Not too long ago, I had an opportunity to work on a project alongside a large, big-name consulting firm. Here was an army of highly-educated wunderkids, all who came bearing one hundred questions, but rarely even one conclusive answer. As the project grew longer and longer, and the answers increasingly elusive, I decided that these people were simply not very good consultants. After all, where were the solutions the client needed?

One day, I shared my concerns with a friend, who herself is one of those sought-after, big-name consultants. She smiled. “Ah… they sound like they’re very good at their job,” she said admiringly. “If they accomplish the objective, everyone goes home. Smart consultants never solve a problem. At least, not before they’ve uncovered a new one.”

This came to mind recently, when I saw NMPA President David Israelite’s recent comments about the need for blanket licensing, bravely made in front of the publishing masses at the NMPA annual meeting, and also reiterated in Billboard:

http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/industry/publishing/david-israelite-nmpa-president-s-guest-post-1005250672.story

David Israelite

On the face of it, Israelite’s primary point is unassailable. The current system of licensing, particularly in regards to mechanical and synchronization licenses, doesn’t work and must be fixed. Who could dispute it? As Israelite quite honestly points out, after all the legal sturm und drang about YouTube, if Google came to the publishing community tomorrow and completely acquiesced to all demands, offering to pay whatever it took to license the rights they needed, the publishers would be completely incapable of actually doing the licensing necessary. On a legal, practical, and PR level, that doesn’t put the publishers on particularly solid ground.

Especially when it comes to licensing synchronization uses, music publishers have always insisted that the use of a song in “synchronization” with a moving picture (like a video, film, advertisement or game) requires the licensing approval of each owner of the copyright. That’s a number that as recently as the 1980s
meant potentially three or four songwriters and their publishing representatives, but can now often mean up to ten or twelve writers, some with different publishers in each territory of the world, some of whom may control as little as 1 or 2% of the song.

Needless to say, this could require weeks of phone calls and research, and that’s just to find out who controls the necessary rights. After that, the poor music supervisor, film studio, TV producer or advertising agency still has to come up with a sync fee number and legal terms that will satisfy all parties involved—all of whom of course insist on favored nations status with each other. Now multiply all those headaches by several hundred thousand.

Why several hundred thousand? Because in the internet age, that’s the way companies are interested in licensing music. The focus now is not on one specific featured use in a movie or advertisement. It’s not even on ten songs all needing mechanical licenses to appear on an individual album. Rather, services like YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, and others need to license the whole of popular music, en masse, in order to be able to offer the variety and selection that the consumer demands. In that context, one by one is a little impractical. Like having to obtain permission to use each individual word in your novel.

Needless to say, the need for blanket licensing is pretty obvious, particularly to those who spend each day trying to work through the morass of the current system. Historically, music publishers have not stood out for their foresight and boldness. Yet even they will acknowledge that the crisis has arrived, and something has to change.

In the area of mechanical royalties, Israelite suggests an approach that grew out of an attempt to reform the compulsory license section of the US Copyright Act (Section 115). This would provide for a series of mechanical licensing agents (similar to the PRO’s like ASCAP and BMI). Publishers would have the right to choose among the agents, or change agents, but these designated agents would represent the one-stop, or maybe three or four-stops for anyone seeking a mechanical license. Further, these same agents could also license synchronization rights, on a pre-set, “blanket” rate basis. The blanket licenses would cover everyone and everything, eliminate the back and forth negotiation over each individual permission, and hopefully bestow that warm and fuzzy feeling for which blankets are known.

It sounds more efficient for the publishers as well as for the people seeking to license music or to build services around music. And while it certainly takes away some of the possibility of demanding a king’s ransom for that 7.5% share of the classic copyright that you own, the increase in the number of small wins, on a global basis, will probably more than make up for the loss of the occasional jackpot. Not to mention, it might keep folks like YouTube from just tossing in the towel and taking the music without any licensing at all.

So why hasn’t it happened?

As I said up at the top—not everyone loves a problem-solver. If the consultants fix what’s broken, everyone goes home. Likewise, music publishers don’t necessarily want to remove the logjams in the licensing system. Those logjams are largely the reasons publishers exist in the first place. Simplifying a system is rarely good news for the middle-man. And publishers are the ultimate middle-men between songwriters and the people who actually use the music the songwriters create.

