Well, we live in interesting times. CD sales continue to fall into the abyss, vinyl sales are growing (I know, who'd have thought?), downloaders are having a free-for-all... and musicians everywhere seem to be crying the same thing: "The Music Business is Dead." It might, therefore, come as a surprise to many that BMI just announced2009 as their best year to date - with over $905 Million being paid out in royalties to artists, their largest payout ever.Think about that for a second. Largest ever.
The music business is not dead. Oh no. It's alive and kicking - but only those who position themselves correctly stand a real chance of becoming rich musicians.
The magic word, friends, is licensing. They always did say that was where the money was; and that's where it is now, more than ever.
Licensing is essentially about selling music to other businesses, as opposed to selling it directly to consumers. And that is a thriving industry. You see, businesses tend to play a straighter game than kids, when it comes down to using music. That's because they have money, and have a lot more to lose. So in general, they aren't downloading it illegally. They aren't just messing around on Youtube. They need music unrestricted and clear - and that means bought and paid for.
In other words - when you position yourself to sell music to other businesses - in particular selling them a non-exclusive license that permits them to use a song or recording for a project without limiting your ability to continue to seek other non-exclusive licenses - there is still much money to be made. Businesses still use as much music as they ever did; and not only that, they are the ones moving the money around. Just as an example, take a look at Youlicense's current opportunities page. At the time of writing this article, one song placed on a major TV ad can still land you $20,000-$25,000.
Admit it: When was the last time you saw that kind of dough from CD sales or iTunes? And that's just from one license by one company of one song!
Not only this - but every time music gets played on the radio, in a cafe, on the TV, at an event or over the speakers in a store at the mall, the owner of the copyright is due performance royalties. On a major TV ad, this is most likely going to add up to a chunk of change.
That can mean - you've guessed it - a double payout: But only for the musician who knows the rules of the game and is working their publishing correctly.
Now a lot of musicians don't take the trouble to learn the ins and outs of music publishing and the licensing game. Many are daunted by the paperwork side of things - it looks way too much like the grey world they were trying to escape from - and who can blame them for feeling that way? Paperwork sucks - but think of it this way; you will ultimately be able to spend a lot more time in your world of bright dreams, if you get the essential stuff done properly. Knowing the game is one of the hallmarks of a pro.
Often, the fledgling artist doesn't really know where to start with learning all this stuff - and so, feeling overwhelmed, many simply end up doing nothing about exploiting their catalogue. Either that or they will sign a "bad deal" and end up giving the ranch away. (Note that when it comes to a music catalogue, to "exploit" means to put to work profitably, rather than to oppress.)
They might have brilliant songs - but may not fully appreciate the fact that they don't even have to be the one singing them, in order to get rich. They may not have the connections to get the music placed, and may not even know that there is something they haven't been told about the way the game works!
I can illustrate all this with stories from my own experience. In a nutshell, virtually all the musicians I know who took the trouble to understand licensing and learned how to exploit their catalogues effectively, are rich - or at least comfortable. The ones I know who didn't, and who tried to make a go of it on the back of CD sales and live performance, are too often broke - or are not musicians any more. I'm not making this up, it's absolutely true! I even know examples of members of the same band - one of whom worked to get their catalogue placed in television, and the others didn't. The former now lives in a mansion, and the others - despite being extremely talented - are back to doing crap jobs, their lives of touring adventures just a hazy memory.
Next up: Big companies who license music, don't want to talk to artists. This is critical to comprehend. You need an agent, a licensing representative. Think about it this way: If you were a high profile business or an audio supervisor looking for music, who would you call? A hundred musicians with a dozen songs each? Or a music licensing company representing 20,000 tracks from every conceivable genre, with experts on hand to help you choose, and years of experience in handling the paperwork? The answer is obvious. Almost all the licensing deals get cut by the licensing companies. Look again at the small print on Youlicense'sopportunities page: "Please do not contact the company directly." It's crystal clear: You've got to get your music represented. Once again, the key word is exposure and the majority of music licenses come about because someone else placed the music in the hands of a business that was looking for music. Most of the remainder happens because the song is already well known and the licensor requested that song in particular. I love my licensing agents - and I reflect on the fact that 50% of something is a whole lot better than 100% of nothing.
