License yourself clean

January 14, 2011

For the second time in as many years, the good folks at have thought my innane ramblings good enough to be “Most Read of the Year”. I wrote about music licensing and strategy in July, and the post is here.

Conversation & The Digital Age

April 30, 2010

I read this post by Andrew Dubber on my flight today, and it made me think about how important conversation is, and will continue to be, to musicians, to businesses and quite frankly, to everyone.

And what an amazing opportunity this is for those of us who truly love conversation – being part of it and enabling it. And how hard it’ll be for those who hate conversation, especially rock stars.

But what is conversation online, exactly? Of course, it’s a hastag on Twitter or an IM dialogue. But it’s equally a click of a link in an email, a “like” on Facebook or an embed of your video on someone’s blog.

What’s amazing about these conversations is that they’re entirely non-verbal, happen in the blink of an eye and are immensely powerful. Yet most people aren’t doing enough to track and respond to these ongoing conversations. And if you don’t understand or follow a conversation, how can you expect to respond in a meaningful way?

Is it possible to stay on top of these micro-conversations, when a lot of people can’t even stay on top of their email? It’s certainly a challenge.

But as Andrew mentions in his post, the digital age is quite literally re-wiring how our brain works and how we communicate. We’ll evolve, to varying degrees of success, to cope.

And right now, those who converse the most effectively will have the most success.

Notes on Music Licensing from Film-Maker, Colin McIvor

June 28, 2009

Colin McIvor is an independent film-maker based in Downpatrick. He prioritizes the use of local music and artists in his productions and has created TV and online ads for companies such as Sony Playstation, Lucozade, Northern Bank, Easyjet and has worked with artists such as Sinead O’Connor and Larry Mullen, Jr.

You can view Colin’s work at his Vimeo page or on YouTube

• Most commercial scripts that I’d receive from advertising agencies the audio column on the script generally say the following – ‘generic upbeat music’.

• Usually the agencies locally don’t put a huge amount of thinking into the music on a commercial but focus on the ‘message’ of the ad.

• At the point where I enter I am asked to do a ‘director’s treatment’ where I outline usually on a single A4 broken into paragraphs how I will approach the commercial. This is where I begin to plant the seed of a particular type of music into the ad agency’s brain.

• One thing to remember before anything else is that ALL ad agencies are heart-scared of losing their client no matter how small! They will do nothing that they might consider will be at odds with their client’s profile.

• At the treatment stage also I am beginning to think of music more specifically. As you know I am very keen to use local artist’s work for a number of reasons; primarily uniqueness and the fear of the dreaded ‘library CDs’ (elevator music!) but also cost-wise.

• When I get the gig I am usually asked to do storyboards – drawing out the various scenes to give the agency a sense of composition and general flow of my vision. At this stage I am now very much planting the seed of music deeper. However, there is always a certain amount of danger at this stage because if I’m saying to and playing an agency something like Jose Gonzalez ‘heartbeats’ I need to be damn sure that I can deliver that type of music for the anticipated price.

• Unless a track has already been chosen and the ad has been written ‘around’ the lyrics the agency has an expectation to pay for a library track. I can’t be certain but its usually in and around £500.

• This is NOT always the case though as the budget sometimes allows £200 maximum which in that case they usually ask the in-house sound mixer to lash something out which is usually heartless and not even as good as a library track, and that’s saying something!

• If I get the go ahead to go looking for a track locally I would probably go looking on the NIMIC website. I also have quite a number of local artist’s CDs which I’d go through.

• Here’s the important bit which sometimes can be at odds with the artist’s plan. Because I am looking for a track that has not specifically been commissioned I quite often am looking for a suitable melody sometimes ignoring the lyrics. Unless the lyrics are relevant to the ‘message’ of the commercial the track will immediately frighten off the agency no matter how hard you point them at the melody.

• 9 times out of 10 the lyrics will either need changed or taken out entirely. You’ve got to remember that ad agencies and post production houses receive anything up to 10 library cds a month from which they have the choice of a piece of music with or without lyrics and with various elements stripped out and of different lengths 30secs, 40secs and 60secs. My point is if local artist want to compete this must be willing to use their music in different ways.

