When the average person hears “BMI,” they likely cringe because they start thinking about their “body mass index” and the need to get into better shape. When the average songwriter hears “BMI,” they likely smile, thinking of the royalty checks that the Broadcast Music, Inc. sends them a few times each year. One of three major performing rights organizations — or “PROs,” for short — BMI collects performance royalties of songs on behalf of songwriters and music publishers. It has been doing that since 1939 and some of the major artists that it currently represents are Adele, Taylor Swift, Pitbull, twenty one pilots, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Maroon 5.
Samantha Cox joined BMI in 1996 as an intern. 20 years later, she is the Assistant Vice President of Writer/Publisher Relations for BMI’s New York office. Beyond maintaining relationships with BMI affiliates worldwide and coordinating songwriter nights, showcases and seminars, Samantha is the day-to-day contact for thousands of BMI-affiliated writers. As part of her BMI responsibilities, she has worked directly with Lady Gaga, My Chemical Romance, Bebe Rexha, Ke$ha, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, to name only a few major artists. BMI had a stage at this year’s Lollapalooza, which Samantha was involved with, as featuring Flatbush Zombies, PVRIS, SoMo and LANco. Upcoming BMI-related events she is involved with include the Austin City Limits Music Festival, the recurring BMI Acoustic Lounge in New York, and LouFest in St. Louis.
Downtown caught up Samantha, a long-time resident of lower Manhattan, for some Q&A. Her employer, BMI, can be tracked on social media via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, in addition to keeping a comprehensive website at www.bmi.com.
Growing up, was it always your goal to work in the music industry? Or did you have artistic aspirations?
Samantha Cox: I always loved music and child education. My mother ran a daycare, and I thought about becoming an elementary school teacher. If I had two lives, that’s what the other one would be doing now. But in the end, my love of music swept me up into the industry. I think of it as another way to reach kids.
Has BMI really been your only employer since college?
SC: Yes. I came to New York City right out of college and BMI gave me my start.
How did you wind up with an internship at BMI? I mean, most young people interested in the music industry seemed to be more interested in a job with a label, management company, or concert promoter, rather than something related to publishing…
SC: I grew up in Texas and went to SXSW every year. You make a lot of contacts there. So when I came to New York City, I networked, sent out resumes and ended up with two job offers — one from a publisher in the creative side, and one from BMI in the administration department. You can guess which one I chose!
I would have loved to work at the publishing company, but my gut told me BMI was the place to go. I felt like it was a place where I could grow and have the opportunity to learn about a part of the business most people do not understand. So I started in the Performing Rights department before eventually transferring to Writer/Publisher Relations. Looking back, I still believe I made the right decision.
What is a typical day like for you at BMI? Are you always in the office? At a gig or event a few nights a week?
SC: It’s pretty crazy. There is no typical day. Some days I’m in the office all day and out at night seeing live shows. Other days, I’m in the studio or taking meetings with people in the industry. I try to increase BMI’s market share, meaning I want to find the next Eminem and the next Lady Gaga, and I do that through my relationships with producers, labels, attorneys, managers, agents, songwriters, and musicians. We all turn each other on to new music.
When I start working with a songwriter, I try to grow with them. That means something different for each creative person that I work with. For some, it means listening to early demos, giving constructive feedback, and then setting up co-writing sessions and meetings when I know they’re ready. For others, I’m giving business advice and just looking out for their best interests, including consulting as they make decisions throughout their careers. I like to say it’s like I manage thousands of individual artists on a day-to-day basis.
Ultimately, I serve as the songwriters’ connector and a confidant. The songwriters I work with trust me to give honest, unbiased advice, and I work hard to maintain that level of real trust. The only bias I ever have is on their behalf—I always look out for what’s best for them in any given situation.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
SC: Technology has made my job more challenging! You no longer need access to a recording studio to make music –anyone can get on their laptop, write a song, and want to sign up with BMI. I would say that over the past 10 years, this has dramatically increased the volume of songwriters who affiliate with BMI and want my help with launching their careers. Also, the music industry as a whole is changing fast. Traditional ways of buying and listening to music have been replaced in the digital age, and that’s a huge challenge, but we are also in a very exciting time. We’re being asked to see into the future and to predict how the changes will affect songwriters, and that’s virtually-impossible.
