Monthly Archives: May 2011

Licensing Music To Visual Media… Who? Where? What Was The Question Again?

PJ Bloom, Josh Rabinowitz, Danny Exum

Yes, yes…it’s a complicated subject.  I get it.  In my book, The Little Book of Music Licensing, I explain the very basics of what licenses are and how they are used, but the May 6 panel discussion at Sync Up gave some really great insight into how music supervisors find music and how to get yours into the mix.  The discussion was moderated by Michael Nieves (Sugaroo) and the panel included PJ Bloom (Music Supervisor for Glee and Partner, Neophonic), Josh Rabinowitz (SVP/Director of Music, The Grey Group) and Danny Exum (Music Supervisor, Herzog & Co.).

If you have original music it can be placed in films, TV shows, advertisements and movie trailers (video games, too…but that’s another blog post).   How do they find music for these projects?  Most of it comes to them from third party copyright administrators such as publishing houses, record labels…etc.  However, music supervisors are really music fans just like you and me.  They’ll find music independently and add it to their library in hopes that they might get to use it in a project at some point.  It also doesn’t matter if you’re a big name artist or not, have a track record or not.  There really is an opportunity for music of any genre.  Often, they can use anything that sounds like whatever happens to be charting at the time.  Before you start trying to license any songs for anything make sure you have the business part of the songwriting figured out.  If you co-write with anyone make sure you have already decided how ownership is split BEFORE you have an offer on the table.  If it’s just you…you still need to make sure all your copyrights and BMI (or ASCAP, SESAC) registrations are in order.

The panelists advised avoiding any third parties who do re-titling.  Basically, people and/or companies who do this register a new copyright for an already copyrighted song using a different song title in order to bypass exclusivity.  So, if you have an exclusive agreement with a particular copyright administrator (meaning they are the only ones allowed to negotiate licenses and such for you) a re-titling person/company may try to convince you that you can make more money by letting them do this for you.  Newsflash:  IT’S BAD BUSINESS, AND BAD FOR YOU AS AN ARTIST AND SONGWRITER.  In most cases, they make money and you do not.  So, just don’t do it.  To quote the panelists, “Run away!”

Fees for song placement vary depending on the budget, how many songs are being used and how much of the budget is slated for songs by big name artists.  For instance, the show Glee is not the place for an emerging artist to try and get placed.  They use songs that are already in the top 20 and those fees are in the range of $20,000 to $25,000 per side (each “side” represents one of the two licenses needed to place a song in a visual media project) so a charting song stands to make $40,000 to $50,000 total for being placed in just one episode.  That’s a pretty big project budget…most are not that large.  The normal fee range for TV shows and advertising is $0 to $5,000 per side.  The average emerging artist can expect to make a couple grand on this type of project.  They also like to “break” bands in TV shows and advertising though it tends to be more successful for the artist when it’s a show.  So, independent artists really do have a fighting chance…who knew?

Most people don’t realize that the trailer for a movie is actually a separate entity from the film itself.  Because the musical direction of the trailer may be totally different from the film songs may be placed for the trailer that are never heard in the actual film.  A good example of this is the song Semi Charmed Kind of Life, by the band Third Eye Blind.  The year that song charted it showed up in almost every romantic comedy and guy comedy movie trailer that followed…but it wasn’t part of the film soundtracks.  That song is also a good example of “anthemic” music.  While storytelling songs that are really specific can be hard to place in projects, anthem music works very well for synching (think: Sarah Mclaughlan’s Angel, Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping…etc…etc).  Movie trailers have a three act structure (lead in, exposition, conclusion) that makes it like a super-mini movie, so sometimes a trailer will have its very own original score.  The fees for song placement in a movie trailer vary but the typical range is $10,000 to $20,000 total and can be less depending on the budget.  Well-known artists can command as much as $300,000 for a trailer placement.

