Sunday, September 7, 2014

More on synchs – 10 tips from music placement experts

by Emmanuel Legrand

How does the music get into the advert?” This was the simple question (and a few others) that Sat Bisla, founder of A&R Worldwide and organiser of Los Angeles trade show MusExpo, put to a panel of synchronisation experts from both sides of the Atlantic, during the recent c/o pop convention, that took place in Cologne August 20-22. His panel included Natasha Baldwin, London-based Group President for Creative and Marketing at music publishing indie Imagem Music Group, Hans Brouwer, CEO of Dutch music agency MassiveMusic, Kyle Hopkins, Head of Music Supervision at Microsoft & Xbox in San Francisco, and Nadin Lefkeli, Music & Business Director of German music agency White Horse Music. Below is a compilation of the different points that they raised during the session at c/o pop.

The panel of experts (l-r): MassiveMusic's Hans Brouwer, 
White Horse Music's Nadin Lefkeli, Imagem Music Group's Natasha Baldwin, 
Microsoft's Kyle Hopkins and moderator Sat Bisla. 
(Picture: A&R Worldwide) 

1 - The future is mobile

Duh! Sounds obvious, but so far little attention has been put in the mobile space when it comes to syncs, said Microsoft's Hopkins who believes that the explosion of wearable devices "means that we will see more and more activity in that space, because it is the most rapidly changing in the technology space at the moment." He added, "The mobile space is of huge interest because it is exploding. We will have an ability to do more in the music space on mobile device and it is evolving very quickly. And the great thing is that there are no set precedents or rules."

2 - Artists are on board...

The time when bands were turning their back on synchs sees to be a thing of the past. Aside from a couple of acts (Tom Waits, among a few others) who would not lend their music to synchs, most acts are now open to opportunities in that area. Some will draw the line on the type of projects, especially when it comes to advertising, but many bands, according to Imagem's Baldwin enjoy the idea of having their music in TV shows or movies. Baldwin took the example of a US rock band that was totally opposed to music placements a few years ago but eventually changed its views (could it be that the selling of their recordings stalled?). "I have seen of a lot of bands, some of them very high profile, changing their attitudes [towards synchs],” said Baldwin. “The perception has shifted a lot.”

3 - ...and they think strategically

Most of the bands are extremely strategic in their approach to music placements, said Imagem's Baldwin. A good case in point is Daft Punk, who are quite business savvy and who are careful in their decision-making process. “We worked extremely closely with Columbia [Daft Punk label in the US],” said Baldwin, whose company administers Daft Punk's publishing catalogue. “We refused all synchs while album was out, and when sales started to go down, we started taking synch requests. For small bands it is a different situation. They want to be able to build their profile. There is a strategic process around all bands.”

4 - Synchs never come too early in a career

Don't think that because you don't have a recording deal you can't get placements. Brouwer's MassiveMusic, told the story of how he spotted on MySpace (remember?) a young Danish artist named Agnes Obel, who had a few hundred followers and a couple of songs on display. Brouwer liked a song he heard, eventually contacted the artist and one of her songs ended up in a T-Mobile ad, even though the artist was yet to record her first album.
Similarly, Imagem's Baldwin noted an increasing interest from brands and agencies for artists at a very early stage of their development. “In UK,” she said, “we see acts that get B-listed on [BBC] Radio 1 and we get phone calls from agencies who say they want to work with these bands. The same happens in the Middle East. There are a lot of British expats and what happens in the UK charts has an impact there.”

5 - It is hard to tailor hits for brands

Clients – ad agencies and brands – sometimes entertain high expectations about the kind of music that they would like to use. To a point that some clients do ask for hits, but not existing hits, they want tailored tracks that will eventually become hits by being associated with brands. And that's not realistic, says MassiveMusic's Brouwer. “Brands come to us and say can you write a hit,” said, “but if we could write hits wouldn't we actually be doing it for someone else than a brand?”

6 - Expect direct and honest discussions on rates

The panel agreed that the attitude of music supervisors and brands has changed with regards to budgets and are now more open and direct about the budgets that they have. Knowing exactly what pot is available can save a lot of time for each party involved. “Honest conversation dialogue with all parties is fundamental in the process,” said Imagem's Baldwin. “What you want to hear is 'I have X amount of dollars, and I want this band, so how can we find a middle ground'.” Based on these premises, deals are easier and quicker to be sealed. But as White Horse's Lefkeli noted, there will always be people who will play with their cards close to their chests as part of the negotiating process. “It depends on who you have in front of you,” she explained. “Some people like negotiating as a game.”

7 - Rates are not increasing...

“There's been a shift towards worldwide buy-outs but fees are no longer as big as they used to be,” explained MassiveMusic's Brouwer. Big brands can still pay big fees, especially for worldwide campaigns, but in most cases prices are eroded, not least because there tends to be more placements per projects for more or less the same budgets. “Fees are not the same any more,” said White Horse Music's Lefkeli. “Yes, there are more fees, but these are lower fees. But it depends on the copyright. If have a big copyright, [clients] will pay the big fee.”