• The ideal scenario for me is that I find a local artist track. I speak to the artist, ideally I send him a rough cut of the commercial (unlikely though as the deadlines for delivery don’t allow for any time to send off rough cuts) the artist then sends me 3 versions of the same track – 1 full with lyrics, 1 minus lyrics and 1 with certain instruments stripped back or boosted.

UnConvention Vs. In The City

October 10, 2008

Bearded (magazine)Image via WikipediaI don’t know what happened to me at In The City this week – maybe it was the energy of Unconvention, or the razor sharp minds who gathered at Salford’s Trinity Church for the anti-In The City.

I suppose it can all be summed up by In The City’s final panel – entitled “Has The Music Industry Gone Full Circle”. The panelists included Alan McGee (he of Creation records and “I discovered Oasis” fame), a gent who’d just left Warner and was keen to express how happy he was to leave, a chap who still worked at Columbia (and who spent a good few minutes performing fellatio on his parent company, Sony, for being the “ultimate media company”), a fellow who remembers buying Elvis’ first single and, as panel moderator, Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones. At the last minute, Mr. Oldham invited a member of the audience to join the panel: Geoff Travis, founder of Rough Trade Records. The only quote that sticks in my mind, and which I believe bears repeating, is from the venerable Mr. Travis:

“It’s about that thrill. The thrill of finding a new artist, when all of a sudden you’re 13 again, in the back of a musty old shop, flicking through the 3 racks of new singles and finding the gem that will possess your heart for the coming weeks.”

As if to back up those words, I bumped into Mr. Travis (who must be in his 60s by now) at the front row of at least 3 very sweaty rooms, watching the bands.

At the SXSW panels, I summarized the questions and answers of participants. But as I reviewed my notes for this post, I couldn’t bring myself to transcribe the vacuous nostalgia and irrelevant drivel from the ITC panels. It’s not that what was said was entirely irrelevant, I suppose, but as has been the problem with the music industry, there was absolutely NO conversation. They were up “there”. We were down “here”.

It was ironic that a recurring theme of some of the panels was how “technology had removed the mystery from rock bands”. It seemed that the reason d’etre of the panels was to impose that same sort of mystery on the panelists.

The passion, excitement and accessibility of the attendees at UnConvention was simply not present at In The City – not only that, it seemed that ITC simply did not have a platform for labels, artists and zines working at the most exciting level of the music industry. Unconvention celebrated that in every sense.

As with the majority of conferences the best conversations occurred after the panel finished – and WHAT conversation! Implementing “use-it-or-lose-it” copyright, the importance of supporting local music businesses, creating infrastructure (legal, pr, accounting) for said businesses; the realization that all too often music businesses can work in a bubble, unaware that across the street someone who can help achieve their aims toils also; reinventing the label to be a model of what artists need, consumers want and labels can deliver – making the label a conduit of information and a focal point for artist and consumer contact.

The buzz in the foyer of Sacred Trinity was electric as label startups, digital services and indie musicians bounced ideas and exchanged details – the most thrilling discovery was just how many bands, labels and artists were in a similar situation – there was an immense sense of camaraderie, founded on the simple realization that everyone was pushing in the same direction.

Companies like SoundofMonkey, iThinkMusic, Bearded Magazine and innumerable merchandise, publishing and graphic artist discovered each other and began discussing the problems and solutions in their daily businesses. There simply is not substitute to getting a group of people with ideas in a room and watching those ideas get refined, drawn out and expanded upon for the benefit of all involved.

So, anyway, onto the music.

Overall, I was surprised at the real lack of “blow-me-away” artists, although there were a few. Hearteningly, many of Belfast or San Francisco’s top bands (Cutaways, Cashier #9, Not Squares, Two Door Cinema Club, Overview, Low Red Land, Geographer, Two Sheds) would easily hold their own against this lineup. Here’re my top 5…

To The Bones – Angular, glorious rock with the kind of twists and turns that’d make Deerhoof proud.

Toolshed – Their chamber jazz, avant-garde glory suited the Church setting in Salford very well. Vocalist Seaming To’s operatic reaches brought the house down.

