Originally from France, former equestrian sports journalist Xavier Debreuille is now Development and Publishing Director of Musicor Disques, as well as a Board member of The Professional Music Publishers’ Association (APEM). He recently shared his professional experience with us, and volunteered to provide some advice to would-be publishers and songwriters looking for the perfect publishing partnership.
“The music publishing profession is misunderstood, quite often by the musicians themselves,” says Debreuille, who learned the complexities of the business in the sports television world he worked in before changing lanes. Time was, he noted, that singer-songwriters naturally turned to their publishers, but nowadays, they “often believe that they can do the job themselves, because they hear that all a publisher does is take money, that getting a publisher is a waste of time, and that joining SOCAN is probably all you’ll ever need.”
“Such perceptions may be fed by confusion between what a record company does and what a publishing house does,” says Debreuille, who should know, now that he’s active at both ends of that spectrum. “Obviously,” he saays, “the life of a piece of music becomes much easier once it’s been published. So, when the recording is produced by the label, and the label goes on to promote and market it, the confusion definitely stems from the fact that the job is being performed by the record label instead of by the publisher.”
The publishers themselves must stress the importance of a publisher’s job – among other venues, through the professional training programs being offered by groups such as APEM (The Professional Music Publishers’ Association), a major organization “on which the music publishing profession should be relying even more than it does now,” says Debreuille. “APEM’s training program is superb, but its success depends on the willingness of industry participants to learn more. The next step, I believe, is to provide training at the post-secondary [Cégep] education level, and as part of more music festivals. We must reach out to artists.”
All of this in order to support and train future musicians. “A good publisher is above all a good manager,” says Debreuille. “He or she is someone who’s extremely strict and painstaking, because a large part of the job deals with the administrative work that complements the artistic side of the equation. It’s administrative – but also human – management: you’re working with artists who are all unique, with their own egos, you’re dealing with songwriters who may sometimes find it frustrating to be living in the shadow of performers.”
“You should always be willing to try something new, to look beyond”
Debreuille has two pieces of advice for would-be publishers. The first one is, “Level with songwriters from the word go. Don’t wait for success, or the lack of it – failure is often easier to manage than success is, by the way – for the publisher and the author to see eye-to-eye, at long last. The publisher must have a conversation with the artist before they go into the studio, and it’s essential that the publishers of two different artists [working together] should also talk to one another before the studio stage, in order to set out the rules of the game properly. What I’m saying here has nothing to do with art, but it is important.”
“The other piece of advice I’d like to give publishers is this: facilitate collaborations between songwriters. I believe publishers need to broaden their horizons creatively. Of course, when you realize that the chemistry is working, let’s say, between a composer of music and a lyricist, encouraging such collaborations can be tempting – but you should always be willing to try something new, to look beyond.”
To that end, Musicor Disques regularly invites songwriters to take part in writing camps in preparation for the recording of a performer’s album – as has been the case with Alexe Gaudreault (best new artist from La Voix in 2013), and also with Geneviève Jodoin (winner of La Voix’s 7th season). “That’s how you avoid running around in circles.
“It all comes down to human relations,” says Debreuille. “There should be a sense of trust between the songwriter and his or her publisher. Personally, when that trust exists, I try to be as realistic as I possibly can with the singer-songwriters who approach me. I show them how I work. I don’t tell them that everything’s going to be easy. Nothing is for sure.”