By Ron Mendelsohn
There are many different types of production music companies on the market. Since different business models and offerings exist, it’s important to do your due diligence before deciding which company to work with. Here are three things to consider before deciding on your vendor.
Does your production music company commission new, original music or broker pre-existing music?
There are generally two types of production music libraries on the market: companies that “aggregate” pre-existing music, and companies that commission new music.
Why does it matter? Traditionally, production music libraries hire composers and songwriters to write new, original music. Commissioning artists in this manner assures that the material is timely, current, and original.
In addition, quality control is easily maintained since library producers work directly with composers and songwriters to ensure that the material is commercially viable, non-infringing on any existing copyrights, and consistent with the library’s production standards.
Libraries operating in this manner are generally careful to screen and vet their composers, being sure to only work with trusted, seasoned professionals who often have major film, TV, and recording credits. These libraries tend to develop longstanding working relationships with proven, successful composers who consistently deliver great music.
There are, however, many companies on the market who simply “aggregate” pre-existing music.
These companies use the Internet to solicit a virtually endless stream of content from myriad composers or songwriters. The tracks they receive may be new recordings, old recordings, songs from leftover demos, scores from discarded film projects, or other material that composers happen to have at their disposal. The composers and songwriters might be amateurs, professionals, or some- where in between.
Problems with this approach:
1. Quality control may be lacking when the floodgates are opened up to a torrent of pre-existing product submitted by anyone with an Internet connection.
2. It may be difficult to determine if submitted music is properly “cleared” for licensing since often the tracks were created for another purpose.
3. Since the music is pre-existing, it may consist of older material that’s already outdated by the time it gets uploaded to these aggregators.
Be sure to ask any companies you’re evaluating whether they produce and commission their own music. It does matter.
Does your production music company license music exclusively or non-exclusively?
Many of the aggregators described above operate on a non-exclusive basis. This means they are not the only distributors of their music. The same exact songs they represent may be available from multiple other vendors. The way these vendors distinguish between identical recordings is by assigning different titles, hence the term “retitling.”
Imagine, for example, that you want to buy a bottle of Coke, but the exact same beverage is available from multiple vendors under different brand names. Or that you want to read a particular book (or see a particular film), but it’s circulating on the market under various titles.
We don’t even need to look outside the music world to see how confusing “retitling” can be. Imagine any of the great hit songs of the last century such as “Beat It,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “Like A Virgin,” or “Hard Day’s Night.” Now imagine what it would be like if these exact same songs were available on the market under different titles! It’s not hard to see why this type of practice could quickly get confusing to both consumers and distributors.
Worse than confusing, it could be a problem for you. If the same exact recording is available from multiple sources, you may have difficulty determining where a particular music track came from. This can lead to competing claims that could expose your company to legal liability.
You might find yourself in a situation where multiple parties are claiming ownership to a music track that you have used. You might receive a legal notice claiming copyright infringement, or a “cease and desist” notice forcing you to stop the airing and distribution of your production. You might even find yourself the recipient of a lawsuit due to unauthorized usage of music. At the very least, you might find yourself wasting countless hours of valuable time sorting out competing claims, responding to legal claims, and replacing music tracks. Don’t let this happen to you.
Finally, performing rights societies such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC may have difficulty tracking performances of “retitled” compositions since these recordings have identical audio fingerprints. This means that composers and publishers might not even be properly paid for their performances.
Clearly, there are a host of reasons why choosing a non-exclusive music provider is a bad idea. With ample quality content available from reputable exclusive music providers, why run the risk of using non-exclusive “retitled” music? Make sure you know where your music comes from.
Does your production music company ever give away music for free?
Believe it or not, some production music libraries actually give away their music for free (i.e., zero license fees) in an attempt to get back-end performance royalties. Note that these companies are not merely offering a “free trial,” they offer their products for free on a permanent basis. Engaging in this type of unsustainable business practice deprives companies of the funds needed to hire professional composers and songwriters, create quality content, maintain a dedicated staff, and deliver a high level of client service.
Even worse, some companies that give away music for free may actually be engaging in a deceptive practice where they turn around and sue the production company after making their music available without a fee and without a license. One prominent reality show producer recounts how he received gratis music from a library that he placed in a top reality show—only to have the library turn around and willfully sue his production company for copyright infringement in what he called a blatant “money grab!”
Don’t let this happen to you. Remember the old adage: “You get what you pay for.”
Doing your due diligence by asking these kinds of questions before choosing a production music vendor will allow you to go forward with confidence.
Ron Mendelsohn is co-founder and CEO of Megatrax (http://megatrax-1.sites.hubspot.com/10Q1), an independent production music library and custom music house based in Los Angeles. Ron is a founding member of the Production Music Association (PMA) and has served on the PMA board since its inception. Ron is also a member of numerous other professional organizations including the Society of Composers and Lyricists, ASCAP and Vistage.