If one agent is responsible for issuing all of the mechanical and sync licenses according to a pre-set fee structure for a particular composer’s catalog, why would that composer need a publisher? After all, the agency is presumably already taking some sort of fee for its role in the process. Why would a songwriter also give a publisher a 25% share of the income for the next 15 or 30 years? To do what? In a more precise example—if the whole music licensing world worked in roughly the same way as ASCAP and BMI do with performing rights, would future songwriters have any real need for a publisher?

Skeptical music weasel that I am, I don’t anticipate that the NMPA membership will be rushing out immediately to champion the cause for blanket licensing. Still, realist that I am—it’s probably worthwhile for those in the publishing game to take a glance at the inevitable and ask, in our customarily self-interested way:

What does this mean to us?

Three quick things to ponder, as our livelihood passes before our eyes:

1. Age before beauty.
The older publishing catalogs, particularly those built in the Fifties, Sixties and even Seventies, when you could still manage to obtain a full-publishing share for life of copyright , are looking even better. They won’t be doing deals like that no more.

2. Quantity over quality.
It’s hard to see how a blanket licensing system will not in some way reduce the viability of building a successful business around a few isolated “big copyrights”. While the sync fees may come down for any one individual copyright, the theory is that the money will be made up in volume. It may well be true, but it’s a system that favors the major publishers, who own thousands of licensable songs, rather than a small independent with one classic in the catalog.

3. The end of the paper tiger.
If licensing problems disappear, administration is no longer a service for which songwriters will pay. That means it’s all about advances (as if it weren’t already) and creative services. Songwriters may still need a bank, at least to keep them alive in the early stages of their career. They may also still need someone to help them jump-start their career and keep it moving—pitching songs, setting up collaborations, and finding opportunities for their music. At least, I hope they will.

Otherwise I’m going back to my consulting business.

Follow me on Twitter @EricBeall

Here’s an idea whose time has certainly come:

Music companies have decided to sell music. Not just current music. Not just the hits of the moment. Not just the current hits and the classics. They’ve decided to sell it all.

Turns out that after decades of amassing hundreds of thousands of master recordings– some of them legendary, some serviceable, many of them justifiably ignored, and many of them prized by only a small cognoscenti of music freaks and collectors– the major labels have realized they just might have something of value back there in the archiving warehouse. Something they could sell. Perhaps not something they could sell to a mass contemporary audience, but something that could be sold in small numbers to people who know and love the breadth and diversity of popular music. Given that many current, chart-topping pop releases are selling less than 100,000 units a week, this is most certainly, an idea whose time has come.

EMI and SonyBMG have agreed to pry open the vaults and license their currently out-of-print content to Amazon, through a subsidiary called CreateSpace which specializes in providing on-demand delivery of physical content. Rather than printing up thousands of CD’s of old, hard-to-find recordings and sending them out to record stores, CreateSpace allows the companies to deliver copies based on customer orders. You want that old Hank Mancini soundtrack, or Cake’s “Motorcade of Generosity”? No problem. They’ll make one for you and send it out.

If you’ve read “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson, then you’re already familiar with the underlying theory. Anderson argues that for too long, the music business has focused on the big hits, while ignoring the money to be made by selling a much wider variety of less-popular, more specialized titles. While I can’t say that I buy into the theory in its entirety (no one’s expecting that the orders for “Motorcade of Generosity” will keep the lights on in the Capitol Records building, or even cover Guy Hands lunch bill), there is certainly some truth in The Long Tail concept. The fundamental truth is this:

The record labels already own the master recordings. They’ve nurtured the artists, paid for the recordings, created the packaging and now they own them. In fact, those recordings are the only things a record company really owns. The office is rented. Employees on their way out will steal the pencils. The primary assets of a record company are (go figure) records. Why not sell them to people that want to buy them?

