Can Canadians Build International Publishing Powerhouse in a Year?

Reprinted With Permission of Applaud.

Building a brand new music publishing "empire" isn't easy. But, insists Robert Ott - one of the best-known publishing figures in Canada's music industry - it can be done.

All it needs is $100 million (Canadian), a totally committed partner, and a staff of people who know the publishing business inside out, and, equally importantly, care about music.

Sitting in the boardroom of his still new company - it was christened ole Ott talks about the current state of the music business. "It's in turmoil," he says, grimacing. "But - and this is a big but' - I don't share the doom and gloom approach. I see no decline in the use of music; music seems more popular and vibrant than it has ever been.

"Most of the major publishing companies are joined at the hip with record companies. And as record companies struggle to find their place amid all the new technology, their publishing companies find their budgets, at the very least, constrained." With partner Tim Laing, formerly successful commodities broker, Ott raised a little over 100 million dollars from a single private investor with relative ease. While he won't reveal the name of the company's backer, he said: "Investors are business people, and our approach was businesslike and down to earth. All the people we spoke to saw our vision and understood the way the publishing industry worked."

The pair spent two years building a solid business plan before they began the search for investors. Ott, given his experience as vice-president and general manager of BMG Music Canada, saw an opening for a Canadian company that could operate on many different levels of the publishing industry; his partner's financial background added weight to their plan.

A new company would be able, they figured, to work with individual writers, in both a full publishing capacity and as administrators. They aimed to move into areas outside straightforward recordings - they saw a major opportunity to work in the film and television areas, to which publishers, Ott felt, had traditionally not paid enough attention. There was obvious room to work in new areas that utilize music - games, ringtones, computer programmes among them. And having staff members concentrate on advertising agencies to meet their music needs would be a major plus. Best of all, they felt they could reinvigorate older catalogues, and work to get material used once again in a variety of settings. And so it seems to be coming to pass. ole - the name stands for Ott Laing Enterprises - started in December 2004, and in a little over a year has spent close to $25 million acquiring catalogues. One of them was the 2000 song-plus Balmur catalogue, founded many years ago by Anne Murray and her late manager, Leonard Rambeau, and acquired from Corus Entertainment.

The major Nelvana catalogue - also owned by Corus - came into the Ole fold last September, when a six-year worldwide deal to administer the music from more than 3,000 half-hour animated childrens' TV shows produced by Nelvana was signed. Other film companies, including Shaftesbury Films and Arcadia Entertainment, signed on as well.

Ivan Berry, a leading entrepreneur in the urban music scene in Canada and a former BMG colleague, is a major player at Ole, and has been instrumental in bringing in the catalogue of Dream Warriors, a prominent black music group in Canada. And in late November, ole announced the acquisition of the catalogues of Dave Tyson, who co-wrote the #1 hit "Black Velvet," by Alannah Myles. A number of other Canadian writers, including Gerald O'Brien and Ben Dunk, are now signed to ole.

The company also handles Canadian administration for Arc Music, the publishing arm of the legendary Chess Records company, and is now working on placements for material by the likes of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker. To date, Ott figures the company's $24 million (Canadian) acquisition bill is a rock-solid investment. And it's already paying off: Recent curs including Shania Twain's lead off single, "Shoes," from an album called Music Inspired by Desperate Housewives, tying into the successful TV series.

Two other currently hot songs - "He Ain't Even Cold Yet" sung by Gretchen Wilson and "Change the Game" recorded by Sean Paul - are also bringing in early royalties for the new company.

Ott is certainly on an expansionist kick. He and his team - and the company now has 17 employees - are looking for catalogues. And he is also looking to build the company globally, one of the reasons he and Berry will be at MIDEM this month. So far, ole has representation in 17 cities around the world - in some cases with staff people (Nashville, Los Angeles and London) and in others with a variety of sub-publishing arrangements.

Currently, the company represents some 20,000 songs - but insiders will be surprised if that total isn't doubled in the next two years. Starting a major independent publishing company in a field crowded with small indies and a handful of major-label publishing affiliates is not easy- and you can count the number of well-established independent publishing companies in Canada on one hand.

But Ott and Laing seem to have made a spectacular beginning.

- RICHARD FLOHIL