Music Licensing, Placements And Other Dirty Words

Posted by Aaron Davison on Thursday, September 20, 2012 Under: September 2012
Today's post is a guest post from Pat Finnegan who is one of the founders of the music library, Fliktrax.  I've worked with Pat and the Fliktrax team for a couple years now and have watched them grow from a small startup to a library that is starting to gain some serious traction in the industry.

Learn more about Fliktrax here: 

Ok, Pat, the floor is yours! 

"There you are,12 years old, with a brand new, candy apple red, electric guitar strapped around your meek shoulder. In just a few short hours you've managed to successfully master a Pete Townsend-esq arm windmill and produce what kind of resembles a G5 power chord. You are ready to conquer the world! All those girls that ignored you at the school dance, all those older kids that picked on you at recess, the teachers that made an example of you for day dreaming… they'll see!! You may me a kid with limited virtuosic guitar skills now but before long, you'll be setting the world on fire with your explosive "Corporate Industrial" music placement!!!

 Cue obligatory record needle scratch…..

 Wait… What? Corporate Industrial music placement? You mean the fruits of your angst ridden, soul bearing, artistic tour de force are going to be a mere back drop to an internal training video? The videos that instruct new hires how to properly change the copier toner? This can't be right! You want your dream back…

Hello? Is this thing on?

It’s safe to say that very few of us began our musical endeavors with the intention of one day writing jingle music for a mega appliance store, or to have our carefully crafted songs end up hawking vacuums. However anyone making a living as a working musician or composer can tell you that it takes invention,persistence and yes… compromise to survive. The notion of "selling out", whether that means playing a wedding gig or licensing an original track to be used in a commercial, can be a gut wrenching rite of passage that all of us have likely grappled with. Lofty aspirations are a necessary ingredient in any ambitious person's life, be it creative or not, but sadly the landlord and credit card companies don't get paid in screenplays and independent EP's. It's a bitter pill but responsibilities aren't going to stop invading your "creative space" until they get what they want.

Enough of the doom and gloom eh? Let's flip this thing around and look at the positives to the notion of licensing your music to multimedia. The most obvious and immediate upside is that if you have a professional quality recordings, you already have a viable product. It’s no secret that the music industry as we knew is slowly limping to its grave. Music licensing has become a replacement for some aspects of what record companies used to represent; allowing independent artists the chance to get their music and name heard. There are a myriad of ways to get your music out there to be considered for placement in everything from TV show, films and documentaries to advertising, media presentations and web based programming.

For the record, I too had started out as a kid that was obsessed with becoming the next Neil Peart (drummer of Rush for those that just wrinkled their noses). It didn't happen, in case you were wondering, the guy just didn't' want to give up the job! Fortunately though, in addition to playing drums, I had also played piano and studied music theory and as years went on orchestration and composition. After college and a few years leading a double life as a session drummer and staff composer for a NYC production company, I got involved in a upstart music licensing company that also specialized in custom music and original scores.

When I say "got involved" I mean I became a 1/3 partner in a company that had nothing but a concept. I learned more than I ever thought I wanted to know about the business side of licensing, publishing and legal contracts, not to mention the daunting pursuit of contacting the people that can actually buy and license music from you. I can humbly say that I now know the business well, and I'd like to make all of you that don't, wiser to what’s involved.

This is hardly a "how to start a music licensing company" article. I wouldn't write one of those, it'd be bad for business. If that's a possible scenario for you, then by all means, go, see and conquer! The only advice I'll give is, get ready to spend tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on complex web design, lawyers, legal contracts, incorporating, streaming media, web storage, hosting fees, marketing to get artists and composers, marketing and advertising to get seen and connected to "the industry", it goes on and on. Not to mention the fact that the time you used to spending working on your craft is now going to be raped and pillaged by this new endeavor that will devour your "peace" like a rabid army.

Okay let's yang the yin here, back to the bright side. You have your collection of professionally recorded tracks that you feel could make an impact in some form of media. Your basic options are as follows; DIY, work with a few select licensing companies or flood every music library site out there.

