Music

Guy Moot on Five Years as Warner Chappell CEO, the Mid Tier of Artists and Chasing ‘Culturally Relevant Signings’

Guy Moot, CEO and co-chair of Warner Chappell Music, recently celebrated his five-year anniversary with the major publisher with a renewed five-year term. It’s easy to see why he’s staying on. Since taking the helm in 2019, Moot, along with co-chair and COO Carianne Marshall, managed to turn the company’s slow and steady long-term business, which originated all the way back in 1811 as Chappell & Co., into a modernized, fierce competitor with a honed A&R strategy. He focused on signing artist/songwriters with “cultural relevance” like RAYE, Mitski, Frank Ocean, Laufey, Zach Bryan, Teddy Swims and Benson Boone, recruiting the growing “mid tier” of artists, and buying catalogs, like his personal favorite David Bowie, that WCM can actively boost. 

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Moot’s wins have been more than just cultural — they are backed up by chart data. For the last three quarters, including this latest one, WCM — which regularly ranked third on Billboard’s Publishers Quarterly for Hot 100 songs — surpassed Universal Music Publishing Group to land in second place. It’s also No. 2 for the last two quarters amid Pop Airplay and No. 1 in market share on Country Airplay. 

But on a sunny April morning in his Downtown Los Angeles office, Moot tells Billboard that, despite WCM’s obvious wins, he is uninterested in sizing the company’s value by what its major competition is doing. “I don’t want to be just like them,” he says with a shrug. “I want to be doing our own thing.” 

Warner Chappell’s thing is about leaning into the shifting music business head-on, echoing Warner Music Group CEO Robert Kyncl‘s theme of 2024 as “the year of the next 10.” That includes the company’s new partnership with Bandlab and its artist service platform ReverbNation, through which WCM will provide administration to anyone who needs it and a full-service JV tier to develop Bandlab’s most promising writers. The company has also been working on a program to release collections of songwriter demos to the general public. With these and other initiatives, it hopes will help it stand out from an increasingly-crowded publishing field.

“This business is like no other business,” Moot says. “The competition is great, but almost no one actually sees it through and actually delivers something that’s worked. Last year, I said to all our team that we’ve got to double down and really deliver, and now, it seems like we’ve really gotten some momentum.”

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Billboard: Robert Kyncl has been CEO at Warner Music Group for a little over a year now, and has put a strong emphasis on improving the technology at the company. Has that changed anything within Warner Chappell in terms of the way that you are looking at modernizing and keeping up with the speed of change?

Guy Moot: Definitely. I think a lot of the things that don’t add up in the music industry make him question, “Why, and how?” He’s tasked us to challenge the third parties for more transparency and speed of payment. We’re certainly investing a lot in tech. It’s not all delivered yet, but we know we need to fast-track for the next three to five years. We’ve always had issues in publishing with rights flows, transparency, PROs, but I also think the next big forefront will be how we get paid for UGC. That’s the real challenge. With those really sketchy sped-up versions, cover versions of our songs, there’s a lot of progress we’re making internally to match and track those and we’re seeing really great results. We want to get to a world where we can always find when somebody sped up one of our songs and there’s no master attached.

How can you track a song when it’s been manipulated like that? 

Various matching tools, and it’s improving. I still think there’s a lot slipping through the net. When we make our digital agreements now, it’s still about setting terms that get songwriters paid more, but secondly, it’s also about getting levels of service and more data and info from the companies. I’m making a bold prediction here, and it’s a personal thing that I haven’t seen yet, but I’m hopeful AI will be helpful in the future of publishing administration. I’ve got a lot of hope that we will be able to completely map out a song’s DNA and then follow its uses through a whole ecosystem. 

You’ve mentioned that you’d like to quicken the rate in which your writers get paid, but is that always possible? Some songs are released without complete publishing splits.

I think you’re as good as the information going in, and it’s not perfect. The MLC has actually been the nearest to having a comprehensive database, for America at least. And from our point of view, it seems to be working quite well. But it would be great if we had one authoritative database for the songwriting industry and we don’t.

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What are you most proud of from your first five years on the job?

Carianne and I have been together five years, and we’ve seen a lot of progress at the company. When we got here, I had a couple observations. One, Chapell didn’t really have a strategy, in our point of view. It was a solid company. It was working great catalogs, and the other thing that I personally noticed from my A&R background is that we didn’t have many artists. We had a lot of songwriters for other artists at the time. I thought it was really important that we build a roster of both songwriters who do great work for others and artists who really mean something to fans and have some cultural relevance in a broad spectrum of genres. We started that process with Frank Ocean, but what’s exciting now is that we’re gaining artists not just across genres but across the world, and it feels like a new generation of artists.

The great thing about publishing is, you could do anything from an acquisition to a very short-term deal, but wherever you are, you’re really at the beginning of the process. We’ve got some great stories. Benson Boone is a great story for us right now. We’ve been there from the beginning with him attending our writing camps. Another one is when I was in the U.K., when we signed RAYE, she was very young. I think it was 2016. She’s had such a progression. Mitski, Zach Bryan, too. 

