Live: In Conversation – Simon Pursehouse

Simon Pursehouse

Global Director of Music Services at Sentric Music

Simon Pursehouse, Global Director of Music Services at Sentric Music, an “industry challenging” music publisher.

Our guest today is Simon Pursehouse, Global Director of Music Services at Sentric Music, an “industry challenging” music publisher. Simon has been an integral part of Sentric since the company’s infancy. He oversaw the signing of Sentric’s first artist in 2006 and today they work with a community of over 400,000 songwriters. Simon’s number one priority is that artists get the most out of their publishing. He has been featured in Music Weeks’ ‘30 Under 30’ list and regularly speaks at music conferences around the world. This is one of our most insightful episodes, a great conversation;  Simon offers up all kinds of publishing tips. 

Putting Artists First: Music Publishing for Independent Creators

#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation with Simon Pursehouse took place on Tuesday, November 28th, 2023, live from Liverpool, UK

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

In part one, Simon explains how Sentric Music got its start and why he is still there 17 years later, there is also talk of his impressive beard. Simon also produces an impressive pie chart and attempts (and mostly succeeds) to explain most things publishing and goes further into depth throughout part 1.

Marc Brown: Hi Simon, welcome to #HowWeListen Live: In Conversation. Am I right that you are coming to us from Liverpool, and you’re also from there?

Simon Pursehouse: Hi Marc. No, I’m from Sheffield originally. When I was 18 I moved to Liverpool to go to university where I majored in Art, Music and Entertainment Management. In the third year of the course you had to do a work placement in the music industry and that’s essentially how Sentric Music started. Chris Meehan is our CEO and he was in the year above me. He spent his work placement working on an idea he had which became Sentric. He spent his year writing the business plan and getting the funding together and he approached me to see if I wanted to help start it for my 3 month work placement. I was all set to work at XFM which is a local radio station here but I said yes to this because I wanted to get my hands dirty and experience working versus just doing intern work…and here I am 17 years later! 

Marc: It’s quite abnormal to have a job in music that’s lasted so many years! Do you see it that way based on people you’ve talked to?

Simon: For sure, it’s rare to have someone who’s stayed at the same company for so long. It comes down to a few things – one is that Sentric has expanded a lot. At no point did I feel the need to walk away because I enjoy it and I have a vested interest in it. We have a good amount of staff who have been with us for years because we have fostered a great culture. People are nice and everyone gets on. That comes from being very specific about how we hire people. 

Marc: Definitely. Because it’s evolved so much, even though you’ve worked there for 17 years you’ve worked for  3 or 4 versions of Sentric. I assume that what you do now is very different from what you did when you started?

Simon: Definitely. It’s nuts to think about how different it is now versus how we started. A big part of what we do is education and the base level of what publishing is for emerging artists is much better than what it was when we started. That’s in part due to Sentric, because we were one of the first in this space and I’d say arguably the fairest. 

Marc: Can you explain what Sentric is for people who might not know? I’d also love for you to talk about what Sentric Music was like when it started and what it is now, specifically focusing on how publishing has developed.

Simon: The basic way of putting it is that anywhere where you hear music, in theory, the person who wrote that is owed money for it. The more people hear it the more money the songwriter will get. When we first started, we had done a three-month module on publishing during our university program and we came out not understanding what it was or how it worked. It’s confusing and convoluted. So that’s where our ethos came from and Chris had the idea that if we couldn’t understand publishing, then the artist probably didn’t either. Back then, if you were lucky enough the way it would work is that a publisher would come along and offer you money in exchange for owning your copyrights.

Marc: Yeah, that’s what I remember. 