The DIY route has worked very well for some. Its miraculous and  to be truthful, frustrating to here some of these, "I wrote a few songs, recorded them in Garageband and 2 months later I licensed them to 'Grey's Anatomy'", stories but it happens. Music Supervisors are constantly looking for new independent music to place in various media outlets. Getting in touch with these people "on the inside" is 180 degrees from a cakewalk though, baring nepotism, bribery or telepathy. I can say that good, young composers might have an edge here because there are growing outlets for original production music. Having friends or family in advertising, marketing, local TV or even student filmmakers may be an excellent avenue to pursue. Don't start pricing out an S-Class just yet but you may get some experience and a few bucks for your efforts.

I'm biased but I think easing into the licensing world by researching a half dozen music licensing services or libraries and starting by submitting your music to them, is the the path of least resistance. From here you can determine what companies have the most success with placements and where, what the financial breakdowns and publishing splits are (more on this in a bit) and finally, you'll have a short list of people you can contact every few months to see if there has been any progress in getting your music to the masses in some shape or form.

Sending your music to every music library and production service in creation is by all means a valid plan of attack. If you think about it, the more people, websites and services that have your music as an option, the better your chances of getting it licensed right? Maybe. Music libraries charge vastly different amounts for a fairly similar list of licenses. There are the royalty free, "stock" music sites that allow the artist to submit, upload and categorize their own music and make it available for a ridiculously low price. Most of these (all if they actually state they are royalty free) also negate any chance of getting back end royalties or publishing residuals. I can tell you that these "bargain bin" music super markets are looked at as such by many working producers and music buyers.

Other music libraries know which of their artists are in these "warehouse" sites and in truth, probably don't break a sweat pushing them when conversing with clients in need of music. From first hand experience, I know that some music buyers will shop and compare, which means they may first hear your tracks on a premium site but buy the cheapest license available from the warehouse site you uploaded the same tracks to. In my opinion, this means you are getting far less than a fair price for your work. My company listens to every submission that comes in and only accepts what we consider quality. We take exhaustive measures to categorize and summarize every track in our catalog. Many other licensing companies also take the time to become familiar with the music they represent, by screening and sorting. Realize that the more screening a company does the more they are valued by those in search of good music to place.

A common question from most of the new artists we deal with is, what are they allowing a licensing company to do with their music? Its important to educate yourself on this because, "events" arise that aren't always to the artists liking, yet they find they are legally bound to abide. Most licensing sites will ask you to sign a "licensing agreement" which is where, you the artist, lists the title of all tracks submitted, state that you are either the sole writer/publisher or have the consent of additional writers and publishers to license the accompanying music. You are also likely agreeing to splitting the "master & sync" upfront fee for initial placement and the publishing for the placement of the track. Normally the writer keeps 100% of the "Writer's Share" royalties that are garnered from broadcast.

This all sounds really grown up huh? Well to a degree it is. Many musicians release their music to the masses and even earn some money from sales, yet they avoid the somewhat complicated world of Performance Rights Organizations like ASCAP & BMI. These are groups you can join and register your songs with. These P.R.O's will diligently track any airplay your music receives and collect the necessary royalties, to which they will pay to you on a quarterly basis. Any track that is played in a broadcast is susceptible to both Publishing & Writer's royalties. Realize that if you have no affiliation with a P.R.O., you are essentially forfeiting any monies earned in writer's royalties. But wait, you're scratching your head, the licensing company owns the publishing of my track now? No, normally they don't, what they own is the publishing on the track they license, like a proxy.

Different companies deal with this in different ways but many do what's called a "re-tile". The track is given a specific "suffix" thataccompanies it on a "cue sheet", which are what broadcasters submit to PRO's to list the songs they have used in each production. We register the re-titled track (for example Joe Smith' s "I'm Alive" becomes, Joe Smith's "I'm Alive *Acme LLC" ) with the writer's P.R.O. and act as publisher for the retitled track and collect only the publishing on our placement of the track, which we split with the artist. By registering it with the artists' chosen P.R.O. we enable them to get full 100% writer's share in royalties.

