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Like growing old, music publishing ain’t for sissies. Bad enough that file trading has ripped the heart out of physical sales, now performance earnings are sliding as the recession reverberates across the sector. “SOCAN warned us of that at last year’s AGM,” observes Mark Quail, principle of Q&A Rights Administration Inc., “and sure enough I’ve seen a market decline on the performance side.”]

Fortunately, Quail and partner John Acquaviva, the internationally renowned DJ and music producer, have carved out a tight enough niche in the electronic music world that they’re weathering the storm in decent shape. Quail and Acquaviva teamed up in 2003 after seeing an opportunity in the electronic-music world where writer/producers were licensing tracks to third-party compilations that were selling briskly, especially in the European market. “But the writers weren’t doing anything about it,” says Quail. “They were just leaving those mechanicals on the table.”

As a lawyer who knows the publishing world inside out — Quail’s résumé includes stints with EMI Music Publishing Canada, TMP, Alliance and Song Publishing — he signed up some of the biggest independents like Richie Hawtin, Max Graham and Mathew Jonson and got to work chasing down the missing earnings.

Q&A’s timing was impeccable. In 2004, a boutique digital-track retailer called Beatport entered the broadband world to service the global DJ community with high-quality sound files that made iTunes offerings sound like a tinny transistor. “When Beatport started up, we saw another opportunity,” says Quail. “As the hardware and the technology changed, with DJs moving from vinyl to playing MP3s on laptops, we branched out from publishing administration into reactivating definitive master recordings through a range of specialty labels. And we started signing individual tracks from artists around the world. Ultimately, it’s about assisting artists, getting their stuff out there and helping them make money.”

One of Q&A’s labels is called Secret Weapon, and Acquaviva is undoubtedly the company’s secret weapon when it comes to A&R. The global dance market is small and highly volatile but Acquaviva is himself an international brand, jetting from his home in London, Ont., to club gigs in Sao Paolo, Tel Aviv, Majorca and Milan.

“John’s in the nightclubs pretty much every weekend,” confirms Quail. “He sees and hears what works on the dance floor so when those 20-something kids are packing the floor, he’s paying attention to what’s working and what’s not. We keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening globally so we know whether to let something go or to chase it down. It’s not an easy game but we’re paying attention.”