Navigating the New Zealand music industry

Jan Hellriegel talks Songbroker

in Industry by

“Concentrate on the song first – if you’re an artist you should write for yourself.” That’s the advice of Jan Hellriegel, whose publishing firm Songbroker celebrates its third birthday this year.

While there are more opportunities than ever before for artists to have their songs placed in other media, she maintains that songwriters shouldn’t let that influence how they compose their works. Once a song is completed, then they can start thinking about other uses for it – and that is where Songbroker comes in.

“My job as a publisher is to look at look at music and see how I can get an income for the artist,” she says. “And there’s so many potential things that you could possibly do, I find it really exciting at the moment.”

Hellriegel – a successful singer-songwriter in her own right, both as a solo artist and as a member of bands such as Cassandra’s Ears – first got into publishing when she joined the Australasian firm Native Tongue. The decision to establish her own business was inspired by her experiences in both fields.

“I was thinking ‘gosh there’s no publishing company that works for me in the way I would like’,” she recalls. “And I thought there are probably a lot of other artists in the same predicament. We don’t want to sign up to big long publishing agreements that last for years and years. And I also wanted someone who was proactive, who was selling on a regular basis, not just collecting royalties. And so with my experience I thought I could probably do it myself.”

We’ve got enough material now to offer a pretty sexy offering overseas

Songbroker was duly created as a platform for musicians and music makers to sell their music to the world. As well as allowing artists to showcase their works, the website serves as an easy-to-navigate platform for music users in search for suitable songs and instrumentals for their productions.

Hellriegel says what makes Songbroker unique is that all the rights to the music are held in one place, which means that if a client hears a track they would like to use in the morning, they will usually have its usage cleared by the afternoon.

“We’ve made it very easy to license music – that was the most important part,” she says. “Sometimes a song can have seven rights owner and the paperwork in a contract is like a novel. For us, it’s all in one place, so television and film producers love us. Basically we want to make it accessible and easy to use as possible.”

Songbroker currently boasts a diverse roster of artists ranging from established artists such as Sneaky Feeling, the Topp Twins and Goodshirt, through to upcoming newer acts like Beachware and Jaggers X Lines. Hellriegel is also keen to add new genres such as classical to the mix, along with international artists.

So far Songbroker has focused mainly on the NZ market but now that the platform has been bedded down, she is keen to boost the company’s international profile.

“That’s one of our focuses because it’s the big wide world and we’re ready to go now,” according to Hellriegel. “We’ve got enough material now to offer a pretty sexy offering overseas. Basically we’re exporting music. It’s just like any other product – now we just have to sell it in. And once you tell people what it is and get people to give it a try, I think it will be an easy sell.”

The explosive growth in online film and TV streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon has opened up a host of new earning opportunities for songwriters and Songbroker has already enjoyed some success in that area; for example, two songs from The Verlaines has been placed on an upcoming Netflix crime series entitled Big Dogs.

Jaggers X Lines

Nevertheless, the NZ markets remains a priority and she says local television remains an important source of revenue, both in terms of TV productions and commercials. While some artists may feel uncomfortable about their songs being used to advertise products, she says most realise that commercials provide valuable income and exposure.

“Whatever opportunity comes up, I always say the writers and artists I work with: do you want to do this?” Hellriegel says. “And if they want to do it, we’ll do it. We need to be on the terrestrial channels because that’s often how people get to know about our music. It’s very hard to get through the clutter at the moment so if you’re suddenly on a commercial, you’re on TV and people are hearing you. And then they might go and discover your album or other songs you’ve done. That’s really great for the artist and their morale.”

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