Simon: Yeah. So if you didn’t do that, then songwriters would join the local PRO (performing rights organization) in their territory or country. Back then, joining the PRO was about 100 pounds or dollars but a lot of the writers and bands I worked with didn’t have that money to spare, especially if they weren’t familiar with what a PRO was. So for us, it was all about de-mystifying that and making sure that income was available. We realized that most of the music that was being played on the radio or performed at gigs probably wasn’t registered with the local PRO so the artists were not making money. That’s not the PRO’s fault, it was just the way the industry worked at the time. We saw it as an opportunity: to make it as easy as possible.

Fast forward to now, we’re at a stage where the PROs are very good at what they’re doing but the one thing they’re not great at is sharing this information and making sure that as music goes from one country to another it also goes to the right publisher. What a good publishing administrator does is to make sure that all of the copyrights and songwriters they look after are registered with every major territory around the world so they get the money that they’re owed.

Now we are at a stage where, thanks to companies like us, there is no excuse to be an unpublished songwriter anymore. We offer a very artist-friendly deal where you can leave wherever you want and retain your copyright. We take 20% for doing the administrative side, which is a lot but we can prove time and time again that even after the 20%, we make the artist lots more than what they would get if they just relied on collecting the funds in the traditional way. 

Marc: Fantastic. You showed me a slide earlier that I’d love for you to share that I think explains this well.

Simon: So we have some graphs. 

Link to image: Sentric Pie chart screen grab.png

There is one on the left which represents all royalties. This is the data for the money we collected for one of our songwriters who co-wrote a song that had over a billion streams. He’s from the UK, so he’s a member of the PRS and the MCPS which is the mechanical income for the UK. On this graph, 27% of his income came from the UK, so he got that income just by being a member of those two organizations. He would have still gotten that if he wasn’t a member of our service. The other three-quarters of the income is from all around the world. As you can see from the graphs, 24% of the income came from Germany, 10% from America, 6% from Australia and so on. We went through these equivalent organizations to register him so we managed to get all of that income for him where he might not have otherwise. The thing that would solve this problem industry-wide is essentially a global rights database. At the moment, there are a handful of PRO’s that share the same data but the majority of them don’t. So for example, if you’re an artist from the UK and your music is played on Australian radio, a PRO will collect that but if an artist isn’t registered in that territory the local PRO would have no way to know how to get in touch with the artist and send them their royalties. In theory, all of these PRO’s do have these reciprocal deals in place but there’s so much data, music and activity so nothing can beat using an administrator who will register you in all of these territories. So in this example, the artist would have gotten just under 30% of the income he was owed but because we did all of this administration and registered him and his music everywhere around the world we unlocked another 70% or so which he probably would have missed out on without us. That’s the joy of using a good administrator. 

Marc: Each slice of the pie or revenue is unsatisfactory on its own but when you add them all up together it’s a lot of revenue. So when I see this example with over a billion streams you’d think that the artist would have it sorted out and that the money would flow down to them because of their higher profile but what seems to be unnerving is that even someone at that level is not automatically getting all of their revenue. 

Simon: Exactly. True income does come from worldwide streams because of the way we consume music – it’s everywhere immediately as soon as it’s distributed. The only time that you wouldn’t benefit from using Sentric would be if you could confidently say as a songwriter that 90%+ of your income comes from the territory in which you live. It’s pretty rare but if you know that to be true, then you’ll be fine just being a member of your local territory. Every so often I’ll hear songwriters complain about how their publishers do nothing for them. I have two things to say to that – one is that these people (complainers) are usually in long-term deals where they’ve accepted a cheque up front and therefore they’ve given their copyright over for at least a decade if not more. Another thing they complain about is how they’ve had no syncs or sessions. One of the things a traditional publisher does with the creative department is set up songwriting sessions, matching people with complementary talents, so they can collaborate creatively. Here at Sentric, we’re administrators first and foremost so we don’t have a creative department in that traditional sense. If I ever hear a songwriter complain that a publisher does nothing for them I always like to highlight the statement that they’re sent every quarter. It outlines everything that is being done, down to the smallest thing. It’s a very dry report, but making sure you get these micro-payments from around the world does add up.

