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An open letter: Are you killing the value of your own music?
Old 26th November 2018
  #1
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An open letter: Are you killing the value of your own music?

Hi all,

Today I published an open letter to raise awareness of the aggressive devaluation and exploitation that's currently happening in the music licensing space.

I figured this would be a very relevant place to share it: Are you killing the value of your own music? – Lewis Foster – Medium

This is such an important issue for anyone seeking to earn from the placement of their work in video or film. I hope you find it an interesting read and, of course, please feel free to circulate/re-post the letter - the more awareness we can create about this, the better.

- Lewis
Old 26th November 2018
  #2
Gear Maniac
 

Hey Lewis,

Interesting read. As you probably know, being the owner of a publishing co, most Libraries, Ex and Non-Ex, do not divulge their business practices to composers on the standard composer agreement. So IOW, we submit briefs and hope for the best, but little do we know that our publisher has blanket licenses with 4 major networks and 6 cable networks. That blanket money is not shared with the composers. This is one of the main reasons for diminishing sync fees IMO. This is just my experience.

I also think that EVERY library should have a clause to opt out of any type of streaming media. I can only name one or 2 publishers that offer this clause in their contracts. It really sucks putting in many hours for an Epic Orchestral track, only for it to earn me 36 cents per quarter from Youtube and Spotify streams.

I believe many of our publishers are killing the value of our music.
Old 26th November 2018
  #3
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JDatkinson's Avatar
Quote:
I believe many of our publishers are killing the value of our music.
I would also like to add, that I won't entertain exclusive "in perpetuity" contracts from publishers. A reversion clause must be available for me to even consider it.
Old 26th November 2018
  #4
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Hi guys,

Just to avoid any confusion, the companies I'm referring to in the letter are music licensing companies (as opposed to publishers), as is the company where I work: Music Vine.

Unlike publishers, music licensing companies typically don't take any ownership of the music itself, we simply act as an agent for licensing the music on behalf of the musicians (we generally work with independent artists/composers seeking to earn from the placement of their music without commitment to a traditional publisher).

At Music Vine, for example, artists can choose to remove their tracks from our platform with very little notice.

Sorry if you're already well aware of this - I felt it important to clarify!

Irrespective of the above, it's well worth being aware of the model/companies I'm highlighting in the letter. They have had a huge impact on the industry within the last couple of years and the devaluation they represent is shocking.
Old 26th November 2018
  #5
Gear Maniac
 

If you guys license other people's music to clients, how can you not be publishers? Do you have an agreement with composers?
Old 26th November 2018
  #6
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@ danny - I guess it's just a matter of terminology. You're absolutely right that we license music to clients and have an agreement with our artists. We're just not what many would think of as a 'traditional' publisher where (as per wiki article) the 'composer "assigns" the copyright of their composition to a publishing company'. That does not happen with us or most other online licensing platforms. Hope that clears it up!
Old 26th November 2018
  #7
Gear Maniac
 

Lewis,

Again, an interesting article. There are many people on this forum that are savvy to what is a contractual business and what is a scam. I never ran into any of those companies you referred to in your article.

Nothing personal but I will stand by my statement that many companies like yours are ruining the Production Music business with blanket licensing, disappearing sync fees and pennies to the dollar royalties on streaming.



Quote:
Originally Posted by lewis_foster View Post
@ danny - I guess it's just a matter of terminology. You're absolutely right that we license music to clients and have an agreement with our artists. We're just not what many would think of as a 'traditional' publisher where (as per wiki article) the 'composer "assigns" the copyright of their composition to a publishing company'. That does not happen with us or most other online licensing platforms. Hope that clears it up!
Old 26th November 2018
  #8
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Danny - I'm baffled. I'm unsure why you've jumped to the conclusion that my company is offering blanket licenses, has anything to do with earnings from streaming or is undermining the value of the music we represent in any way.

I'd urge you to learn more about our model at Music Vine before you criticise so hastily and damningly. If I didn't care about our industry, I wouldn't have taken such time and care in writing the letter.

The letter I've published today has been supported by a large number of composers and producers already. The sites I'm referring to (Artlist and Soundstripe) have gained an enormous amount of traction in the last two years. If you're not aware of them, that does not mean they have not had a major impact.
Old 26th November 2018
  #9
Gear Maniac
 

"I'd urge you to learn more about our model at Music Vine before you criticise so hastily and damningly."

A little over dramatic? I suppose you are in business to make money? Composers keep you in business. Chill out.
Old 26th November 2018
  #10
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Hey Danny:

Just weighing in here...

"I will stand by my statement that many companies like yours are ruining the Production Music business with blanket licensing..."