Down The Tiny Steps Glaswegian electro-trio, mixing spoken word vocals and layered and sampled vocals, these guys rocked Piccadilly Records on Tuesday. Big shout to Laura & Darryl at the store for ruling (and for hooking me up w/ that Cheval Sombre 7″!)

Barbarians – Only the 30 or so people in that room (The Tiger Club) know what happened when Barbarians started.

My Toys Like Me were an interesting electronica-tinged wail-fest.

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Music & Technology to Marry, Make Kids with Super-Industry Powers.

June 16, 2008
The Old Romantic Killer Band

Image by coxy via Flickr

In a recent paper from the UK’s performing rights society MCPS-PRS Alliance, two of the sharpest minds in music 2.0 proposed that music rights societies, such as MCPS or any record label, should ask for equity in nascent web based music startups in return for granting those startups the right to use their catalog.

The merits and demerits of this proposal aside (and both are wonderfully divulged in the paper, so go have a read), I’ve been one of a few proponents of the idea that it is this type of co-operation of the technology industries and the recorded music industry that truly presents the best solution moving forward for all involved. From the paper:

“It is in the opinion of the authors that a long-standing solution to the
dilemma of licensing nascent and controversial uses will only occur by
way of persistent, perhaps heated dialogue between the developers of
new services, the investors in those services, and the owners of the
underlying rights involved. Each party has a stake in the success of
innovative opportunities.”

Although the relevance of copyright is currently hotly debated, it is still the framework under which artists of all levels, rookie to mega-star, are compensated for their work. At the indie music level, the viability of artistic careers must start with the artist’s right to be compensated for the performance, duplication and licensing of his/her work.

Of course, the wild success of YouTube and other online enterprises paid little or no heed to copyright. I’m not passing judgment at all here – it’s the digital environment we live in and there’s no changing it.

My question is – how can technology and recorded music industries find common ground in this debate to the advantage of all? More importantly, is this kind of co-operation worthwhile for startups at all? Would you consider the rights of artists were you to run a Music 2.0 startup? I’d really like to hear what you think on this – especially if you’ve got a perspective from the technology side.

Cory Denis summed up this “New Music Economy” quite succinctly in this Wikipedia entry. And it’s this summation that’ll form the basis of a talk I’m giving this weekend at BarCamp, a series of talks that normally focus on tech subjects such as coding, web design and the like. I’m hoping to get into some “heated dialogue” with you here and discussing this subject with folks at BarCamp.

After all, like any great marriage, it’s the arguments that lead to the real growth.

If you found this article interesting, please forward it to someone else who might find it useful, too. Thanks!

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It’s time for “Free” to get some serious face-time.

February 10, 2008

2007 was quite the conference year for me. Music industry folks rubbing shoulders and what not. But as I mentioned RE: the Bandwidth conference, for all of the discussion of “new business models” there was very little talk of one of the most significant new models that applies to the new music industry – Free.

If you need a recap, “Free” or “The Economics of Abundance” simply states that when copies are super abundant, they become worthless. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

Founder of Wired and The Whole Earth Catalog, Kevin Kelly, has recent post called “Better than Free” which is a very eloquent example of how to monetize the scarce elements in any industry where “Free” is a viable part of a business model. It’s a wonderful jumping off point and I’d encourage any new artist to seriously consider the guidelines here if you want to become an independent music business in your own right.

Not only that, but it’s a concept that’s been around for a while. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick’s “Free” based business model, suggested back in 2003, was recently adopted by former major label artist Kristen Hirsch. And author of “The Long Tail” and Wired editor Chris Anderson is also a proponent – Chris is releasing a book on the subject, called “Free”, in 2009. It’s been talking to and reading these gentlemen’s ideas that have set me on my current course.

It perfectly natural to be resistant to “Free”, of course. The music industry has been built on monetizing the artifact (CD, wax cylinder, whatever) of recorded music for over 100 years. And like most technological transitions there are no absolutes – the sale of recorded music is still a multi-billion dollar industry and one that Penny Distribution, via our digital distribution agreements with artists and labels, still sees as an important part of our model now and in the future.

But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it’s impossible to create a viable music business based on the sale of recorded music alone.

The question is: Why is “Free” not a larger part of these new business models?

