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From music to publishing

Paul Baxter from Bonnier Publishing talks about his journey from the world of music into publishing as contracts and royalties manager.
Written on 06/18/2018 - 10:51

Describe your career before moving into publishing.
Before moving into publishing, I’d been working full time in the music industry for around a decade, predominantly working with publishing (songwriter) rights. I’d worked in different areas across licensing, copyright administration, client management, royalties, contracts and project management. While studying for a music degree at Napier University in Edinburgh, I’d taken to the professional side of the music industry (largely through the realisation that I was less musically talented than the whole of my year), started a promotions company, interned with a promoter in Edinburgh and later interned with the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society in Glasgow. I also joined the Scottish Parliament as part of a cross-party group on the Scottish music industry.

In the years following my move to London, I was part of the first team to license YouTube for music use, had the opportunity to work in Sweden as part of an international rights company collaboration across Europe, administered large catalogues for a private investment fund and was lucky enough to work with many of my childhood idols.

About 2.5 years ago I’d hit a ‘goal ceiling’ and had achieved all of the things I’d set out to achieve, including lecturing at universities, self-publishing a book on copyright administration and moving to a more global-focus on rights management. I decided it was time for a change and took the plunge into book publishing.

How did working in another industry help you into publishing?
There are many obvious differences between the two industries but also many similarities. For example, where a song contains copyright in the top line melody and lyrics, a book holds copyright in the text. Where an album cover holds illustrative copyright, so does a book cover. Both have digital download formats which are experiencing changes in the rental arena and both operate partly on sale-or-return deals. Working in music rights gave me the groundwork to build my knowledge and understanding in book publishing.

There are also many transferrable skills like people management, Excel, understanding of finances and taxes, contractual terminology, trademark knowledge and dealing with creative divas.

What was your first role in publishing and how did you get the job?
My first role in publishing was as contracts and royalties manager for Bonnier Publishing (covering two of their UK divisions, Kings Road Publishing and Bonnier Zaffre). I got the job because my experience covered lots of different areas in rights, rather than being overly-specialised in either finance or legal. I was (and still am) extremely passionate about the work I do and can thankfully say I’m one of the minority that truly loves every aspect of what they do. If I won the lottery, I wouldn’t leave my job, and I think this came across strongly during the interviews.

What would you say are the pros and cons are of coming into publishing from another industry?
The pros are that it has taught me a lot of the base knowledge and given me the transferrable skills I needed to build upon in book publishing. It’s also extremely helpful for when the industries cross over. For example, we do a lot of autobiographies by established musicians. This allows me to have conversations with their managers and/or agents about how this industry works while their experience and understanding lies in the music industry. I am also able to understand and research copyright ownership to see if any lyrics used in the book need to be cleared with other parties.

The only real con that I’ve come across is that for my level, anyone who comes in from a book publishing background has experience of how other publishers work, what their culture is like and what some of the industry standards are. Because I haven’t worked elsewhere in this industry, I’m not always sure of the differences. As Bonnier Publishing is open to hiring people from outside the industry though, we have an excellent mix of those from within and those like me, so we’re able to share knowledge and expertise in order to combat this and become stronger overall.

What skills do you use in your current role that you gained earlier in your career and that have helped you progress?
Largely, my understanding of intellectual property in general, contract negotiation risks, financial accounting, Excel use, project management and people management skills.

Why is publishing a great place to be?
I can’t say whether publishing is a great place to be other than it’s definitely as interesting as music, but what I can say is that Bonnier Publishing is a great place to be. It’s by far the best place I’ve worked and the professional but fun atmosphere, supportive nature, lack of any hierarchical snobbery and flexibility make it unique in my experience. I genuinely believe that being interested in your work, working alongside people you connect with positively and working for a company that you are comfortable in are all of balanced importance to enjoying what you do. There’s always much more to learn though and I look forward to continuing the development of my skills and experience alongside great people.

This is part of a series profiling professionals working in publishing who started their careers in different industries and diverse ways.  Please contact Lara for more details on how to take part.