The following is a quote that I personally heard from a highly regarded television Music Supervisor at the last conference I attended: “I have hired an intern just to empty my inbox once a day of MP3s sent to me, because they’re crashing my system.” That’s the reality music publishers are facing. There are major problems where the rubber meets the road in music licensing.
Digital technology has spawned a music revolution that ushered in an era of freedom for every artist to create without being judged. The creators present their music exactly the way they want it heard and with a click of the mouse, soar over the heads of the music industry directly into the film industry. You might be visualizing doves in a blue sky making graceful landings, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s more like bugs hitting a windshield… thousands of bugs. Full on access is backfiring! Legions of underdeveloped artists and songwriters who are not ready to be licensed are choking off the many who are, making it increasingly difficult for the serious publisher with serious songwriters to be heard. Even the major music publishers with a back catalogue of hits are finding it hard to make their way through the glut.
Traditional methods of pitching music cannot continue as the sole way publishers secure synchronization. All Music Publishers must consider a new synchronization model that directly invests in the end user and establishes an in-house environment for their copyrights and songwriters.
The first change is to create and fund Co-Publishing Companies with Filmmakers. Multi-National Music Publishers should buy as many film scores as they can get their hands on. Some of the majors already administer music for major film companies, but they do not benefit from all the additional revenue that can come from those relationships.
If you’re a smaller publisher, allocate monies out of your A&R budget and invest in film scores. If you’re signing five new writers a year–sign three writers and two filmmakers instead. Those two filmmakers will give your writers and catalogue primary access to their films. Show the filmmaker how to make money owning their underscore and you will see some of their licensing budget heading toward your songs. Investing in a film score that has its own promotion money is a shared risk. Investing only in songwriters is 100% the publishers risk. That songwriter has to write the hit, get it recorded by a top artist and hope the record company can make it successful. Not that easy to do these days. For those of you who may think I’m anti-songwriter. Not a chance. I am pro-songwriter all the way. These ideas are to help the songwriter and songs by creating opportunity. What good is it to have five great songwriters and no opportunity? Signing fewer writers may even help you sign better ones!
The second change is to offer Music Supervision services as a publisher. Build it or buy it and then focus primarily on independent film, which in my view is the last open market. A global market! Hollywood is investing in films all around the world as affordable film technology enables all filmmakers to tell their stories. It makes sense to have in house supervision services in your U.S and European offices.
The third change is to make the Back Catalogue of your most popular writers affordable. So much focus is given to the hits and so little is given to the hit-makers back catalogue. Make the unknown songs from the known artist accessible to independent film. I have found that most artists’ favorite songs are not the hits. They are more than willing to discuss pricing scenarios that help move their most cherished songs into the film world. The phone will ring for the big hits. The radio is promoting them every day. Spend a little time promoting the lesser-known songs and pricing them fairly. Be creative and don’t be afraid to innovate. Identify the foreign countries where your artist and songs may be very popular and market them, with your affiliate, to the film industry in that country. You will see a new revenue stream coming from filmmakers who never thought it was possible to have a song by a big artist.
Technology has changed music publishing forever. We have to change with it. The songs and songwriters are counting on us.