September 13, 2016
The South Florida native attended N.Y.U. and was in law school when a hit hip-hop song he co-wrote for Con Funk Shun, "Electric Lady," led to a meeting with Zomba Music's Clive Calder and Jive's Barry Weiss, resulting in a 10-year stint at Zomba Group of Companies' music publishing division, followed by 16 years as Chairman/CEO at then-MCA Music Publishing, metamorphosing into Worldwide Chairman of Universal Music Publishing Group, overseeing the activities for the company's 57 offices in 47 countries. Under his leadership, UMPG grew to the most successful publishing company in the business through acquisitions and direct signings like BMG Music Publishing, Polygram, Rondor and Zomba, as well as the catalogs of Holland Dozier Holland and Henry Mancini. Renzer also build the company to become a global leader in the areas of production music, Christian and classical music, while establishing a Latin music division.
He joined Spirit Music Group in 2014, and immediately attracted a $50 million investment from Fortress, spearheading growth in both London and Nashville, as well as starting a Latin music division for Spirit. Positioned as an independent boutique, Spirit Music Group now represents more than 75,000 copyrights, including the catalogs of Pete Townshend, Marc Bolan, Boz Scaggs, the Marshall Tucker Band, Toto, Billy Squier, Graham Nash, Joe Walsh, Charles Mingus, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Henry Mancini and T Bone Burnett, along with the breakthrough hits of newer artists such as James Bay, John Newman, Chris Stapleton and Sam Hunt. "We box above our weight," laughs Renzer, hard at work as founder of the annual Songs Of Hope fundraiser for City Of Hope - which has raised over $3 million to fight cancer since its inception -- being held on September 15th.
How are preparations going for this year's Songs of Hope?
Full steam ahead. Clive [Davis] has a great honoree this year, with Pharrell Williams, along with John Debney, an A-list film and TV composer and Mike Posner, a great, young artist/songwriter/producer, with a new sponsor in Pandora coming in, which we're excited about as well. And once again, it's being held at the beautiful home of Ron and Stefanie Fair. I'd like to thank my co-chairs on the event, Evan Lamberg, Doug Davis and Steve Schnur. We're going to raise a lot of money for a great cause. As far as I know, this is the only charity event driven particularly by the music publishing community. It's a nice cross-section of the music and entertainment industry that come to support the City of Hope. It's all about songs, songwriting and composing. And since most of it is donated, it allows us to have a high margin of money going straight back to City of Hope support their life-saving work. We all have people we know who have been impacted by cancer. The R&D work being done by the City of Hope in these areas - and its application to patients -- is inspiring.
What has the transition been like going from Universal Music Publishing to the more independent-oriented Spirit Music Group a little more than two years ago?
It's actually been a lot of fun. I was at Universal for 16 years, building MCA Music into the #1 company globally in terms of revenue at the time I left. But I originally started out on the independent side at Zomba for the first 10 years of my career. And that's what I feel like we're doing here. It's a great time to be an independent now - especially, like us, if you're a well-funded one, which has allowed us to grow. I've always been about two things - making sure you can take care of your copyrights and catalogs, and finding those income streams that expand your business. At Spirit, we have a catalog of about 75,000 copyrights, which gives us a lot of room for growth, but in a qualitative way that allows us to focus on our writers and their copyrights. This company has been around 20 years, but has never had a Nashville presence until now, when we acquired Cal IV Entertainment, which brought into the fold hits by Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean and Rascal Flatts, along with 25 #1 Country copyrights and Top 10 singles, as well as the StyleSonic catalog, bringing another four #1 country hits - this opened up the way for other signings there.
We also acquired leading contemporary Christian catalog West Main Music, and the acquisition of a portion of the catalog of Jason Ingram, one of Christian music's most accomplished songwriters. We created an exciting joint venture with Nashville writer/producer Frank Rogers and also have an interest in Chris Stapleton. We expanded our West Coast presence and, in the U.K., we've partnered with B-Unique - and two very talented A&R executives in Martin Toher and Mark Lewis - and opened a new London-based office, while experiencing some great success with James Bay closing in on three million albums worldwide. Our writers and producers are working with Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith on their new albums. We've also launched a Spirit Music Latino division and a JV with a company called Sunflower Entertainment for worldwide administration and further acquisitions in that area.
What has it been like working with private equity partners like Pegasus Capital Advisors and Fortress Credit Corp?
Since joining the company, Spirit has grown its NPS (Net Publishers Share) by 25% each year, and we're on track to do the same. Everybody's very happy with the results, which allows us a certain amount of freedom and support from our financial partners. If you're going to be an independent, it's important to be on firm financial footing. We're disciplined about our opportunities, nimble enough to move quickly, and not afraid to invest in creative talent.
Any thoughts about launching a Spirit Music Group label services division or even a label itself?
Spirit owns masters, like the T. Rex catalog, and, through Sunflower, on the Latin side. We are definitely looking to grow that side of our business. I think you will see us investing in the future in that, as well as name and likeness rights. We are aggressively licensing T. Rex merch and lyrics as well as in the digital area.
How did a nice Jewish boy from South Florida end up co-writing Con Funk Shun's "Electric Lady," a Top 5 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop hit in 1985?
While I was in law school, my co-writer and I ran into the late Larry Smith, who co-produced the first couple of Run-DMC albums. He was producing Con Funk Shun and my partner and I came up with the concept. It was one of the earliest rap crossover records. I quickly learned my talents were better served on the other side of the desk. Once I learned about music publishing, it became a great home for me, because I love working with creative people and had a business side to my brain. That's how I ended up at Zomba, because they were Larry Smith's publisher, and I met Barry Weiss and Clive Calder. I think I was Zomba's eighth employee. And I helped Zomba grow into a very potent, diversified music publishing business, working closely with Jive and Jeff Fenster, where we signed the Backstreet Boys. It was a great place to learn and apply those skills at MCA and then Universal Music Publishing.
What did you learn working with Clive Calder?
He was very unique ... He had both sides of the brain functioning at very high levels. You could go from a business discussion about acquiring a production music library business and then be hanging in the studio with R. Kelly writing "You Are Not Alone" for Michael Jackson. His genius was having a creative and business vision. The executives he groomed from that company went on to do great things. He was a great mentor.
How do you feel about streaming as the future of the music business?
It feels like we're reaching a tipping point. It's encouraging to see growth, however modest, returning to many struggling foreign markets. But it's not going to happen overnight. The biggest issue for the music publishing community is getting a rate structure in place that allows songwriters to participate and benefit from this growth. That's imperative. We're in the middle of a Copyright Royalty Board negotiation, and as a member of the NMPA board, I'm very involved. I'm hopeful we'll come out of that with more equitable rates, even if they won't be applied for a while. We're also challenging the recent Department of Justice ruling on the consent decrees for the performing rights organizations in regards to negotiating licenses with the digital services. We're looking at a variety of potential solutions at this point.
Are you bullish on the future of the music business?
I've always been an optimist. Music publishing in particular, because of our diverse revenue streams, has always been a fairly resilient sector of the music industry. We're fortunate that 40% of Spirit's revenue comes from synch licensing. And most of that is procured. We're seeing growth in online video from YouTube; we're seeing growth in streaming, and as the rate issues get resolved, we'll see healthy gains for the entire music industry into a $50 billion business.
What's the end game for Spirit Music Group?
We're long-term players. Our partners share our vision and are happy with the results. We don't aspire to manage millions of copyrights. We like to see our growth continue with quality. For us, it's a pleasure, honor and joy to expand our music rights business as an independent.