Cover songs and songs in the public domain shouldn’t be overlooked.  The advice from the panel was this:  If you do cover songs make sure you do very distinctive versions of them.  Don’t do a copycat version that sounds exactly like someone else’s recording…be original with your cover (yes, I did just use original and cover in the same sentence).  Be sure to get your new, distinctive version to the publisher of the song as well (and don’t forget to register the copyright for your sound recording), it just might give you a leg up.  Many ads and TV shows use big name songs performed in a totally new way by emerging artists.  An example of this is Alana Davis performing the song Woodstock  (made popular by Crosby Stills and Nash) in a Sony commercial.  As for public domain songs (these are songs whose copyright protection is no longer in force…anything published before 1922 usually falls into this category) be sure to register the copyright for your arrangement of the song as well as the sound recording.  If you don’t, you’ll miss out on sync fees if it gets placed.

Always remember when submitting music…contact info, contact info, contact info!  Did I mention contact info?  Put it on EVERYTHING.  If it’s a digital submission, make sure the meta data is there so when they look to see the name it doesn’t read track one, unknown album, unknown artist.  They’ll be too annoyed to go looking for the title and artist…and they probably won’t have time  even if they aren’t annoyed.  Unless otherwise indicated, always send lossless file types (WAV or AIFF) instead of mp3 files.  This way they can just use what you send instead of having to waste time getting the better file from you later.

Get even more info , interviews and links at

How Does Your Music Festival Grow?

Michael Arnone, Rob Gibson, Danny Melnick, Jennifer Pickering, Mel Puljic, Bruce Labadie

Thinking of starting your very own music festival?  Well, to make it a success it takes a lot of hard work and planning.  You need to be prepared for disasters and cancellations…basically anything that can go wrong…in advance so that your festival won’t go down the tubes before it’s even begun.  The Curating a Music Festival discussion was moderated by Hugh Southard (President, Blue Mountain Artists) and the panel included Danny Melnick (President, Absolutely Live), Rob Gibson (Artistic Director, Savannah Music Festival), Bruce Labadie (Festival Dir. San Jose Jazz Festival), Michael Arnone (Producer/creator Michael Arnone’s Crawfish Fest), Jennifer Pickering (Exec. Director, Lake Eden Arts Festival) and Mel Puljic (Principal, Mondo Mundo Agency).  According to the panel and moderator, you will most probably lose money the first year and won’t see any kind of profit until at least the third year.  So, be prepared…it’s not the party you hoped it would be.

Hugh Southard

Michael Arnone, originally from Baton Rouge, started his own crawfish fest in Northern New Jersey some 22 years ago.  He started small…70 people showed up for a one day event to eat crawfish, gumbo, jambalaya and to hear some live music.  It’s now a three day event on Memorial Day weekend with about 15,000 people expected to attend this year.  Approximately 1,000 of those actually camp there for the whole fest.

Several of the panelists founded their own festivals, but some are currently working for already established festivals that have been around for many years.  So, what keeps these festivals going strong when many seem to disappear as quickly as they came?

It’s all about the event.

The event istelf is the draw for festival goers.  The New Orleans Jazz Fest, for example, has people who come year after year from all over the country, regardless of who will or will not be performing. Repeat attendees want to have the experience of being at the fest. The entertainment is just a bonus.  It also has to do with community…making sure you know what your community wants and how to use the festival to have a positive impact on it. Many festivals have educational and other programs that run year ’round…making those connections with traditions and families so they consider those festivals to be an important value in their lives.  Since the economy has been a real issue for many people, giving them a quality product that is affordable will also keep them coming back every year.

Other important factors are funding, design, location, signage, relevance and the actual dates of the festival.  Some festivals tanked right out of the gate simply because the location was difficult to get to, there wasn’t enough free parking, there were too many other events on the same dates, or worst of all…no one cared about it.  As far as funding is concerned, it’s never a good idea to rely solely on corporate sponsorship.  Corporations can (and often do) pull sponsorships quickly and without warning, which can cripple or cancel a festival altogether.  Like a stock portfolio, it’s always wise to diversify.  Long term planning is the key because all of these things can have a huge impact, individually and collectively, on the success or failure of a festival.

Treat your festival like a business instead of a party.  Make a business plan so you’ll have to think critically about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.  Talk to other people who have started festivals or are working for successful ones.  In most cases, if they have the time to spare, they will gladly share any wisdom they’ve gained from their experience.  Find out all you can from anyone and everyone, adopt the Boy Scout motto: Always be prepared and you never know…you might just create the next great music festival.