8 - ...but there are more synchs opportunities

But on the other hand, the number of projects is growing, in particular thanks to an explosion of online channels that require a lot of synchs. “Our clients need more rights than before,” said White Horse Music's Lefkeli. “We try to license upfront a bigger packaging [of rights] so that there is more flexibility for the clients.”
Microsoft's Hopkins also noted that in the video game sphere, there's even more synchs now in games than before. “I am doing five time as many synchs as I was five years ago,” he revealed. “So my partners [in the music business] know that if I have a small budget for a campaign and it is not going to them, there will be another one very soon. And nothing is off limit with regards to the projects I am working on. Music can be from indie publishers, major publishers, unsigned bands, etc.”

9 - Always deliver quality...

Key rule to keep your clients happy: don't mess up with quality, be it quality of the song, quality of the recording, quality of the digital files. MassiveMusic's Brouwer commented: “You always have to deliver quality. If you don't, as a company, you are gone. If they call you, you should deliver on time.” And don't overload music supervisors with too much material. “Give 4 or five killer songs. Not 30 or 40!” advised Imagem's Baldwin.

10 - ...and respect deadlines, or else!

Again, what matters is to deliver and deliver on time, and that means doing it at all levels of the process, from the commissioning or pitching to the agreements and the signing of contracts to the final delivery of the digital files. Microsoft's Hopkins put it very bluntly: "Video developers have deadlines that they have to meet and are not interested in the situations [linked to negotiating syncs], but I also need to keep the publishers happy." Bottom line for Hopkins: "[People] need answers and it needs to be done on time."

[Typed while listening to Danish collective Den Sorte Skole, whose performance at c/o pop was simply exceptional. Their music – which has not been commercially released due to clearance issues – can be downloaded there for free.]

[This is my 100th post since I started this blog a few years ago. It's been a great experience -- what a thrill when you notice that you have readers as far as Mongolia or Chile! -- and I am looking forward to the next 100. Thanks to all the readers.]

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Simon Napier-Bell: 'I am an imposter'

[This is an expanded version of a story initially published in BASCA's magazine The Works, issue 40.]

Simon Napier-Bell
Simon Napier-Bell is waiting in the lobby of the hotel in Shepherd's Bush where he usually stays when he is visiting the British capital. It is his last day in Europe before flying back to Thailand where he spends most of his time nowadays. He is in London for some serious business – putting the last touches to his forthcoming book, his fourth, in which he attempts to document no less than three centuries of the global music industry.

As he just celebrated his 75th anniversary, the former Yardbirds, T. Rex, Wham! and Japan manager is in good form and in talkative mood. Before the interview starts, he makes a brief reference to The Works. “The literate people who are interested in the music business read BASCA's magazine,” he quips. And from then on, it is almost impossible to stop the voluble – and often controversial – chronicler of the music industry.

His new book, titled 'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay', is named after a 19th Century vaudeville song, the authorship of which has been under dispute. “I think it is a jolly good song,” says Napier-Bell, who was inspired by the history of the song. For him, it encompasses what the music industry is – a vaudeville, with an upbeat tempo and a controversial background (not to mention that it was originally created in a Louisiana brothel).

“In the book,” he explains, “I have been analysing the business from when music became a commodity. And going from there to today made me change my attitude on things. The music industry has never been doing anything other than finding ways to make something that fitted the business models of the times. In the 19th Century artists would play musicals, which were seven or eight minutes long, and then songs became three-minute long when the singles came around. But songs were also presented in 32-bar format sold via sheet music. That format was created to sell sheet music. So there has always been a delineation of what the business side wanted and it was fulfilled by the creative people.”

Napier-Bell is adamant that creators have constantly been adopters of new technologies, and even if they have most of the time been on the wrong side of the business deals, they always found ways to express their creativity. “Creators have always adjusted to technology and any artist who grumbles about the business should go in the park,” he says. “You move into the business and it's a balance between commerce and creativity, with a compromise in the middle. You had artists who had to compromise with capitalism in a way they never thought they would and the role of the manager was to bring the two sides together and this is still valid today.”

“Artists are usually very shrewd and are quite savvy about the industry,” says Napier-Bell. “Stars are very unique people, they come along and have a certain amount of talent and are obsessed with showing off and insecure by doing so. They always compromise with the industry because that's their way of dealing with the system.”
Financially useless
The music industry, he adds, is the product of three centuries of evolution – with an acceleration in the early 60s and the era of the modern business to the heydays of selling CDs and now to today's digital disruption. The beginning of all the process was the recognition of value in creativity, with the Statute of Anne, which bestowed the ownership of the creation to the author and created modern intellectual property rights. The existence of a property right allowed transactions and eventually led to the modern business as we know it, which has become an integral part of the capitalist system, functioning in an open market economy. “Name me a better example than music as a financially useless product which has to be replaceable and defunct quickly,” he smiles. “But the profits are huge when it works.”

He adds, “Record companies want to sell plastic. It's a great business: They bought plastic and sold it with a thousand per cent markup! But the business had to be run by people who loved music to make sure that the music on the plastic was good so that the public would buy it. So there were some good people [in the labels].”

The real change in the business has been the growth of the live music sector alongside the recorded music business. For Napier-Bell, recorded music is a by-product of the live performance rather than the other way around. “We needed the record to create the market that you sold yourself to,” he explains. “The fact that we were cheated by labels was not important because it was the advertisement for performances and you had to get the record deal to get the advertisement. But once you had done the deal you were on your own. Now labels are chasing 360 deals.”

