Jon Platt was in New York one day in 2009 when he heard it. Platt — then at EMI Music Publishing, where his signings included Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Drake — likes to say he looks for a spark that can be fanned into a flame. It can be a beat, a chorus, a bit of a verse. “I don’t need it fully packaged,” he says. “I just listen for a moment of greatness.”
In this case it was a two-minute R&B demo. It made him think of Jay-Z, and so he emailed it to the rapper, then went to the gym. He returned to a barrage of emails: Jay had heard it too. In fact, he’d rewound a few seconds of instrumental at the end of the track over and over until he’d written his verses. He cut “Empire State of Mind” the next day.
It became Jay-Z’s first Number One hit, and perhaps the best example of how Platt has been the invisible hand guiding hip-hop to its dominant position in the music industry. He spotted talent early — he signed Jay-Z at the time of Reasonable Doubt — and insisted MCs be treated (and paid) like any other songwriter. “I’m not the first music publisher to sign a rap artist, but I’m probably one of the first to make sure they’re respected as songwriters,” he says.
Platt grew up in Denver, and in the mid-Eighties was one of the city’s first club DJs to spin hip-hop. Soon, he began managing producers, and within a few years he was at EMI.
In April, Platt became the chairman and CEO of Sony/ATV, the world’s largest music publisher. He wasted little time in signaling a change to corporate culture, announcing that all employees — not just top brass — would share in a bonus pool related to Sony/ATV’s $2.3 billion takeover of EMI Music Publishing. His first major push has been technological — a streamlining of royalty accounting to speed up payments to songwriters and allow them to withdraw money against future earnings — but Platt has goals that go beyond hits and revenues. “I’m fine being the first African American to run a global business in music, as long as I’m not the only one,” he says. “What I want is the inside of the business to look like the music that we represent.”