Theme and Variation: Together, Two Johnson School MBAs Hit the Right Pitch
A 2003 story from Johnson’s Cornell Enterprise magazine archives
In 2001, Barry Massarsky, MBA ’81, launched a partnership with Nari Matsuura, MBA ’01, and they’ve been making music copyright and valuation history ever since. This story about them originally appeared in the spring 2003 issue of Johnson’s magazine, Cornell Enterprise. Learn why demand for their expertise is higher than ever in a new story: Hitting the high notes for 21 years (and counting).
In spring 2001 Barry Massarsky, MBA ’81, was facing an enviable problem. The boutique consulting practice he’d started up in 1992 to serve the music industry on questions of copyright had bloomed into a thriving business. He had found a vibrant, rewarding niche market that did nothing but grow. And he had built up a strong, diverse base of clients who appreciated and relied heavily on his expertise, providing a steady stream of engagements.
The problem was that even though he delegated specific tasks to his network of outside consultants, the demand was outpacing Massarsky’s capacity. And demand was increasing.
Why? While the music industry itself isn’t growing in terms of sales output, Massarsky explains, there is an increasing need for protecting intellectual property related to music. Record companies own the rights to sound recordings and how they are distributed, while music publishers own the rights to the songs. The growth of the Internet has given rise to not only technology but culture that facilitates the theft of others’ music.
People make unauthorized recordings of copyrighted music every day, selling or disseminating the material at swap meets. Even DJs who make unauthorized copies of music to play at weddings or bar mitzvahs participate in copyright piracy. And Massarsky is there to help firms understand and protect the value of their music.
In recent years, Massarsky explains, the music industry has undergone a fundamental change, owing in part to a flattening of growth. Realizing that new releases are not fueling revenue growth, music companies are seeking other ways to increase returns on their investments. Thus the increased drive to protect and optimize existing intellectual-property rights.
At the same time, the owners and users of music are engaged in an ongoing debate about the value of this property. Radio and television stations, which need licenses to publicly perform copyrighted music, try to muscle down copyright fees. Record companies and music publishers try to sustain or grow license fees. And some people—artists as well as users—question the validity of copyrighting music in the first place.
Complicating the picture further is the need for new sampling strategies and associated technologies to efficiently monitor and apportion royalty payments to artists, record companies, and music publishers.
Massarsky had started out in the music industry in 1981 after graduating from the Johnson School, working as an economist for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. The organization represents some thirty thousand composers and publishers whose livelihood depends on the earnings they receive from the performance of their music on TV and radio.
Soon Massarsky was managing ASCAP’s business in the music performance marketplace, leveraging his training in statistics, operations, economics, and finance. His work was instrumental in determining reasonable licensing fees for broadcast users of ASCAP music and directing hundreds of millions of license-fee dollars into royalty payments for the organization’s members.
Promoted to senior economist at ASCAP in 1987, Massarsky was in the right position to address many of the questions ensuing from the changing landscape. Some of those questions: What is the future value of music? How can the copyright owner ensure that he or she is receiving payment for usage of the intellectual property?
When he launched Barry M. Massarsky Consulting in Manhattan a few years later, Massarsky found that his Johnson School training stood him in good stead. He was a rare find to his clients. “The people making the business decisions,” he says, “didn’t necessarily have the skill set I’d acquired in business school and at ASCAP.”
In addition, Massarsky’s specialization made him stand out from the crowd. Large multinational consultants could help resolve some issues, but most didn’t specialize in music, and they came with a high price tag. There was no one, it seemed, to directly address the music industry’s particular needs. “No one,” says Massarsky, “had put together an MBA and a focus on the strategies of music rights.” His capabilities, coupled with his clients’ talent and knowledge, made for a winning combination.
With increased acceptance of Massarsky’s methods of measurement and greater awareness of the capabilities he brought to the table, Massarsky’s clients brought more work. His reputation spread by word of mouth, engagement engendered repeat engagement, and Massarsky found he had more business than he could handle, from the likes of Britney Spears, Shania Twain, and the estates of George Gershwin and Aaron Copland.
That brings us back to the initial problem. “As I developed the business,” Massarsky explains, “I found there was more business than ever. Being the sole entity was taxing, and my tool set was aging a bit.”
Massarsky, who had been in touch with the Johnson School since graduation, mostly to offer guidance to Johnson School students interested in the music industry, had let the Career Management Center know that he was looking for a potential partner. One day he got a call from the CMC’s Laurie Sedgwick, who mentioned that she had the perfect person in mind. After hearing a little more, Massarsky was intrigued.
Sedgwick’s candidate, as it turned out, was a Juilliard-trained concert pianist, Nari Matsuura, MBA ’01. Before going to the Johnson School, she had given recitals in impressive venues, such as Carnegie Recital Hall and Lincoln Center, recorded and produced a number of albums, and received critical acclaim from the Boston Globe and the Washington Post.
“Nari was a recent Johnson School graduate who wanted to get more involved with the business side of music,” explains Massarsky. Not a musician himself, he had fallen into the industry more or less by accident. So Matsuura, with her musical training and background, seemed to provide the perfect foil for his capabilities.