Just to clarify, Music Vine don't offer blanket licenses. Customers must pay depending on each usage and each of their license prices are tiered - some ranging into several thousand dollars per usage. The companies he's speaking out against offer customers unlimited and unregulated use of of their ENTIRE music catalogues FOREVER for a couple of hundred dollars per year.

With respect, there's a huge difference between these two models and I don't think it's fair to group them together in the same statement as you have.

Thanks - Shane
Old 27th November 2018
  #11
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@ danny - No one likes to be called something they're not, that's all. If you've read the letter, if you've checked out Music Vine - hopefully you can see that we're trying hard to do a good thing on both counts.

Thanks for the advice though - it's been a long day & writing that letter was like passing a kidney stone. You're right, I do need to chill!
Old 27th November 2018
  #12
Gear Maniac
 

Thanks for the info Shane,

I didn't say his company is directly responsible. I said companies like his are ruining the business.

I understand what companies he is talking about.



Quote:
Originally Posted by smckenna View Post
Hey Danny:

Just weighing in here...

"I will stand by my statement that many companies like yours are ruining the Production Music business with blanket licensing..."

Just to clarify, Music Vine don't offer blanket licenses. Customers must pay depending on each usage and each of their license prices are tiered - some ranging into several thousand dollars per usage. The companies he's speaking out against offer customers unlimited and unregulated use of of their ENTIRE music catalogues FOREVER for a couple of hundred dollars per year.

With respect, there's a huge difference between these two models and I don't think it's fair to group them together in the same statement as you have.

Thanks - Shane
Old 27th November 2018
  #13
Gear Maniac
 

Lewis,

I wish you all the best in your business and I'm sure you are trying hard to do the right thing.

If you don't agree with my opinion about the business these days that's fine, but we can agree to disagree without an angry firestorm.



Quote:
Originally Posted by lewis_foster View Post
@ danny - No one likes to be called something they're not, that's all. If you've read the letter, if you've checked out Music Vine - hopefully you can see that we're trying hard to do a good thing on both counts.

Thanks for the advice though - it's been a long day & writing that letter was like passing a kidney stone. You're right, I do need to chill!
Old 27th November 2018
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lewis_foster View Post
Hi all,

Today I published an open letter to raise awareness of the aggressive devaluation and exploitation that's currently happening in the music licensing space.

I figured this would be a very relevant place to share it: Are you killing the value of your own music? – Lewis Foster – Medium

This is such an important issue for anyone seeking to earn from the placement of their work in video or film. I hope you find it an interesting read and, of course, please feel free to circulate/re-post the letter - the more awareness we can create about this, the better.

- Lewis
Do you pay advances to musicians in exchange for representation?
Old 27th November 2018
  #15
Quote:
They ask if you will license the track to them, not just for this ad, but for use in all their future ads for $1 †. Would you say yes?
That is no longer a "license". That is a complete buyout. You are not licensing, you are selling your track at that point.

Quote:
For a single annual fee of $200 USD or less, these companies open up their entire catalogue for use in an unlimited number of productions of any type and scale and with any distribution. What’s more, once the subscription has ended for a given customer, downloaded music can still be used forever, any number of times and in any production.
Again, that is no longer a "license" but a complete buyout. A license implies that the original copyright owner still maintains control of the intellectual property. When that control is completely handed over in perpetuity, and the client can do whatever they want with the track after the transaction is complete, then it is a buyout, not a license and not a blanket license.

Anyway... I don't have a problem with these types of companies. The reason being is they make what I do MORE valuable. If you are trying to directly compete against them, their own sales "tactic" is to simply slash the price. That is it. But instead of allowing them to make price the only selling point... I change the subject and the direction of the client to things like production quality, composers' status accomplishments, etc.

If the licensing staff doesn't know anything about the music they are licensing, then all they can do is cut the price because they have no way to show the value. I've found that clients CAN perceive the difference when listening but they can't "quantify" those difference. For example... if I did a blind taste test between Starbucks Coffee and Cup 'O Joe or cheap diner coffee... do you think you can taste the difference? If yes do you think you could objectively quantify that difference? Is the starbucks coffee better? If so by how much? 10%, 20%, 300%?

The general untrained public can still be good at discerning a difference but they lack the knowledge and experience to quantify that difference. That is where savvy sales comes in. It's how Starbucks can charge $4 for a $0.50 cup of coffee. It's how VW can sell a Porsche for $90,000 even though the same car with minor changes and a VW logo on it sells for $60,000.

the general public is good at discerning differences, they suck at quantifying them. Marketing is what tells them that product X is 10 times better than product Y. How many people spend THOUSANDS of dollars on digital to audio converters (Prism, Apogee, RME, Meitner, etc) thinking their converters are 10's or 100's of times better than cheaper brands like Focusrite or Behringer... and pay 100 of times more money for their better converters, when in reality, there is only maybe a 5 or 10% difference between them... Once the manufacturer can identify the difference the consumer hears, THEN they can put a price tag on it.

