You Need to Know: Trevor Gale

It’s common for young people to want to become musicians at an early age.  This is partly the reason why garage bands and independent rap groups are more popular than they have ever been.  However, the true power lies in the hands and imagination of the songwriter, and no one is more aware of that fact than Trevor Gale. As Senior Vice President of SESAC, Gale has rallied to ensure proper representation for songwriters.

Founded in 1933 to help European artists get paid from works being utilized in the United States, SESAC is one of only three songwriter and publisher rights companies operating in the United States.  Mr. Gale, having written, composed and performed music of his own in such groups as Convertion and Orange Krush, he is well aware of the importance of groups like SESAC.

“SESAC is a performing rights organization, and what we do is pay songwriters and publishers their performance royalties when their songs play on the radio, television, on the Internet, and play in live venue circumstances,” says Gale.  “When you write the song, the song becomes your intellectual property.  That property is used in many circumstances and venues.  All these uses of your intellectual property are deserving of compensation for the songwriter and publisher.  That’s what we do as a performing rights organization is make sure they get their money.”

 With the proliferation of platforms from which a songwriter can get paid, Gale and company are always on the grind. However, the circumstances that appear unique in the modern age have actually been occurring for SESAC from the very beginning.

“At one point there wasn’t even radio.  So, you have to keep in mind that at that time it was, ‘Oh, you have a piano player in your hotel playing my sheet music. I need to get compensated for that.’  That’s how it got started,” he says. “Then, radio came along and television came along and now the Internet. You take a cruise, there’s music. You fly in an airplane and put the headphones on, there’s music.  Our responsibility is to go out on behalf of the songwriters and publishers and make sure that in all of these cases songwriters are being compensated.”

“You can be Elvis Presley, but if you didn’t write the song, then you’re not getting the royalties from that song,” he adds. “As an artist, you might get sales royalties called points. If you had a million selling record from 10 years ago then you might still be getting points.  But that’s a completely different circumstance. [They] were artists performing the songs with their face on the album cover, performing the song, but not the writer.”

Trevor Gale had been on the composing and performing side of the game for over 30 years, working with everyone from Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin to Run DMC and Swizz Beats.  Very few have experienced the ends and outs of the music industry as thoroughly as Trevor Gale. 

“I think the thing that I take from the creative side over to the executive side is understanding of creative people.  What they are, how they think, what they have to sacrifice, how hard they work, how determined they are, how much this means to them.  That’s what I’ve taken from my experiences as a creative person and brought them to my role at SESAC as an executive, knowing who these people are and understanding where they’re coming from,” says Gale. “We’re actively looking to find the next great songwriters. The next great songwriter comes and rings our bell all the time. It’s definitely a two-way street, but it’s very important for us to continue to work with, find and develop great talent.”

Many with even a novice understanding of songwriter’s rights and publishing are aware of the sway of ASCAP and BMI.  However, Trevor believes SESAC is in a unique position to expand and attract new talent because of its size.

“We believe our process is a very beneficial one to those who work for us.  We’re smaller than ASCAP and BMI and that allows us to give a lot more personalized attention to our songwriters.  We represent about 32,000 plus songwriters and publishers.  ASCAP and BMI are both over the 600,000 mark.  [Writers] feel like they’re a big fish in a small pond as opposed to being a little fish in the ocean that nobody knows or cares about,” says Gale. “We know what their music sounds like, we’re able to be responsive to their needs, and that’s great.  We try to be quicker in paying out than our competitors are and we try to be competitive in our pay rates with the other two.  In some cases you might find that we pay a little bit more than ASCAP and BMI.  You can’t be the tiny, small organization that pays less.” 

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