Napier-Bell's vision is based on 50 years in the business, mostly as a manager of global artists such as Wham! or Japan. “I don't like management much,” he drops drily. Coming from someone who is part of an exclusive club of mavericks who created the modern British music business, the statement can be surprising. Napier-Bell and the likes of Brian Epstein, Andrew Loog Oldham, Kit Lambert, Peter Grant, among others, set new rules and invented new processes for the music business as they went along, and, occasionally, became more famous than their acts. He elaborates, “You start up by mainly doing out what seems to be common sense. When they [the artists] are successful, then you can make a lot of money out of it, and then they become quite an aggravation.”

He adds, “With Japan, it took four albums to have a success. I don't see how this could happen today. For a few years they were extremely influential. David Sylvian was a reluctant star. I made them huge in Japan, but when he became a star in England he hated it. He came to me and said, 'I do not want to be a pop star, I want to create, earn enough money.' I told him that that I don't know how to do. He was over intellectual, but he had a good brain.”

Moving away from music

From management to writing was a transition that happened naturally for him. Napier-Bell says writing is an old passion of his, dating back to when he was a teenager, hitch-hiking across the USA in the late 50s, after a stint in Canada where he expected to become a jazz musician. “It was a failure,” he notes. “When I was hitch-hiking, I wanted to be a writer but nobody wants to read what a 20-year-old wants to write. But that led me to the film business and then to the music business.”

He continues: “My parents asked me, 'what do you wanna be when grow up?'. Me? I said I want to be a dentist and then realised that you had to study hard. And then said music, which sounded quite nice. That's why I went into this profession.”

He admits being a huge fan of short stories, especially those of Somerset Maugham, so around the age of 40, he started writing, and in 1998 he published his first published book, 'You Don't Have to Say You Love Me' (Ebury Press), about his experience as a manager. He followed it in 2001 with 'Black Vinyl, White Powder' (Ebury Press), in which described the influence of drugs in the music industry. “I found that I liked writing,” he says. “'Black Vinyl' was a best seller and had amazing reviews. It changed my mind about writing. And it happened as I wanted to slowly move away from music.”

About few years later, in 2006, Napier-Bell published his account of the Wham! Adventure in 'I'm Coming to Take You to Lunch: A Fantastic Tale of Boys, Booze and How Wham! Were Sold to China' (Warner Books). With this new book, to be released in June 2014, Napier-Bell says his goal was to write the ultimate book about the music industry, and then he came to the realisation that it would be as difficult to put together as it would be to read. So instead he selected what he believes are a number of key events or period that define the music industry, starting with the Statute of Anne which established in 1710 what became the first legislation on copyright in the modern age.

“It seem such an impossible thing to write a thing about the whole music industry and I kind to pulled it off,” he comments. “I researched through thousands of books. I had to find a way through it, and that's how I came up with a series of stories that would give a good feel of the evolution of the business. It took three years. It was a massive undertaking.”

He adds that he paid special attention to the writing. “The way I write is to make it flow nicely, but it does not mean that it does not take a long time. When I write I put in huge volume, write without too much thoughts and then I have the treasurable job of editing. I probably re-edit each sentence 500 times. I am an editor, my dad was a film director, so you learn to trim down. The point about my writing is that each sentence should sound like I'm talking. I try to get the rhythm right, so when you read it it flows in your brain like music, but that takes a lot of editing and re-writing.”

Using crowdfunding to finance the book

One of the interesting aspects of this book is the way it came about. Napier-Bell searched for a publisher for his book but says he could not get any interest. “Publishers told me 'We do not do books like this, we only do best-sellers' so I had to try something new,” he explains. That's when he was put in touch with Unbound, a publishing house that finances its projects through crowd-sourcing. So lo and behold, Napier-Bell set up the process in motion and asked for pledges from the public, asking for £20,000 (disclosure: this writer pledged £20).

“This is not really something new because subscription publishing has always been popular. With this system, you buy advance copies and that pays for cost of printing. I calculated that £20,000 was what you needed to print 2,000 copies to get it started. And I wanted some promotion too. That's what Unbound does.”

The Works' 40th edition
Napier-Bell hopes that the book will dispel what he think is the main misconception in the public and the media – and also within the industry – about the real shape of the music industry. “The [music] industry makes more money year on year, but a lot of people confuse it with the record companies' business. There were no record companies in 1900 and it was a flourishing business. Record companies will go! Or to survive they will have to become music companies and develop new talent.”

If you push him further, he describes record companies as “cry babies” for constantly lamenting the drop in recorded music sales. “The total worldwide money generated by the popular music industry has been growing,” he explains. “The main increase last year was from music publishers due to increasing radio stations online playing their music. The public do not mind spending money and people will always find ways to make money circulate.”

In his time as a manager, Napier-Bell has had a history of conflicting with record company executives, but surprisingly he professes not “hating them” even though he calls them “the enemy.” He explains, “I have a love-hate relationship with record companies. I've had some jolly good meetings over lunch and drugs with label executives. I loved my time. I never hated record companies per se but as corporate entities you have to come to hate them: They are so greedy and incompetent.”

Having a good time

Napier-Bell makes no apologies for having had a good time during his tenure in the industry. “This industry, from the beginning, was driven by people who artists would call crooks but who were ambitious self-centred people liking money and who would move things. The world depends on unreasonable people to make progress. And there's very few in this business. And the more I look at it, the more I like this business, including the crooks and the rip offs, the self-centred money makers and the ambitionists (sic),” he says. “But those were the guys who changed things, who moved the industry. It was greed all the time, including Dylan and [manager Albert] Grossman. It's the perfect example, and it made Dylan successful. Having engineered the system, he got it right.”