Once again, record labels seem to be learning something from the music publishing business. Granted, it’s much cheaper and easier for publishers to manage catalogues of thousands of songs than for labels to produce and market thousands of physical albums. But publishers learned long ago that some of those tunes gathering dust in the back of a file cabinet can turn into gold with a little bit of a luck and a timely film or advertising placement. Still, you have to get them out where people can hear them. The beauty of the internet, as well as new methods of manufacturing, is that finding any piece of music, no matter how obscure, need only be a matter of going to amazon.com and checking your mailbox a few days later. If the record companies are willing, the technology is in place.

Of course, music publishers will greet this new label initiative with open arms and open coffers. The numbers may be small initially, but this is an opportunity to suddenly revitalize thousands of old titles languishing in obscurity. New mechanical royalty streams will open up; new people will hear the songs and play them for their friends; new opportunities for film, TV and advertising exposure will invariably arise as forgotten songs and artists are re-discovered.

Of course, a skeptic might call the whole thing nothing more than a record company “fire sale”. Faced with plummeting profits and a major shortage of popular new stars, the labels are now down to selling the family silver. To be sure, record companies need income sources far more significant than those to be had from selling obscure catalogue pieces.

But I say every little bit helps. They say desperate times breed desperate measures. But sometimes those desperate measures are good ones that were long overdue.

To Read More about this Click the Link Below to Read the Article from Digital Music News:

EMI, Sony BMG Dusting Off Dusty Classics; Amazon Gets Catalog

Back in my songwriting days (yes, I actually used to have a job where I created something, rather than just trying to sell something), I used to work with a collaborator who referred to her songs as her “babies”. To be honest, I never felt quite that maternal about my tunes (probably a gender thing). I viewed them more as unruly teenagers—brimming with potential, but usually plagued by one or two disastrous character flaws, and prone to costing me a lot more money than they would ever bring in.

Nevertheless, those songs were mine. I wouldn’t want to think of them as orphans. Actually, I never knew songs could be orphans. But apparently, they can. Imagine them, sitting homeless and forlorn by the side of the road, waiting for someone to come by, offer a ride, and take them away…

Could happen. I saw a fascinating blog recently:

Music-Technology-Policy

which on Friday, April 25 addressed the issue of “orphan works” – a subject currently in front of the United States House and Senate. “Orphan works” are copyrights (songs, books, recordings, you name it) for which it is not possible to identify or contact an owner. What the author of Music-Technology-Policy, Chris Castle, very adroitly points out is that there are large commercial interests, Google in particular, that have a vested interest in supporting legislation to make it possible for these “orphaned” works to be used freely, without compensation or risk of penalty.

The problem is largely one of definitions. Certainly, anyone with experience in publishing would be willing to acknowledge that some works do fall into “orphan” status. Disputes between writers, convoluted copyright histories, failure of heirs to continue to administer copyrights, works essentially abandoned by their own authors (remember that scene in “Raising Arizona” where they leave the baby on the car)—these are all situations that can eventually make it impossible to identify the proper owner of a copyright. But companies like Google are setting the bar pretty low.

According to the blog, Google’s Lester Lessig has referred to “out of print books” as orphans. Google’s General Counsel has said publicly: “These works include those for which the author or assignee of the work – the work’s “parent”—can no longer be determined, usually because the contact Information on the copyright registration is out of date”. They also expand that definition of orphan to include “works that have been, for all intents and purposes, ‘disowned’ either because any potential monetary value of the works has expired or because their authors simply are not interested in enforcing copyrights on their works”.

Wow. Those are pretty broad definitions. To claim that just because something is “out of print” makes it an orphan would put a huge portion of American music’s master recordings into the home for wayward record albums. Only a very small portion of recorded music can ever be profitably kept “in print” at any given time. But it may still be actively used in movies, television, advertising, etc. Similarly, labeling something an orphan because of an incorrect contact on the copyright registration is like deeming anyone with an incorrect address on a driver’s license a fugitive. Copyright registrations are notoriously out of date, which is why large film studios use search services that specialize in tracking down authors and publishers.

Finally, to decide that works generating little income or for which the authors are no longer actively engaged in protecting the copyrights are “orphans” overlooks some fundamental realities of publishing. At Shapiro Bernstein, where I work, we have a song in our catalogue that for over two decades generated income in the low three figures (and that’s counting dollars and cents). But upon rediscovering it in the vaults, more than 50 years after its initial creation, the song suddenly found a new life—showing up in a Tarantino film, and then catching to become a stadium anthem, then finding its way into several national advertising campaigns. The song now generates more than enough income to keep its writers living well, and to renew their interest in their long lost “baby”. Songs come back. And when they do, the copyright owners get interested very quickly.

