HoriPro Raises Scholarship Money as It Entrenches Country Division

With the conclusion of its ninth annual edition last week, the HoriPro Entertainment Golf Invitational has raised more than $110,000 for music business scholarships to Nashville’s Belmont University. The latest tourney sponsored by the music publishing company drew a field of 36 foursomes.

HoriPro president Bob Beckham says the tournament’s roots go back 32 years. At first, it was sponsored by Four Star Music, then, in turn, by Combine, Acuff-Rose, Larry Butler Music and Don Gant Music. Finally, HoriPro took the lead.

Among the more prominent participants at this year’s event was Kaz Hori, whose father founded the Tokyo-based parent company of the Nashville outpost. The younger Hori holds the title of vice president of music publishing and information systems. In that capacity, he monitors HoriPro Inc.’s operations in Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Nashville.

“My father was a guitar player for a country band,” Hori says by way of explaining how a Japanese firm has become so firmly entrenched in the fabric of Music City. “After [World War II] country and jazz were the most popular musics in Japan.”

Hori’s father eventually quit the band because “being a musician was not a very respected thing to be doing.” In 1960, he moved into artist management and has since branched into recording, television production, theatrical production, music publishing and restaurants. The company is now traded publicly.

Because music publishing is shorter term and less lucrative under Japanese laws than it is in the U. S., HoriPro (a contraction of Hori Productions) set up a publishing company in Los Angeles in 1989. It began by buying the Kiss catalog from band members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and enlisting PolyGram to administer it.

Since then, the company has purchased the Byrds and REO Speedwagon catalogs. It also owns selected Marilyn Manson and Sophie B. Hawkins copyrights. Except for the Kiss songs, which continue to be administered by PolyGram/Universal, all HoriPro’s American song holdings are now handled through Nashville.

“We wanted the longevity of the publishing business in the United States.” Hori says, “and I figured we needed our own operations that we could oversee and learn from. If you’re starting as a [music] publisher, you’ve got to be in New York, L.A. or Nashville. We really didn’t have [much of] an operation in L. A., and New York was too expensive. We decided we could have our own operations in Nashville at fairly low costs and that country was a very steady market.”

These considerations — not the growing boom in country music at the time, Hori says — brought HoriPro to Nashville in 1990. Bob Beckham was picked to head the new undertaking. He had already achieved legendary status at Combine Music, where he developed such writer/artists as Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson and Larry Gatlin. He had to develop such an artistic hybrid, he recalls, because the older publishing houses — notably Acuff-Rose, Cedarwood and Sure Fire — were always at the front of the line in providing songs to the dominant artists of the day, most of whom weren’t songwriters.

As in Los Angeles, HoriPro got started in Nashville by buying existing catalogs (among them Evergreen, Dick James and Merit) rather than building new catalogs from the ground up. By the end of its third year, Hori says, the Nashville division was turning a profit and has continued to since. Its current songwriting staff consists of Jerry Reed, Woody Mullis, Mike Geiger, Gene Dobbins, Monty Holmes, John Ramey, Deborah Berwyn, Vickie Hopper, Jody Harris, Mike Huffman, Tim Curtis and Alan Laney. There are three in-house songpluggers. Ronnie Gant is head of the creative division.

HoriPro’s catalogs include such hits as “Adalida”; “Amos Moses”; “Guitar Man”; “Burning Bridges”; “Don’t Go Near the Water”; “The City Put the Country Back in Me”; “Man Holdin’ on to a Woman Lettin’ Go”; “Once Upon a Lifetime”; “Hillbilly Shoes”; and “Straight Tequila Night.”

In spite of its potential for eroding the value of musical copyrights, Hori says he believes the Internet will be an overall benefit to publishers. “You may even be able to bypass the record companies,” he points out. “If you have an act — maybe a writer/artist who’s coming up — you can probably test market him on the Internet. And it won’t cost you a lot of money. . . You might buy one or two songs on the ‘Net, and then if you like what you hear, you might buy the complete album. . . . A lot of the back catalog that the record companies aren’t interested in taking the risk of making into CDs and keeping in stock can be made available on the Internet. And that will help a lot of old writers and old publishers.”

Beckham agrees about the Internet, particularly on the matter of exposing new talent. As a parallel, he points out that the BBC in England has built followings for American country writer/artists who didn’t have record deals simply by broadcasting their demo recordings.

HoriPro would like to continue its Nashville growth by buying more catalogs, Hori says. But he notes, “It’s hard to find a catalog that is available for sale. And if it is, [such larger multinational publishers as] EMI or Warner/Chappell [are] sitting on it.”

Adding to the woes of Nashville’s smaller publishers is the fact that more and more artists, record producers and A&R people are writing their own songs instead of going outside for them. This makes for a tough market. “Well, it’s always been tough,” Beckham says. “I don’t mind competition. But what I do mind — and one of the things that’s possibly hurting this town right now — is that because of political and business reasons sometimes the best songs are not getting cut.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.