One thing that Napier-Bell does not like is boring people, and he says he's seen a few in record companies. “Boring people will remain boring 'til they die and there's always more boring people to replace them,” he reflects. It is therefore easy to figure out who, between Atlantic co-founder Ahmet Ertegun and former EMI owner Guy Hands, Napier-Bell would bat for. “Take Ahmet Ertegun: He love the way of life, and he could talk the talk. But you could see from the first days that Guy Hands loved himself more than music. He said if artists didn't like it they could fuck off. If there is one thing you should never do is alienate artists.”

As the interview comes to an end, Napier-Bell drops, matter of factly, “In a way, I am an imposter.” An imposter? “Well, you see what I mean,” he chuckles. “Like for most things in life, I consider myself being an imposter, and I wheeled my way through quite well, don't you think?”

[Typed while listening to David Sylvian's works in shuffle mode. Sorry, but Wham! does not do it for me...]

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Synchs (part 2): Ten tips for a successful business

By Emmanuel Legrand

The success to placing music is based on knowledge, opportunism and building a network of music supervisors. A previous instalment looked at the way the synch market works in Hollywood. Here are ten tips on how to better approach this market and maximise your chances to place music, based on discussions and comments from MusExpo's Synch Summit in April 2014.

1 - Do your homework.
In short: Make sure you know who does what and which shows they work on. Key to a successful synch business is about building relationship. But before you approach any music supervisor it is imperative to do some basic works: identify the supervisors, try to understand how they work, what shows they work on, what genre of music they need, how they like it delivered, etc. To meet with supervisors, some events such as MusExpo's Synch Summit or Mark Frieser's travelling Sync Summit (the most recent event was held in Paris and the next one is in June in Los Angeles) can provide valuable access to some key supervisors. At MusExpo's Synch Summit, over 20 supervisors shared views with the audience, but most of all, they explained how they worked, what they expected and the best way to deal with their needs. This is usually the best way to gather info and start in the competitive business of song placement. "Do some research," says brand consultant Lauri Lambert from L3 Entertainment. "We get a lot of music that is inappropriate."

2 – Less is more
Do not flood supervisors with too many tracks! Once you understand who needs what, act wisely by trying to send what you consider are your best tracks. What you send and how you send it in terms of format can vary according to each supervisor. Some like MP3s, other still work with CDs, others will make do with a link to a site where they can download music files and data such as bios. For example, Cybele Pettus, Sr. Music Supervisor at Electronic Arts, does not want CDs and prefers download, and does not want to get more than three tracks from one source. This requires to be selective. "Get me your best stuff," advises one supervisor. "Be selective with what you send," adds L3's Lambert. Some rights holders send regular information to supervisors like Denmark's Iceberg which send a newsletter every three weeks, with no more than three tracks with instrumental versions and lyrics.

3 - Which genres fare best?
In theory, there's no boundaries to what can be placed, it all depends on the context, and the nature of the project, but some music genres will do better than others. Instrumental tracks are always in need, especially for on-air promos, and songs with strong musicality with catchy hooks are in demand. Electronic music is a genre that does cross boundaries and is "very popular," says Benjamin Budde, head of creative at Budde Music & Global Publishing in Berlin. "Classic songs from our catalogue, like 'Big In Japan' also do well with synchs," adds Budde. Former Universal Music Publishing CEO David Renzer, now chairman/CEO of the Spirit Music Group, says synchs can also "continue to breathe life into copyrights" with the use of catalogue material in series and films. Renzer says "heritage" bands such as T-Rex or The Who get good responses from music supervisors. But he states that even an act without a recording deal such as Big Data, signed to Spirit, has already "two or three synch deals in the pipeline." Video games are song-intensive and tend to require upbeat, metal and hip hop tracks, but not only, according to EA's Pettus. Hence the importance to follow point 1.

4 – Clear rights beforehand and do not sell what you don't have.
Make sure you have all the rights cleared from your end (especially for songs using multiple samples). This will help speed up the process, especially if time is an issue (see below), but it will also set the foundation for a good relationship with supervisors. Providing lyrics is also useful so that supervisors know from the outset if the songs can be usable in a mainstream context. The worst case scenario for a film studio or a TV production company is sued by a right owner who had not given clearance for synch rights. This can singlehandedly destroy a long established reputation with music supervisors (and can also put the job of supervisors at risk). Iceberg CEO Manfred Zahringer advises labels and publishers to talk their composers and artists through the process beforehand and obtain their approval for the use of their music in synchs at an early stage in the relationship. "Some people do not want music in ads," he explains. "I would not sign a band that would not want to do ads." Another step is to clear everything, and make sure all the rights holders and in the loop. "We are very careful about clearances,' says Zahringer. "We would never forget [to list] a composer and have not made a single mistake in 14 years. If you forget one, supervisors are in deep shit and you are away from the picture."

5 - One-stop-shop works better
Try to bundle recording and publishing rights so that you end up offering tracks that can be cleared through one single deal. The wrong scenario is when a publisher approaches supervisors with a view to propose track without either clearing recording right, or without having checked with the artist if they are OK with the process. Imagine if a supervisor likes your music, but then discovers that the recording rights are not available because the artist does not want to license music for ads, or TV shows (Tom Waits, for example). Yasmine Gallus, manager song marketing at Budde Music in Berlin, explains: "Sometimes it is hard to clear the masters and by the time you manage to do it, the deal might be gone. When we don't have the recording rights, we consult with the owners of the masters beforehand."

