Blog: Music Licensing: Best Practices

Posted By Marc Loftus on March 05, 2020 11:25 am | Permalink
NEW YORK CITY - Audio post house Sonic Union ( held a panel discussion last night featuring experts from throughout the music licensing business. The "Music Licensing: Creative Inspiration and Best Practices for Production" panel addressed a number of topics that content producers face when acquiring music for their commercial productions.

Sonic Union's executive creative producer Halle Petro served as moderator for the event, which took place at the studio's Bryant Park location on West 40th Street. The studio is home to three large Avid Pro Tools suites - all of which can accommodate client-attended sessions - as well as smaller offline rooms. Participants included Universal Music's Tom Eaton, Elektra's Rachel Rauch, Ogilvy + Mather's Joanna Starling and Sony ATV's Eric Shaw. For an hour, the speakers provided advice on how to work with music publishers to secure rights to a track, the value of music in a production, how to deal with challenging budgets, when to license music from an artist or music library, and how to overcome "demo love". 

Sonic Union's (L-R) Halle Petro leads the panel of Universal Music's Tom Eaton, Elektra's Rachel Rauch, Ogilvy + Mather's Joanna Starling and Sony ATV's Eric Shaw.

All of the speakers reflected on delays that can happen when trying to license a track, and suggested leaving two weeks in a production timeline to allow for the process to play out. Sony's Shaw said there are often multiple parties that need to grant approval. Parties may or may not be savvy to the process, or might even disagree on fees. Ogilvy + Mather's Starling added that some up-and-coming artists might not even be signed to a label or publisher, further causing delays in licensing. In the advertising world, she added, a brand's campaign can die if they can't clear a song, so have an alternate plan.

Elektra's Rauch talked about how music can act as a key component to a spot. She said it's important to talk to creatives and producers about the direction of a project. "What is the idea?" she asked. Working for a record label, she said Elektra wants its artists to have a good look, as well as a synergy with the brand licensing its music.

Often, a client may fall in love with a track that's been placed in an early cut. This is known as 'demo love' and can cause problems down the road when a track is unavailable for licensing, or simply too expensive to acquire.

"Well meaning editors are sometime to blame," said Sony ATV's  Shaw. "They perpetuate the problem by not knowing the cost of a song." He recommended removing the music from the edit before presenting it to the client. And Ogilvy + Mather's Starling added with a laugh: "Don't put Beatles songs in demos!" 

"Every day we are receiving briefs, saying they need a song," added Universal Music's Eaton, who has a massive catalogue available for licensing. If a client has a song already in mind, he will ask what is it about that song that they like? Is it the lyrics? The male or female voice? Is it old or new? "We will find replacement ideas for you." 

Another way to speed the licensing process is to know all of the terms needed for the track and the type of media it will be associated with. It's easier to scale back on an agreement than continually add to the terms.

Elektra's Rauch said it helps to know as many details as possible. For a US license, for example, does that include territories? Will it expand through North America? What is the longest version of the track that is needed, and will cut downs be included in the agreement? All of these variables need to be negotiated, so knowing the requirements going in will reduce delays.

"It pays to pause and make sure you really know what the terms are that you need," added Sony ATV's Shaw. "It's better to get more than what you need up front, and then scale back. And it can save clients money."

Shaw continued, "Music licensing is complicated. It is not easy, but there are resources out there to help navigate these waters."

And Universal Music's Eaton encouraged content producers to take advantage of a publisher's knowledge and familiarity with their catalog, noting, "You don't have to pay us unless you license a song from us."