Here’s a little experiment: try telling a label, or artist, that their catalog of recorded music has been devalued to the point where it’s almost worthless. You won’t even have time to explain the concept of monetizing the scarce features of their catalog before you get a look of incredulity and an end to the conversation.

And the reason? Because Label 1.0 (and indeed Recorded Music 1.0) is based entirely on the worth of sound recordings – most record labels require that they own outright the sound recordings that they pay for artists to make – and the “right” to decide how much to sell them for and to whom is the cornerstone of their business model.

As I mentioned before, working for a Label 1.0 made me realize how closely we cling to our ideas of how a certain business “works”. To do business in any other way goes against the patterns label owners and artists used to make their fortunes for, sometimes, over half a decade. Like any habit, it’s hard to break.

There are often emotional responses to ideas such as this: “How will music survive?” label heads say, “How will artists make money?”, “Won’t someone PLEASE think of the children?!?” It’s arguments such as these that organizations like the RIAA have made in the past in defense of it’s campaign of lawsuits. But we knew then, as we know now, that P2P is an inevitability.

And “Free” is an inevitability by extension. The question is not “How do we stop it?” but “How do we take advantage of it?”

There are no definitive answers here: “Free” isn’t the ONLY answer, but should be at least part of a viable music business solution.

Subscription models were seen as a “savior” early in the decade, but disappointing performance from Napster and other major players (Coke, AOL, MTV) highlighted the many flaws, not least the fact that if you stopped paying the service, you lost all the music you’d downloaded.

The latest buzz is about Ad-Supported music (Imeem, We7, qTrax), but evidence is arising that basing your business on whether or not people click on ads in a social network environment may be a bad idea.

It’s high time “Free” (with intelligent implementation along the lines of Kelly’s article) got some serious consideration – and if major labels want to ignore another elephant in the room, Penny Distribution and others like us will be happy to pick up the slack.

Both of Penny Distribution’s debut releases, Departures by Tom McShane and Mistake: Do Over by The Terribles (Artwork, Lyrics, 320kbps MP3s) are available for free. Tell your friends, take ‘em with you and spread the word if you like them. These and future releases will use “Free” to it’s fullest advantage.

Radiohead and In Rainbows – Pushing the boundaries in Publishing, too

January 6, 2008

There seems to have been a touch of serendipity at play in Radiohead’s decision to offer their latest album as a pay-as-you-want download. As the band’s managers told David Byrne in his recent Wired interview (Audio entitled “You have had years…) about 5 weeks before the band announced the imminent release of In Rainbows, Radiohead’s long-time publisher Warner-Chappell (“WC”), approached the band with what they described as an “experimental” idea.

WC’s proposal was a simple one (see article from Billboard, reproduced below).  In short, with Radiohead’s permission, WC would act as a global one-stop shop for the administration of the copyrights of In Rainbows.

Under the old publishing administration system, the artist and publisher would have to negotiate deals with collecting societies in each of the 27 EU territories separately, and the length of time between the purchase of a track until the time the artist is paid, could be a year or more.

The new deal allows WC and Radiohead to sidestep this enormously complex system, to the ultimate benefit of consumers (with music getting to market more quickly), artists (who are paid more quickly) and the music industry (by the reduction in bureaucracy) by allowing WC to be the collector and administrator of the rights for In Rainbows on a global basis.

Just to clarify, WC, although owned by Warner Music Group, is a separate company and one of the few profitable arms of a company who’s stock hit an all time low of $5.31/share today. WC handles the administration of the songwriting copyright for thousands of artists, including Radiohead.  EMI controls the sound recording copyright of all of Radiohead’s albums except In Rainbows. By not resigning with EMI, Radiohead maintained control of their sound recording copyrights for In Rainbows, but choose to allow WC to continue to administer the songwriting copyrights.

Although there are two separate copyrights (sound recording and songwriting) at work in every piece of recorded music, they are virtually useless when used independently of each other – digital downloads, using the music in a movie, making a CD, licensing the song to a video-game etc. all rely on the agreement of the sound recording owner (in this case, EMI for their seven prior albums, Radiohead themselves for In Rainbows) and the songwriting copyright owner (jointly Radiohead and Warner-Chappell Publishing for all albums).

