Live In Conversation: Emily White (Part 2)

Emily White

Co-Founder of Collective Entertainment, an Amazon #1 best-selling author and podcaster

Emily White is a best-selling author and award-winning podcaster. She shares her journey from Wisconsin to New York, highlighting the significance of her education and internships in shaping her music industry career. She discusses the practical experiences gained through various internships, emphasizing the importance of building a network and learning on the job. Emily also talks about her work as a music manager, author, and advocate, providing valuable insights for aspiring music professionals.

Cultivating Mental Wellness While Building a Sustainable Music Career

#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation with Emily White took place on Tuesday, April 30th, 2024, live from New York

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

In part II, Emily White emphasizes the importance of understanding music publishing for artists, breaking down its two sides: songwriting and recording. She explains the role of Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) in collecting royalties and highlights common misconceptions about PROs. Emily shares her passion for educating artists about music publishing, noting that many miss out on significant revenue streams due to a lack of knowledge, and encourages them to take steps to fully collect what they’re owed.

Emily White: I know that there are entire books on each of the chapters of my book that go into more detail. If you want to go read a whole book on music publishing – have at it. One of my goals in life is for every artist and every songwriter to clearly understand what music publishing is and to know how to get all their money for it. 

So here is a quick Tutorial: music publishing has two sides – songwriting and recording. What a record company does for the recording side is to go out and promote that recording and then collect all the money that’s owed to it. The number one missing revenue stream I see when talking to artists of all ages and all stages of their careers is usually songwriting. 

First as a songwriter, you need to sign up with your country’s Performing Rights Organization (PRO). That collects government royalties, or royalties regulated by the government that are owed to you. In The USA, if you don’t register your songs within two and a half years of release, you never get that money. A lot of people are reluctant to join PRO’s – it’s a misconception that you are giving up any of your rights.. 

Marc: Where do you think that comes from? Is it an olden days way of thinking? 

Emily: I think they’re misconstruing what a PRO is. You don’t sign your rights away, it’s a collection process. That’s the value that a music business program can offer because that is one of the first things they teach you, is about PROs. The number one missing revenue stream I see when talking to artists is music publishing because when you sign up for a PRO, they’re going to take a song that you wrote 100% and split it 50% as the writer and 50% as the publisher share. So when I ask someone how they’re collecting on their music publishing, I often hear that they’re with ASCAP or SOCAN. But if you’re just collecting on your music publishing via a PRO and you are not collecting on it through a publishing administrator, you’re missing out on money. There are mechanisms to do so without signing a publishing deal if you don’t want that. I really like Song Trust for that, anyone can sign up and you have access to publishing collection mechanisms.

Marc: I do these sort of interviews at least once a month, and the amount of stuff I’ve learned about publishing is unbelievable. Even the two year thing in the US – I didn’t know that.

Emily: Exactly. It’s something I take for granted because it’s ingrained in me but it’s so important that people know this stuff.

Marc: The way I read this is that you’re helping artists get over their fear. Even though it’s complicated, maybe you don’t need to read a big book.

Emily: Yeah, you just need to read a bit about it and then make a decision, if it’s relevant.

Marc: Is that how people should navigate these kinds of things? Suss things out for themselves and then decide if it’s worth pursuing. What other areas do you think people need to just push through and get it done before they do anything else?

Emily: I’m honestly not trying to sell books, but I do think it’s important to understand those 12 steps because even if you’re a session musician and not a songwriter, it’s important to know how to talk about songwriting splits, and how this stuff works. You don’t necessarily have to retain that info, but at least give it a read. If you want to know more, there are podcasts and lots more that do deeper dives.

Marc: Since publishing seems to come up quite a bit, how did you learn about it? Was it a course?

Emily: I learned as an artist manager. As it turns out, I’ve always been drawn to strong songwriters so publishing has always been a big part of the careers that I’ve managed.

Marc: I find more and more that the theme that comes up when I talk to new artists or people who work with artists is “burnout”. What sort of journey, regarding that, have you been on? What advice do you offer up to artists? 

Emily: So on the one hand, it’s possibly worse today because we’re sent all these tools and information all the time. Plus industry folks have been trying to figure it out, too. That’s why I distil it in a really simple manner with my first chapter one being “Make Great Art”. The CliffsNotes/”shortcut” version of building a sustainable music career is creating great art. Then collect as much fan contact information, in the form of mobile phone numbers and email addresses, so you can communicate your music and shows directly to them forever. I’m not saying don’t be on social media, but use those platforms to drive traffic back to your data collection mechanisms for your pre-order campaigns. The idea is to just try to distil it and get really focused, rather than getting overwhelmed.