Publishing is another area that needs to be addressed when licensing your music. Do you have a publisher? If the publisher is something other than a company you set up for yourself, always confer with them to see if you are contractually able to license your tracks on your own. Some Publishers may have their own means or deals to license tracks. We've seen artists who have deals with separate publishing companies submit music, consenting in a legal contract that they have the write to license their music, only to find that when a track is licensed, they actually don't. This is a legal nightmare for the artist. Why? Because both the music licensing company and the publisher have spent thousands of dollars to have thorough legal contracts drawn up that protect them from liability. By ignoring a deal already in place with a publishing company, you could be opening yourself up to several breach of contract lawsuits. Not fun. Check with any and all publishers & co-writers before assuming anything, get agreements in writing and never assume "they're cool with it". If you get a huge placement that nets you thousands of dollars, you can bet those co-writers will be far from "cool with it" if they don't get their share.

It’s increasingly important to note that many libraries will allow themselves some wiggle room in terms of negotiating a deal. There are networks that simply won't pay up front "master/sync" fees, just as their are networks that won't pay back end royalties. It sucks, there's not other way to describe that growing reality. When you get approached with a deal that has no "front end", you are forced to look at the cold, hard fact that back end royalties are better than no royalties at all. In recent years these "hybrid" deals and restrictions are becoming more and more commonplace. I suggest conferring with the services you use to get explicit descriptions as to what their contracts allow them to do.

In a world where media content is growing, the demand for music increases as well. Web/Mobile programing and advertising has created a huge avenue for music placements that hadn't existed before. The bad news is that music (like most produced media) has become something that many simply feel entitled to without the hassle of cost or purchase. The bands and artists that wouldn't "sell out" years ago are now seeking economic shelter in the world of placements and licensing. How does this affect the independent composer or songwriter? Well in theory, you are competing with Beyonce for work! The "jingle" has become replaced with strategically placed pop music. All is not lost though! Budgets can be our friends at times too. Not every TV show or advertisement that goes to broadcast has allotted money for a "big hit song" license. Cable TV programming is chock full of independent artists' music that was chosen on the mere fact that it worked for a particular scene and nothing else. Web programing, independent film and documentaries, theater, trade show presentations and a growing list of other outlets can provide real revenue.

A note of hope for composers: Our company has a small "in house" team of composers which handles most of the custom music requests we get. There have been busy times though, that we simply couldn't handle the work coming in by the deadlines requested. Turning down work is career suicide, in that a client simply won't try and use you again. So what do we do? We go to the composers we represent in our library, since we've gotten to know many of them and realize they do excellent work. Most of the time its as simple as a phone call and emailing the specifics and a few days later, its done! On larger projects we bring some outside composers in to have them handle some of the sound design or a certain styles of cues they excel in. I know other libraries that actually hire composers to write specific genre cues for them. A persistent composer, who does good work quickly, is an asset to a company that has to keep their staff lean. Freelancing isn't always an immediate money maker but many careers have been made from gradually picking up work when and where it was offered.

In the end, the path that any musician takes is unique to them. Some feel far too connected to their art to subject it to the fickle universe of media and commerce.However for the rest that do intend to profit from their musical talents, "licensing" is an attractive option that can open a variety of doors. Careers have been jumpstarted from a few select music placements. Many composers have been able to cut their teeth in the more "forgiving" world of web content and independent productions before networking into a wider spectrum of media, like TV and Film.

Do realize that there are no guarantees and like any other area of the entertainment business, the competition is fierce and overpopulated. Those that look at licensing tracks as a back up plan, may be in for a rude awakening. From my vantage point, I see music licensing as only one arrow in any any musician's quiver. There are dozens of other outlets to pursue, from tried and true live performance and touring, selling CDs/Downloads of your work to potential fans, tactfully marketing yourself through social media and web resources. Anything that is getting your music to the masses is going to be a positive in my book, and it’s no secret that unique opportunities can come from the most unexpected places. I know that this article would turn the 12 year old versions of us all running for the hills in rebellion, however if things didn't turn out exactly as you planned as a teenager, it can be the first step into a thriving career. Think about it."

In : September 2012 

Tags: music library  fliktrax 
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