Is there something that you wish more people knew about BMI?
SC: A lot of things, actually. We operate on a not-for-profit making basis, which means that our primary responsibility is to collect and distribute performance royalties for the benefit of the songwriter, not us. It’s a very complicated business that threatens to get more and more so, but we never lose sight of what we’re here to do. We’re here for the songwriter.
For someone looking to join BMI, is it still the same easy process of signing up online?
SC: Absolutely! All you have to do is visit www.bmi.com. We’ve made the process simple and streamlined. And if for any reason something isn’t self-explanatory, there’s always someone available to help.
In recent years, BMI has begun putting on more events, showcases and conferences. Are you involved with booking these events?
SC: Yes. Everyone on our Writer/Publisher Relations teams work together to make each event a success. I work on all kinds of events on the local side such as our monthly Acoustic Lounge, Speed Dating For Songwriters and songwriting camps, to national conferences like SXSW and CMJ, our yearly POP Awards in Los Angeles, and stages at major music festivals including Lollapalooza. You can read more about all of them at http://www.bmi.com/events/calendar.
What can you tell me about BMI’s stage at this year’s Lollapalooza? How did that opportunity come about?
SC: If you want to know what artists will be playing on the main stages next year, you’ll want to come to the BMI stage this year! Our stage showcases the best new artists before they become some of the biggest stars in the world. Whether it’s Lady Gaga, Neon Trees, Ke$ha, Halsey, Vic Mensa, Bebe Rexha, or Cage The Elephant, BMI brings the best new musical talent to the Lollapalooza audience first. This year is no exception with incredible artists like Secret Weapons, LANco, Sunflower Bean, and Flatbush Zombies further cementing BMI’s reputation for presenting artists today that everyone will be talking about tomorrow.
Are there any upcoming BMI events otherwise that are open to the public?
SC: Yes. One great event that BMI offers to the public is our BMI 101 workshop. It’s exactly what it sounds like — a one-hour introductory workshop for writers and publishers, covering the role that BMI plays in the music industry, basics of performing rights, and becoming a BMI affiliate. We also host a monthly Acoustic Lounge at the Rockwood on the Lower East Side that’s free and open to the public. It’s a fun event where we showcase some of BMI’s up-and-coming songwriters and people have the opportunity to discover new music.
You personally are a resident of Downtown Manhattan. When did you first move downtown?
SC: I’ve lived downtown since I came to New York City a little over 20 years ago, first in Chelsea and then in Tribeca. My daughter was born right around the time BMI moved its offices to 7 WTC, so it made sense to move closer to work so I could be nearer to her when she went to school.
What do you like most about living downtown?
SC: The energy. The people. And now that I’m a mom, it’s a great place for kids. It’s also a super easy commute to the East Village or Brooklyn where so much is happening in music.
Are there any upcoming downtown events or developments that have you particularly excited?
SC: I’m excited about City Vineyard officially opening up at Pier 26. I stopped by with a few friends for their soft opening in early July and had a great time.
Do you have a favorite downtown music venue?
SC: I spend most of my time on the lower east side at venues like Mercury Lounge, Bowery Ballroom, Pianos and Rockwood Music Hall. They are all like my second homes.
When not busy with your work, how do you like to spend your free time?
Finally, Samantha, any last words for the kids?
SC: Like any business, you should take your relationships seriously, have a great work ethic, and learn from others. I always say, if you can just outlast everyone, you will eventually be successful in one way or another, whether it be as a songwriter, an artist or working in the business. Surround yourself with music, those who love music and don’t give up!