December 4, 2021

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Prescription Songs: Inside Dr. Luke’s Publishing Company

In 2016, Warren was bemoaning a breakup when Pasricha shared what she now considers some cringe-worthy relationship advice she had heard: “The only way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” It’s not unusual for Prescription staffers and writers to have such personal relationships. “We know their birthdays, we know their significant others, we’ve been to weddings and baby showers,” says Pasricha. “They call us when their car gets towed.” And sure enough, later that week, Warren made good use of Pasricha’s advice: In a writing session with Ian Kirkpatrick and Caroline Ailin, she tweaked it into one of the most memorable lyrics of Lipa’s “New Rules.”

Prescription Songs’ small size — and the personal attention that setup provides writers — is probably its biggest selling point. It may be a cliché, but the word “family” comes up repeatedly to describe the operation. And while those close bonds — daily phone calls, unrelenting group chats — don’t always translate into lyrical gold, they do improve Prescription’s batting average in other ways. A few writers say they can count on one hand the number of bad sessions they’ve had because their A&R executives are such good studio matchmakers. “There’s a lot more thought going into [setting up sessions], because they know each other so well,” says Warner Records vp A&R Gabz Landman. “A&Rs at Prescription are the type of people who, if they say to me, ‘Trust me, I know you’ve never heard of this person, but they should work with your artist,’ I believe them.”

Walker, a two-decade veteran of the synch world whose energy and enthusiasm is palpable even over Zoom, has worked at companies where it was normal to never interact with her roster; at Prescription, writers can text her about synch opportunities on TV shows they watched the night before. “Nobody’s ever going to wait three weeks for a response on something from our team because our writers have access to us and can call us,” says Walker. “It’s not like, ‘Well, we’ve got to talk to upper management and come back to you.’ ”

There are few internal boundaries within the company: A&R staff can book sessions and pitch demos across its entire roster, even if the staffer didn’t sign the artist or is based in a different office — “one of the things that most surprised me about joining the team,” says Siara Behar, senior director, A&R. There are also no formal genre distinctions, which has recently served Prescription well: One of its writers, Trey Campbell, contributed to 2021 Grammy nominees for best R&B, reggae and country album, while Nate Campany, who has a background in alternative music and left-field pop, has found success “writing these sexy Latin bangers,” says Pasricha. “He doesn’t even speak Spanish fluently!”

That freedom was what drew Lauren LaRue, who began her career in the country scene, to sign with the company after meeting her A&R executive, Hannah Montgomery, who had previously worked in Nashville and joined Prescription’s L.A. office seeking similar cross-genre opportunities. “It was incredibly rare to have somebody who never put my art in any sort of box,” says LaRue. (She’s signed to a joint venture with Keith Urban’s BOOM publishing company.) “A lot of times, that’s where the best art comes from: trying a new thing, even if it seems weird.”

The company has long had a relationship with Nashville. From 2013 to 2017, Prescription and Big Machine Music had a joint venture to co-publish versatile writers. But in late 2016, Fagan launched Prescription’s Nashville office to invest in the city’s non-country scene. Just as Nashville’s rich songwriting tradition has attracted pop stars like Ed Sheeran and Kylie Minogue to its studios, it has also drawn young songwriters who don’t fit into the country ecosystem. Whenever Fagan would come to town, writers, managers and even other publishers repeatedly offered to introduce her to a growing list of unsigned talent, which she recognized as a new client pool for Prescription. “I haven’t left [Prescription] because I’ve been given the tools to succeed, and I’ve been heard when I have a crazy idea like, ‘Hey, something’s happening in Nashville, but not a lot of people know about it yet. If we get there now, we’re going to be ahead of it,’ ” she says. “With no questions asked, [Gottwald said], ‘Yes, go, go run an office there.’ ”

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