Deborah Smith: ‘Don’t undervalue the work of musicians for a quick win’

One of the biggest problems about music publishing is the complete focus on sync. Sure, getting a sync for a song can be a huge win and help reach new audiences. But for musicians, that’s just one piece of the puzzle. “Understanding the fundamentals of the different rights and revenue streams that are attached to the songs that you’ve written can make an impact to the longevity of your career,” says Deborah Smith, Director of Anara Publishing, a company that offers music publishing and sync services to a curated roster of artists and songwriters globally.

Another challenge for Indian songwriters today is to get paid fairly for the publishing of their music. “It’s important as a whole industry that we’re not undervaluing the work of our hardworking musicians in order to get a quick win,” Smith says.

This month, Anara Publishing marks five years of operations, steadily accumulating more than 40 songwriters in Europe, the U.S., Latin America and of course, India. Boasting of clients such as Netflix, Apple and Hulu, Anara Publishing’s Indian roster includes Kavya, Samar Mehdi, Tejas, Swarathma, Subhi, Anurag Shanker, Piyush Bhisekar and Saachi amongst others. But Smith’s got a lot more work to do around the world.

Artist first

Anara Publishing is now developing a backend platform to provide detailed analytics and insights to their roster. It’s the latest in their continual attempt to streamline processes and keep things transparent. “This will also open up the opportunity for us to collaborate with larger labels and catalogues within India who are looking for publishing representation,” she says.  

Previously, through workshops and Instagram series, ‘Music Publishing Simplified’, the company has brought on board music supervisors like Alick Sethi to dispel perceived notions about music publishing, sync and licensing.

Deepa Seshadri, who works in business development for Anara Publishing, says these efforts are meant to standardise global practices for the Indian music industry. The company also wants to bridge the gap between TV/movie producers/directors and songwriters. “Producers and directors spend a lot of time and effort in getting the right songs for their films,” says Seshadri. “This time could be cut by half (if not more!) if they were to go via the music licensing route rather than producing something new every time.” There won’t be any miracles overnight, though, but Seshadri admits they’ve seen a good amount of crossover involving indie artists in feature films, case in point last year’s hugely successful Shershaah soundtrack.

Growing family

Once an artist joins Anara Publishing, the company’s focus is to “nurture the talent” by providing feedback and keeping the dialogue open to harness new collaborations. “We make sure is that our writers are protecting their copyrights and [we] make sure proper paperwork is in place, if they’ve collaborated with anyone else,” points Seshadri adding that boundaries are drawn up too. “We also speak to artists to understand where they don’t want their music attached.” Pitches are accordingly made; and conversations continue but the artist is always involved in negotiations.

With a network on music supervisors in the U.K., the U.S. and Europe (and some in China and Japan), Smith notes Anara Publishing are often approached because they represent a diverse catalogue of contemporary music in a variety of languages.

With an astonishing amount of content being created more than ever, Smith maintains an eye on the prize: that the music is right for a spot as opposed to where the artist is from. “That being said, it’s such a competitive market and Indian artists are essentially competing with the whole world, so it can get quite difficult to land the right deal,” says Smith adding that her one piece of advice to all the artists they represent is to ‘write more songs!’ “As an artist, you may put in a lot of thought about your self-image and what you want to release. But as a songwriter or producer, the idea is to write keeping an audience or another artist in mind – while still being true to your beliefs and writing in an authentic voice.”

India chronciles

Last year, Anara Publishing joined copyright body, Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS) as a member to ensure clarity for their Indian roster. But Smith is quick to point out that the company always works on a global level in multiple territories. Which essentially guarantees royalties – collected on a global scale – no matter where their artists are based.

They’ve also partnered with Lost Stories Academy for workshops on publishing. Seshadri adds, “Last year, we did something similar for Gatecrash for the Artists and Bands that were a part of their Artist Development program, and this will continue in 2022.”

And then there’s their sister company Horus Music, whose local offices are often helpful in making in-roads in music markets like Brazil and Nigeria. Anara Publishing signed Nigerian songwriter and producer Ajimovoix and landed their first sync deal in the film Chief Daddy 2, which is streaming on Netflix. Next up, Seshadri says they’ve got their sights set on markets like South Korea and Japan.

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