This year marked the 20th anniversary of the publishing house Ad Litteram by Guillaume Lombart and his then business partner, David Murphy. It’s the perfect opportunity to take heed of the distance travelled, not only by the publisher and his roster of artists, but also of the whole business, which – in Québec, as elsewhere – has had to adapt to the tremendous upheaval brought about by the digital revolution.

Ad LitteramBesides founding Ad Litteram, Guillaume Lombart was also among the founding members of the Association des professionnels de l’édition musicale (APEM), in 2002, alongside five other independent publishers: Daniel Lafrance, Sébastien Nasra, Carol Ryan, Jehan V. Valiquet, and the late Christopher J. Reed. Reed’s name was attached, in 2013, to an annual award presented by the association, to a music publisher whose “whose contribution to the exercise and recognition of the profession of musical publishing is exceptional.”

As a sign of the times, APEM counted only seven independent publishers among its members when it was created, and there are currently about 50. “I’m really proud of that,” says Lombart. “That was APEM’s primary objective: the profession needed to be structured and promoted. It was a trade in development.” Although it had always played it important role in the music industry, publishing seems to have gained in importance over time.

This, for the publisher, is a situation that reflects the direction the music industry has taken. “What mattered before was the song,” says Lombart. “A good song could be covered by everybody. Then, it was the opposite: artists wanted to preserve their exclusivity over a good song. In doing so, the industry had put the artist first, which pushed songwriters backstage. It goes without saying that the publishers, who represent the songwriters, were also in the shadows. The situation has changed now, partly because singer-songwriters are more in the forefront of the music scene. As publisher, our role is to be by their side during their creative process, of course, but also in all of their activities.” And that includes producing an album, or planning a concert or a tour. “That has greatly changed the way we work,” he adds.

Publisher 2.0

Traditionally, the job of a publisher was to manage the rights and royalties of a creator’s works, but Lombart says that this has evolved considerably. Over the years, he’s grown Ad Litteram into a structure that produces records, and shows, and which now operates a subsidiary, LiveToune, that offers a service for audiovisual recording and broadcasting online.

Obviously, the de-materialization of recorded musical works, and the complexity of online transactions that resulted, have also given some clout back to the publishing trade. “Sure, it has complicated what being a publisher means,” says Lombart. “You see, a new, emerging media doesn’t make everything else disappear; it all accumulates. The publisher who showed me the ropes used to work with composers who worked in his office; they wrote songs and sheet music and he sent that out to orchestras. His revenue stemmed from the performance right. Then radio came along, so he started producing records on top of that. As a matter of fact, in France, they refer to record labels as ‘phonographic publishing.’ Nowadays, I generally refer to it as audiovisual publishing, which includes content broadcast online.

“A new, emerging media doesn’t make everything else disappear; it all accumulates.” – Guillaume Lombart of Ad Litteram

“I consider that administration [of the catalogue of works represented by a publisher] should, as in any other company, represent about 15% of the workload. The rest is artist development and promotion. The thing is, when you’re a publisher, you can’t do everything. There are projects we simply can’t handle because we don’t have the required infrastructure, for example. Take the production of an album: we’ll help with recording the demos, and funding, but we’ll ask a record label for their help with the rest. Same for concerts.” To Lombart, the solution was obvious: become a publisher, a record producer, and a concert promoter.

He is, he admits, most interested in the artist development side of his trade. “It’s the core,” he says. “However, all of those other activities – records, shows, AV production – remains a means to generate publishing revenues, which is to say that Ad Litteram’s main activity is publishing. That’s our business model.”

More than 30 artists and bands depend on Ad Litteram’s six employees for the management of their publishing rights, and sometimes also for their record and show productions and management: Pilou/Peter Henry Phillips, Steve Hill, Renard Blanc, Simon Kingsbury, Moran, Gilles Bélanger and the Douze Hommes Rapaillés project, among others. Florence K and Martin Deschamps recently joined the roster. Lombart’s job, he says, “is to give lyricists and songwriters the financial, human, and sometimes technological means to achieve their projects. The tough part of our trade is building a catalogue of works that’s sizeable enough to regularly generate revenues that are sufficient enough for us to re-invest in new projects.”

Ad Litteram’s 20th year was marked by big decisions, says Lombart. First there was a deal with a German partner to represent Ad Litteram’s catalogue for all of Europe. They had a similar agreement in place for the French market, and they manage, as a sub-publisher, the catalogues of Éditions Beuscher Arpège (Édith Piaf, Nino Ferrer, etc.) and Melody Nelson Publishing (Serge Gainsbourg), among others. Second was the development of a similar partnership with an American publisher, to develop, in 2019 and 2020, new projects in the U.S. “It’s a lot of work,” says Lombart, “but what I’m proudest of is that our artists stick with us.”