I had an interview with Mark Frieser, contributing writer of Billboard.biz and founder of Sync Summit, LLC. This was originally held as a series of interviews on Billboard.biz he has been working on from the standpoint of “possibilities of music licensing business”, and the article below has already been (pre-)published on Sync Exchange and Music2Deal websites. While we comprehensively covered many topics about music licensing business, these are based on what I’ve actually experienced and learned for years. I hope this article will be helpful for independent musicians and publishers who have been exploring possibilities of music business on a daily basis (like me).
If you’re interested in Mark’s other interviews with Gerald Casale (Devo), Martyn Ware (Heaven 17), Mathew Knowles (Music World Entertainment, and Beyonce’s father), etc., check out Billboard.biz and Sync Exchange pages. These precious talks with the music industry greats should be helpful for you as well.
Part1 (To Read Part 2 of the article CLICK HERE)
Mark: Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today, now let’s jump right in and talk about licensing – what is your general view of the marketplace as an independent artist and producer?
Tatsuya: Well, I think we’re doing business in a very exciting time. There’s a great deal of market evolution in terms of business models and the scale of the market that are creating both challenges and opportunities for artists.
And speaking of evolution, how has the sync licensing market changed since you started in the music business?
Speaking subjectively, if I look at all the potential opportunities in the music business, I would say the future doesn’t really look so bad. And what I mean is that if, like me, you’re an independent songwriter, and you have an entrepreneurial, positive attitude, the evolution from a physical to digital market gives musicians more opportunities globally and locally. Specific to music licensing, or B2B in the music business on a general level, it’s become easier for songwriters like me to connect directly with licensors (music supervisors, clients, etc.), and licensing companies who facilitate, find and close deals – and this is definitely a positive development.
And what digitally-based tools do you use to connect with potential licensors of your music?
There are a lot of licensing services, music library services and knowledge based resources available through the Internet – and this is a good starting point for networking and connecting to buyers. With that said, it is necessary for artists to carefully vet potential buyers to make sure they’re credible, professional and can work with your way of developing music and preferred way of doing business.
Offline, there are the usual resources – conferences, festivals, seminars – that are a great way to connect with potential buyers. Whatever resource you use, and you should use every one at your disposal, it pays to do research and planning beforehand, including work on your production skills and educating yourself on how the music licensing and copyright business work. Ultimately, the more you educate yourself, do research and network, the more potential there is for positive results.
So let’s speak about the issues in the current market – what do you think is wrong with it?
Well, I wouldn’t say anything is wrong per se. What I do think is that there needs to be more transparency in terms of of royalty collection for rights holders, especially in terms of international operations (regardless of media type) and streaming services. While we could say the former is a traditional issue and the latter more current, both issues are too complicated to be solved easily. When it comes to international royalty collection, it often occurs that foreign societies such as PROs (performance rights organizations) or MROs (mechanical rights organizations) cannot identify who owns what, and as a result the rightful owners do not get paid their fair share.
And why do you think there is so much confusion in confirming ownership?
Several reasons, including incorrect registration by copyright owners, a lack of licensors submitting cue sheets and human error. Also, foreign societies are often too busy to pay attention to international operations. In any case, the best thing is to be as conscious as possible about tracking the use of your music and build a good relationship with your licensors, PRO/MRO, and main and sub publishers in order to have the best possible idea of what is happening. No matter how technology evolves (such as digital fingerprinting), that’s still crucial.
So how does this effect they way you do business?
Well, even though uses and services have evolved, the basic rules of copyright haven’t kept up with innovation, especially some streaming services. In a fast moving market, sometimes the players can change the rules of the game before you have a chance to react.
Now, let’s talk about your career in particular – how important is licensing and placement to you in terms of exposure and revenue?
In general it is an important part of my overall business. It is a stable, growing part of my total revenues for more than a decade and accounts for over half of my total revenue if you include performance royalties. As my local (Japanese) market is quite different in terms of licensing (which is handled mainly through our performance rights organization JASRAC), the majority of my opportunities are international, and this is where I am focusing the majority of my efforts.
And what about exposure and audience building? How has licensing your music allowed you to build and retain your audience and get exposure for your music?
Personally, I have never looked at placement in a commercial or film as a primary way to build my fan base, but the fact is many placements have helped me get to new audiences and solidify my existing relationships with fans – especially placements with artist credits (list of name, track, etc. on ad, film, etc.).
For example, in the US, my latest project, Dark Model’s Oath (Dubstep Remix), was licensed and featured with its art work in a 2013 Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) TV commercial. Together with this, its ringtone version has been exclusively released on the Verizon Store. From what I have seen, placement and exposure have helped me greatly to generate recognition and interest from a totally new audience, especially those who are crazy about edgy Hybrid (Trailer) music and EDM (Electronic Dance Music) such as Dubstep or Glitch Electronica.
