Carol Ryan, the 2016 winner of the Christopher J. Reed Award, presented by the PMPA (Professional Music Publishers’ Association), seems a little surprised by the news. “I operate in an environment that doesn’t quite resemble that of my colleagues,” she says apologetically. Yet Ryan, now in charge of managing Cirque du Soleil’s music rights, has a most impressive track record. She began her career at Polygram in the late ‘70s, and was introduced to the world of music publishing by working in the Membership Department of PROCAN, a pre-cursor organization of SOCAN. “That experience was decisive for me,” she says. “I learned a lot. That knowledge, all that theory, gave me the tools I needed to work at Cirque later on.”
Ryan arrived at Cirque du Soleil in the late ‘90s, and was met with several challenges, notably setting up Créations Méandres, a music rights management team and structure. This work, carried out in an atypical environment, highlights Carol Ryan’s singular career path. “Working with music rights within an organization is so different than what Québec’s independent publishers – who have chosen me for this award – do. It means even more to me because of that. We have very different realities. I don’t work with stars, and music is not one of Cirque’s core activities. We’re an important element of the organization, but we’re far from the centre of it all.”
“How do we earn a living when the commercial side of things is being completely transformed? Where will revenues come from?”
Ryan needs only show you the list of stakeholders she deals with on a daily basis to reveal the complexity of an organization like Cirque du Soleil, one as creative as it is sprawling. “I work with sponsors, media outlets, and bookers on projects that are presented on many continents,” she says. “So beyond maintaining a relationship with the composer of the show’s music, I must also serve the rest of the company, which is busy deploying additional content and promotional tools, whether it’s a “making-of,” a video of a show, an album or a DVD. It goes way beyond maintaining a relationship with an artist and getting acquainted with new repertoire.”
Ryan, who manages more than 2,000 active works, stresses how important it is to be in problem-solving mode, and having the capacity to adapt to change. This is especially true since several cultures are involved. Cirque du Soleil’s culture is deployed differently in Europe than it is in China, for example. And Ryan is in a constant dialogue with a corporate culture that puts creativity first.
Throughout the last 20 years, she’s also had to adapt to the various shapes and sizes of the company. During Cirque du Soleil’s expansion years, Ryan handled rights licences for three simultaneous shows: Ô, La Numba and Dralion. These multi-territory projects created as much pressure as they did contentment. “At the end of the day, we’re really proud to have gone through all that,” she says. At that time, Créations Méandres doubled in size, going from three to six employees. But lately, new changes have rocked the company. In 2015, Cirque du Soleil was sold to American and Chinese interests, which cast a wave of uncertainty over the business. Ryan, however, confirmed that the heart of the company remained intact, and the show creation schedules are well under way. “The priority is always the shows, and that’s a good thing,” she says.
True to her disposition for forging ahead, Ryan sees the many challenges facing music publishing in a positive light. “The Cirque recently won a prize for a virtual reality experience,” she says. “We’re constantly becoming familiar with new realities, and the naysayers are long gone by now. I can’t wait to see how things will evolve for this generation that throws everything online for free. How do we earn a living when the commercial side of things is being completely transformed? Where will revenues come from? Publishers found a solution in music placement. But there are more solutions waiting to be found. I’m not worried. When that question is resolved, another one will show up. Movement is the very essence of life.”