The removal of EMI from this equation, and consequently the removal of many time- and-cash consuming “stakeholders”, may well have streamlined this whole process – on January 3rd, in a move that seemed to give credence to WC/Radiohead deal, the EU published it’s Creative Content Online In The Single Market paper.

It called for “the (music) industry to set aside piracy concerns through “innovative and collaborative solutions” and make more content available digitally” and “that there is ”an underlying need” to tackle “the lack of multi-territory copyright licences, (which) makes it difficult for online services to be deployed across Europe and to benefit from economies of scale”.”

It’s long been said that the new music industry would require bold moves and a re-thinking of old paradigms. Radiohead’s album release was certainly such a move: but it’s refreshing and exciting to see a company with “old industry” ties such as Warner Chappell lead the way in publishing, despite the obvious risks involved.

Even though success is far from guaranteed at this point, these moves may well be to the benefit of the next generation of great musicians, songwriters and industry entrepreneurs.

Warner-Chappell have agreed to answer any questions I might have about the deal they signed with Radiohead (thanks, Paul!). If you have anything you’d like to ask them about the deal, please post it as a comment and I’ll try and forward it along.



Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” has again chartered new territory—this time in terms of its digital licensing.

The British alternative rock act and its publisher Warner/Chappell Music have launched a unique “all rights” digital licensing service for the album’s release, aimed at streamlining the licensing process for works on the 10-track set, Billboard has learned.

The “one-stop shop” solution enables potential rights users worldwide to secure licenses from a single destination, effectively side-stepping the label and traditional collecting society networks.

Jane Dyball, Warner/Chappell senior VP of European legal and business affairs, hails the development as “groundbreaking,” noting that it allows the publisher to administer all digital rights for “In Rainbows,” including mechanical, performing, synchronization, lyrics, master recordings, image and likeness. The publisher will also license synch rights for publishing and master rights for TV and film synch uses.

“We can do it because we are not under a contract with a major record company,” says Radiohead manager Bryce Edge of Oxford, England-based Courtyard Management. “No major label, in my experience, would let a band sign a deal without the digital rights being attached.”

Like many aspects of Radiohead’s seventh studio set, the new digital licensing solution was “experimental,” says Dyball, but one that promises benefits to all parties. She stresses that the deal applies only to this album, and that it is still too early to gauge whether the system will provide a template for other acts to do the same.

“We’re able to do this because of the band’s unique circumstances, their history with Warner/Chappell and our combined willingness to try new approaches,” she says. “So it’s not something that can be immediately rolled out to others. But, as with any experiment, we will learn things along the way, which will be fed back into our business.”

The only constraints for third-party digital licensing, Edge says, is that download stores must sell works encoded in a bit rate of 256kps and higher, and that the content be offered digital rights management-free.

The convoluted process for licensing publishing rights in Europe alone typically requires a service to negotiate with one or two societies in each of the 27 European Union member states. Master rights are treated separately. The Radiohead deal is a step beyond Warner/Chappell‘s MIDEM announcement of plans to offer Pan-European licenses for its Anglo-American repertoire.

“To do that kind of experiment on a bigger scale, you had to have a buy-in from lots of different stakeholders and everyone would have to agree,” Dyball says. “On this, we had hardly any stakeholders, just Warner/Chappell and Radiohead, which really allowed us to try it.”

The album finally receives a physical release through ATO Records Group (United States), Hostess Entertainment (Japan) and XL Recordings (rest of world) in late December/early January (see story, page 18).

“We are intending to share the revenue that we receive through the one-stop shop from the master exploitation with XL and ATO,” Edge says. “It’s just we are collecting it.”

All licenses as part of the new Warner/Chappell arrangement are subject to band approval.

“We will certainly be starting to talk with licensees now, in conjunction with the band and management,” Dyball says. “But it’s too early to talk about deals.”

Edge confirms that Radiohead’s camp is in talks with iTunes about carrying “In Rainbows.” The band’s previous albums are not available through Apple’s music store.

Warner/Chappell says the licensing service will operate at standard industry rates.

“We’re working with the band,” Dyball adds, “and they are working with their non-digital partners. The idea is that we’re all pushing in the same direction.”