Since its founding in 2010, boutique publishing house Heavy Duty Music has landed its writers and producers credits on songs by the likes of Frank Ocean, Bon Iver and Miley Cyrus, to name a few. But even for a company with such big hits under its belt, 2023 has been a big year: Over the past nearly 12 months, their writers and producers have appeared on releases from Drake, Nicki Minaj, Dominic Fike and The Kid LAROI, as well as Grammy-nominated albums by Cyrus, Travis Scott and Drake & 21 Savage.
This week, Heavy Duty added to that momentum with a string of signings, including Nightfeelings (Kelela, Panda Bear), Anthoine Walters (Drake, Post Malone), Gabe Goodman (Maggie Rogers) and comedian Whitmer Thomas. For a company with just shy of 50 writers and around 7,000 copyrights, it all adds up to a formidable year, one bolstered by a number of awards won by its sister company, the custom-music shop Heavy Duty Projects, which provides opportunities for its writers to work on projects with brands like Gatorade, Apple, Google and film and TV studios. Altogether, the momentum earns Heavy Duty founding partner/CEO Josh Kessler the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Kessler talks about the success his writers have experienced this year, how he attracts new clients and the opportunities he sees, even amid the challenges of scale faced by the modern music industry. “I am excited about Heavy Duty’s future,” Kessler says. “We have seen some great growth over the last few years and with so much consolidation in our industry it creates opportunities for a boutique creative publisher like us to meet writers’ needs with a more white-glove approach.”
You’ve had your writers and producers featured on recent releases from Nicki Minaj, Drake and The Kid LAROI, and on recently Grammy-nominated albums from Miley Cyrus, Travis Scott and Drake & 21 Savage. What’s your approach when it comes to helping get your clients involved with high-profile records and artists?
It’s spotting the talent first and fostering a creative environment for success. For us, the goal is to identify opportunities for our writers that push boundaries and garner critical acclaim. Those records are always a great springboard to getting into more high-profile rooms.
How important can a Grammy nomination or a No. 1 album placement be for a writer’s career?
We are inspired by forward-thinking, innovative artists and songwriters, and are lucky to be working with so many on our roster. If nominations or commercial success come, it’s a wonderful thing. This kind of acknowledgment can offer a younger writer access to bigger opportunities, and for established writers, it’s verification of their talent. It can of course be great financially too.
You also recently signed Nightfeelings (Kelela, Panda Bear), Anthoine Walters (Drake, Post Malone), Gabe Goodman (Maggie Rogers) and comedian Whitmer Thomas. What’s your pitch to new clients, and how do you position the company separately from other publishers?
Our entire team collaborates across every writer, producer and artist on the roster. So the collective brain trust is always there, individualized for each writer. I’m blessed to run this company with my business partner, Grammy-winning producer Ariel Rechtshaid, and to have our head of A&R Emmy Feldman — they both have incredible instincts and great taste. We have teams in L.A., N.Y. and London who work across all media, with a focus on synch. Collectively these teams are constantly looking at identifying ways to give our writers, artists and songs in the catalog more commercial opportunities. We also have an amazing studio facility for our roster to use. This combination of team, resources and staying focused on an artist’s vision is what draws talent to Heavy Duty.
You also have a sister operation that connects your clients to custom music opportunities. How does that work, and what are the opportunities there for songwriters?
Our music agency, Heavy Duty Projects, is led by industry veteran Kate Urcioli and focuses on bespoke music, music supervision, sound design and final mix for advertising, trailers, film, TV and video games. Because of our roster and the high-profile projects we work on, we can offer these media companies a unique access point to the music industry. Last year we won several Clios and the Guild of Music Supervisors’ video game award for our work on Saints Row. We recently completed projects for Apple, Etsy, Gatorade, Google and the Aquaman trailer. Composer/writer Amanda Yamate scored the Adam Sandler film You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah and is currently scoring the Netflix series The Dream Academy co-produced by Interscope and HYBE. Writers on the publishing roster have the opportunity to write music across all these bespoke projects.
How do you see the music business evolving in the next year when it comes to the publishing business?
So much music is being released these days it’s hard to break through the noise. Writers and artists understand this more than ever and are expecting publishers to be a more involved creative partner. I believe it’s one of the cornerstones which build long and lucrative careers, [and] Heavy Duty is well positioned to take on this challenge.