Round Hill Music is relatively new on the publishing scene, but they have certainly hit the ground running. Recently named one of the Top 10 Publishers in Billboard (Q2, 2014), RHM is building up an impressive catalog of classic songs from the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but also breaking new artists by saturating our collective consciousness with infectious hits from Bruno Mars, American Authors, Katy Perry and many more. A small, boutique company offering a wide variety of services, Round Hill continues to grow by the day, through acquisitions and their own creative efforts. We spoke with Mallory Zumbach, Sr Director of Creative at Round Hill Music to learn more about how they do things and gain a bit of insight into their success.
Round Hill Music only started in 2010, but boasts a very impressive catalog and has a number of current associations that have made the company a leader in the field in a very short time. What is Round Hill doing differently that has allowed for such phenomenal growth?
Our overall focus at Round Hill isn’t market share—we don’t want to create some gigantic, unwieldy catalogue wherein we can’t even keep track of who all our writers are, let alone what songs they’ve written. We want to build a catalogue filled with great music that we’re passionate about, and that we know we can add value to. That focus on quality over quantity is certainly a part of our success thus far.
What is your process for determining what you will sign?
I think that we know how to take advantage of the great team of people we have here. When we’re looking at a catalogue or thinking about signing a new writer or artist, the whole team gets looped in to the process. That gives us the space to honestly discuss what all we think we can do with the music we’re considering before we actually sign or acquire it. Do we think the songs have a lot of synch licensing potential? Can we breathe new life into back-catalogue songs by having up-and-coming artists cover them? Do we see potential to take a writer and set them up on fruitful co-writes? We try to make sure that the majority of the team is on board and thinks they can really work with the music, which I think is important to both our success as a company and the potential success (or further success) of any writers we sign or songs we acquire.
Surely not every task in the daily process at Round Hill is directly related to the creative aspects of music. There’s a lot of boring paperwork in copyright and licensing! But nearly every staff member is college educated, not to mention a fully qualified musician in their own right. Which plays a bigger role in the culture of Round Hill- the college degrees or the musical backgrounds?
This feels a little bit like a chicken-or-egg scenario to me—most of us went to school specifically for music-related fields, like performance or music business, but we wouldn’t have pursued that sort of education in the first place if we weren’t musical people. I think that the fact that we’re a bunch of musicians is a huge part of our company culture, and our writers and artists certainly appreciate that we can geek out on things like recording gear and music theory with them. They know we’re all in this business because music is part of our lifeblood. Our college educations helped us dive even deeper into that music geek-dom, and they also helped a lot of us figure out how to make a career out of our love for music. With all of that in mind, I think that the importance of our musical backgrounds and our degrees are two very interrelated defining aspects of our company culture.
Publishing is really the primary way that artists make careers for themselves these days. An artist can generate a lot of heat with a few good commercial or film placements. Round Hill Music gets involved with music in a few different ways, including finding those placements, so you probably have unique perspective here- all things being equal, what makes one song more likely than another to get picked up?
The bulk of my day-to-day job here is focused on pitching our songs for synch uses, so this is definitely something I think about all of the time. There are so many different factors that go into any given song’s success in the synch world, many of which are outside the control of the songwriters/artists. However, I do feel like there are certain traits that serve as a common thread through a lot of the songs that you hear getting licensed over and over. An upbeat, feel-good, anthemic song is going to work for a lot more uses, for starters, especially when it comes to things like advertisements and promos. I think it’s also important to have a great chorus with memorable lyrics that touch on universal themes like feeling joyful, togetherness, platonic love and friendship, determination, celebrating, and so on. The lyrics shouldn’t be too nebulous, either—the listener should be able to get the basic message of the song without having to listen to it over and over. That doesn’t mean they can’t be artfully written—just that they need to be clear. The vocals should be clear, too, for that matter! It makes no difference how great the lyrics are if the vocals are so mumbled or hidden under the instrumentation that the listener can’t make them out. I also think that the mood and feel of the song have to match the lyrical content. Synch searches for songs that sound really happy but have sad lyrics (or vice-versa) are pretty few and far between. Finally, the writer/artist needs to keep all of the aforementioned qualities in mind, but still write a great song that showcases their unique sound.
It seems like there is definitely a formula for a perfect song.
Music supervisors can totally tell when someone is trying too hard to create The Perfect Song for synch, and they usually steer clear of using something that obvious and contrived sounding. They want to work with music that’s authentic—who wouldn’t?
Who do you want to work with?
I think at the end of the day, having a catalogue from an insanely talented artist is always incredible, but it’s extra special when that artist is hungry to work. The writers and artists who get genuinely excited about their music and are open-minded about things (like licensing their songs or getting involved in interesting collaborations with other writers) are the best to work with, whether they’re established hit-makers or just starting out.
What are your more immediate goals for Round Hill Music?
We just closed on our first fund this summer, so I think we’re all excited to put that capital to work as we continue to build our artist/writer roster and catalogue.
What about long-term?
Total world domination? Honestly, I think we all just want to grow RHM in the smartest way possible, and never lose sight of the fact that the music comes first. We want to be the kind of publisher that our writers are truly excited to be working with— they should be having their best publishing experience with us, to the point where they’re trying to convince all of their songwriter friends to sign with us, too.