Del Bryant, President & CEO, BMI
Del Bryant's HOF Speech
Maybe it was the rain tapping a beat against the car, the wipers keeping time on the windshield. Or perhaps the tires going over the grooves in the road. But Boudleaux Bryant and his wife, Felice--Nashville's legendary husband-and-wife songwriting team for 30 years, beginning in the 1950s--suddenly had the sounds of a new song in their heads. In the back seat, one of their boys, either Dane or Del, said something, and was quickly hushed. "Wait a second, we've got something here," Boudleaux said.
"They knew they had something real," Del Bryant recalls of that moment in 1957 when his parents gave birth, and voice, to the extraordinary Everly Brothers tune, "Bye Bye Love." "I saw that moment happen so many times."
Growing up in that household, where Roy Orbison, Burl Ives, the Everlys and other stars of country came to share stories and tunes, Del Bryant learned the power of song, and the mysterious, ephemeral craft of songwriting. But a career that has culminated with him proudly wearing the titles of president and CEO of Broadcast Music Inc. also benefited from having parents who well understood both halves of the phrase "music business," and BMI's vital place in the creative equation. By collecting license fees from any business that uses music, and paying royalties to songwriters, BMI has helped support the artistic community for more than 70 years.
"My parents bowed whenever someone mentioned the term BMI. That was a company that enabled them to make a living," Bryant says. "When you follow the evolution of a song and all the business it fits into, and the business that spins out of it, and the way it works in the entertainment industry-and it was there for me to look at every single day of my life-you're really pretty well suited to a career that can culminate in a heavy involvement in a performing arts organization."
But it is Bryant's enduring influence at BMI-the way he spearheaded the redesign of the company's royalty distribution system in 1988 and established seminal divisions for Latin and urban music, among other accomplishments -that explains both his induction into the B&C Hall of Fame and the reason Kris Kristofferson calls him "a songwriter's best friend."
"I feel I'm one of the most blessed people because I get to do what I love to do, and Del Bryant takes care of the hard part," Kristofferson says.
As a child, Bryant combined an affinity for numbers with an appreciation for the wild talents emanating from a prolific songwriting household that produced "Wake Up Little Susie," "All I Have to Do Is Dream," "Love Hurts" and the beloved Tennessee Mountain anthem "Rocky Top" among a total of nearly 4,000 songs, by Bryant's own count.
After graduating from the University of Miami and a stint in the Reserves, he was back at work for his parents' company, House of Bryant Publishing, when Frances Preston, who founded the Nashville BMI office, called. There was an opening at the company and she wanted to know if either of the Bryant boys was interested.
"My parents had ultimate respect for Frances," Bryant recalls. "And my mother started crying, because she said Frances wants one of you boys to go work with her and she doesn't care which one it is. For my mother, it was the ultimate compliment -you've done such a good job raising these boys, we'll take either one."
Del was interested, and on October 2, 1972, at age 23, he began a career that has lasted 38 years.
"I was first hired to be someone who worked with writers, who spoke to writers and explained to them what BMI meant within this [music] ecology," he says.
BMI was already a most welcome guest in the hometown of the Grand Ole Opry. ASCAP, then the music publishing market leader, had all but ignored country music, instead remaining rooted in providing for its slew of pop artists. Sensing the gap, BMI established a foothold down south in the late 1950s, bringing in additional genres such as blues, jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues. By the time Bryant joined up, the rock ‘n' roll that had sprung from all those sounds became another BMI target.
Bryant came to New York with Preston in 1988 after being named VP, performing rights, overseeing and redesigning BMI's royalty distribution system. "Our payment schedule had gotten stale and wasn't spitting out the successes that were important to have on a day-today basis," he recalls. After a two-year study, he made significant enough changes that BMI "reclaimed our market share and our stature as leaders."
His credentials as a second-generation music professional, combined with an enduring belief in the necessity of his company's mission, has helped BMI continue its rise. Bryant succeeded Preston as company president and CEO in 2004. In 2010, revenues are set to top $900 million for the second straight year, with $789 million in royalties estimated for annual distribution. The company's roster of artists includes names as diverse as Eminem and Rhianna, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, Gloria Estefan and Eric Clapton. And Bryant's name is a welcome one both backstage and in boardrooms.
"He's a tireless worker who really gets into the nittygritty of trying to be a very good representative for both the creators of music and the shareholders of BMI, which are the organizations-radio, television-which play that music," says Belo Corp. Senior Advisor-and B&C Hall of Famer-Jack Sander, who is also BMI board chairman. "He's forward-thinking and looks at all aspects of media, where things are going in the digital world. He's at the forefront of showcasing how these industries can continue to succeed and prosper via the product of music."
Despite BMI's success, the competition, and both the unparalleled access and challenges of dealing with digital music, Bryant, recalling his roots, still breaks things down to its simplest elements: supporting the artist and the song.
"This is about maintaining the avenue for dreams as they come true, or don't come true," he says. "Art is a dream in so many ways, like the potential promise of a possibility of greatness. Every song is a promise that this might be the one. And this performing arts organization is part of that promise."
For Del Bryant and BMI, it's always been about the music and the business. BMI helps take care of the business, which means that for songwriters-whenever they want to-all they have to do is dream.--Rob Edelstein