6 – Time is of the essence: Be reactive and act quickly
In an ideal world, supervisors would like to have enough time to secure music and close deals. In reality, due to the amount of projects they are in charge of, most of the deals are made under the gun. So those who can react fast enough tend to get the best deals. "We win [deals] because we are quick to react," explains Budde's Gallus. Zahringer is adamant that "you should never let mails unanswered," even it it means working in the middle of the night to close a deal.

7 - Think metadata
The Fox synch team at MusExpo
(Pic: KC Morse for A&R Worldwide)
Memo to rights holders: Metadata needs to be accurate, or you could lose a lot. It is usually not on top of people's priorities but metadata is a key component in the synch mix. During a panel at MusExpo, a Fox music supervisor stated that too often tracks were sent to them without accurate or complete metadata and urged rights holders to ensure that correct metadata was embedded with each tracks. It facilitates the identification of the songs and also helps guaranteeing payment, especially if tracks travel around the world with TV shows or films and can generate performing rights.

8 - Understand budget constraints, be flexible during negotiations
Budde Music's Benjamin Budde
(Pic: KC Morse for A&R Worldwide)
Not everything gets licensed and not everything deserves six figure cheques. Each project has its own budget, and a song placement on a TV show that uses dozens of songs will not pay the same as a song in the opening credits of a feature film. On-air synchs can trade for a few hundred dollars, while TV shows can pay few thousands dollars for a song, and songs on blockbusters can fetch go for six figures. With advertising, superstars can claim several hundred thousands if not over a million dollars for the use of a hit song, especially if this is a global campaign. However, many experts point out that rates tend to be under pressure, if not going down, but the amount of music licensed is growing steadily. "Budgets are going down and if sometimes you can succeed with one big sync, it is much better to make sure that you have synchs on a rolling basis," says Budde. Spirit's Renzer suggests to look at "the newer non traditional synchs" such as online shows created strictly for online purposes, or micro synchs for online usage. "Making your copyrights available to be licensed at a lower cost is important," he explains. "You have to pursue al these new opportunities. For example, YouTube and Vevo involve synch licensing so that's a new area."

9 – Be patient – it takes time to build trustworthy relationships
Anyone who has been in the business of synchs tells the same story: It does not happen overnight. There is a learning curve to understand the business, then time is needed to build a network of contacts, and more time to make deals. But if you have to have the right repertoire and the right approach it should pay dividends. "They [music supervisors] have to believe in you as a trustworthy person and it does not happen after just one meeting," says Zahringer, who admits it took his two to three years to start navigating with some confidence in the sector -- and he is learning all the time.

10 – Be persistent – do not give up, and try harder
Patience is one thing but persistence in reaching out to music supervisors is key to building a business, with the proviso that you have to be careful not to "harass" them. "I sometimes waited four to six years to get my first meeting [with some supervisors]," says Zahringer. "It can take a while." For Spirit's Renzer, the best advice to rights holders looking for synchs is “persistence.” He elaborates, “It's a crowded business, there are lots of people chasing that same opportunity so you have to be persistent, have good judgement and sometimes be flexible on deal-making. Make sure you also have the right tools – online database, pitching tools – so that the process is made easy for the end-user.” For Budde's Gallus success in this field is all about building "strong relationships," but with an attitude. She explains, "Focus on your artists and be passionate about your artists. Supervisors know we are passionate about music, and that we help build the profile of our artists. So make sure you are behind the bands."

10bis – Be lucky!

[Typed while listening to Todd Terje's "It's Album Time" (Olsen Records) and Irina Bjorklund's "La vie est une fete"]

Synchs (part 1): Understanding the Hollywood market

By Emmanuel Legrand

The market for music placement in TV shows, films, video games or advertising spots has been booming in the past ten years. In the first of this two-part series, we look at the Hollywood synch market. Part 2 will provide 10 tips on how to successfully place music. [This story was originally written for German trade magazine Musikmarkt.]

Martin Scorcese's movies, TV shows 'CSI' or 'Revenge', video games series 'FIFA' all share an extensive use of music. Behind these soundtracks and playlists there is now a significant business – the market for synchronisation and music placement is one of the rare segment of the music industry that has been showing growth in recent years.

"With the decline of mechanicals, synch have become a meaningful source of income," says Los Angeles-based David Renzer, chairman/CEO of the Spirit Music Group and formerly global head of Universal Music Publishing Group. With a catalogue that contains works from T-Rex and Pete Townshend as well as by new songwriters, Spirit derives more than 40% of its income from synchs, way above the industry's rate.

"We are very aggressive in this area," says Renzer. "We have a strategic approach on synchs. For example, we have signed an act that is currently without a record deal [electronic band Big Data] and we already have two or three synch deals in the pipeline. It is a good way to raise the profile of an act and have revenues."

Since Hollywood is the centre of the film and TV industry, it is also the most sought after place for rights holders hoping to license their music in films, TV shows, advertising, video games, trailers, or on-air promos. There are now several events that are dedicated to the synch sector, among them music conference MusExpo in Los Angeles, which includes a much-attended Global Synch & Consumer BrandsSummit (April 6-9). The event gathers some of the most powerful and influential music supervisors in the city, including executives working for ad agencies and specialising in brand placement.

