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Q&A: Nathalie Du Bois, 6 Degrees Entertainment

By | Published on Saturday 31 October 2015

This interview appeared in the September 2015 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium.

Nathalie du Bois

The sync market is global – as are the opportunities – though some things do work differently in the US versus Europe. Sometimes this is because of copyright law and licensing conventions, other times because of differences in the industries which are doing the syncing.

Nathalie Du Bois from 6 Degrees Entertainment knows the sector on both sides of the Atlantic, having led licensing projects and businesses in both the US and the UK. We spoke to her about her experiences in sync, and what European artists and rights owners should know about the way things work Stateside.

CC: Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into music supervision.
NB: My background is legal. I worked at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, one of the most reputable law firms in the US. It was ahead of its time, doing what we today would consider 360 type deals with artists before that terminology even existed. Manatt’s clients at the time included major record labels and music publishers in the US, so they were in an ideal position to scout talent and assist in securing deals.

As a result of being at the law firm, friends would always ask for “legal assistance” and on one occasion I was asked to music supervise a project for the American Lung Association that my friends were producing. They had mastered the project and were about to release it to their client for distribution when, simply as a result of going to the movies and seeing the credits, it occurred to them that perhaps they should get the music rights cleared for the recognisable songs they had already synced and mixed to picture.

They called me and asked me to do whatever it took to get all the rights cleared for the soundtrack which included hit records from the 70s and an Enya track, preferably within the week! The songs were owned by major publishers like Warner/Chappell and major record labels including Arista. Needless to say, it was a big ask, because this was the late 1990s when the majors would take a minimum of four to six weeks to clear a licence and would usually command large fees.

As a result of persistence, creativity and a bit of luck, I got all the music cleared for less than $3000 in under a week and developed a longstanding relationship with one of the top executives in the industry from working on that project.

CC: Tell us a bit about your role today.
NB: Now my role has expanded to clearing rights and negotiating contracts for any type of intellectual property related to the entertainment industry, including music, media and film rights. In music, I specifically focus on exporting artists, labels and publishers based outside the US back into America for commercial placements in film and television projects.

CC: How do the US and European sync markets compare? Should European rights owners seek to crack the US sync market?
NB: The American market is much larger in terms of income opportunities, and for various reasons. For starters, the budgets for TV, film and commercials are generally substantially larger in the US than the UK. And in TV, there are larger upfront fees, mainly because deals are done directly rather than under the blanket licences of the collecting societies, which also means fees are linked to the budgets of the project, and the profile of the song and artist. With all this in mind, yes, definitely, European rights owners should seek to crack the US sync market, usually through a preferred vendor based in the States.

CC: So, the fact that TV sync is licensed through the collective licensing system here, but through direct deals in the US, makes a big difference?
NB: Yes. And not just because it means the potential fees will likely be higher. Without the blanket licence, the TV studio has to negotiate direct with every rights holder with a stake in both the song and the recording. This means that a rights holder controlling just 1.5% of a song can in essence hold up an entire licence, because the studios won’t proceed until all parties have agreed and signed off on the deal. This can substantially slow down the process.

Given the speed at which most TV productions need to complete their shows, coupled with budget constraints, realistically for all but the top rated TV shows recognisable commercially released songs will be out of reach for the majority of their music spots.

Whereas in the UK, broadcasters have a choice of the ‘creme de la creme’ of music for each and every music spot in their TV programmes – which they use under the blanket licence – in the US the majority of the spots will go to lesser known and independent artists. So, in a television show that is filled with music, there will be something like ten to twelve spots for music per episode, and while maybe up to five might be filled with recognisable songs, the others will be lesser known material. Which is an opportunity for lesser known artists and songwriters.

It is not unusual for a pilot TV show, being made by a producer to pitch to a network, to be filled with wall-to-wall recognisable songs that would cost in the seven figures to clear for just that one episode. So if the show is picked up by a network, the producer is quickly told by the music supervisors that all the music from the pilot will have to be replaced… much to the producer’s dismay!