What to do?
First things first - get your material together. Get your existing music catalogue organized. Create and keep a database of all your songs - even the unfinished ones - and track down the master recordings, hard drives, scores, etc. If there are good ones that are unfinished, finish them up! Include notes of copyright ownership and of what deals have been done with each of the songs. Make instrumental versions of vocal tracks, assemble complete discs, etc. Make backups. The more good material you have out there, the more revenue opportunities there are.
Second - did you register your copyrights? Best to register an album's worth of music at a time as one "work". Forms and further info:http://www.copyright.gov/forms
Third - did you register with ASCAP, BMI or another performing rights organization? These collect your performance royalties - and these organizations are on your side, believe me. If you ever needed true allies in the music biz, the performing rights organizations (PRO's) would be them. Here's why: They get paid when you get paid. They take a really small slice for chasing down and collecting your royalties - and you wouldn't believe some of the obscure royalties that they have collected for me! It's a warm fuzzy feeling to know that you just got paid because your track was played on an aeroplane flying over a country you've never visited. But the best part? Checks in the mail. Attention! Checks in the mail! Auto-pilot income from work you finished ages ago! So make sure you register all your tracks that have been released - and make sure you do it right.
When you get that first royalty check in the mail, it's an amazing feeling. All of a sudden it's like being one of the little kids in the playground and having this six foot six big brother who's got your back and just handed you your lunch money that the bully took from you. Plus interest. There's a full list of PROs towards the end of this page.
Next - learn and fully understand the way publishing works. Yes, it's some paperwork. Yes, it's some study. Yes, it will be completely confusing and bewildering at first and you will be tempted to think "screw this". But persist. Look on the bright side; there are much worse things - like divorce paperwork (that I pray you will never have to face). Anyway the good news is that once you understand the publishing, royalties and copyright stuff, and understand how the "game" really works, it all starts to fall into place. It's a shame composers and songwriters don't get taught this stuff. The golden rule - hang on to control of your publishing. You will need to talk to your music business attorney about all this, ultimately - but there are some other good guides out there. Check the "homework" section at the foot of this page.
There's also some industry jargon that needs to be understood. If you are cutting licensing deals, you'll need to understand the meaning of terms such as "in perpetuity", "territory", "master use right", "synchronization right". The best simple guide to these terms I have discovered can be found here. Also, Audiosocket has a glossary of licensing terms in their "licensing resources" section. A good licensing agent will handle the most complex paperwork - but you (and/or your attorney) need to know enough about these terms to be able to talk to them.
Finally, seek to get your music into the hands of a good music licensing company - or even several - who can then add it to their catalogues and shop it to their contacts i.e. the people who buy music. Once again, it's a meritocracy with the best tracks and songs generally picking up the best revenue. Cream still does float, believe me. And sometimes, it will be through a label or licensing agent that you stand the best chance of getting the ear of a music licensing company. But remember this: All over the world, companies that have money are looking for good music. If you are going to score, you need to be on the field.
One last note - what style should your music be? The answer is simple: It doesn't matter. If your music is being fitted to picture, all that's needed is for it to fit the scene. Famous example: According to legend, when the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" was being made, Kubrick was struggling to find the right music to go with the orbit sequence. Apparently the studio took delivery of a new tape machine and as it happened, the demo tape that came in the machine was Strauss's Blue Danube waltz. It was completely different from what had been imagined, but on playing the tape against the visuals of the pirouetting spacecraft Kubrick had an "it's perfect!" moment... and the rest is history.
Below is a giant list of music licensing companies for you to peruse. Write some hits, know the game - and then put your intellectual property out there to bat for you and make you a rich musician!