Synchtank client North Star Media, a premier, family-owned, music licensing and publishing company based in the Detroit area, is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Earning a reputation as “the little engine that could”, the company is home to a roster of top indie artists and provides music for top-tier clients including Adidas, Amazon, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, Disney, ESPN, HBO, Maybelline, Nike, Nintendo, and Volkswagen.
We recently caught up with Jordan Dorfman, President and CEO (pictured above, centre), and John Sepetys, Senior Vice President of A&R (pictured above, left), to discuss North Star Media’s past, present, and future.
If you could go back 20 years to the start of North Star Media, what would each of you tell yourselves?
JORDAN: Strap in because it’s going to be a long ride! LOL
Take pride in everything you do and give it 110%. Surround yourself with the best people, and always let them know how much they’re appreciated. Above all else, enjoy the journey and learn as much as you can along the way.
Think of each day as a building block. And, most importantly, don’t forget to have fun in the process!
JOHN: I would tell myself, “Work hard every day, but be patient and enjoy the climb.
Don’t live and die with each big placement you’re up for. Some will fall through, but others will fall right into your lap, seemingly out of nowhere. In the end, it all works out!”
And then, I would also add, “When you go to SXSW, don’t drink 11 bottles of Shiner Bock and bring a double order of Kimchi fries back to your hotel room at 2am when you have a panel to speak on at 10 the next morning.”
What are the core beliefs and values of the business?
JORDAN: At our core, we’re a family business. In fact, we come from a long line of hard-working family businessmen.
For us, people and relationships always come first. Whatever we do, we always try to treat others as we would want to be treated. Transparency and good communication are also key; we strive to be open and honest.
Finally, while we have the reach and resources of a bigger company, we pride ourselves on providing personal service to all our artists and clients. We want to maintain a warm, friendly “boutique” feel, rather than anything cold and corporate.
What have been the biggest developments in publishing and licensing over the past two decades?
JOHN: As record sales disappeared and those revenue streams dried up, everyone flocked to the licensing game. On an indie level, it’s become way more competitive compared to 15 or 20 years ago. It’s a really crowded pond to be fishing in right now.
I was an artist manager from ’03 – ’10. Back then, I was pitching our indie artists for sync, in my spare time, just for fun. And it seemed so easy to land placements; it was like syncs grew on trees. Also, without audiences being splintered by the huge amount of content, PRO back-end was substantial even for run-of-the-mill tv placements.
But, hey, things change. You gotta roll with the times and the punches. It’s still a super fun, awesome space to work in, and there’s plenty of upside. You’ve just gotta be willing to hustle and grind. We love it, and we have a blast!
Where does the role of a publisher sit in this new world of DIY artists?
JORDAN: While the DIY scene has evolved and artists now have more control than ever before, it hasn’t diminished the role a good publisher can play. In fact, with licensing becoming such a huge part of the equation for indie artists, having a good publisher is as important and beneficial as ever before.
“With licensing becoming such a huge part of the equation for indie artists, having a good publisher is as important and beneficial as ever before.”
– Jordan Dorfman, North Star Media
A publisher can take the reins from beginning to end during the licensing process. They can pitch the music to generate sync opportunities. Then, they can negotiate on behalf of the artist for the best possible terms/fees. And, then, they can ensure all royalties are being collected in all territories.
Additionally, when an artist is interested, a publisher can provide valuable feedback, assistance and perspective throughout the creative process. They can also coordinate artistic collaborations (artists, writers, producers) and open industry doors (labels, booking agents, managers, publicists).
All that said, every artist is different, and so is every publisher. Therefore, like anything, it’s important to find the right fit. When you do, it can be like adding rocket boosters for an artist.
The sync business took a hit during Covid-19. As a licensing-driven business how did you pivot and adapt?
JOHN: Overall, we were really fortunate. When everything ground to a complete halt, we had a few months where it was pretty much crickets.
It got concerning and we started discussing new game plans and cost-cutting strategies. But, by mid-summer, when the wheels started turning again in Hollywood, the deal flow ramped up and then we just crushed it.
We had our best 4th quarter ever. Knock on wood, we’ve had a great start to ’21 as well.
Can you talk us through some sync highlights over the years?
JOHN: My sync highlights aren’t measured by the payday or marquee value attached to placements. What I remember most are the special moments for artists, regardless of how big or small the usage.
“My sync highlights aren’t measured by the payday or marquee value attached to placements. What I remember most are the special moments for artists.”
– John Sepetys, North Star Media
A great example is when our artist Heather Evans recently had her song used on MTV for a closing montage. She posted a video on Instagram of her and her family watching it live. It was so moving to see how happy and excited she was, her video got me all choked up and teary-eyed.
Stuff like that is the reason I love doing what we do. I was an artist for a huge part of my life and, deep down, that’s the way my heart will always lean. End of the day, North Star Media is here to help artists earn a living and help make their dreams come true. Whenever we can do that, it’s a highlight.
More and more companies are getting into the catalog acquisition space. Is this part of your strategy long-term?
JORDAN: Absolutely. We evaluate catalog acquisition opportunities on a regular basis, and we’ve done quite a few deals over the years. With so much money flooding the space now and driving up valuations, however, it’s getting harder to compete with the big guys while maintaining our financial discipline.
As we stay on the hunt for larger acquisition opportunities, we also continue to grow our catalog more organically by developing up-and-coming artists through songwriter / co-publishing and administration deals. And, in many ways, this is a more exciting and gratifying approach because we’re involved from the ground up.
We get to help artists reach new goals and attain new levels of success, while experiencing the ride along with them.
Where are you finding new opportunities for your catalog and artists globally?
JORDAN: We’re fortunate to have strong business partners throughout the world; we’ve had them almost since inception. Our sub-publishers are phenomenal, and they regularly bring us overseas opportunities to pitch for, as well as land placements on our behalf.
“As technology continues to proliferate and the “Global Village” concept becomes a present-day reality, I anticipate our international deal flow will only continue to grow.”
– Jordan Dorfman, North Star Media
From a bigger picture perspective, as technology continues to proliferate and the “Global Village” concept becomes a present-day reality, I anticipate our international deal flow will only continue to grow. As far as we’re concerned, the global future is bright!
What’s the plan for the next 20 years?
JOHN: Rock and roll all night and party every day! Or… maybe just party every other day.
We’re all at a point in life now where a little balance might be a healthy thing. Of course, that’s always easier said than done.