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Interview with GAGA Music

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We feature many great musicians , but it's rare for us to feature labels and other businesses working with iMusician for music distribution; even though they actually devote themselves to supporting artists. GAGA Music is one of those passionate groups of people who work hard on giving artists they love every opportunity to earn a living from their craft. In the past, we mentioned synchronization deals were a bigger and bigger part of the equation. This is something GAGA Music knows best. We asked Pete Nicholson, the label and online content manager, a few questions about what they do and the music industry nowadays.

What exactly is the “Gaga Group”? Is it a music licensing company, a digital label, a publisher? What comes first above all?

Gaga started as a publishing company back in 2007, but we’ve grown to do a lot of different things. In addition to administering publishing rights, we represent master rights, pitch our catalogue actively for sync, and release some of our artists’ music through our label, Gaga Digi. Ultimately we just want to provide a helpful service for our artists, which requires us to be able to do a lot of different things, especially in an industry undergoing such seismic change.

You seem to be providing so many artists with so many services: distribution, commercial licensing, etc. How many are there in the team altogether?

Last year we merged with Inertia, one of Australia’s biggest and best music companies, so we work closely with them on a range of things. Gaga itself is a pretty lean operation –– there are three of us in Melbourne, and two in Sydney, but we’ll be adding to that this year.

Can you tell us a bit about the label? I cannot see the end of your Soundcloud thread?! When did you start and how many artists are you distributing for? Is it digital only?

We started the label back in 2009, as a way to help artists get their music out there in a simple and fair way, without long-term contracts, and also to quickly release music we’ve helped license in ads and TV. Since then, we’ve grown to release all kinds of things, not only from artists already on the roster, but things we find and like elsewhere. We also handle sub-distribution for another couple of labels in Australia and New Zealand. We’ve now put out around 300 releases by over 150 artists.

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With sales revenues getting tighter and harder to get, commercial licensing is something that more and more musicians are looking at. We have actually been blogging about synchronization deals; can you share some advice for independent musicians who would like to license their music? For example, how to pitch it?

As you say, traditional revenue streams are drying up, so sync is becoming a big focus right across the industry, by necessity. The boom in the industry, combined with the challenging and uncertain times the music business is facing, has given rise to a heap of licensing operators all over the world, not all of whom have the artists’ best interests at heart. My advice for independent musicians is to choose your sync partner carefully, and to value your copyright: there are a lot of companies out there who try to get music for nothing, and it’s up to musicians and the people who help license their works to ensure that a fair price is paid for artists’ hard earned work. In terms of pitching works, I’d say the key is to find someone who has a good track record, whose terms are intelligible, and who can prove to you that they’re trustable with your music. If you’re presented with a novel-length contract with a whole bunch of legalese you can’t decipher, with terms that mention not only the earth but the solar system, you have reason to be concerned.

On that note, how do you usually work? Do you actively search for artists and music matching particular customer needs, or is it the other way around? Is it possible to submit music to you for synchronisation or only for distribution? Do you actually review a lot of materials sent to you?

We work, first and foremost, with music we like. It’s been that way since the beginning. But we also see trends in what’s being sought for ads, film and TV and try and keep our catalogue relevant to that; we also work with our writers to create specific works for campaigns. Some music we work with we only pitch; some we administer publishing rights for, and some we distribute and pitch. It’s a fluid and flexible arrangement, depending on what will work best for everyone concerned. We listen to everything we get sent.

We noticed you are using Vimeo for all your embedded videos. Is there a story behind it? What’s your opinion about YouTube and their monetization model? Do you recommend your artists to upload their music there?

Vimeo is simple and nice to use, and is a bit more customisable for the way we use videos on the web than YouTube. We use YouTube as well for some of our content, like the On the Roof series. YouTube’s monetisation system has rightly come under some scrutiny for the revenue share it offers. YouTube, like Spotify and other new music media services, has become a primary means for bands to be heard, but it’s an ongoing battle to ensure they’re not being taken advantage of. In one sense it’s good that a monetisation model exists, but that’s not to say it couldn’t offer artists a bigger and fairer share. When you’re dealing with massive corporations who need to satisfy investors every quarter, it’s difficult to advance the cause of independent artists, but we’re hopeful that the massive value of these artists will be reflected in the revenue models the industry develops in the coming years.

Where and how do you get in touch with new artists mostly? Are there labels you regularly license for?

We work with a great bunch of folk from all over the world. Grant Gillies, who founded the company, has worked in the industry for over twenty years, and he’s managed to put together a great catalogue of works from labels and publishing companies overseas, such as Secretly Canadian and House of Hassle, as well as artists closer to home. We have lasting relationships with a lot of different companies whose taste in music we love. And beyond that, we’re always on the look out for music we like and want to work with.

We were checking out your “On the Roof” series. It had beautiful music and nice landscapes in the background. Is that the roof of your office? Where else are they shot?

Thanks! They’re mostly shot on the roof of our building here, though occasionally we get them from further afield: one was shot on a balcony in Hobart, another in Venice in California. We work with some great directors from the film company/collective Exit, who are also in the building here, to shoot the clips.

How is the music scene in Melbourne? Looks pretty lively from here!

We’re really lucky here. Without being too parochial and biased, Melbourne has probably the biggest and most diverse music scene in Australia. So much great music comes out of here. But we also work with artists from all over Australia; the internet has definitely dissolved some of the geographic borders that used to exist before. This is particularly useful considering roughly 30% of them move to Berlin at some stage in their careers.

Is there something special you are about to release or something we should look forward to?

There’s a lot in the works this year: a new album from local garage rock heroes Drunk Mums; a wonderfully beguiling record of electro-pop from a male/female duo known as Magic Hands; some gorgeous downbeat electro-pop from a young West Australian songwriter known as St. South; plus some international releases we’re really taken with, like the debut solo record from Cambria Goodwin, formerly of Port O’Brien.

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