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Posts Tagged ‘Clearance’

Keep. It. Simple.

“I shy away from [slotting] any artist with complications … Sometimes these are long-term projects, but usually I have to find something by 6 pm that day.”  These words were spoken by a music supervisor to Digital Music News this week.  Here’s why it’s true, why it matters, and why this problem must eventually change.

First off, as the music supervisor indicates, often the rights to a song must be secured very quickly and searching for four different rights holders, contacting them, and then coming to a deal is not something that can be accomplished at the needed pace.  Sometimes, even just the act of tracking down the rights holders can be prohibitively expensive because there is no single place where all rights can be cleared.  Typically, a licensee must go through the publishers (after of course, tracking down who that publisher is), who then must contact the artist or the artist’s representative if the license falls under a certain category, such as a synchronization license to place the song in television, film, commercials, etc.  This extra step, though it seems needless, helps the artist maximize the value of their creations via the creation of a knowledgeable gatekeeper.  It also allows the artist to create instead of having to constantly make business decisions.  Already, the music supervisor has used substantial time and eaten into their budget, and the negotiations have not yet begun.  There are so many steps to the process that aren’t important to go into here, but it is worth reiterating that these steps must be repeated for each rights holder for each song, and that can simply be too much.

So why should the artist care about this? Well, the easiest answer is that a song in which the rights are consolidated is a more valuable song and, consequently, more accessible. Case in point:  I struck up a conversation with a music supervisor at SXSW last year who worked for a sports broadcasting network and placed the songs during the broadcast of various games.  Believing that I had an artist who would fit her needs fairly well (don’t we all think that?), I asked her if she wouldn’t mind me sending her a song.  Her first question? “Do they own their own masters?” That was what mattered most.  She didn’t want to know about the song, about whether it was rock, country or rap, or whether the artist was well known or rapidly increasing their reputation.  No.  The gatekeeping issue for her was whether a prospective placement would require her to engage the artists, the publishers, the label, and who knows who else just to begin talking about doing business.  For her, there were simply far too many good songs out there that didn’t require a ton of hassle to mess with those songs that did.

Unfortunately, efforts to tackle this problem stall every time.  There should be a single place where a right can be cleared with a single signature, but there isn’t, yet.  I’m hopeful that eventually this will come to pass as artists realize that the complexity of the system is actually preventing them for acquiring opportunities.  On the contrary, some artists believe that the attendant friction that follows the split of a right drives up the value and final price of a song.

Perhaps the final message for the upcoming artist? Keep all your rights, or consider giving ’em all away to the label–I wouldn’t really advise that last one, but it’s consistent with the broader point that when all rights are concentrated in one place the artist is better served.  Either way, consider how many ways that bundle of rights that lies in each song is split.