From Intern to President: Interview with BMG Chrysalis’ Laurent Hubert

Laurent Hubert, third from left, on the Publishing Movement panel at the 2012 New Music Seminar.

Laurent Hubert, third from left, on the Publishing Movement panel at the 2012 New Music Seminar.

Interview and photo by: Lisa Occhino

This summer’s New Music Seminar in NYC brought together some of the top executives and musicians in the industry to discuss the future of music. The Publishing Movement panel, which consisted of presidents and CEOs from Downtown Music, Songtrust, Primary Wave Music Publishing, Imagem, and BMG Chrysalis, examined the challenges that come with new revenue streams in the digital era.

Coincidentally, one of my internships this summer happened to be at BMG Chrysalis, so I sat down with Laurent Hubert, President of Creative & Marketing, to talk about the changes he foresees within the next five years and the advice he has for musicians and entrepreneurs who are now entering the industry.

Berklee Groove: Tell me a little bit about your background. How did you get into the music industry?

Laurent Hubert: A little bit by accident. I was at grad school at Columbia studying a different field, and I had an opportunity to do an internship for a music publishing company, which was BMG, back in 1999. I got the internship and worked for four months… then I was offered a job with the company. It’s a long story, but I finally accepted the offer, and I started fulltime in 2000.

BG: So what was your job position at the old BMG, before it was acquired by Universal?

LH: I was the COO of the old BMG.

BG: And now you’re the President of Creative & Marketing. What’s your day-to-day job like?

LH: It’s varied. It goes from catalog acquisition to renewal of artists’ deals to industry matters, negotiations, settlements, dealing with legal issues and litigation, to meeting clients.

BG: What’s your favorite part of working here?

LH: I really like all of it. I love meeting writers, I love negotiating, I love talking about industry issues… and I also deal with a lot of in-house process issues, marketing issues – how can we make things better? How can we do things differently? What I like the most is the diversity. I’d be terribly bored if I had to do just one thing.

BG: What do you think is the most important thing people should take away with them after attending the New Music Seminar?

LH: Networking in any industry is particularly important, but it’s especially important in our industry. It’s an industry that’s getting smaller because of traction and consolidation. But it’s also an industry that is crossing over to a lot of other industries – technology, distribution, manufacturing, all of that… But [the seminar] is great, you get to hear people talk about their experiences and views on particular subjects. I think it’s always good to hear from people who are in the business.

BG: What excites or concerns you the most about the future of the music industry?

LH: What concerns me is anything related to tariffs – I’m not too concerned about piracy. Obviously I don’t like piracy, but it’s unmanageable. I think things are getting better, but I am concerned about royalty rates… There’s a framework of rates that exists, which may or may not be appropriate in the context of the digital explosion that we are going through. So you typically have a lag between the reality of the marketplace and the framework involved. In terms of the opportunities, it’s exactly the flipside of that. The digital explosion that we’ve seen is enormously positive for us, and I am one of those who believe that we have to engage on every level, with all the market makers out there… it would be foolish of us to not engage with them… because together we can create values for our writers and their business.

BG: What significant changes do you foresee within the next five or so years?

LH: I always look at the pre- and post-Napster. Pre-Napster music was bought; music was an activity and had a purpose. Post ’99 – and I think we’re almost getting to the maturity of that today – music is consumed rather than bought. That’s a profound shift that has many implications, from the value of music to the management of rights to the organization of your company… In the next five years, I think [the cloud] is where we’ll see the most opportunities and the most innovations.

BG: How do you think this will all affect the publishing industry, specifically?

LH: I think we will see a number of players coming into the marketplace… In the US, we’ve already agreed to CRB rates, so there should not be any resistance as far as compensation – it’s already been agreed. We’ve done our job to provide licensing framework and context for players coming into the market.

BG: What advice do you have for musicians and/or music business entrepreneurs?

LH: As a writer, you have to work your craft and you have to be the best at what you do. The best at what you do will be asked of you all the time, and as the velocity of a business continues to increase, you’ll be asked to deliver quality quickly… We live in a world where, whether we like it or not, a sense of immediacy is quite important… If you’re able to perform under pressure and still improve your craft, you should be doing okay. For business people in the music industry, I would say listen to a 12-year-old kid. Listen to how people consume music. I really believe we need to understand that better as an industry. I think we do to some degree, but I’m not entirely sure that senior management fully understands the picture. You may have people in middle management who get it because they live it every day… so the advice would be to be attuned to consumers. The second piece of advice is to really understand the world of technology, because it is such a critical element to our business. We should not fear it; we should embrace it as much as possible. We should not be afraid to be experimental. We’re not going to succeed on everything… but the reality is we have to take some risks…. We should be flexible and innovative.