Also Forever 21′s campaign video featuring Captain Funk’s Piece of You (feat. Meri Neeser) helped me to not only to get exposure to audiences in the US, but also to add a fresh image to my music through its association with the Forever 21 brand.
An earlier example would be the film Monday (Director: SABU) featuring tracks from Captain Funk. This gave me an opportunity to connect with fans of the movie and get recognition of my name and music at an early stage of my career. And as this movie was distributed in several countries in Europe, the exposure was global. Also, several placements in TV advertising campaigns with Sony Mobile Communication that featuring Captain Funk’s Boogie Electricland helped me to promote my album releases more effectively.
Has the licensing of your music led to your getting more licensing deals based on someone hearing your track?
Yes. This has been a knock-on effect from B2C exposure. Even without a mainstream hit, the music placed in media in one area can provide you with the credibility to connect with other opportunities, even if you serve a niche market. People hear your music in one placement and (possibly) want to contract your music for their purposes.
And, as the Internet makes it easier for people to find the work you have done, I often get inquiries and offers from third parties looking for new music based on seeing/hearing previous works – and it’s up to me to make sure I keep up-to-date on new opportunities.
So tell us – what is the average deal like in Japan versus the US?
Honestly, business practices here are too different from the US to compare the sync licensing rates and deal points. In the Japanese market, there are that many occasions where publishers do license negotiations/deals directly with licensees (apart from “master license deals” which record labels are usually in charge of). This is mainly because JASRAC (the major PRO in Japan) often handles synchronization rights in addition to performance and mechanical rights. If you want to get into details about how the Japanese licensing market works, I’ve posted a detailed rundown on my blog.
And what was the most interesting/successful licensing deal you’ve done?
It wasn’t a licensing deal, more an overall “sponsorship” campaign that included a co-branded music with a major global cosmetic brand – and it got me massive attention.
I was involved in every part of the campaign with the client and ad agency from its early stage, including marketing, event planning, performance, media planning, making a movie for TV spot, and, of course, licensing my music as its theme song.
It was very significant to me that they gave me a chance to have a more comprehensive relationship with the brand and allowed me to better see the potential of music combined with mass marketing, then execute a successful campaign joining the two. This experience helped me to think of the music business in a broader way, i.e. looking at the where, when, what, who and how we’re using the music and how it can be monetized.
So what are the most popular types of music that are licensed from your library – both locally and internationally?
In Japan, I’ve had a lot of success with recent Captain Funk tracks (Electro Rock, Dance Pop type) in advertising campaigns, while the early ones (Big Beat, Break Beat type) are very frequently played on broadcast TV programs. Some music directors told me my Captain Funk music has been one of the most used and played on broadcast TV for over a decade, including theme and background usage.
Apart from general popularity as a commercial music genre here in Japan, electronic dance music, such as fun and hooky Big Beat/House or light Electronica (as opposed to Dubstep/Drum’n’Bass) seems to be preferred in Japanese TV programs, especially in entertainment, comedy, and reality show programs.
However, when it comes to TV commercials in Japan, my situation is pretty different. To begin with, there are not many “sync license” deals for pre-existing music in Japan. This is mainly because there are big differences in copyright laws and models, but aside from that, licensors don’t really go after trends, preferring to stick more to a total (marketing) concept for campaigns. And, while I have done a lot of compositions for TV commercials, I’ve rarely been asked to consider specific music styles or refer to others’ music by my co-workers (creative directors, producers, etc). Perhaps, this is because they see me more as a part of the “creative team” rather than a composer just bringing or licensing music to a music supervisor, which doesn’t really exist in Japan. As far as Japanese commercials go, it works much better to think of music concepts and produce music from scratch than to embed my pre-exiting music.
What about In the rest of the world?
Generally speaking in the US and the rest of the world, there are obviously some trends and fixtures in licensed music, such as energetic and anthemic Indie Rock, dreamy Pop Electronica, quirky Acoustic Pop, epic Trailer music, Dubstep and Glitch Electronica, minimalistic Modern Classical, etc. Diversity works a lot here as well, but there is a huge difference in how it actually works. Unlike Japan, in the US and Europe stocking a wide range of “pre-existing” & “pre-cleared” music tracks means a lot. Music supervisors and licensing companies are always seeking tracks, which can be cleared “right now” and are ready for use. Frequently they even ask for stems or just one shot of the track. And you never know who will want what kind of music from my catalouge of pre-existing music tracks. I think this is a very exciting situation.
When it comes to my own music placements, my latest sub-brand Dark Model’s music focusing on Edgy Hybrid/Orchestral Electronica seems to be in great demand. Since Dark Model was launched, its music has been licensed and used on Hollywood movie promos such as “Elysium (2013)”, “The Paperboy (2012)” as well as advertising campaigns in the US as diverse as Verizon, Lexus and Oakley to name just a few.