Interview with Thomas Scherer, Executive VP of Writer Services at BMG Chrysalis U.S.

Thomas Scherer of BMG
Thomas Scherer

Thomas Scherer is the EVP of Writer Services at BMG Chrysalis US and works with many of BMG’s top songwriters, both in the US and across the globe. With BMG being one of the world’s leading music companies, we thought it would be informative to speak with Scherer, to find out more about BMG and to learn about the creative activities of their songwriters.

BMG was launched in October 2008 by its parent company Bertelsmann as the industry’s new alternative for songwriters and artists. With tailored personal service and state-of-the-art global administration and management of music rights, BMG has proven to be a preferred home for talent in the digital age.

Established as a global music rights business committed equally to representing both music publishing and recording rights, the company now represents nearly two million copyrights. Since its inception, BMG has acquired several large publishing catalogs, including Chrysalis, Bug, Cherry Lane, Stage Three, Crosstown and Evergreen. In 2013, BMG announced the acquisitions of Virgin Music/Famous UK Music Publishing, the catalogs of Mute Records and Sanctuary Records, and the Primary Wave catalog. These additions, along with organic growth has made BMG the world’s fourth biggest player in the industry.

BMG works with a long list of top artists and songwriters.  Their hit roster includes Bruno Mars, John Legend, Frank Ocean, will.i.am, The Black Eyed Peas, Kings of Leon and Hillary Lindsey. BMG also publishes classic catalogs such as Johnny Cash, Joey Ramone, Roy Orbison, Hal David, Blondie and Quincy Jones.

We’re pleased to do this Q&A interview with Thomas Scherer of BMG Chrysalis.

DK: As Executive VP of Writer Services, what are your main responsibilities?

Scherer: At BMG, ultimately everybody’s job is to work for our clients, the writers and artists who entrust us with their work. My main responsibility is to develop our roster of dynamic songwriters and bring them the kind of strategic opportunities which will allow them to maximize their success.

DK: How did you get started at BMG, and in music publishing?

Scherer: I have been passionate about music my entire life and in one way or another, have always been connected to it as a drummer, producer, or running my own publishing company. In 2008, I became one of the original employees at the new BMG. When I got the call from CEO Hartwig Masuch and he explained the plan to create the first significant new music company of the digital age, I realized that this was a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. BMG is very different from the established companies, and ultimately that difference is all about our focus on our songwriters and artists—we never forget they don’t work for us. We work for them.

Thomas Scherer and Chris Stokes
Thomas Scherer with Chris Stokes (manager, record & film producer).

DK: You recently hosted your International Writer Service Conference in Los Angeles. What was the purpose of this conference, and how did it go?

Scherer: The purpose of the conference was to drive the international careers of many of our songwriters. We brought together members of our team from our offices across the globe including Nashville, New York, Belgium, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, London and Madrid. It was a sitting-around kind of conference—we focused on taking immediate action with our ideas, so if someone suggested certain songwriters could write together or songs to pitch, we picked up the phone right there to make it happen.

The outcome of the conference was incredible—we walked away not just feeling motivated and inspired by the possibilities, but also with some concrete outcomes. We have already created a new crop of opportunities for our roster and we are seeing the positive results of our efforts.

DK: In this internet age, is it more common for songwriters from different countries, to co-write and become successful in other territories?

Scherer: In order to stay relevant as a songwriter and develop your craft further, you need to expand your writing circle and technology certainly helps. The creative process has been affected in a positive way through the development of technology in studio equipment which is liberating for creatives expressing their art and who are able to work from their home studios and then link to people around the world.

However, I’m not sure the internet can ever replace face-to-face contact. Songwriters can benefit greatly from co-writing sessions and can reach new levels of success with their music when paired with other talent.  We have all seen the outcome of having multiple creatives present in one room, writing songs together, which can lead to some amazing music.  In so many of the popular songs we hear today, there are often many songwriters involved in creating that magic.

DK: BMG was launched in 2008. Please explain how this company works. Is it purely a music publishing company, or does it manage other rights too?

Scherer: The great thing about being a new company, started just over six years ago, is it enabled us to rethink everything from scratch. Traditionally, you have publishing companies representing publishing rights and record labels representing recordings, and the only reason for the split seems to be that it’s always been that way.

BMG takes the view that if you’re in the business of serving songwriters and artists, you should aim to offer them all the help you can in making the most of their rights. That means offering publishing and records under one roof which is also more efficient because you can run them off the same infrastructure. Increasingly we are now also representing audio-visual rights (think video) and, as the only major music company to be a part of a major media business, Bertelsmann, we also try to look at the big picture in terms of books, for instance, or TV.

Thomas Scherer, Jerry Edouard and Jermi Thomas
(Pictured l-r): Thomas Scherer, Jerry Edouard (Pharrell management), and Jermi Thomas (Sr. Creative Manager at BMG Chrysalis)

DK: BMG has become a large company. Which catalogs did BMG acquire first, and which catalogs are more recent acquisitions?

Scherer: BMG is active in signing new and established artists and writers, but we have also of course acquired a series of well-known catalogues. In publishing these range from Chrysalis to Bug, Cherry Lane to Primary Wave and Talpa Music.

DK: In terms of catalog holdings, where does BMG rank in comparison to Sony/ATV, Warner/Chappell and other major publishing companies?

Scherer: In a music market increasingly dominated by a small number of large digital services such as Apple, Spotify and Pandora, size is important, but BMG doesn’t really play the marketshare game. Currently we are the fourth largest company in music publishing worldwide and somewhat below that in records.

Among our roster, BMG publishes Bruno Mars, John Legend, will.i.am, The Black Eyed Peas, Frank Ocean, Kings of Leon, The Counting Crows, Hillary Lindsey as well as the legendary catalogs of Johnny Cash, Joey Ramone, Roy Orbison, Blondie and Quincy Jones. Our songwriters on the rise include Valerie June, Juicy J, Bebe Rexha and The Orwells.

DK: Who are the artists & songwriters BMG publishes, who are currently enjoying hits on the U.S. charts?

Scherer: We are very happy that as a result of our work, BMG had shares on 5 of the 8 US #1 singles in 2014 including “All of Me” by John Legend, “The Monster” by Eminem featuring Rihanna, “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry, “Timber” by Pitbull & Ke$ha and “Waves” by Mr. Probz. Right now, some of the cuts we are most excited about are “The Blacker The Berry” by Kendrick Lamar, “Ghosttown” by Madonna, “Want To Want Me” by Jason Derulo, and “Higher” by Rihanna with Kanye West.

DK: When it comes to signing new writers, what qualities do you look for? These days, is it all about writing the big hit single?

Scherer: Now more than ever, there are more people making music and involved in the process which is amazing.  BMG is very selective when signing new writers, as we feel responsible for all signees and are very dedicated to their success. Most importantly, when we listen to the music of new talent, we want to be moved and excited by what we hear.  While an artist does not need to already have chart-toppers under their belt, we want to sign those we feel have the ability to achieve #1s.