By Peter Cronin
SESAC: Growing Strong For Eight Decades
An 80th birthday is always a cause for celebration and reflection, and as SESAC enters its eighth decade as a performing rights innovator, the company is indulging in a bit of both. And while company staffers spend a lot more time these days looking forward, a glance into the past reveals that, even as far as SESAC has come, some things haven’t changed.
German immigrant Paul Heinecke founded America’s second oldest performing rights organization back in 1930 to assist European composers with royalty collections, but it wasn’t long before he recognized the huge untapped potential of both gospel and “hillbilly” music. Heinecke criss-crossed America signing the best of both and displaying the kind of foresight and commitment that continues to characterize the company he founded.
When the New York-based triumvirate of Stephen Swid, Ira Smith and Freddie Gershon purchased SESAC from the Heinecke family in 1992, the business scenario was radically different, but the strategy was similar.
“We recognized right away that the Latin market was going to grow very rapidly,” recalls SESAC Chairman/CEO Swid. “We went after the Hispanic catalogs and writers and grew quickly in that area.”
The headline-generating 1994 signing of music icons Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond put the company “on the map,” and the new SESAC was officially off and running, It was the beginning of a wide-ranging transformation of the company and its repertory that continues today.
“We’ve treated people well, advocated for their music and tried to be a friend in the music business as opposed to just a business partner, and I think that has endeared us into the hearts of publishers and songwriters who now see us as a true alternative,” says SESAC President Pat Collins. “We go out of our way to find out how and where we can be better. It’s a changing environment, and we keep our eyes on the horizon.”
Ever since the company pioneered the use of digital fingerprinting technology in the tracking of performances back in the early ‘90s, SESAC has had one eye cocked to the future, consistently staying several technological steps ahead of the pack. Today, the company continues to break new ground, most recently entering into a strategic alliance with Activated Content Corporation (ACC) and DigSound to launch Ruby DS, a web-based delivery system for watermarked audio files.
As the 21st century dawned, SESAC’s new management recognized yet another underserved segment of the market and turned their attention to Hollywood, affiliating some of the biggest composers in film and television, including Jeff Beal (Monk), Danny Lux (Grey’s Anatomy), Christophe Beck (The Hangover), Dennis C. Brown (Two And A Half Men), Jonathan Wolff (Seinfeld) and Paul Buckley (Will & Grace), to name but a few.
Looking down the road toward its centennial celebration in 2020, SESAC will continue to rely on the same unique combination of old and new, high technology and street-level savvy that has served the company so well for so long.
“In my view, SESAC will be a larger company in 20 years,” Collins says. “We will be providing services to songwriters, publishers, artists, record labels as well as industries outside of music. It could be anyone from television programmers to book publishers to those who create jingles and commercials. I expect that SESAC will grow vertically as well as horizontally to bring our special brand of service to people in related but uniquely different