I always use this term “culturally relevant signings.” I know we have just talked about some difficulties, but publishing’s easy if you sign someone you’re really proud of. Sure, our job is really complex sometimes, but also it feels really simple. What we do is we take the essence of what excites us about music, and we talk [to partners] about it. 

So much has changed, even in five years. Music is more global, more artists are opting for independence over major labels, etc. What are you looking for when you are finding new music and new artists/writers?

We don’t just chase hits. I mean, we love hits, and we have a lot of hits, but we’re not just going out and buying every hit, chasing every hit. We often talk about the mid tier. I think in publishing we want people who consistently stream or slowly build. It’s going to be about fan bases and artist development. Those used to be fast-tracked by record companies, but that’s not so much the case now. I think sometimes you have to take a three-to-five-year approach if you’re developing, which many publishers do. Sometimes the economics of big label deals and the pressure that comes with that is too much. Not every artist is built for that. 

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Country music is everywhere right now, and Warner Chappell has the biggest market share in Nashville, according to Billboard’s Publishers Quarterly. How do you collaborate between the L.A.-based team and Nashville team? 

Ben Vaughn runs an incredible team [in Nashville]. Everyone is talking about Nashville. I think you’re going to see more and more crossovers — you can already see it with the Dasha record in the U.K. We also see a lot of the country-adjacent artists, like Zach Bryan. I think it can all live together. I sat with Ryan Press, who runs North America for us, and Ben Vaughn last week here. I’m like, ‘“I don’t want to spend all this time working out what’s Nashville, what’s traditional, what’s country-adjacent. We’re all in it together.” I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

What’s the balance between frontline and catalog? Catalog has seemingly become a more and more important part of a publishers’ business. 

We look at catalog here with the same excitement as we do frontline, so David Bowie was incredible to buy. We don’t just have one head of catalog, we have a broad church of people from all different departments, like a catalog committee, where we talk about what we can do. 

There are so many buyers in the catalog market right now. What do you think is the distinction between Warner Chappell and others as a buyer? 

Don’t get me wrong, I have lots of friends who are in funds. We are partners with some of them. But Warner Chappell is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, music publishers. We are not going anywhere. We are not on a timeline or a window to sell. We’re not trying to buy an asset and sell it — we are here for the long term. Anything that we look at, we look at it through the lens of, How can we add value? How can we grow it? We’re not passive. So anything that we buy, we will have a plan for it. This can be anything, including that we know there are geographical areas where we can work it better specifically — like with George Michael’s catalog, we are working with the estate and identified that Latin America and Asia are two places where it’s been done well, but we can do better. Another big difference I noticed when I went to Warner is it’s a pure-play music company. 

A source of mine called this the “year of the second sale” — saying that there are a number of funds looking to sell their assets. It’s been less about buying catalogs from artists directly this year and often about buying from other catalog owners. Have you seen that firsthand? 

You’re starting to see some consolidation happen. I think some are just hitting that time horizon, some are just doing what funds do. You raise a fund, you have an exit window, a timeline horizon where you would expect to return money to your investors. Some of them may have overpaid. Some of them may just want to get out of the sector. There are a myriad of different reasons [why this is happening], but I think some of them are going to be long-term holders too.

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Warner has been working on a special project with the Edith Piaf estate to use AI to clone her voice for use in a biopic about her life. It seems there could be some applications for AI within catalog marketing. Is Warner interested in doing more projects like this?

I think you can look at all of those things [enabled by AI] with the approval and respect of the estate. I think that’s the other thing you get from [selling to a] publisher, is we are music-first. We are going to do what’s right by the music, the songwriter and the artist. AI is interesting because we don’t know what the consumption and demand is yet. I mean, it was funny to see Frank Sinatra sing “Gangster’s Anthem” or something, but I don’t really see the real consumption there.

What is the most pressing issue for publishers as you see it?

I would say that one of the biggest challenges we’re all going to face as songwriters and publishers is how to get more songs out. Particularly as there are fewer huge stars, you’ve got to look at this game internationally. So we have an internal tool called Arrow, which is a searchable repository of our demos, and it’s multilingual, so someone in Hong Kong can look, and we can, too. 

What sets WCM apart from the other majors? 

There’s a focus on the individual here. Every songwriter is unique, so we meet them where they are in their careers and help them achieve their full potential. The same could be said for how we develop our team. We’ve created a culture where there’s a real, collective commitment to songwriters. Which is only possible because of each individual’s expertise.

This is something we’re quite proud to be building. Our songwriters benefit from being part of it — our global Warner Chappell collective — in terms of reach, collaborators and opportunities. And our teams around the world do, too.

Carianne and I are intentional about approaching everything from a human element. We certainly aren’t trying to be like anyone else. Being distinctive is about what you do and how you deliver on your promises, not what you say.

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