2 Minutes With … Caleb Shreve, Founder of Killphonic Rights

On the evolution of music royalties and the recording scene

Caleb has over 25 years of experience in the music industry. Previously a member of the Sony Music special projects team, he recorded with artists such as Michael Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin and the Wu-Tang Clan.

In 2003, he left the major label world to work as an independent producer and songwriter. Caleb wrote, produced and mixed records for Tegan & Sara, Switchfoot and Phantogram, among others, until 2015, when he founded Killphonic.

Originally an artist management company, the firm eventually expanded into music publishing, and Caleb built a global royalty-collection network for his clients. In 2019, he re-launched the company as Killphonic Rights.

We spent two minutes with Caleb to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.

Caleb, tell us …

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born and raised in Northern New Jersey, right outside NYC. I lived the majority of my life in New York until I moved to Los Angeles in 2015. I still consider myself a New Yorker.

Your earliest musical memory.

Thriller by Michael Jackson on vinyl. I remember climbing up the shelves in my family's living room to put the album on the record player and then either running around the house while it played, or sitting and looking at the photos in the album of Michael with the tiger cub, and thinking pop stars and rock stars were surreal and amazing. 

Your favorite bands/musicians today.

I'm excited about a lot of female producers who are starting to make an impact. When I was still producing records, there were a lot of female writers and artists doing amazing work, but women producers were so underrepresented. It was apparent when friends outside of music asked why everything sounded so homogenized. Now, I hear a new perspective on production. I'm especially close with Party Nails. I can see the work she's doing behind the scenes and it is amazing. Elana (Party Nails) produced the Deap Vally song "Supernatural" that has done really well. It's refreshing and strong in a way that is truly inspiring, and I can't say enough about that. 

One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on.

Phantogram's Nightlife EP will always be among the favorite records that I worked on. Especially the song "Don't Move." One day near the end of mixing that song, they left the studio feeling uninspired about the bridge. They asked me to try and create something to give that bridge some life. I spent a few hours that night running samples and vocals through my analog tape delay and distorting and chopping pieces together. The following morning, the three of us sat at the console and listened to the finished version. We just sat in silence afterwards. We all smiled and knew that we had done something really cool.

A recent project you're proud of.

I am involved with a new podcast called The 4080 Rule. It's about current events in the music industry and our perspectives, along with a weekly guest. We're only a couple episodes in, but it's been incredibly fun. I like connecting the dots and giving historical context. I think ownership, control and the royalties from music copyrights really drive a lot of the industry. As experts on rights, this gives us a unique and sometimes needed perspective to understand what's evolving in the industry.

One thing about how the music world is evolving that you're excited about.

The evolution of publishing rights, and specifically mechanical royalties. For years, I've argued that the two copyrights embedded in a recording—the sound recording itself, and the underlying composition—should be closer to parity. For decades, it did take a much larger financial investment to go to recording studios and press and ship physical product around the world. Now that everything is digital, including much of the marketing and advertising, the costs of creating and distributing sound recordings can be limited to the work of creators. These days, creators often wear several hats as songwriters, producers and artists, and the creation of a song and the sound recording are often simultaneous. It doesn't make sense for the sound recording to be valued so much higher than a composition anymore. We treat the two intellectual properties equal in sync, and it's nice—even in such small increments—to see the publishing royalties evolve a step closer to the sound recording or "master" copyright.

Someone else's work, in music or beyond, that you admired lately.

I have a good friend who works in creating compression algorithms and AI. He's a leader in the AI space in Silicon Valley. I admire are the conversations he and I have about the implications of it all. There are a lot of people working as fast as they can in the AI space, but he and several of his friends are conscious of the implications and are trying to be responsible about how it's implemented. I admire and commend people with the ability to be thoughtful in these times. A lot of people are wary about what it's going to mean for music and other industries. He gives me some relief—and some other concerns— about what's going on. 

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

I just watched the documentary Telemarketers on Max. It's an incredible story, and the people who made it were true outsiders to the film and TV industry. They were so determined to tell their story and expose the telemarketing industry without any real help from anyone. It was amazing watching the people who came from inside that industry make an incredible piece of art. It was really inspiring.

An artist you admire outside the world of music.

One of my favorite film directors is David Fincher. His work is something that I really admire. I'm going to go watch The Killer after this interview.

Your favorite fictional character.

I was going to say Larry David, but I’m not sure how fictional he actually is. Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation is my second choice. I don't know if I have to explain much about those two, but I probably relate pretty well to the space in the Venn diagram where they overlap.

Someone worth following in social media.

There's an Instagram account for an astrophysicist that I find incredible and hilarious. The account, @space_waterfallc, is for a British woman who specializes in what I believe is called "weather on the sun." She talks about her life and throws in reports on sun flares and weird space phenomena. It's a bit strange, but one of those things that helps me let go of the little things that may be bothering me.

Your main strength as a executive/creative. 

Having created music gives me a lot of perspective on what an artist is going through at any point in their creative process or career. It gives me a realistic idea of how hard I can push artists and songwriters to be their best selves, and when I need to give them space to make sure they don't lose perspective or motivation. In a world where so many artists feel let down by the industry, it's easy to be trusted as an executive when I can say, "Hey, I've been there. I know what you're trying to communicate." Then, maybe there's some constructive criticism or advice that will help them push through whatever roadblock they're experiencing. 

Your biggest weakness.

At times I assume that all good music will find a way to break through. I can get on board with an artist or project I believe in, and ignore some of the interpersonal issues. Sometimes I have too much confidence in being able to relate or communicate with artists in a way that will solve their issues, either in the creative process or in their personal lives (as it relates to their music).

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music business.

I've always had a dream to start a cheese shop with punny cheeses named after cheesy pop songs.  It would be called, "More Than Curds." Please don't steal my idea! I'm way ahead of anyone on the cheese list I've been compiling for years. One of my favorites so far is, "Havarti in the USA”.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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