The point of all this is not to encourage you to write your Congressman about the “orphan works” legislation—though I wouldn’t discourage it either. The real point is to remind you once again of how important it is to maintain and update all of the information necessary for administering your copyrights.

Check your ASCAP registrations regularly. Make sure your publisher and your PRO have your correct address. Maintain accurate copyright registrations. Remain ever vigilante for unauthorized uses.

I’ve made all of these points before, both here, and in my book “Making Music Make Money”. It is a primary concern of my Berkleemusic class, Music Publishing 101. Whenever I talk about this subject, I usually emphasize that the songwriter is also a publisher of his or her own work, at least until he or she decides to assign that responsibility to someone else. As publishers, it’s our job to administer and protect the copyright.

But here’s a new way to look at it. You’re not only your song’s publisher. You’re the parent. You created it—now you have to take care of it. If you don’t, there are plenty of large “content” –hungry companies and creative “pop culture alchemists” who will be more than happy to take your song and call it their own. In this Information and Entertainment Age, nothing of value will stay an orphan for long.

Back in my songwriting days (yes, I actually used to have a job where I created something, rather than just trying to sell something), I used to work with a collaborator who referred to her songs as her “babies”. To be honest, I never felt quite that maternal about my tunes (probably a gender thing). I viewed them more as unruly teenagers—brimming with potential, but usually plagued by one or two disastrous character flaws, and prone to costing me a lot more money than they would ever bring in.

Nevertheless, those songs were mine. I wouldn’t want to think of them as orphans. Actually, I never knew songs could be orphans. But apparently, they can. Imagine them, sitting homeless and forlorn by the side of the road, waiting for someone to come by, offer a ride, and take them away…

Could happen. I saw a fascinating blog recently:

Music-Technology-Policy

which on Friday, April 25 addressed the issue of “orphan works” – a subject currently in front of the United States House and Senate. “Orphan works” are copyrights (songs, books, recordings, you name it) for which it is not possible to identify or contact an owner. What the author of Music-Technology-Policy, Chris Castle, very adroitly points out is that there are large commercial interests, Google in particular, that have a vested interest in supporting legislation to make it possible for these “orphaned” works to be used freely, without compensation or risk of penalty.

The problem is largely one of definitions. Certainly, anyone with experience in publishing would be willing to acknowledge that some works do fall into “orphan” status. Disputes between writers, convoluted copyright histories, failure of heirs to continue to administer copyrights, works essentially abandoned by their own authors (remember that scene in “Raising Arizona” where they leave the baby on the car)—these are all situations that can eventually make it impossible to identify the proper owner of a copyright. But companies like Google are setting the bar pretty low.

According to the blog, Google’s Lester Lessig has referred to “out of print books” as orphans. Google’s General Counsel has said publicly: “These works include those for which the author or assignee of the work – the work’s “parent”—can no longer be determined, usually because the contact Information on the copyright registration is out of date”. They also expand that definition of orphan to include “works that have been, for all intents and purposes, ‘disowned’ either because any potential monetary value of the works has expired or because their authors simply are not interested in enforcing copyrights on their works”.

Wow. Those are pretty broad definitions. To claim that just because something is “out of print” makes it an orphan would put a huge portion of American music’s master recordings into the home for wayward record albums. Only a very small portion of recorded music can ever be profitably kept “in print” at any given time. But it may still be actively used in movies, television, advertising, etc. Similarly, labeling something an orphan because of an incorrect contact on the copyright registration is like deeming anyone with an incorrect address on a driver’s license a fugitive. Copyright registrations are notoriously out of date, which is why large film studios use search services that specialize in tracking down authors and publishers.

