? If a “lack of interest” is the central issue, none of the music should be available. Besides “Back for Good”, none of the old songs got any mainstream promotion in the US. Yet, they are available here in the US.
Without legal digital sales in a country, what hope is there for a band to break America’s mainstream – with or without promotion? Clearly, the “lack of interest in the US” argument is far from compelling. Record labels are too cash-strapped to avoid releases in massive markets because “they’re not interested enough”. The reason for the lack of digital availability of Take That’s post-reunion material can be summarized in two words – “publishing rights”.
Take That bandmembers Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams have worldwide publishing deals in place. Hence, their entire solo catalogs are available in the US. In the case of Gary Barlow, all the publishing rights associated with Take That’s 90s material belong exclusively to him – since he was the sole songwriter on all of the band’s 90s material (except for the cover versions of course!). That would explain why Take That’s 90s material is available in digital music stores in the US.
What changed? Well, with the release of “Beautiful World” (the first post-reunion Take That album), the band morphed into a songwriting democracy. All four members became songwriters and earned royalties based on the commercial exploitation of these songs. Each of the members have separate publishing rights. Hence, if I was a sub-publisher and wanted to get the release of Take That’s material cleared for the US, I have to deal with the publishers of Mark Owen, Howard Donald, and Jason Orange on an individual basis. Mark, Howard, and Jason do NOT have worldwide publishing deals in place. In the 90s, clearance was needed only from Gary Barlow’s publisher. Given that Take That is highly unlikely to be embraced by the incompetent programmers of terrestrial radio in the US (which sadly still accounts for 96% share of America’s “radio voice”), why would I as a sub-publisher want to deal with three additional sets of publishing rights to get a Take That album released in the US? From a domestic sub-publisher’s point of view, the amount of trouble that comes with dealing with three different sets of publishing rights is simply not worthwhile.
Now, some of you are probably wondering what a sub-publisher is. For music to be released in a geographic territory, its associated publishing rights have to either be “cleared” for that territory or be bought by a local entity for the commercial domestic exploitation of the songs. That local entity is the sub-publisher. The sub-publisher typically has to pay the original publisher an “advance”. The dollar value of that advance varies from one situation to another. For Take That, an American sub-publisher has to pay for four (five, if you account for the “Progress” album) separate sub-publishing arrangements. Once again, why would a sub-publisher want to deal with this nightmare? One might ask why sub-publishers in other countries are willing to deal with the hassle of getting Take That’s publishing rights cleared in their respective countries. They are willing to deal with the hassle because Take That is promoted in their country on radio and as a result, these sub-publishers have a high hope of recovering the money they pay out on an advance to the original publisher and also have promising prospects of making a good profit in the process too.
Popularity for a band in the US begins with availability of that band’s music in the US. Sadly, that has not been the case for Take That’s post-reunion music.
This sounds like a losing battle doesn’t it? How would you fix this dynamic if you managed Take That? We have some ideas but we would love to hear from each one of you that reads this post. We want to encourage the flow of ideas as opposed to imposing our own view on each of you readers.
RADIO ALERT: We might be one of the few American radio stations that plays Take That’ music regularly. We are definitely the ONLY radio station in the world that plays the solo material of Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams, and Mark Owen regularly. Currently, “Candy” by Robbie Williams is getting 5 plays a day on our radio station. IF you are reading this on a mobile device (smartphone, tablet etc.), CLICK HERE to listen to our radio station. If not, listen to our station from ANY part of the world by clicking on the button below.