“You might be able to teach someone else about the industry, but they wouldn’t have a personal buy-in,” says Massarsky. “Nari wanted to be in this industry. You didn’t have to force the transition on her. She was going to be in music, come hell or high water.”
Matsuura interned with Massarsky in summer 2001.When he offered her the full-time position in the fall, she saw it as a great opportunity, but she had already accepted a position with Accenture. When the firm deferred her start date because of the weak economy, she immediately called up Massarsky. “I told him I wanted to work for him,” says Matsuura. “It was a smart move.”
Getting in Tune
Beyond allowing her to stay in music, the business of protecting music copyrights affords Matsuura a lot of satisfaction in the projects and skill-set fit. “As a boutique firm,” she explains, “we have a great diversity of projects within a clearly defined scope—copyright economics within the music industry.
“The Johnson School prepared me well for what I was going to do next. For example, we recently worked on an activity-based costing project for the Recording Industry Association of America that had applications straight out of Professor Hilton’s class, except instead of calculating widgets, we calculated cost per artist and song.”
Music itself may not be tangible, adds Matsuura, but it has tangible revenue streams. For music and widgets alike, the same concepts apply when building forecasting models. “We examine such factors as the life cycle of the product, the variability of historical earnings, trends by format, and so forth, when constructing the model.”
The team’s expertise and specialization have provided them with some big-ticket engagements. For example, they calculated the damages in a copyright-infringement litigation case on behalf of plaintiffs Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, and James Taylor against MP3.com (owned by Universal Music). They conducted a similar case for Garth Brooks against the same defendant. And they developed numerous licensing models for Zomba Music Group, which represents such artists as Britney Spears and ’NSync.
Trends such as the widening reach of the Internet and the proliferation of multimedia software technologies are spurring interesting and sometimes complex challenges in protecting music copyrights. As the technologies multiply and the challenges grow, Matsuura takes her mission ever more seriously. “We’re on the front lines of protecting copyright on the behalf of the artist,” she says. Adds Massarsky: “Nari takes the clients’ interests as her own, and she has the intellectual curiosity of three people.”
“It’s exciting to be involved in creating policy,” Matsuura explains, “that establishes new revenue for artists as technology evolves so quickly. We’re on the cusp of change and experience new developments directly. We’ll read an article in the newspaper and ten minutes later will receive a call from a client asking for help on the same issue.”
For example, webcasters and record companies had been deadlocked for a long time in their rate-setting discussions on streaming music—percentage of revenues or per-stream rate? Either outcome would have a considerable impact on the webcasters’ operating expenses. “They finally came to an agreement, and I was reading about it in the paper,” says Matsuura. “Then the phone rang, and it was RIAA, which was negotiating on behalf of the record companies, asking us to calculate the trade-off between the two types of revenue streams.”
In another example, shortly after news broke about Bertelsmann acquiring Zomba for $2.7 billion, Massarsky and Matsuura were brought in to provide counsel to help the transition take place more smoothly.
Massarsky intends to keep his firm dynamic, personal, and small. “This business is built on the sweat equity of two devoted professionals at different points in their business lives.”
With the commonality of the Johnson School training, but personified in two distinctly different individuals separated by two decades, the firm provides the synergy of common and uncommon experiences. “We have intelligent idea sharing and respect for each other’s talents,” Massarsky says. “In addition, we’re both passionate about what we’re doing. Music permeates the office, and our enthusiasm infects our clients.”
“Barry has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in this industry and is generous about explaining its ins and outs,” says Matsuura. “He knows a lot of people and is willing to put me on the front lines at all times.”
For these alumni, however, the Johnson School connection extends beyond the office. Both are married to Johnson School alumni whom they met on campus.
Massarsky’s wife, Cynthia Wilson Massarsky, MBA ’81, is principal of CWM Marketing Group, which specializes in marketing and new-business development for nonprofit organizations. She was also involved in founding the Johnson School Follies. And Massarsky’s son, Ben, will enter Cornell as a freshman this fall (his interests lie in history and politics, not music, but Massarsky says that Ben’s twelve-year-old sister, Jill, has more than enough musicality for both).
Matsuura married a Johnson School classmate in February. “Having met my fiancé at school endears me even more to the Johnson School,” she adds. In fact, meeting Benjamin Lewis, MBA ’01—who now works in financial services for Accenture—was one of the first things she did as a Johnson School student. “We met at Johnson Outdoor Experience during the first week of school. As a musician who constantly had to practice, I never got to cook, so when Ben told me he was a gourmet cook, that really attracted my attention.”
Lewis is no garden-variety gourmet cook, either. With colleague Rodrigo Velloso and editor Stacy Schulist ’88, MBA ’01, Lewis coauthored a cookbook called Eat Dangerously that features such artery-clogging, live-on-the-edge fare as a twenty-two-pound, whiskey-drenched “turkey from hell” and lamb chops stuffed with gorgonzola. The cookbook’s Web site (www.eatdangerously.com), its main marketing vehicle, attracted the notice of Newsweek (February 17) when it racked up 750,000 visitors. Another connection between the two couples: Lewis performed at the Follies while he was at the Johnson School. “It was a PowerPoint presentation,” says Matsuura. “That’s all I should say about it.”