Finally, to decide that works generating little income or for which the authors are no longer actively engaged in protecting the copyrights are “orphans” overlooks some fundamental realities of publishing. At Shapiro Bernstein, where I work, we have a song in our catalogue that for over two decades generated income in the low three figures (and that’s counting dollars and cents). But upon rediscovering it in the vaults, more than 50 years after its initial creation, the song suddenly found a new life—showing up in a Tarantino film, and then catching to become a stadium anthem, then finding its way into several national advertising campaigns. The song now generates more than enough income to keep its writers living well, and to renew their interest in their long lost “baby”. Songs come back. And when they do, the copyright owners get interested very quickly.

The point of all this is not to encourage you to write your Congressman about the “orphan works” legislation—though I wouldn’t discourage it either. The real point is to remind you once again of how important it is to maintain and update all of the information necessary for administering your copyrights.

Check your ASCAP registrations regularly. Make sure your publisher and your PRO have your correct address. Maintain accurate copyright registrations. Remain ever vigilante for unauthorized uses.

I’ve made all of these points before, both here, and in my book “Making Music Make Money”. It is a primary concern of my Berkleemusic class, Music Publishing 101. Whenever I talk about this subject, I usually emphasize that the songwriter is also a publisher of his or her own work, at least until he or she decides to assign that responsibility to someone else. As publishers, it’s our job to administer and protect the copyright.

But here’s a new way to look at it. You’re not only your song’s publisher. You’re the parent. You created it—now you have to take care of it. If you don’t, there are plenty of large “content” –hungry companies and creative “pop culture alchemists” who will be more than happy to take your song and call it their own. In this Information and Entertainment Age, nothing of value will stay an orphan for long.

I just can’t stop making you money. First, I tipped you off about Sound Exchange, and the money that is being set aside to pay performance royalties to artists whose work is used in the digital domain. Then I clued you into the importance of registering your songs at Harry Fox and MCPS/PRS in order to avoid other people collecting your lost income. Next, I told you to get in the game, and suggested that there was an important new income source in video games. And now it’s time to go to church.

Okay, I realize this isn’t for everyone. If your catalogue of songs is predominately death metal anthems or songs about getting “low”, church is probably not the place for you. Clearly, Christian music, whether it’s traditional hymns, Christian rock, CCM pop, or gospel, is not for everyone. But it’s for more people than you might think. If you’re not in the industry, it might surprise you how big these markets are. But what might really surprise you is what a big business it can be.

I remember the first trip I made to Nashville—I was working for a large publisher based in New York, and headed off to meet my colleagues in the Country music office (based in Nashville) and in the Christian music office (located in the center of that industry, in the suburb of Franklin). Like most offices in the country music industry, our Nashville office was located in a small family house along Music Row. It was charming and cozy, but by New Yorker skyscraper standards, not overly impressive.

With that in mind, I headed off to the Franklin office of our Christian Music division, expecting an even smaller office somewhere in a suburban office park. After all, country music is a much bigger business than the Christian business, right?

What I found was a six or seven story glass tower devoted entirely to the business of Christian music—a record label, publishing company, printing company and recording studio. “How can the CCM business be generating this kind of income?” It didn’t seem to correspond in any way to the level of CCM record sales. Turns out.. it doesn’t need to .

The Christian music industry is one segment that learned early on that there is more to making money in music than record sales. A huge portion of the income in Christian music is generated by print music, an area that has been largely ignored in the secular business. Print music is key in the CCM market because of the sale of praise and worship music, choral arrangements, youth choir arrangements and other songbooks that are marketed directly to churches and Christian bookstores. For those writers fortunate enough to write a praise and worship favorite, the money can flow in year after year—from the publishing rights, not the record royalties.

So for those of you who are actively involved in the Christian or Gospel business, it’s essential to learn how to collect the money for these worship service uses. This past week, Billboard writer Susan Butler , in her column “The Publisher’s Place”, highlighted a very important organization:

Christian Copyright Licensing International

This company, based in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, licenses and collects royalties from churches for reproductions, reprintings or other copying of songs to be used in their worship services, choir shows, etc. Churches are not required to pay performance royalties (ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC) for their services. But they are required to license, and pay for reproductions like bulletin inserts, songbooks, or visual projections of the songs. What does that really mean to publishers? About $172 million over the past 19 years!