Marc: What seems so difficult is that there’s so much to do. Data collection is great, but then there’s still the pressure of social media and everything else. I always wonder how people sew it all together these days, especially when there’s so little revenue. 

Emily: I want to write a book that is a little bit more focused on health. My first book is called “Interning 101”. I may turn that into a book called “Modern Office Basics”, about keeping it all together. When it comes to musicians, if you love social media and email marketing you should carve out one hour per business day to do that sort of thing. If you love it, you don’t want to get too sucked in and addicted – don’t forget these platforms are programmed to be addicting so you don’t want to lose sight of yourself as an artist. If you loathe all things social and you’re not writing back to the emails, using social media and driving traffic back to your data collection mechanisms, then the sad news is, nothing’s going to happen. Finding a balance is really important. And you need to take breaks. I don’t work nights and weekends. People are often surprised by that, but I have chosen to set reasonable hours for myself.

Marc: When you interned, were you always good at being organised? Or is it something that you started to realise – that having a plan is equally as important as the amount of hours you put in? 

Emily: I’m really big on meditation, even short meditation. I used to wake up as a young manager and be totally overwhelmed. Meditation and daily movement help. It could be a walk or yoga on YouTube, it doesn’t have to be some big grind. I’m also big on sleep, those are really the three steps of my next book: a full night’s sleep, daily movement, and then a short meditation. When you do that, your mind will start to organize itself. That’s why it’s important to put those mental health and support mechanisms in place. I have a plan, I want to do six mini-books about routine. So the routine for work, routine for life, routine for travel – those are probably the ones that are most relevant for this group. When you create the conditions to be able to cultivate the work that you want, then that’s what’s going to allow you to thrive.

Marc: I don’t think anyone’s ever mentioned the schedule suggestion when I’ve talked about advice for artists. It’s amazingly simple yet amazingly insightful. The US is working its way towards a big election this year. Something that is taking up a great deal of your time these days.. Do you want to talk about that? 

Emily: Yeah, thank you! So I’m the founder and CEO of #IVoted. We produce data-driven concerts on election day, so during the early voting periods, the public gets into a show by showing a selfie from outside their polling place. Instead of sitting around, we booked the top trending artists in key locations. I realized that electoral margins are often decided by the same size as, or number of people that a concert venue holds. So we’ve analyzed the data on the top trending artists and their fan demographics and compared that with local voter files to determine which artists can increase civic impacts the most. This has been really interesting. It hasn’t been terribly surprising to me because I’ve been living in this data for the past six years, but I worked with some really great Johns Hopkins University students and professors on it. They’re a little newer to our world, and so they were surprised that although someone like Taylor Swift has way more listeners than J. Cole, J. Cole can increase registration and turnout when you examin fan demographic makeup. 

Marc: There has been so much talk about Taylor Swift and the impact she could have on your election, but hold up and let’s focus on what you’re talking about. How can J. Cole as an example affect things more in certain areas?

Emily: So for example the top trending artists in Atlanta. Drake has a ton of fans there, and Taylor isn’t even as big. When it comes to estimated turnout we would crunch the numbers and the data would show that Taylor is number four. She has more monthly listeners, but Drake, 21Savage and The Weeknd’s listeners have lower turnout numbers. That means that Taylor’s fans vote more, so they do not really need to be encouraged.  So it’s not merely how many fans you have, it’s who they are, where they are and do they get out to vote.

Marc: Oh, that’s interesting. So are you saying that Taylor Swift’s fans are more politically engaged?

Emily: I’m gonna generalize right now. I love Taylor and I know she has diverse listeners, but it’s a lot of white people and white people tend to vote. So it just depends, the numbers and data help a lot. 

Marc: So how and why did you start doing this?

Emily: I realized in 2017 that elections are often decided by the size of a concert venue. In the 2016 presidential election, Wisconsin was decided by 22,000 votes and in my home city of Milwaukee, 22,000 is the size of our basketball arena. Michigan was decided that year by 10,000 – that’s a hockey arena in the US, then some elections are decided a number in the teens.

Marc: Can you give a couple of examples of some of the events you’ve done and what the results were?