And that is ultimately how music publishing works too. One man's trash is another man's treasure. A Nirvana track may only be worth $1 to one client but might be worth $300,000 to another. Same goes for Production Music. The marketing efforts of the library is what controls the narrative about their own product and their relative position against competing products.

like if you said to me you are looking for orchestral music... I could just say yeah, whatever and give you a bunch of different orchestral tracks with some being better than others... but then what if I showed you this video...



And then told you the composer was the orchestrator and additional writer for Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, John Debney, Bruce Broughton, Christopher Young, etc...

If you were to just hear these tracks mixed in with a playlist of midi orchestra, you might think, "wow, that one sounds pretty good" and then just move on to the next... but by separating it out, and changing the topic from just "how much" to where it was recorded, what went into making it, and who is behind making it... I've now just quantified the differences you heard... so now it justifies a much higher price tag to you and you will feel more comfortable spending the extra money because you know you are getting something a cut above the rest.

So... I say "bring it on" to all these super cheap bottom feeder libraries... they make what I do worth ten's, if not hundred's of times more than it would have been had there not been so much cheap and mediocre music available in the market. The creme always rises to the top... and when there is a race to the bottom, the ones who win are the ones who turn around and sprint to the top.
Old 27th November 2018
  #16
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I treat music libraries like a chef would treat his produce.

A chef will buy his onions, garlic, herbs, meat etc and needs to them profit from that. If he doesn't use those things he's invested in, he's losing money. He needs to push them onto the menu.

If a chef is getting all his produce for free, based on idea that he could profit and share that profit with the produce giver, he has nothing to lose. If he makes a profit great, if not, no loss to him. Only the produce guy has something to lose.

Even the 50/50 sync library deals I have, I can state that I put same amount of effort into those I've done as well as work for hire or UK advance. And I have done very similar albums. Same amount of hours into an album that has netted me almost $10k in work for hire as $0 in advance. The difference in licensing is night and day. The libraries who pay up front for my work make something happen. My tunesat is blowing up on release whilst the 50/50 sync stuff seems to sit there doing SFA. So what is happening here? Surely the 50/50 sync guys can low ball and offer up more for less? If so, why aren't the users of this music biting? I don't really know what's going on there. I just know the results.

Someone (or a multi million dollar company) has a lot to lose if they're not looking to make a return on their investment. Whilst the 50/50 sync model can be complacent.

On top of that, every work for hire or advance library I have dealt with, I have met them, or emailed them extensively, have a rapport, they produce well, they invest time, they are invested in me (on top of financially), in contrast to random emails, lack of communication (no reason to invest time) from 50/50 sync libraries. There's no need to invest anything as the work relationship is entitled in favour of the library from the get go. I find the results telling and the fundamental transaction of library/composer seeps into every business transaction and communication down the line.

So I do think quality rises to the top.

Last edited by Amber; 27th November 2018 at 11:56 PM..
Old 27th November 2018
  #17
Gear Maniac
 

Hi Amber, almost 10k in advance? That is awesome and also means that I am still doing a lot wrong..
Old 27th November 2018
  #18
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Amber's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by oscarproducer View Post
Hi Amber, almost 10k in advance? That is awesome and also means that I am still doing a lot wrong..
Oops, work for hire on that.

Last edited by Amber; 27th November 2018 at 03:02 PM..
Old 27th November 2018
  #19
Gear Maniac
 

Ah ok, work for hire makes sense.
Thanks for clarifying
Old 27th November 2018
  #20
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Etch-A-Sketch View Post
It's how VW can sell a Porsche for $90,000 even though the same car with minor changes and a VW logo on it sells for $60,000.

What VW with minor changes is the same as a Porsche?

Be interested to know.
Old 27th November 2018
  #21
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drBill's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Amber View Post
Same amount of hours into an album that has netted me almost $10k in advance as $0 in advance. The difference in licensing is night and day. The libraries who pay up front for my work make something happen. My tunesat is blowing up on release whilst the 50/50 sync stuff seems to sit there doing SFA.
I so, so, SOOOOOO wish that was true for me. Unfortunately, I have not found that to be true with over 150 albums worth of material out in the marketplace. The ones in the biggest libraries quite often do the least in terms of licenses. If anything at all - and these are libraries that paid me a LOT of $$$,$$$ to write for them.

I'm not saying my experience is an industry wide phenomenon - just my personal experience. IMO, blind ambition to achieve placements with the big guys will not automatically net you a sustainable career. For a sustained career you need extreme talent, a good bit of luck, and a HUGE amount of verifiable evidence as to which particular libraries work well for your music.