CCLI is not only responsible for collecting the money, and distributing it to the publishers and writers, but also for helping church choir leaders, ministers and others to understand their obligations under the law, and the importance of licensing the music they use. It even has an online service called SongSelect that works with nearly 60,000 subscribers, giving them access to a library of almost 200,000 songs available for download. The organization licenses 145,000 churches, offering a “church copyright license” with scaled annual fees based on the number of church members. From those church licenses, CCLI distributed more than $15 million to publishers last year.

Please be clear. This is not a religious message. But if you’ve watched the election results on Tuesday, and seen the surprising strength of Mike Huckabee, you’ve seen that the power and size of the evangelical movement should not be underestimated. I’m not preaching to anyone here.

I’m talking business—and reminding you that if you are involved in the CCM or Gospel industry, you need to be familiar with CCLI. There is real money there—money that can help you to sustain your business, spread your message, and get your music heard. When people lift every voice and sing, someone’s getting paid. Let it be you.

A FINE ROLE MODEL

Nov 07 2007

Those that can’t do, teach, right? We’ve all heard that one. But would about teachers who did whatever it is that they’re teaching? Or those that are still doing whatever it is, while they’re teaching? They can do and teach, right? Like a living, breathing textbook.

Not exactly.

Anyone who’s taken my course, Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic.com, or who has read my book “Making Music Make Money” will know a couple of things. The first is that I was in fact, a songwriter– for about 15 years. The second thing my readers or students will know is that I am still a music publisher. Any weekday, you’ll find me in the office like every other music business weasel– trying to find a way to keep my company’s income, and my writers income flowing in…

Last but not least, if you’ve ever checked out either my course or the book, you’ll know that I can go on forever about the importance of split letters, and catalogue information. Here’s a little quote for you:

“If music publishing is your business, then songs are your assets…not unlike inventory to a store, or airplanes to an airline. And if that’s the case, they should be treated with care. You must know what songs you have OWNERSHIP in, and how much of them you own… And you must establish ORDER within that catalogue, so that each song is properly identified, easily accessible, and part of a coherent cataloguing system”.

The message I try to bring home to songwiters is that by default, you are your own publisher. That means that it’s up to you to make sure you have split letters that define your ownership percentage of the song, and that you’d better have some kind of system for keeping track of what you write, and who you wrote it with. If you don’t do it, no one else can.

Which is why I find my recent experience so incredible. Last week, I received a letter informing me that I was part of a Class Action lawsuit, involving a major television network, and a long-running soap opera, which regularly used a variety of songs in the show. Apparently, back in my previous life, I had written a song that was used in this particular soap opera. This much I vaguely remember.

From the barrage of legalese in the letter, I was able to discern that this soap opera had subsequently failed in some way to properly license the songs featured in the show (hundreds of them, over a decade’s worth of episodes) when the soap opera was eventually syndicated all over the world. Now, all of the writers were getting a big pot of money in the form of a settlement, which would be split up between everyone involved. All I had to do in order to collect my share was provide them some simple information about the song I had in the show.

Oh. That’s all, huh? Except I didn’t even recognize the title of the tune. Nor did I have the slightest recollection of who I might have written the song with. To be fair, it was at least 10 years ago. At least I think it was– I couldn’t remember when I wrote the song either. Or which publisher I was with at the time. In short, I couldn’t recall one single useful piece of information about the song.

But of course, I had written records I could consult. Right? Uh… no. Not only did I not have any kind of comprehensive cataloging system from that time in my writing life– I didn’t even have the music available. All I had were some old DATs, which I couldn’t find– and for which I lacked the all-important DAT player. It appears that my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow will be split among people other than me– people who can actually keep some kind of written records of their business.

Wow. What a role model, right? Pretty embarrassing, especially for someone who teaches Music Publishing 101. But I prefer to think of it as a selfless sacrifice in the name of education. After all the lecturing, what could hammer the point home more effectively than this vivid example of my own stupidity?

This situation is a perfect example of why cataloguing, record-keeping, split letters, and the like are so important. Because 10 years later, 20 years later, even 50 years later, things come up. Lawsuits surface, disputes between heirs of copyrights rear their ugly head, songs are rediscovered and revitalized, or soap operas are sold into syndication. You’ve got to have some paper– because you won’t remember the details.

You can trust me on that.