Emily: Definitely. In 2018, we activated over 150 venues in 37 states, and let fans in on election night who showed a selfie from outside their polling place. That one was just me and an intern. The idea spread and so we had started having artists participating like Maggie Rogers and Life in Color. When the pandemic hit we pivoted and produced the largest digital concert in history. We had artists like Billy Eilish, Run The Jewels, Phish, etc. We’ve also ran an “I voted early” sweepstakes, where folks could enter with their selfie to win a pair of tickets to over 600 concerts nationwide. And then this year, we’re holding over 120 venues in key cities and states, and taking that info back to donors and partners. We’re not picky about our branding, so if a fellow non-profit wants to fund a show, it absolutely can and should be branded by them so they get all the press attention and can take that back to their board and their donors. 

Marc: How do you read artists and musicians when it comes to politics? Because there’s always that question of whether artists should get involved with politics. What’s your take on that?  

Emily: I don’t have the numbers in front of me on how many artists we pitched for 2020, but let’s say 450 and because we’re nonpartisan, it’s a pretty quick yes. 

Marc: How many artists do you think will perform this year?

Emily: It’s funding dependent. I’m trying to be way more deliberate about what we do this time out. I can scale hundreds of venues and get them to give us tickets to let folks in on election night, but I’d rather produce one well-coordinated data-driven concert at an arena in Arizona that I know can be deeply impactful. The plan this year is to do a mix of things. We’ll have some artists doing “I voted early” tours, all leading into a big election night show. We are also working with registration groups to provide our tools to help to really grow registration exponentially, which is not something I planned on. 

Marc: For anybody who doesn’t live in the U.S, voter turnout is a serious problem, correct? 

Emily: Totally, it’s been a real problem here. For example, only 30% of young people vote but 70% attend concerts. So we’re bridging that gap and meeting folks where they already are. So we’re a part of this movement to take voting and turn it into a celebration. That’s why there’s National Voter Registration Day and Vote Early Day. You might think that election day should be a holiday like in other countries, but that means some people still have to work, public transportation is reduced or some people just leave town on holiday. So experts are really working towards turning voting into a celebration like Halloween or the Super Bowl, which are not official holidays but most Americans celebrate as if they are. I’ve talked to people from other countries and they are interested in bringing it to their countries. It’s not limited to the U.S or even to the music industry! 

Marc: My last question. Were you always politically inclined?

Emily: Yeah, definitely. I used to say that if the music industry didn’t exist as a degree, I would have been a political science major. So 20 years later, I’m glad to have combined both. 

Marc: So initially, did you think you could pull it off? Or did you just fall into it? With all other things, you definitely seem very forward-driven.

Emily: I was very deliberate in starting the organization. I first brought it to a concert promoter, and then I took it to Mike Lupo, who I mentioned before, who’s my music mentor and a leader in the American concert industry. He tried to poke holes in it which I wanted, and I had answers for all of his questions. We did our first beta test show in Nashville in 2018, I was really nervous – same for our first webcast in 2020. I hope that it can now be used for good and even other uses.

Marc: That’s awesome – you really do make it clear that anything is possible! How do you push through the uncertainty that often comes with doing something new? 

Emily: I was thinking about that today. I’ve been really fortunate in my career, but I am partially experiencing that right now. I’ve been holding venues for a year and I’ve been travelling the entire first quarter, meeting with anyone who will listen but we don’t really have any shows funded yet. So in the first quarter, I was wondering if I should keep going, but I couldn’t not. Then I reconnected with someone in the voting space who heard my presentation and she gave us $50,000 without us even asking – she just wanted to help. We are also building a larger coalition with other music non-profits to solve voting in the music industry. So I’m still hopeful we’ll have some shows come together. I have an article coming out with the University of Maryland, and I’ve been lovingly trying to educate the voting space to know when all of the dates are. As frustrating as it can get sometimes, I do have a lot of great mentors and support in the voting space that encourages me to break the mold a bit. So I had my doubts in the first quarter, but I’m waiting to see how turns out. If my idea doesn’t work out, our tools will help other things.

Marc: So what you’re saying is that if you’re not sure about things, talk to the people you always go to. Also just because something doesn’t go the way you expect it to, you never know what’s going to come out of it.

Emily: Definitely. You need to find your “WHY”. I do think it’s been better this year in voting. We’ve gotten chunks of funding but a weird advantage of being unfunded is that we are all about the mission. It’s the same thing for artists – find your WHY.

Marc: You’re are someone aware of who you are and clear on what you need to do for yourself to make things happen. I really appreciate this great conversation, thanks so much.

Emily: Thanks for having me!