ISBA represents leading UK advertisers and champions the needs of marketers. It has several steering groups including the Communications Procurement Action Group (COMPAG) which, as the name suggests, is focussed on the commercial relationship between brands and their supply chains. There’s a particular interest in Production.
I’ve been fortunate to have had a close relationship with ISBA for several years which has included writing guidance notes on music rights buying. I’ve spoken at several events, most recently COMPAG’s “Production Trends, Issues & Innovations” session on 29th November. I use these opportunities to update ISBA members on the current mood of the sync licensing business having sought feedback across the board from brands, agencies, rights owners and intermediaries. It’s a barometer of how people are feeling.
This year I ran a survey with two simple questions:
When considering the working relationships between rights owners (including music creators) and advertisers (including their agencies):
1. Which current trends do you consider to be positive?
2. Which current trends do you consider to be negative?
I promised all respondents anonymity to encourage open and honest replies. I divided the feedback into four categories to reflect the positions for Licensors (music rights owners) and Licensees (advertisers and agencies):
A) Win Win = Good for Licensors; Good for Licensees
B) Win Lose = Good for Licensors; Bad for Licensees
C) Lose Win = Bad for Licensors; Good for Licensees
D) Lose Lose = Bad for Licensors; Bad for Licensees
What did we find?
- Better planning by brands and agencies around timings, music budgets and required usage.
- Better communication by brands and agencies with music rights owners about deadlines, budgets and usage requirements.
- Fewer sound-a-likes i.e. brand and agencies commissioning composers to copy existing songs and compositions.
- A greater willingness for brands and agencies to try new artists and more varied musical genres in their campaigns.
- More artist brand partnerships in which both sides commit to early stage collaboration.
- General rise in licence fee income.
- The price of A-list music talent and tracks becoming over-inflated.
- Licence fees for bought online media constantly rising to match (and even exceed) those for broadcast TV.
- Increase in the use of licensed tracks vs. cheaper production library music.
- Short multiple bursts within longer media schedules. As a result, Licensees expected lower licence fees but Licensors felt their tracks were rendered unavailable for other brand campaigns.
- Lack of transparency around paid social influencers who promote brand campaigns. This is often not declared as paid media within the initial licence request as a means to suppress licence fees.
- Misuse of the word “variation” in licences whereby brands and agencies introduce new footage or even new films when really a new licence is needed.
- Young and emerging artists are so keen to secure sync placements that they’ll sacrifice “decent” licence fees for the opportunity.
- Lack of respect by some Licensees for the cultural kudos of music creators and artists.
- Unrealistic expectations by some Licensees around approvals by A List artists and creators.
- Some Licensors still behaving like gatekeepers with an uncooperative and sometimes obstructive manner.
- Lack of commonality in precise definitions of Online Media terminology. There’s a need for an industry-wide glossary to ensure that both Licensors and Licensees are fully aligned on the proposed usage.
- Growing influence of US performer unions SAG-AFTRA and AFM with respect to US controlled sound recordings used in UK originated campaigns. This inflates costs for Licensees and complicates administration for some UK record labels who take on the responsibility for processing union payments. Although there’s long been debate about whether US unions have jurisdiction outside the US, the view appears to be that the unions have won this argument much to the displeasure of UK record labels.
- Agencies instructing multiple music supervisors to work on the same creative search meaning that Licensors receive the same brief from multiple sources.
- Both agency and multiple music supervisors seeking quotes for the same title sometimes across different markets. This creates confusion and upsets rights owners.
- Licensees damaging relationships with Licensors by demanding clearance on urgent requests, then dropping the track from consideration without letting rights owners know.
- Licensees damaging relationships with rights owners by demanding endless changes to usage, including multiple options and then not exercising the usage. In these instances, licensors eventually stop taking new requests seriously.
- Unscrupulous intermediaries (often music supervisors) who approach published writers directly rather than via their publisher.
- Unscrupulous intermediaries who cream off a substantial chunk of available music budget and offer what’s left to talent or rights owners.
- Unscrupulous intermediaries who position themselves in the middle of contract and payment chain. This non-transparent practice involves the intermediary licensing in rights from record labels / music publishers and licensing them back out to brands / agencies – usually taking a high margin on the licence fee.
- Untrained music supervisors entering the market who claim to be able to solve complex rights issues and negotiations. This damages the reputation of sync licensing business / music rights owners and creates risk for brands and agencies.
- Production libraries including sound-a-likes in their catalogues. Use of these titles expose brands and agencies to potential claims for copyright infringement plus the risk of campaign suspension and wasted media spend.
Whilst many people I spoke to felt that relationships between licensors and licensees had improved since my last survey in November 2016, the “Lose Lose” responses clearly demonstrate that there’s still work to be done.
My personal view has always been that relationships matter; and these only work with mutual respect. The more than each side can appreciate the perspective of the other, the smoother the licensing process becomes for all parties. I’d encourage everyone to work towards this goal.