With the traditional A&R services of a label as common as the great Florida skunk-ape there have been many new independent and corporate run businesses that have popped up to fill the void. They can run from hands off online marketing to full scale Colonel Parker. Which is right for your band? The important thing to keep in mind is that not all management and music placement programs are the same. Before you see your band’s name scroll on the bottom of the television screen during an all new ‘Snooki & JWow’ it would be best to ask a few questions.
What is Music Placement?
Music placement services promise to get music played in commercials, DVDs, movies, online, television, and video games. Even with the rise of DIY in the music business, many media companies, when it comes to music placement, will still only deal with sources they trust. Which means little to zero chance of getting music placement without a middle man or gatekeeper of some sort.
There are numerous ways these placement services operate. There are placement websites that charge to join. Some services then charge for each song you upload for consideration. Others offer a certain number of songs per month to be considered with a monthly subscription fee. Usually, the artists is able to keep all their rights in exchange for the upfront fees and then simply splits any earnings. The bigger the upfront, the more the artist keeps if and when their music is placed.
Sometimes keeping track of the marketing effort of a song can be difficult. In order to make sure a company gets paid for its efforts in promoting certain music, some placement companies may ask musicians what many consider unthinkable – They ask the musician to sign away their publishing rights. In this scenario, the musician keeps the writer’s share but they turn over all the publishing rights (which can include mechanical royalties, and synchronization licenses). Some companies then rename the artist’s song in order to keep track of the impact of their efforts on promoting the song. If this seems shady, it can be. Unless there is a level of trust already there between the artist and the placement company, or there is a level of desperation on the part of the artists, there are better placement deals out there.
Not all Placement Programs Are Created Equal.
A successful musician knows what they’re good at, knows what they’re not good at, and hires people to help them that are just as enthusiastic and dedicated as they are. Yet, there are plenty of desperate musicians who throw money at these services hoping their music will get heard and downloaded a bazillion times just from the simple act of them uploading their songs online. Even in the digital age, its human efforts that give music the edge.
A placement service is only as good as its catalog. But this can mean quality or volume. Many sites hope to find quality among the massive amounts of music being uploaded to their sites. These sites promote themselves and their services to various music supervisors. ‘Come to our site for all your music licensing needs!’ Wouldn’t it be better to pay for someone to promote the music or artist instead of paying someone to promote their own business?
A step up from simple upload and pray sites are the placement companies that forward opportunities via email and allow the musician to specifically ‘apply.’ While this may seem better, that email is not being sent to a select few. The chances of placement are the same for replying to job postings on craigslist. Either good candidates get lost in the mountains of submissions or there are mountains of good candidates and very few stand out.
Websites are tools that people use to create opportunities. The websites are not the opportunities themselves. Personal relationships are still a factor in the placement industry. Find a company that has personal relationships with music supervisors. Hire a team that knows when ‘pitch season’ is and how to pitch music for placement. “It’s hard to know what is ok to ask for and what’s too much.” Said Joseph Pineda, co-founder of the Florida based JRNE Artist Management. Getting that 1st placement offer can be emotional and the desire to have your band’s song played can overcome the good business sense to not sign away all the rights that go with it. Having some kind of buffer between artist and business man who can speak both languages is key.
As many musicians know, managing an online presence and promoting music online can be a full time job. Companies like the newly formed JRNE Artist Management not only save time by allowing musicians to focus on the music but are equipped to be as hands on as needed or wanted by their clients. With any company, the more personal services offered, the higher percentage one can expect to pay them. Each artist should ask themselves how much of their income they can afford to pay out for promotional services and how much work they are willing or even are able to do themselves. Whether an artist chooses to pursue music placement with strictly online efforts or they hire actual humans to work for them, there must be a level of trust between them. Being thorough and asking questions is a good thing. Not trusting the entities you work with is a bad sign. Be honest when determining your band’s finances, resources, and abilities then choose the music placement company that fits with your band’s personal and professional style.
Free at Last?
Gratis Licenses are becoming more and more popular in the music business. It’s where a band gives away any value it has in its music just for the chance to their song to be heard. Many artists recoil at the thought of giving music away for free. After all, the company asking for the gratis license isn’t working for free, why should the musician?
JRNE Artist Management co-founder, and EVP of Love Lamp Records, Mike Cathey said, “We try not to [take gratis licenses] but if we can turn that into marketing then it can be worth it.” Joseph Pineda said, “It’s a matter of how big the partner is. We don’t want to just give things away. There needs to be back and forth talks about money, logos on the screen, etc.”
Just giving a song for others to use for free makes no sense, unless the artist negotiates for prominent placement, web links, or something else that can actually drive people to buy the song, album, or other band related product.
- It’s normal to use more than one music placement company. Avoid companies that want exclusive rights to the master recordings or to promote sync licenses.
- If anyone asks a musician to sign away their writer’s share ask them if you look like Willie Nelson from 1965.
- Take a pass on Buy Outs – where a company pays a once time price for a song to own all rights with it completely – unless it’s for use as a theme song. Then hire someone to negotiate for you.
- Music rights can be complex. Seemingly simple short contracts are seldom just that. Get the advice of an attorney.