Best practices

"Synchs have become so important because they give exposure to huge audiences, which can be priceless. In addition, a great synch can also be an untapped new revenue source, especially for aspiring artists or writers, and from a marketing perspective, it helps you tell a story, if you have a good synch deal," says Sat Bisla, who organises each year MusExpo.
MusExpo's Sat Bisla
(Pic: KC Morse for A&R Wordwide)

Based in Los Angeles, Bisla took notice that making a dent in the synch market was difficult, and decided to focus on helping rights holders to connect with decision-makers from films studios, TV production houses, brands marketers, or video game producers. He explains, "It's about exchanging information on best practices and, by then, embrace the great opportunities that supervisors can provide them. It is fundamental to have a general understanding as to ho each platform works and understanding where these businesses are heading."

Competitive business

The business of synchronisation is becoming ever more competitive, with an increasing number of rights holders pushing to find placements for their products, from major labels and publishers to indies from all around the world. Once such independent player is Manfred Zahringer, founder and CEO Iceberg Music Group in Denmark. "Thirteen years ago, I could see that record sales were going down and I decided to go more into synch," recalls Zahringer, a German-native who has lived in Denmark for over 40 years. "I had to learn a hell of a lot, so I decided to go to the US. The first year I did nothing in terms of business. I felt lost but I was learning and making contacts."

Zahringer now goes to the US once or twice a year, and his network of contacts has grown significantly. "I prefer to go for face time. For me, it is more important than 200 mails," he says. "I try to never take more then 20 minutes of their time." And he constantly makes efforts to widen his network of supervisors, to include people working for trailers studios, trailers for houses games, or films supervisors.

A band like The Blue Van has had so far 65 placements of their music, with revenues in excess of a million dollars, according to Zahringer. "I've had big ones and small ones, up to $150,000," reveals Zahringer, who adds, "It is tougher to get into this business. There were not that many people ten years ago. Now every single content owner trying to sell synchs."

Compared to Europe, where the business of on-air promos, is covered by the blanket license under which broadcasters operate, in the US, broadcasters have to license music for promos, which creates a wide market for synchs, explains Berlin-based Benjamin Budde, head of creative at Budde Music. "The synch market offers much more opportunities in US than in Europe," he says. “Synchs have become the most important growing part of our business.” With a catalogue dominated by electronic music as well as classics such as 'Big In Japan', Budde Music has experienced synch successes with acts such as Apparat/Moderat, Swedish band The Majority Says, Zombie Nation or Canada's Richie Hawtin.

Pitching supervisors

This frenzy to get deals has turned music supervisors into extremely courted people who receive hundreds of new tracks and requests each day. As a result, the pitching process can be frustrating with unanswered mails and no communication with supervisors. Some of them use some form of prioritisation. "There are some people [in the business] I pay attention to and there are times when I have too many submissions and can't deal with them all," explains Dave Curtin, head of music production at Yessian.

Microsoft's Kyle Hopkins
(Pic: KC Morse for A&R Wordwide)
It is important to know what the music supervisor is working on, but also establish contact one way or another. And then, each supervisor has its own needs. Some, like Kyle Hopkins, head of music supervision at Microsoft Media Acquisitions, says he cannot promise to respond to all requests but he tries to be as thorough as possible, on the grounds that he has such a vast need of music for video games that it can come from many different sources, from majors to unsigned artists. "Kyle is one of the best guys in the business, he listens to people, he understands the issues, and he uses a lot of music for his games," says Jonas Holst, head of film & TV/creative at Universal Music Publishing Sweden.

Veteran Lauri Lambert from L3entertainment has been 25 years in the music business and now serves as a matchmaker between brands and rights holders. She invites rights holders to do some due diligence when pitching for a brand. "We get a lot of music that is inappropriate so be selective with what you send," she says. "Do some research and check what the brands are doing. Find what media their use, what music they use."

Video games are also very attractive for rights holders as a game can carry several dozen tracks. Cybele Pettus, senior music supervisor at Electronic Arts, one of the leading video game studio, says she looks for all kinds of music genres, not just hip hop of metal. "I tend to look for new stuff," she explains. "It's like a radio station, I want something new that will be relevant by the time of the release of the game. And it does not matter to me if you are indie or major, or unsigned."

Quick reaction

Winning a synch deal owes a lot to a quick capacity of reaction from rights holders. With that regards, those who can supply a one-stop-shop with tracks for which both the rights to publishing and to the masters are cleared has an edge. “I always try to provide publishing and recording rights,” says Zahringer. “And we are very reactive.” Yasmine Gallus, manager song marketing at Budde, confirms, “Sometimes it is hard to clear the masters and by the time it's done, the deal might be gone. So it's better if you have cleared both beforehand.”

Iceberg's Manfred Zahringer
All the music experts in Hollywood agree that competition is harder, which puts pressure on rates, but, at the same time, many new avenues are now open for synchs, especially online and overall, the pot of revenues has been growing. But if the synch business is lucrative, it is not easy to know what are the rates paid by the licensees.

