President and CEO, BMI: Del Bryant

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 fts 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 firrst 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 profesprofessional,
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.

Robert Edelstein

Rob has written for Broadcasting+Cable since 2006, starting with his work on the magazine’s award-winning 75th-anniversary issue. He was born a few blocks away from Yankee Stadium … so of course he’s published three books on NASCAR, most notably, Full Throttle: The Life and Fast Times of NASCAR Legend Curtis Turner. He’s currently the special projects editor at TV Guide Magazine. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post and his origami art has been in The Wall Street Journal. He lives with his family in New Jersey and is writing a novel about the Wild West.