Jon Platt recently took the top job at publisher Warner/Chappell, and gave his first public presentation at Midem this afternoon, alongside top songwriter Justin Tranter. The pair were interviewed by Music Business Worldwide’s Tim Ingham.
Tranter talked about the effort that goes in to writing songs like Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’, having started his career in a band – Semi Precious Weapons – that never quite made it big. “We were signed to four record labels and dropped by all four of them!” he said.
Platt talked about the time when Warner/Chappell almost dropped Tranter too. “Me being new at the company: I just started asking probing questions,” he said. “I asked what I felt was the obvious question: can anybody in the group write? And nobody seemed to know the answer. I had heard the lead singer was a writer. I didn’t know if he was a good writer or not…”
Warner/Chappell picked up the option, and put Tranter into sessions that yielded a hit single for Fall Out Boy, and since then the relationship has been a success. “Sometimes you know too much. You know so many reasons why something won’t work, but sometimes you don’t see the one reason that it can work,” said Platt.
“They just put me to work,” said Tranter. “It was a session every day for a couple of months… They let writers do what they love, and most of all it’s about putting them to work.”
Ingham asked Tranter about ‘Sorry’ – did he know it was a hit? “Some songs you write, you definitely know they’re special,” he said. “But ‘Sorry’ was a night session on a double session day… We just wrote it pretty quickly, it was about an hour to write the song and left. ‘Oh, that’s cool’. I honestly had no idea. You know what a good song is, but you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Platt talked about his response to the song, which he thought was special even before he knew Justin Bieber was interested in recording it. He didn’t know whether it would be a hit: “That’s the record company’s job… that’s the part that’s out of our control!” said Platt.
Tranter said he loves to give a great song away – something he thinks some younger songwriters struggle with – while Platt said that one of the key points about Tranter was his background as an artist. “Artists love him! Because he is an artist,” he said. “He has a really strong connection with artists, and makes artists feel comfortable.”
Platt talked development. “I don’t usually chase the superstar songwriters that are already high… My thing is for 20 years I’ve been known for developing songwriters and signing them at the beginning of their careers,” he said. Even his current roster of superstar songwriters were all signed early on.
“I take the same approach with executive talent. I like to develop executive talent, it’s a passion of mine. I didn’t want any recycled executives… I wanted to give young people a shot,” said Platt.
Would he struggle with a lazy songwriter? “We get it rectified pretty quickly! I don’t like lazy people in general,” he laughed. “When you sign a songwriter, I say I would never sign a songwriter that would write the number 30 song on the chart. I sign songwriters that would write the number one song on the chart… and you have to work hard… Any songwriter that’s out there, you’ve been blessed with a gift, so for you to disrespect that gift by not putting your all into it every day, I have a problem with that.”
Platt added that writers “should get the best of the company, not the best of one person” – they should be able to work with anyone within Warner/Chappell who can help them. Meanwhile, Tranter talked about what he’s planning next: he won’t be resting up, although he stressed he loves the job. “There’s a lot of hard work, but there’s also a lot of hanging out with your friends and drinking, it’s just that there’s a microphone on,” he said. Tranter is also signing a couple of artists and developing them.
“I want to focus on writing but also get involved in developing artists. Which to me IS a part of the songwriting,” he said, before finishing up with his verdict on Platt. “Having a good personality and working very hard: normally those two things don’t go together. And that’s what Jon has,” said Tranter. “I think that combination is very special, and obviously very lethal… The main thing that a publisher’s supposed to do is to get amazing songs to the world. That’s the point… And that’s what he and his whole team does.”
What next for Warner/Chappell? “Really my focus now is to push the way we’re working in the US out to the rest of the world now,” said Platt, talking about the UK in particular. “We’ve underperformed in the UK for a very long time, and as I look through the financials and stats it proves it. So we made some changes in the UK, and we’re off to the races.”