Five Missions More

M uncovers how music publishers Five Missions More grew their business from scratch...

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 4 Feb 2014
  • min read
Abla El-Sharnouby and Tom Simpson are the duo behind independent publisher Five Missions More (5MM).

A two person enterprise set up in 2005 with a mere £600 worth of investment, the company has steadily expanded via some smart sync placements and a decision to offer a consultancy service.

They chose to set up the venture after cutting their teeth working at an independent record label in Brighton. Rather than stay with the imprint, they opted to pool their resources and knowledge and go it alone. It’s a decision which has paid off with the pair achieving some high-profile syncs for the likes of a Toyota Aygo ident, Porsche film, energy drink ad, Nivea advert and Karl Lagerfeld film. 2014 looks bright with the company aiming to launch a new production music library to run alongside their commercial catalogue and some co-publishing partnerships with larger publishers in the pipeline.

5MM’s Abla and Tom talk us through how they created the business and how one notable placement enabled them to take the plunge and go it alone…

Could you explain how 5MM was created?

We set up the company in 2005 after working at an independent label in Brighton. It was a great place to learn the ropes as it was small and rapidly growing, but after a few years we decided it was time to move on. We felt ready to set up on our own but found the overheads attached to a label - manufacturing, promo etc - quite daunting. I felt like I had a good grasp of what publishing was about so decided that was the way to go.

The biggest obstacle we had to overcome at the time was the lack of catalogue. Publishing is a numbers game to a large degree. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a few very big hitters, most publishers rely on having a lot of songs generating a little bit of income with a small percentage generating a lot. We started the company with barely any capital, and as newcomers we had no profile as a company so signing music was a challenge.

Initially our catalogue consisted of mainly unsigned songs, so our focus was therefore on sync as a main revenue source. It became clear that our tiny catalogue wouldn’t get us very far when responding to briefs. We needed a bigger and more varied pool of music to pitch from. That’s how the consultancy arm of 5MM was born. We approached a number of labels and artists and began representing their catalogues for sync. We still work with many of them all these years later.

Why should a songwriter sign with a publisher in 2014?

There are many reasons why, the most important being the expertise and contacts. While there are a few business-savvy, enterprising songwriters, most just want to write music and not have the headache of schmoozing sync contacts, quoting for a two month use of their song in Lithuanian supermarkets or tracking their royalties.

Sync has become a key source of income for publishers. It’s brutally competitive, so contacts and good working relationships play a major role in having the opportunity to pitch the right song for the right project. It takes time to build and maintain those contacts and the sync landscape is constantly changing. As publishers, it’s our job to stay on top of that and be proactive and discerning about what we pitch - that takes experience.

Alongside marketing a writer’s repertoire for sync, a good publisher will provide watertight administration, which is key if a writer is to capitalise on the activity of his/her repertoire. In addition they will provide song placement and co-writing opportunities and facilitate the chance for the writer to utilise his/her skills in the ‘work for hire’ arena.

What are the key challenges facing a publisher like yours in 2014?

A continued challenge is ensuring our small catalogue is well represented internationally. We signed a worldwide admin deal with a very large independent when we first launched. It was a coup at the time to have internationally representation with such a tiny catalogue. However, we suffered from being a small fish in such a big pond. We’ve since adopted a new strategy of working with individual sub-publishers in each key territory, who really understand the catalogue and are excited about it.

One of the challenges all publishers face these days is the decline in income from more traditional revenue streams. It’s a boring story but the fact is the industry hasn’t quite caught up with the changes in the way music is consumed. This has meant that there’s rabid competition for sync which in turn has created a buyers’ market and a decline in sync fees.

In addition, reporting for music use on online platforms remains very master/artist centric. Publishers need to push for the inclusion of composition/publishing information as standard in the supply of metadata.

That all sounds a bit bleak but I think it’s an exciting time for the music industry, necessity is the mother of invention after all. We’re in an innovative phase where the boundaries between traditional roles are being blurred within and across industries. The challenge is to adapt and make the most of the opportunities arising from the change. The fees may be dropping but there are many more platforms which utilise music and therefore a lot more opportunity.

Where are the main opportunities for composers and producers?

There are lots of opportunities out there from bespoke composition for commercials to sound design, film score and song placement. Depending on where the producer/composer’s strengths lie, I would suggest doing some research into the sort of outlet that will best suit their skillset. It’s then a question of making some contacts in those areas. It can be tricky getting a foothold which is why approaching the right people with music that’s compatible with the kind of project they work on, is key. There are lots of composers out there but the good ones really do stand out.

Which forms of music have you found to be particularly lucrative for sync?

It’s an impossible task to predict which types of music are going to be sync friendly. While there are a few key traits that work for certain media e.g. advertisers are often drawn to music with an ‘upbeat/feel good’ tone, the advent of digital media has led to an increase in the opportunities for other styles of music. We’ve recently had a range of songs featured in a number of placements so (unhelpfully) it’s pretty impossible to predict.

Do you have any advice for upcoming producers looking for syncs?

Hone your skills! Regardless of the type of music, whether commercial catalogue or composed material for sync: originality and production quality really stand out. We turn down all sorts of music that feels uninspired, derivative and unoriginal.

There are certainly key attributes that can make a song more attractive for sync (dynamic arrangement, edit points, builds, crescendos etc) but honestly and truly, a song can tick all of those boxes and still be rubbish. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a formula, a bit of freshness and originality is a good start and will set you apart from the crowd.

Could you give some insight into a notable sync placement?

One notable sync came in the very early days. We were both working other jobs at the time and were desperate for a chance to fully focus on the company. We pitched a track by a little know artist for a European commercial which miraculously made it through agency, client approval and testing process. Finally the time came to negotiate the fee and we were given some ‘suggestions’ by the agency based on the client’s budget. It was a sizable amount for a little known artist, but we knew this was our chance to get the company off the ground. We decided to go for broke and asked for double. There followed a tense 24 hours with no response, but they went for it in the end. It essentially allowed us to quit our day jobs and give FMM the push it needed. The artist to put down a deposit on a flat. Without that sync we probably wouldn’t be here today.