Interview with Peter Hebbes – Music Publisher

A look at the career of a distinguished Australian music publisher, Peter Hebbes of Hebbes Music Group

Peter Hebbes has worked as a music publisher for over 30 years in Australia and overseas. He came to Australia in 1977 at the invitation of Festival Records, which was then the biggest independent company, and became the Managing Director of Festival Music Publishing.  In 1993 he was appointed Managing Director of MCA/Universal Music Publishing for the Asian region, including Australia and New Zealand. In 2000 he left the corporate world to set his own independent music publishing and music management business, Hebbes Music Group.

In 2003, the Hebbes Music Group was voted The Music Network magazine’s Independent Music Publisher of the Year in their All-Star Team Poll, and now represents a wide range of prestigious catalogues and writers. During his career, Peter has served on the boards of AMCOS, APRA, the Music Industry Advisory Council (MIAC) and Australian Music Performance Committee (AMPCOM) and also co-founded a charity called The Golden Stave Foundation. Now in its twenty-seventh year, Golden Stave is the only industry-wide charity event attended by all of the music industry each year. To date, the event has raised over $8 million for various children’s charities.

What do you look for in a new songwriter?
That extra spark that makes you stop and listen. Clever lyrics, good and interesting arrangements and the use of words. Titles are also important to me

Do you ever signwriters based on just a demo they sent in?
Yes … It was a great sound produced by the writer/singer. His co-writer played the piano and did the arrangements: good songs were well sung, with good hooks and lyrics.

How many new writers would you sign in a year?
Being an independent working on my own, very few, but I help a lot with advice and direction.

What kind of publishing deal do you favour, and why?
My advice to songwriters is that they should always try and retain ownership of their songs. I, therefore, prefer to do a deal where I can take a percentage of the income for doing the business side of things (say, 10–15%) and then we can split profit 50/50 — but at the end of the day they will also be able to walk away with all of their copyrights.

What can a publisher do for a writer that the writer couldn’t do themselves with an astute manager?
The manager is unable to collect on the writer’s behalf for a number of reasons, not least of which is that they probably do not understand this side of the business. The record companies’ accountant deals directly with the publishers, and the publisher’s royalties department needs to know who and where they are. AMCOS and APRA act many times on behalf of the publishers and writers, not necessarily on behalf of managers. I question the right of a manager to share in the income from writing. In many cases, this has been organised by the writer with other writers. A publisher is equipped to deal with and is aware of income streams. Preparation of royalty statements, GST and withholding tax is not easy.

Are managers able to exploit the copyrights in third party areas, such as synchronisation, licensing, premiums and print?
Notwithstanding the above, it is, of course, very possible for a publisher to become a manager because of the lack of any good ones. I believe in ‘horses for courses’ — you would not get a cook to fix your car! You need a publisher to look after your family of songs that you have written.