Records, To Sell Or Not To Sell…That Is The Question?

Kristen Hersh, George Howard, Peter Himberger

No…apparently not.  Turns out the question was, Record Deals, Are They Necessary Or Not?  Either way, the panel discussion with Kristen Hersh, founder of the band Throwing Muses (, George Howard, founder of Tune Core (, and Peter Himberger, co-founder of Impact Artist Management ( was an excellent one… just not the one I was expecting.  There was a lot of great information, but here is my condensed version of what I thought were the most important points.

One of the biggest take aways of the discussion is that you can’t make your career on the internet alone.  Each of the panelists agreed, artists are fleeting on the internet…and there are a million of them trying to get everyone’s attention.  Any online experiences should be used to enhance the offline experience.  The same goes for recordings.  If you’re making records and doing stuff online, but you never play live anywhere…you will probably have a hard time finding listeners and building a fan base.  Even Mystikal would have agreed.  When he came back on the scene after being away for several years things had changed significantly.  He had to get out and play because no one knew who he was anymore.  Just putting out a record wasn’t going to cut it…and he had already been successful.  If you’re a start up, DIY artist you could easily get lost in the sea of online fame and fortune seekers if you’re not also building those personal relationships with your listeners live and in person.

As for getting a record deal, the panel brought up some interesting points that I had never considered before.  The reason artists sign record deals isn’t because they’re getting a super-fantastic deal…it’s because they are looking to validate their ego.  However, spending all your time focused on trying to get that magical, all powerful record deal can be a big distraction.  Distraction from what?  Well, it distracts you from doing the work of figuring out what you really want to accomplish with your music and how to maximize the relationship between you and your listeners.

If you want a record deal simply because you think it will keep you from having to do any of the heavy lifting…you are setting yourself up for big disappointment.  With all the changes (trials, tribulations) in the music industry, record labels today are looking for artists who already have an independent track record and a strong listener base in place.  It doesn’t have to number in the millions, but it has to be stable enough for them to build on it.  This requires that you plan and actively participate in your own career.  Once you do this you will have a much better idea about whether or not you need or want any kind of record deal and you may be able to negotiate better terms if you do decide to contract with a label.

As you go it independently, remember to be creative in making those audience connections.  Kristen Hersh emphasized knowing the difference between fans and listeners.  It’s one of those ,“all listeners are fans but not all fans are listeners” kind of things.  You need to cultivate your listeners because they are the ones who will always show up…online and off.  Fans are trend seekers…and sometimes you can turn them into listeners…most of the time they will take off as soon as something newer and shinier presents itself.  It’s much easier to turn a listener into a fan than the other way around.

How do you do this?

PLAY LIVE.  Do house concerts.  Have special swag for your most loyal listeners.  Get up close and personal with your listeners.  Make the experience so cool that they are compelled to tell everyone they know about you and your music.  Miss Hersh was a pioneer in making intimate connections with her audience while also creating alternate revenue streams for her band.  She created one of the first subscription models for her punk band, Throwing Muses, with which she was able to offer some free music (in exchange for email addresses) as well as paid packages that helped get the music made while rewarding the listener/contributor with free music, merchandise or special experiences (depending on the subscription level/amount).

The old recording industry created a particular model of success for artists, but is it the only success?  The panel answered with a resounding “NO”!  Being successful doesn’t just mean being able to sell eleventy million records (though, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?) or achieving fame and fortune on some grand scale, it means being able to pay your bills and support your family doing the thing you love to do most.  Ask any really good actor and they will tell you it’s not about fame or fortune or money…it’s about the work.  Acting is the work they love.  For really good musicians it’s also about the work.  Creating and/or playing music is the work they love.  Getting paid for it is just a bonus…a necessary one, but a bonus nonetheless.  Do what you love, love what you do…that’s what I call success.

Get even more info , interviews and links at

“I play because I love it.  I don’t do it for the money…but I’m also not going to do it for free”

-Tony Serio, Boot Hill