And that is the hardest part of this biz. It's info that can't be bought, researched by asking others or found quickly. It takes an ongoing career of mistakes and mis-steps to figure out.

IMO, the industry is shifting, and not towards the high end. The old skool paradigm of buyout / backend is hosed for the composer if streaming continues to take over, and if up-front buyouts continue to shrink. Both of which are pretty easily verifiable. Those locked into traditional contracts will watch their back end dry up.

Something must change for continued composer survival in the industry. Wish I had a nice glossy, easily verifiable answer.

I don't. With AI looming, composers may be on the career path of blacksmiths. A few will survive. Most won't.

Last edited by drBill; 27th November 2018 at 06:00 PM..
Old 27th November 2018
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Etch-A-Sketch View Post
It's how VW can sell a Porsche for $90,000 even though the same car with minor changes and a VW logo on it sells for $60,000.
If you're talking about the SUV line, there's a grain of truth there, but otherwise, no - better analogies exist.
Old 27th November 2018
  #23
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We've been devaluing "real" music for decades now - ever since Hendrix tracks were used to sell Fords, and Copland's "Rodeo" to sell macaroni and cheese in a package.

Like Zappa once infamously said "most people wouldn't know great music if it came up and bit them on the ass" - no one cares if you're a "famous hollywood composer" recording real orchestral works if they can't discern Copland's great works from something they've heard a thousand times from a library track using NI sample libraries.

You write library music because you get to indulge yourself in a craft you enjoy, and make some money on the backend - sometimes a lot, but more often, a little. The quality is something we strive for because we care - in a world where everything has become a commodity, how the public "values" it is not in our control - however, as teachers and educators, we can make a difference, slowly, over time.
Old 27th November 2018
  #24
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drBill's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sharp11 View Post
- however, as teachers and educators, we can make a difference, slowly, over time.

Being neither a teacher or an educator, I suppose I'm not making any difference. Just trying to survive long enough to retire with a little stream (geez, the irony of THAT) of income from backend and front end syncs to supplement my investment income. LOL
Old 27th November 2018
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drBill View Post
Being neither a teacher or an educator, I suppose I'm not making any difference. Just trying to survive long enough to retire with a little stream (geez, the irony of THAT) of income from backend and front end syncs to supplement my investment income. LOL
I'm the same as you - thank goodness I invested heavily in Apple when it was 10 bucks a share. My teaching comment about "making a difference" means teaching people about the intrinsic value of music - that's what this thread was about to begin with.

My personal feeling is veterans in any industry can benefit by teaching - it'll wake you up ... and make you an even better composer.
Old 27th November 2018
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sharp11 View Post
My personal feeling is veterans in any industry can benefit by teaching - it'll wake you up ... and make you an even better composer.
Agreed. Training a newbie employee, same deal.

And you don't have to be a "veteran" to benefit. Just last week I was riding in a tow truck (water pump, $400, ouch) and asked the young driver how long he had to train before he soloed. He said, "I shadowed another guy for a couple weeks, he showed me some stuff, and then I was on my own. But after a couple months, they had another new kid shadow me. That's when I found out that you learn the most when you have to explain it."
Old 28th November 2018
  #27
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I agree with your article, but then I looked at the pricing of your music vine website. I see the need for those sites, for low budget content creators, youtube etc, but on advertising campaigns? When I see 'affordable' and 'high quality', I just have to laugh a bit. As a composer - screw that. No wonder its a race to the bottom for so many, just dropping their tracks at every non exclusive 'music licensing' website they can find.

I think composers need to aim higher in general and THINK about their strategy way, way more than they seem to do.
Old 28th November 2018
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnFulford View Post
Do you pay advances to musicians in exchange for representation?
An open letter : A no budget pot discusses why it's bad that kettles are black.
Old 28th November 2018
  #29
Personally, I found the article to be boring. It was more complaining about the “state of the industry” with nothing to make things better.

Then I went to Music Vine to check out the site, music, and prices. Shameful in all ways. Lewis should stick to the dayjob and charge more money for the music on the site.

Blogs don’t do jack spit these days.
Old 28th November 2018
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Agreed. Training a newbie employee, same deal.

And you don't have to be a "veteran" to benefit. Just last week I was riding in a tow truck (water pump, $400, ouch) and asked the young driver how long he had to train before he soloed. He said, "I shadowed another guy for a couple weeks, he showed me some stuff, and then I was on my own. But after a couple months, they had another new kid shadow me. That's when I found out that you learn the most when you have to explain it."
Also, students in colleges and universities majoring in music have access to all kinds of cool music I've never heard - it keeps you young!
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