Marc: Thinking back to how it used to be 15- 20 years ago, publishing was dry even back then, people thought it was just a source of income that people could get in a lump sum. Where do you think the attraction is in general today? Are Sentric and similar companies making publishing more accessible to everyone? Back in the day, it seemed to be all about the cheque. 

Simon: Absolutely. All the advancements have completely democratized music publishing. Now anyone can be published, and this just wasn’t the case before. We have this 28-day deal that I’ve referred to before because it’s more pertinent to independent artists. That’s the thing that launched Sentric Music Group and the thing people know us for. As a company, it’s only about 17% of our turnover. The majority of what we do now is other people’s administration and that is because, over time, we’ve gotten so good at getting into the nitty gritty of copyright. So we look after a lot of people’s catalogues and such. There are a lot of songwriters who I work for that earn a lot of money from us every single quarter. When it comes to signing with a big record label and getting cash up front, I’m very much of the opinion that if you don’t need the money, don’t take the money. I’m very aware that if you do need the extra cash for new equipment or whatnot then you should take the money and sign your copyright away. I just want people to be aware of the fact that there are options now where you can earn real money without having to give up the rights to your music. 

Marc: We have a couple of questions. Should artists register with all of the PROs?

Simon: No, you should register with the PRO in the territory that you think you’re going to earn the most money in. So let’s say you’re an American artist but for some reason you’re massive in Germany, you’d become a writing member of Germany. In theory, the USA PRO should collect money from all of these jurisdictions but they’re just not great at it. I’m not badmouthing the US specifically, it’s the same for all PROs. The first 3 societies we joined outside of PRS (UK PRO) were the American ones. Once we did that it was like opening the floodgates, all of this money just came in for our artists because the money was sitting there but the PRO didn’t know who the writers were or who their publishers were. That’s when it clicked for us. We are now at the stage where we’re a member of all the PROs that matter in the world.

Marc: What about the mechanical royalty collection societies?

Simon: It’s the same. In the United States, you’ve got a thing called the MLC (Mechanical Licensing Collective). What we do at Sentric is that if you’re a member of the PRS but not a member of the MCPS (Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society) that means you’re missing out on all of your mechanical income. The difference between performance and mechanical income is that performance income is earned every single time your track is broadcast on TV, radio and things like that. Mechanical income is earned every single time the track that you’ve written is reproduced. So put the music onto a CD, vinyl, streaming, hallmark card, etc. For example, if you get a track on a UK TV show, you get one mechanical payment because that’s the commitment of the music to the tape, but you’ll get performance royalties every time that episode is broadcast on all of those different channels. If you’re a member of just the PRS but not the MPCS, you’re getting all of your performance income but not the mechanicals. 

With streaming, every time someone streams one of your tracks that generates a mechanical income. When a stream happens that generates a micropayment. 80% of that income would go to the record label or distribution partner and the remaining monies would be the 20% that goes to the songwriter. That is then divided up – 50% performance and 50% mechanical. What we do at Sentric is that we’ve withdrawn the right for all of those societies around the world to collect that digital income for us and we put it into one centralized online PRO. So rather than going to all of these countries to collect a micropayment of a micropayment, we go to one place which gives us worldwide access. It means that there are a lot fewer places for that income to go missing. It’s complicated but when we first started doing that, we saw a 400% increase in our writers’ digital royalties. 

Marc: Let’s recap that – a stream happens and 80% goes to the recording side, and 20% is left for the writers. Half of that, so 10%, is for performance and half is mechanical. If I register at my organization in Sweden (Marc lives in Sweden) which is STIM, they would collect that 10% but I would still need to register with someone else to possibly get the other 10%. 

Simon: Exactly. You could rely on them to collect for that if you joined STIM Mechanicals though. The writer’s share will always go to the local PRO.

To continue reading the interview with Simon Pursehouse, click here for part two!