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Insights Blog: Five tips for brands working with music for the first time

By | Published on Monday 19 September 2016


Originally published to accompany a CMU Insights masterclass explaining the music industry for brands and start-ups. 

For the music industry, brand partnerships are an ever more important part of the business, and the good news is that brands remain keen to utilise both live and recorded music, and artist alliances, to reach, engage and excite their target audiences.

Though from the brand side, navigating the music industry, understanding the complexities of music rights, and working out which music companies control what, can be challenging. Here are five tips for brands working with music for the first time.

1. Each artist has multiple business partners
For those on the outside, perhaps the most confusing thing about the music industry is that there are actually a number of music industries. Which is to say, any one artist will usually work with multiple business partners, with each partner focused on a different aspect of their career.

So the record label works with an artist on recorded content. A music publisher works with them on the songs they write. The agent and promoter are involved in live activity and touring. There may be a separate company again working on merchandise. And another on direct-to-fan channels.

Which means that if your artist partnership needs access to recordings, songs, shows, t-shirts and the fan mailing list, you might need to work with six different companies as well as the artist, who will also have a manager, the one person involved in every aspect of the act’s career.

2. There are two sets of music rights
Copyright protects songs and recordings separately. So if you have a recording of a song there are two sets of rights, the recording rights and the song rights.

A singer-songwriter will usually do two separate copyright deals, one with a publisher over their song rights and one with a record label over their recording rights. And the result of those deals may well be that the publisher and the label – not the artist – become the copyright owners.

Which means that even though you might be working with an artist direct, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have permission to use that artist’s songs or recordings in your campaign. You need to work out which label and which publisher controls the content you need.

Oh, and copyrights can be co-owned by multiple companies, or by different companies in different territories. And there is no central database that tells you who owns what where. This is why music rights get complicated very quickly.

3. Who you get a licence from depends on what you are doing with the music
When the music industry gives permission to third parties to use its music, sometimes it does it directly (eg label to licensee), sometimes it does it via a middle-man (eg distributor to licensee) and sometimes it does it via a thing called the collective licensing system, which is where organisations like PPL and PRS get involved.

Which system is used will depend on what the licensee wants to do with the music, and possibly some other factors too, such as if the song or recording is controlled by a ‘major’ or an ‘independent’ music rights company. But which system is being used will impact on who you do a deal with, and also the nature of that deal.

There can be extra some complexities here too. For example, if you ‘sync’ a song to an advert, and then the advert airs on television, that actually counts as two uses of the song. The first is usually called the ‘syncronisation’ and the second a ‘communication’. You usually licence the first bit via the music publisher and the second bit via the collecting society, though precise rules vary form country to country. As I say, music rights get complicated.

4. Exposure is good, money is better
Whenever music people hear a brand is involved in a project, there is a tendency to assume that there’s now lots of money on the table. If that’s not the case, you should be clear from the outset, and be prepared to justify why what is – or at least what is perceived to be – a big brand doesn’t necessarily have big bucks to spend.

If it’s the right project, artists and their teams aren’t necessarily expecting to command massive fees – and everyone knows fame can be a factor when it comes to what people pay – though you will often get understandable push back if a brand asks artists to work for next to nothing. The resentment will be all the higher if the overall budget for the project is high, but the spend on music is low – so you rent a massive expensive venue, and then ask the bands to play for free.

Brands often tell artists that getting involved in their projects will be “good exposure”. Sometimes it really is, though many musicians tire of the “think of the promotion” line. So if exposure is part of the deal, be clear as to what that means in terms of advertising, social media audiences, PR and so on. Quite how important exposure is to any one artist will depend on where they are in their career, and whether they have new music or new projects they are actively looking to promote.

5. Artists like doing something a bit different. And increasingly need to
In the social media, streaming content, YouTube age, artists increasingly have to create content beyond the conventional album and promotional videos, to keep the online audience engaged.

For example, YouTube is an important marketing channel for new artists, and successful YouTube channels need a steady stream of new content, which is a challenge for musicians who traditionally put out new material every couple of years, rather than every couple of days. So for artists, this creates both creative and commercial challenges.

This is an area where artist/brand partnerships can really work, and where brands can deliver real value even on a tight budget. A little money – and access to some infrastructure – can help artists create interesting videos beyond their conventional usually label-led pop promos.

Which allows acts to do something a little bit different, fulfils the need to keep the online audience engaged, and can give the brand the association it wants with music, while also generating useful content for its own YouTube and social channels.

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