CC: You mention that with co-owned works, one rights owner with a tiny stake can hold things up. But I thought that one difference between US and UK copyright law is that in America any one co-owner in a song could do a deal on behalf of everyone, providing the money is then shared out.
NB: You’re right that technically speaking that it is possible under US copyright law, but in practice it rarely happens. The film and TV studios don’t want to risk having any rights issues down the line whilst their property is distributed worldwide, so they want a sign off on the licence from each rights holder tied to the publisher and master. Which is why someone with just 1.5% ownership can hold up the clearance of an entire song.

CC: You’ve said that – because TV sync is negotiated direct – there is often more money to be made. What kind of money?
NB: Yes, the fees are higher in the US compared to the UK, particularly with regard to the upfront fees. In the US, the upfront fees an unknown independent artist usually gets if their songs are placed in a television show will range from about $750 to $2500, more or less depending on the budget of the show (reality and MTV are less). An artist that has generated attention, and is on the Billboard charts, will generate more money.

Additionally, the subsequent performance royalties then paid each time the TV show airs are generally higher in the US. Though an exception to that rule is theme songs, because of the way this money is calculated by some of the American [performing rights organisations]. In the UK composers of theme tunes are paid a set rate for each use. In the US they are paid according to a complicated calculation based on a weighting formula.

CC: How do the budgets compare with film and advertising?
NB: For film, the size of the budgets for productions coming out of the big US film studios mean that the upfront fees for recognisable songs can be substantial. The bigger budgets – and having a little more time – also means that the music in a big blockbuster is more likely to be well known songs from well known artists.

Commercials for large brands like Coke or Apple will also command large fees, not least because the brand will usually want exclusivity within their markets for a certain time period. In advertising, the price of the ad space being used will also impact budgets. Music played in ads that air during the Super Bowl will command an enormous fee as this is considered one of the most expensive advertising spots in the US, due to the size of the audience it reaches.

However, this also creates a very competitive market place, and on the recordings side, it is common for brands to use new versions of very recognisable songs, reducing the number of rights that need to be negotiated.

CC: It feels like LA is the centre of sync in the US, and possibly globally. Is it important for rights owners to have a presence there to crack the American and/or international sync markets?
NB: LA is the centre of sync in the US for television shows and films in particular, simply because it’s where the majority of studios are based, even if not all the shows and movies are actually produced or shot there.

So it’s important to have a presence in the city, in order to build relationships with the studios and the executives who work there. Though it’s also important to have a presence elsewhere when it comes to the international market.

CC: Are the different strands of the sync market – so TV, film, gaming, brands – autonomous from each other. Or do the supervisors all regularly speak with each other?
NB: Traditionally executives at the different studios didn’t regularly speak to each other, and often didn’t even know their counterparts. Though in the last five years in particular this has changed and communication has greatly increased.

This is partly because of ever-increasing online communications, but also because of changes in the industry, and various acquisitions, which means people have moved and shifted positions quite a bit, and as a result have often now worked with counterparts at other studios.

Gaming is a separate strand where different rules seem to apply! The gaming industry often seeks to own publishing rights to the songs versus entering into licensing deals, which means the rights holders get paid once and then do not receive ongoing royalties.

CC: What tips would you have for smaller UK rights owners looking for sync opportunities in the US?
NB: I think the first thing is to develop an understanding of how music rights work in the US, and what studios require in order to do a deal.

Then you need to become familiar with the type of sync deals that are available in America, and how those deals are negotiated. It is much more common to use middle-man agents to licence songs for TV and film in the UK, whereas in the US studios more commonly contract with ‘preferred vendors’, which are rights holders they have a longstanding working relationship with.

CC: And finally, what tips would have for smaller US rights owners looking for sync opportunities in Europe?
NB: I think the first thing would be for those rights holders to secure some syncs in US TV shows, because they will often be transmitted in Europe and therefore expose your music to this audience. Then they should enter into sub-publishing or licensing agreements with companies that have offices in those territories to collect and administer the royalties you are already due, and to further exploit your catalogue for placements within Europe.

This interview appeared in the September 2015 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium.