During a quick trip to SXSW, I had the chance to connect with Lionel Conway and talk about his new venture, Mothership Music Publishing.

What I learned is that it's no ordinary music startup. After a legendary career in music publishing, from Dick James Music to Island Music to Maverick to BMG Chrysalis, Lionel has started this venture with his close friend, ex-guitarist for Bad Religion and Epitaph Records founder Brett Gurewitz. They talk about their company simply and genuinely.

"We built the Mothership to support great songwriters and propel their visions, because that's what we love," they said.

It was 1 a.m. and we'd just seen a great new band. Even in his mid-70s, Lionel was outpacing many of the young A&R guys at SXSW.

Lionel and I go back awhile. I had just arrived in Los Angeles after college and landed a job in a recording studio attached to the Maverick Records building. I roamed up and down the halls meeting with anyone who'd take time for a kid who wanted to break into the music industry. Lionel, head of Maverick Music Publishing, gave me a meeting. His first question was, "Who are your favorite artists?"

My response: Cat Stevens, who hands down means the most to me. Elton John in the 70's; the Tumbleweed Connection album is amazing. And U2; they redefined music like no other. Lionel responded with a little laugh. He said that's funny because he signed Cat Stevens and U2 when he ran Island Music, and he managed Elton John before he went by the name of Elton John.

Obviously, I knew who I wanted to work for. He gave me my first break and he has been a friend and mentor every since.

Here's an edited version of my conversation with Lionel and Brett:

What made you guys want to start a new music publishing company? 

Lionel: In 2012, I was heading up the West Coast offices of BMG Chrysalis after my company, Stage 3 Music, had been sold to them two years earlier. BMG was growing their catalog at such a fast pace that I'd lost the sense of closeness with my writers, which was always my passion. After my contract ended, I wanted to go back to my musical roots and start a company like I did with Chris Blackwell and Island Publishing many years before. Brett Gurewitz was the obvious choice to start this new adventure. We officially began in 2013 and I haven't looked back since. It has been a fun ride.

What do you look for in a new artist or songwriter? 

Brett: Greatness. I look for something exceptional. A distinctive voice. Songwriting ability. Charisma. A point of view. All these things are important.

Lionel: Writers come from all corners of the world. I look for individuals that can stand out in a sea of sameness. Uniqueness. Individuality. 

What are some of your signings to Mothership?

Brett: This Wild Life and The Sidekicks are two recent signings that I’m very proud of.

Lionel: I agree with Brett on these two, but I would also like to add a soul singer from Philadelphia named Son Little. I'd also like to mention our partnerships with Burger Records, Autumn Tone Records and Chris Douridas. Each of them bring a unique addition to our company and are truly exceptional at finding new talent.

How important are new platforms like Spotify to artists today? 

Brett: They’re the growing part of our business so  they’re exceedingly important. Work still needs to be done to help recording artists and especially composers get paid properly but things are moving in the right direction and I feel very positive about it.

Lionel: I concur with Brett on this. They are the new income streams for writers and artists.

You've spent your career in music publishing. What is it about publishing versus the record company side that attracts you? 

Brett: As a songwriter, label owner and publisher, I’ve done a bit of publishing from one side of things or another for a long time now. To me what’s striking about the two fields today is the way they’re growing closer and closer to one another. Records companies are becoming “rights management” companies, and some of the big publishers have recently moved into the recorded music space. 

Lionel:  I once had an opportunity to head up the A&R department at Island Records. I had a discussion about the job with my mentor Chris Blackwell, and he said, "Never leave the music publishing world. In the recording business, you're only as good as your last record. And also copyrights don't call you at 4 o'clock in the morning."

 Joe Belliotti is director of global music marketing at The Coca-Cola Company. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBelliotti.