Jean Aberbach

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Together with his brother Julian, Jean Aberbach revolutionized the business of music publishing by creating small, subsidiary publishing companies for individual artists who signed with the brothers'…
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Together with his brother Julian, Jean Aberbach revolutionized the business of music publishing by creating small, subsidiary publishing companies for individual artists who signed with the brothers' publishing firm, Hill & Range. They guaranteed clients not only a share of the profits, but also a more pro-active role in controlling their careers. Joachim Jean Aberbach was born in Vienna and emigrated to the U.S. to escape Hitler's forces. In New York, he went to work for music publishing titan Max Dreyfus before reuniting with brother Julian to found Hill & Range. The firm proved enormously successful, at one point in time representing roughly 75 percent of the music coming out of Nashville. Although Jean nominally headed Hill & Range's New York office and Julian ran its Los Angeles headquarters, for years the brothers swapped offices every three months, always meeting in Chicago to discuss their business. In 1955 the firm received a hot tip from Hill & Range star Hank Snow, who suggested they investigate "a new kind of country singer" named Elvis Presley. Julian soon flew to a Presley performance in Shreveport, Louisiana, immediately thereafter meeting with the young

singer's family and suggesting his friend Colonel Tom Parker become Presley's manager. Jean and Julian negotiated an unprecedented deal that resulted in the creation of a Hill and Range subsidiary called Elvis Presley Music. The agreement called for the brothers and Presley to split publishing rights 50/50, encouraging Presley to recruit songwriters to provide him with new material. While many critics cite Presley's deal as the beginning of his long creative descent -- it effectively precluded him from recording any material not licensed to Hill & Range, and spurred him to accept mediocre material in favor of a quick buck -- such contracts are now common in the music industry, and this only increased Hill & Range's already considerable power. By the early 1970s, the firm boasted offices in London, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Rome, and Paris, and was the biggest independent music publisher in the world. But in 1973, Julian suffered a massive heart attack while in New York on business, remaining in critical condition for six weeks; as his health failed to turn around, a panicked Jean decided to sell the company to Warner Chappell. From his hospital bed, Julian recommended that Hill & Range maintain 25 percent of its 3,500 songs already administered by Warner Bros., as well as 50 percent of the Elvis Presley catalog, and all of the Hank Williams songbook; it was a deal as shrewd and prescient as any in the company's history. Jean Aberbach died in 1992; Julian passed away 12 years later.