President Nick Firth Oversees Worldwide Expansion of BMG Music Publishing
By Dale Kawashima
Note: Nick Firth left BMG Music Publishing in 2007 after working for BMG for 19 years, when the company was sold to Universal Music Publishing. This article was written in 2002.
Over the past 15 years, Nick Firth, President of BMG Music Publishing Worldwide, has accomplished a music business feat of major proportions. Firth supervised the launch of BMG Publishing in 1987, and since then, he has aggressively built the company’s catalog on an international scale. By making numerous acquisitions, and by signing and developing creative talent, Firth has established BMG as one of the world’s leading publishing companies.
Firth oversees the entire, international operations of BMG Publishing, which now has offices in more than thirty-five countries. The company operates in all genres of music, and publishes (or administers) such artists and catalogs as the Bee Gees, Eurythmics, Nelly, Robbie Williams, Wu-Tang Clan, Beck, Erykah Badu, Coldplay, The Calling, Santana, Barry Manilow and Juan Gabriel. Since its inception, BMG has made about 150 catalog and corporate acquisitions, including purchasing two of Europe’s top publishing companies, Italy’s G. Ricordi and France’s Editions Durand.
Firth has been a publishing executive for nearly forty years, and he comes from a family with a long tradition of success in the music publishing business. His grandfather and great uncle, Louis & Max Dreyfus, were early pioneers in music publishing, having owned and operated Chappell Music. Firth was born in England, grew up in the U.S., and then returned to the U.K., where he got his first publishing job. He worked at Chappell Music from 1962 to 1985, and ultimately became President of Chappell International in the early 1980s.
It was in 1987 that Firth was hired as President of BMG Publishing. “My job and challenge was to build BMG into a worldwide, full-fledged publishing company,” recalled Firth. “The only way we could accomplish this was by making acquisitions, purchasing key catalogs in many countries. In addition, we built up our creative department in every country, which is fundamental. We’ve signed and helped develop talented writers and artists in every country.”
Part of Firth’s strategy was to build BMG Publishing by acquiring catalogs, but he also knew that many top, American music catalogs were already owned by other corporations. “Our competitors had the great, Anglo-American catalogs, so we had to build our catalogs in different ways,” explained Firth. “We decided to go into three, niche businesses in publishing. One of the areas was buying and developing contemporary Christian catalogs; we have an active Christian music division in Nashville. Second, we established a top, production music library business. The third niche was to build our classical music business. We were very pleased to purchase the great Ricordi catalog in Italy.”
Firth attributes BMG’s successful growth to its creative and administrative staff, and to its writer roster in each territory. “We’re only as good as the people who work for us, and the talent we have,” said Firth. “We’ve been lucky to have great managers around the world, with top, creative talent.”
Despite its extensive catalogs and many international offices, Firth takes pride in the individual success stories of BMG songwriters. During this interview, he expressed excitement about the success that one of his songwriters was currently having in England.
“We have a writer named Jorgen Elofsson, who wrote a song called ‘Evergreen,’ which is having great success in England right now,” explained Firth. “This song was first recorded by the popular group, Westlife. Then the song was recorded and released as a single by Will Young (who won first place in the Pop Idol TV talent show), and his single went to number one for three weeks, selling two million copies. In addition, the runner-up on Pop Idol, Gareth Gates, also recorded ‘Evergreen’ and made it the B-side of his single. On top of this, both Young and Gates will be including ‘Evergreen’ on their upcoming albums. This is a terrific, old-fashioned, publishing success story.”
Firth looks to have more success stories for BMG such as this. “The music business is going through a difficult, challenging time right now; everyone is affected,” acknowledged Firth. “However, we’re still in a business where a hit can seemingly cure everything. At BMG, we’re still a relatively young company, and the future remains bright. We plan on continuing to be very aggressive, building our success stories in every country.”