Jake Ottmann has had a pretty awesome career. As Senior Vice President of A&R for Warner/Chappell Music, Ottmann oversees all music publishing operations for Warner Music Group, the parent company of Atlantic Records. Ottmann spends his days finding and signing new songwriters and helping them craft the songs that will become the next chart-topping hits. He also helps artists and the company profit from the use of their songs in movies, on television, on radio, online and other places where great songs thrive.
Ottmann took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about the inner workings of his role at Warner/Chappell Music, the art of music publishing and to give advice to aspiring songwriters and musicians looking to break into the competitive world of hit making. Check out some of the highlights and insights from our conversation!
What is music publishing?
Music publishing is the content side of the music business. We’re in the song and the songwriter business. We deal on a daily basis with people who write the songs, and we try to take their songs and administer them. We collect money on behalf of the songwriters and their songs on a global level.
What is the most exciting thing about your job?
I get to work with songwriters. They come in band form. They come as independent artists. They come as solo artists, and I get to be around these people frequently. I help in the process as they create their songs and put them out into the world. I never get tired of listening to new music. Nothing thrills me more than a young person coming in with a new song. I always like to say, “I’m three minutes and forty seconds away from having a great day.” That’s about the time it takes to play a good pop song.
If you’re writing your own songs... you’re already a publisher.
How important is it for developing songwriters to understand publishing before entering the music industry?
If you’re writing your own songs... you’re already a publisher. As an emerging songwriter, it’s important to know how well your songs are being administered and published. You don’t necessarily need to have a million copyrights to be a valuable publisher. Good songs find their audience. If you’re out there putting songs out into the world, you should know about your rights…
How did you get your start in publishing?
I started at EMI Music Publishing as a junior guy and worked my way up... I’ve come up for quite a while. I started pretty far down in the music business. I worked in the mailroom at WEA [Warner Elektra Atlantic Corporation]... I did radio promotion at one point and marketing. Eventually I ended up managing bands and getting more into publishing. That’s what led me to a meeting at EMI, and they happened to have a position open. I took the job.
Given your experience, would you say that any entry into the music business is sufficient for moving ahead? Does it really matter where you start out?
If you want to be in an industry, go in there and start at the bottom and work harder than everybody else. Get there first; leave last. Just be a valuable employee, and generally good things are going to happen. I didn’t go to college to be in music business. I didn’t set out to be that guy – the music business found me.
You’ve worked a lot of years and seen the business transform over and over. How has the role of the music publisher changed since the emergence of the Internet? How has it affected publishing and how it’s administered?
The most dramatic change is obviously the routine erosion of album sales. But essentially the publishing business is in tact. It’s always been about collecting money from the use of music. Quite honestly, even though the album sales are down, there is a lot more streaming activity on songs now. There’s a big debate going on about what’s fair compensation to songwriters when it comes to streaming songs.
What is a piece of advice that you would offer unknown songwriters looking to sell and publish their songs?
Put your music out there. Make sure people hear it. Good songs tend to find their audience... People really like new music right now. There’s an intense appetite more than ever for the discovery process in our business. So, put yourself as a songwriter in a place where your music can be heard.