A group of five music supervisors working for Fox, involved in music for films, TV shows, sports programmes or on-air music, said during their MusExpo panel that rates depend on the budget, the number of tracks to license, and also on the nature of the project. Obviously, the music budget of a cable channel will not be the same than the one from a national broadcaster. A major Hollywood film will have a significant music budget, up to $600,000, while a film produced by an independent studio will spend 10% or less of that amount.

Zahringer says that music on a promo for a TV shows can generate $2-3,000 per week. Advertising placement can go in the millions for superstar material, but indie rights holders can also place music at decent rates. "I once earned $150,000 for a synch, but opportunities like that do not come often," says Zahringer. Renzer talks of a placement of a track on an Xbox ad that single handedly helped recoup the advance made to a new writer.

"The biggest dollars in synch will come from ads, like car commercials, especially if the campaign is global," says Renzer. "These deals can generate significant fees. That's were the big opportunities are. A theme song to a TV show that goes on prime time and then on syndication worldwide can also be very meaningful. 'CSI' has been a huge opportunity for the Who's repertoire. It is a franchise that delivers."

[Typed while listening to Metronomy's "Love Letters" (Because) and Thievery Corporation's "Saudade" (ESI)]

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How data changed our way of measuring success

By Emmanuel Legrand

[This story was originally published in French by IRMActu]

Who's No.1? How do you assess and define success? Who are the most popular artists and recordings at any given time? Ever since there has been a music industry, these questions have obsessed record company executives and artists alike. And to answer these questions, systems were put in place to measure success and identify which artists and songs were the most popular.

In the early 20th Century, music publishers were benchmarking success to the number of music sheets they sold. Then, the industry started counting physical sales, and monitoring radio airplay. And in this brave new digital world, a whole range of tools have started to track the vast activity taking place online, from streaming and social network action, to illegal torrents and legal downloads.

Having information was one thing, but what mattered was also exposing information. In the US, magazines like Cash Box and Billboard have grown due to their ability to provide exclusive charts that the industry used as benchmarks. Billboard, initially launched to cover the outdoors advertising business (hence the name), evolved into becoming the main source of tools measuring music successes, alongside a booming music industry. Its first chart appeared in 1913 – unsurprising it was a chart listing the best-selling music sheets. Over the years, the magazine added more charts. The first “hit parade” dates back from 1936, and was followed by such features as the Billboard Hit 100 for singles – now in its 56th year – and the Billboard 200 Albums.

Data revolution
In the '50s until the early '90s, the charts were based on stock variations at retail level, a system that was not totally scientifically full-proof! Ditto with radio stations, as the airplay charts were based on tracks radio programmers were declaring they were adding to their playlists, and not on a real airplay measurement. The system was to change for the better in the early '90s when in 1991 Billboard switched to the technology developed by Soundscan for its sales charts. Based on purchases scanned at till level, the system could for the first time measure actual sales.

It transformed the music landscape in the USA by showing that music genres such country, R&B or rap were far more popular than previous charts showed, to the detriment of “heritage” acts whose performances dwindled. For record labels it was a revolution – they could finally measure in real time the impact of marketing and promotional action.

In parallel, BDS rolled out a groundbreaking system which allowed to monitor radio stations' output through digital imprints of songs. Soundscan and BDS were transformative technologies which had a long lasting impact on the music industry. Very quickly, other major music markets embraced these new tools. It is interesting to note that Billboard's parent company VNU eventually acquired measurement company Nielsen, which in turn acquired Soundscan and BDS, to create a company that was based on two main pillars: data and media outlets to expose the data. [Disclosure: I have worked for VNU/Nielsen for some 20 years, first as a correspondent and then as London-based editor for Billboard-owned publication Music & Media, and then as Global Editor for Billboard.]

Since then, its media side was acquired by Prometheus Global Media while Nielsen has gone its own way. But Billboard has never stopped presenting dozens of charts, and adapting to new means of consuming music. In 2013, the magazine announced that it would add YouTube streams to the Billboard Hit 100. More recently, it added Twitter info to its charts. Meanwhile, Nielsen Soundscan continues to track the sales of legal downloads on a global level and physical/digital sales in the US.

New tools
In the radio monitoring area, BDS suddenly had to make do with the arrival of new players, such as MediaBase, owned by Clear Channel. In this field, more changes took place in Europe, Music Control, a German-based company, was the main player for decades. It provided airplay data covering the main European countries. MC was acquired by Nielsen in the early '00s and, some 10 years later, its London-based operations were closed down during the summer of 2013. Subsequently, many national operators saw their position strengthened, like Yacast in France or Radio Monitor in the UK, the latter having also taken over a few markets previously covered Music Control.

The demise of Music Control was the result of the contraction of the music industry (less clients = less revenues) as well the effect of the advent of new tools which, at start of the new Century, were tracking digital consumption and consumers' behaviour. A bunch of new companies, using the latest technologies, entered the data market. In the radio monitoring field, a company like Kollector in Belgium offers a service mainly aimed at rights societies but also individual artists or indie labels, to track songs. In the same field operates Bach Technology from Norway. Out of the blue, Bach won last year the official tender from the German music industry to monitor national stations.

Bach Technology's
Dagfinn Bach
Bach exemplifies the new breed of companies that have blossomed over the past few years, taking advantage of new and innovative technologies. Its system is based on a proprietary technology (MusicDNA) which does digital fingerprinting of songs on a massive scale to capture radio streams on the internet. It operates a database of several million tracks – 12 million at the latest count – which can be used to identify tracks that are played. Each entry in the database is connected to a title, an artist, and when available, its ISRC code, a global identifier.

