Chris Jones, Head of Sync and Licencing at Sony/ATV and Debbie Pearce, Music Consultant at MCA, discuss the absolute essentials of music licencing
When it comes to making a commercial, the right music has the power to transform and greatly magnify the overall success. Whilst many in the industry recognise how crucial the right music is to the effectiveness of an ad, it continues to be an area in which many brands and agencies find themselves tangled up and in a bind at the last minute.
Looking to find out why, despite many years of collaboration between music publishers, record labels and advertisers, there are still so many difficulties encountered in the process, we sit down with Head of Sync and Licensing at Sony/ATV, Chris Jones and Music Consultant at MCA, Debbie Pearce…
Q> Why do you think the music process is still so hard for people the wrap their heads around?
Debbie Pearce> I’m not really sure. We accept that the music biz is complicated and publishers and labels don’t expect people to understand all the ins and outs. It’s puzzling that there is such a general ongoing lack of understanding from the advertising and marketing industry about the complexity of the process and the time that is needed for it. We know it can be frustrating that there are no hard and fast rules, but we do need this industry to understand that dealing with rights holders is complex and that allowing adequate time to get it right pays real dividends. I think the issue may be that there is no generally accepted method of directly measuring the financial impact music has on a campaign because you never run the same ad with different music and compare the sales results. Whilst you can solicit research to measure the performance of a track, there are only indirect ways you can see the effect music in an ad has on sales. Therefore, it’s not always given sufficient priority, time or budget -wise.
Q> What is the biggest misconception that the advertising world has when it comes to sync and licensing?
Chris Jones> A big one I find is that most people tend to assume that if the recording artist clears, that the publishing will clear and vice versa, but it’s not always the case. There also tends to be a lot of misconception around exclusivity. Brands tend to be surprised that the song they have chosen can be used by any other brand, even competitors, unless they pay for exclusive rights.
DP> That’s a very good point. Most brands don’t want to pay for exclusivity when licensing in an existing track. It costs a lot of money to take something off the table for any other advertising use for a term, or a territory. However, if the brand hasn’t understood what non-exclusivity means that can come as a shock.
CJ> Generally we would never do a total exclusivity deal because it would block out the use of a track for any other campaigns around the world. It would have to be a lot of money.
DP> Even if brands do have the money to pay for exclusive rights to a track, they can often underestimate the views of the artist. A brand may be able to afford to pay for exclusive use of a track in a small group of territories, but major artists may not want to do this. Their tracks are frequently requested, they don’t need the money and they’d rather hold out for a wider territory or a global deal.
Q> What’s the best way for advertisers to work with a music publisher or artist?
DP> Whether you are the brand, an agency or a music sync company, if you’re dealing with publishers, songwriters, labels and artists it’s important to understand their mindset and never to treat music as just another commodity. You can’t source music like a typical procurement exercise, it just doesn’t work and never will. You’re dealing with creative, unpredictable situations. There are living artists who can be challenging, and you also need to be prepared for unknown circumstances if an artist or writer has passed away. An artist or writer’s estate can be more difficult about licensing than the artist themselves.
I once worked on a job for an agency that had selected a Serge Gainsbourg track to use in a campaign to comic effect. They didn’t foresee any issue with the clearance, because the same track had been cleared for use in a similar way several years previously. But Serge Gainsbourg had died in the intervening period, and his heirs turned down the request. A polite letter to them in French had no effect. They wanted their father’s legacy to be taken seriously. Although the agency team was crestfallen, of course another, equally appropriate track was found and licensed. It’s always possible to find something that works as well or better than your first idea, given time.
Q> What about the other way round? You have the song but how do you find out the artists and publishers the first place?
DP> Hopefully you have access to the PRS and PPL databases. From there you can find out who publishes the song and who owns the master rights, should you wish to use the original recording, and then you can find the right people to contact – which can also be more people than you think! Especially these days, when hit copyrights tend to be created by multiple writers, often represented by as many music publishers. You wouldn’t tend to go direct to the artist or agent. However, if they’re unpublished or unsigned, then you may have to turn to social media and try and contact them direct.
CJ> But if they are published, Debbie is right, it’s not advisable to go to the artist direct. It may seem like you are going behind the rights holders back. Ideally you should get involved in the music process as early as possible because you may have many different layers of approval and negotiations. It can be devastating if the music you love falls through. If we’re involved at an early enough stage we can advise and suggest alternatives if necessary, if the original choice is not available for any reason.
DP> Time is of paramount importance when hoping to license great music. There are so many unexpected scenarios that can occur, for example attempting to clear a track composed by four songwriters, two of whom are published, two of whom are unpublished, with no-one having any contact details for the unpublished writers. You can’t just go ahead and use the track and hope for the best, you may well need a contingency plan and the time to implement it, so it’s never a good idea to leave the music negotiation to the last minute!
Q> In your experience, is it better for agencies and brands to work with a music company?
DP> Some agencies are fantastic at music, but producers tend to have their hands full so it’s worth having someone on board who can work this all out and take the stress out of it.
Music companies can really help. They can help define exactly what rights are required, navigate the process, find something affordable and clearable that really works. I always insist on reviewing the licence documentation also, to ensure that the agency and the client are getting everything they specified. However, you have to give music specialists some things back to make it work seamlessly - enough time, enough information and collaboration.
Q> So what does an ideal music brief look like?
CJ> The ideal brief is concise as possible. If you have a guide or reference track and the film to view, it always helps. The budget is key, as it allows us to pitch in feasible options.
DP> This is really important. I always encourage our clients at MCA to be clear. There is no point not outlining a budget. You will get pitched endless options you can’t afford and it becomes a waste of time for everyone involved. The more information you have the better. If you can be clear and accurate about the usage you want to license as well, this will get you not only a great selection of options but a much more accurate price upfront. I also encourage our clients to negotiate for all possible future uses, term or territory extensions as options at the outset, as this is much more cost-effective, and less time-consuming, than adding them piecemeal later on.
Q> The music and advertising industry have both experienced huge changes in the last decade. Would you say it’s not so much of a taboo for artists to be associated with a brand (providing messages align)?
CJ> There are some artists who still refuse to be associated with advertising and we respect that completely. But, when I first started, I saw a lot of bands, and particularly a lot of new bands who didn’t want to do advertising. However, it’s becoming less of a stigma. Artists recognise that it’s a valuable way to get their track out there – especially now we have the technology as consumers to directly discover who the artist is on a commercial thanks to services such as Shazam.
Q> Finally what is your favourite combination of music and sound – whether it be a commercial or film?
DP> Hamlet Cigars had a brilliant series of very funny spots in the days when tobacco advertising was still allowed. My favourite Hamlet ad stars Gregor Fisher, trying unsuccessfully to get a satisfactory portrait shot in a train station photo booth. No music at all until Bach’s Air on a G String, right at the end, with marvellous comic timing. This piece of music is still associated with the brand and the ad continues to make me laugh out loud today.
I feel like people can point to the moment they heard certain great ads with great music. ‘Heard it Through The Grapevine’ for Levi’s was a pivotal moment in moving advertising away from jingles into popular music.
CJ> Honda have a history of making epic ads, the Cog one springs to mind as well as ‘The Impossible Dream’. We recently licensed one of our most iconic songs, “Over The Rainbow”, to a campaign for Honda’s cars – with the cards driving through and around the lyrics - which was a rather clever way of using the song.