MusicDNA's algorithms are capable of identifying over 8,000 tracks simultaneously. “There are many radio monitoring systems available on a local scale but we are the only ones that operate internationally, covering stations in 99 countries, and monitoring more than 10,000 channels,” explains Dagfinn Bach, founder and president of Bach Technology, who adds that he plans to expand the pot of stations monitored to 20,000 throughout 2014.

What is Bach's core business? “We are monitoring the music that is played on radio,” says Bach. “Every title/artist is stored in a database, when it is played. Clients get a report with the played songs that they have commissioned. Additionally, clients get global charts on any country world-wide.”

More relevance
Bach did not invent a new service, but took an existing service to a brand new different scale. In the field of data, these recent years saw the advent of new players monitoring new usages and providing new data previously unavailable on consumers' behaviours. Among them is BigChampagne – now a division of the world's leading live music company Live Nation, based in Berverly Hills – which has built an expertise on the way creative works are accessed and consumed. With a tag line stating “More relevant data – better tools”, BigChampagne's data is accessible through a dashboard which combines different analytics covering various set of fields. The tool is optimised to help labels or artist managers to make better-informed decisions. BigChampagne has also created the “ultimate chart”, which identifies the most popular tracks based on action on social networks, concert ticket acquisition, sales of recorded music, radio plays, etc.

Producing analytics is also at the heart of British company Semetric, which has developed MusicMetric, a tool which tracks activity on social networks (Facebook, Youtube, Vevo, LastFM, Soundcloud, Instagram, Myspace, Twitter, Tumblr, Wikipedia, etc) and torrents (mostly illegal downloads...), combined to provide a wide picture of what consumers do online with music content.

MusicMetric's Jeremy Silver
MusicMetric's staff self-describes itself as a bunch of music lovers, but they are also data specialists that delve in “data mining”. “The company has an unusually high PhD to staff member ratio,” says Jeremy Silver, executive chairman of MusicMetric. “A team of twenty world leading engineers, based in London, is taking the technology to the leading edge of what is possible in todays big data mining space.”

The heart of MusicMetric's system is a proprietary platform built on Hadoop big data management technology. In the space of a couple of years, the system has been used by all the majors and a handful of indie labels, but also music distributors and aggregators, music streaming companies, internet giants, national TV and radio broadcasters, venues and live promoters, and brands.

Our clients use our data to access the complete competitive landscape of music fan engagement,” says Silver. “They very often have their own data but not their competitors'. They often can see part of the picture but not all of it. We fill in the gaps and give them excellent visibility and visualization of what is happening in a high level of detail.”

Effective marketing
Silver adds, “They use us to plan and track effectiveness in marketing campaigns, make record deal signings, geo-locate fan engagement, benchmark levels of piracy, maintain real time monitoring of advertising campaigns, power playlist creation, music discovery and recommendation engines, and more.” As of the beginning of 2014, Semetric began collecting data not just about music, but also about TV, film, books and games.

Data based on consumers' behaviour has a wide reaching effect. Recently, the global streaming service Spotify bought EchoNest, a company which analyses music tastes in order to provide recommendations. Since recommendation has not been Spotify's forte, EchoNest has the potential to provide Spotify with a tool that could give the service a competitive edge and help differentiate its offer from that of other players such as Beats, Rdio or Pandora.

We are tracking tens of millions of people’s music listening history on our systems. This powers all of our personalization, so when you log on to one of the services that use the Echo Nest Taste Profile, they’ll know about you right away,” said Brian Whitman, co-founder and chief technology officer at Echo Nest, during a recent presentation at Gigaom.

In view of what the NSA does with data, this way of doing things may not go down well with customers, but for Jim Griffin, managing director of US consulting company OneHouse (, data has become a key element helping creative industries make better decisions. “Data is highly relevant, both to decision-making for how to optimise the artist's value and for those who would potentially license the artist's work,” says Griffin.

Total granularity
In the past, adds Griffin, measuring success in the pre- and post- Soundscan era, and before the big data era, was based on retail sales or airplay. And in fact, it delivered very little in terms of useful data. “When SoundScan and BDS launched early 90s, they were told no one wanted either of them, but within months everyone was subscribed to everything they could get,” jokes Griffin.

OneHouse's Jim Griffin
He adds, “Traditionally, this data has been fuzzed to protect specific retailers or outlets, as well as the integrity of the data-gathering process. SoundScan resisted attempts to determine just what music is selling well across the street, but it would isolate on your zip code. Fuzz no more. Total granularity is at hand, becoming still more granular.”

Granularity, which is the process of breaking up and isolating the smallest part in a system, feeds from data, and data feeds from granularity. In the case of music, or entertainment, it allows to have as precise as possible a picture of what consumers do and when. Overall, it is now less about who's No.1 than who gets the most traction and interaction with consumers. 

We once sold music – and we also sold a bit of crowd,” explains Griffin. “Now we sell lots more crowd and lots less music, so data is essential to determining the deliverable – and the best strategy for delivering. In the product to service transition, data represents relationship just as does a fat Filofax or Rolodex represent your gatekeeper status. These services are not only highly relevant, they are also fashionable, so everybody wants some because ... well, everyone else has some.”

Three different dashboards on French act
Woodkid provided by MusicMetric