TV shows bring in the money
EmptyRELATED: Goings-on in the world of film and TV music
Ray Charles: Bringing his music to TV, film
Inside the work of sound mixers
Writing music for nonfiction films
"The Hills" are alive with the sound of music. So are programs like "Grey's Anatomy," "Weeds," "One Tree Hill," "Ugly Betty" and many more. And that's music to publishers' ears -- and their pocketbooks.
In days past, the pot of gold at the end of the music-publishing rainbow was filled with platinum CDs. Now, as album sales continue to free fall, that pot is lined with TV licensing deals.
In fact, while many music labels are cutting staff, some publishers have doubled the size of their film/TV licensing departments during the past two years. The percentage of total revenues earned by sync income has jumped radically for many publishers, with one citing a three-fold increase in the past six years. Publishing companies are aggressively pushing their copyrights through new media -- EMI Music Publishing has its own channel on YouTube, for instance -- as music supervisors turn to outlets like YouTube and MySpace to find music.
"Nineteen of our catalogs are up year over year," says Larry Mestel of New York-based newcomer Primary Wave, which bought 20 catalogs in the company's first 22 months of existence, including artists like Nirvana's Kurt Cobain; Aerosmith's Steven Tyler; Hall & Oates; Earth, Wind & Fire; and Steve Earle.
The proliferation of reality shows over the past few years -- many of which use a vast expanse of music -- has been a boon to music publishers, especially when it comes to back catalogs. While pioneering reality shows such as MTV's "Real World" continue to use music primarily from baby acts, newer shows like "American Idol," "Dancing With the Stars" and "The Singing Bee" create tremendous exposure for catalogs and often provide a gift that keeps on giving.
For example, in addition to the sync fee, publishers can see a boost in sales for the original title after the usage. After David Archuleta performed "Imagine" on "American Idol" earlier this season, downloads on the John Lennon classic increased more than 600% the next week. Similarly, after since-deposed "Idol" finalist Amanda Overmyer sang "Carry On My Wayward Son," iTunes sales for the Kansas song increased 60%, according to Tami Lester, EMI Music Publishing's director of film and TV music.
And, of course, the bump doesn't only happen after a reality show usage: The crime drama "Cold Case" built a fall show around Nirvana's catalog. "The week following the airing, the sales of the songs were up digitally," Mestel says. "There was a significant increase -- it wasn't minimal."
Another trend greatly aiding copyright holders is the movement toward year-round television. With outlets eager to keep viewers hooked, the TV season now spans all four seasons instead of the
traditional fall slate. "There used to be an end to the season and then a few down months, but now it's constant," says Lester.
Indeed, there are now so many TV possibilities that Brady L. Benton, vp film, TV and special markets for Peermusic, says for the past few years, the company has earned more from television syncs than from film placement. "That's where we're getting much more of our income than we used to," he says.
While the volume is up, publishers say that fees are holding steady or moving downward as series' music supervisors struggle with limited budgets and feel that the exposure they offer is sometimes payment enough.
Television licensing fees for copyrights (the user pays a matching fee for the master to the label) range from as little as $150 for a basic cable usage to as much as $25,000 for a network or premium cable usage. However, for a well-known song that a show desperately wants, the fee can soar into the six figures.
The biggest change over the past few years has been that many shows ask for all clearances up front to cover all possible usage, including DVD and downloading. These deals, known as All Media Excluding Theatrical (AMXT), allow the shows to use the songs in perpetuity, without having to come back to the copyright or master holder to negotiate additional rights.
As music supervisors ask for more rights, copyright holders, naturally, ask for more money. "We feel that if we're granting broader rights, the price has to be higher," says David Renzer, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group.
But it doesn't always work that way. Some music publishers say they have seen a trend toward downward pricing, where music supervisors are asking for more rights, while offering less money.
"It's not like five years from now, we'll get another check for the video; we're getting this one fee," Benton says. "They're trying to get more rights for the same budget they had two years ago."
Even though most shows now ask for AMXT, as older series roll out on DVD music supervisors are coming back to music publishers to secure usage rights for songs that were in the originally broadcast shows but weren't precleared for additional use. Such catching up provides an extra revenue boost for publishers. "It's beneficial to us to have shows from five years ago where they haven't cleared all those rights," Bug Music president David Hirshland says. "We're perfectly willing to give them the rights, but we're not willing to give them away for such a low price."
Publishers' reluctance to license the originally used songs for little money has led some supervisors to swap out those songs for lesser known, cheaper tunes on the DVD. "We get calls all the time: 'We're replacing this. Have you got something for us?'" Hirshland says. "Our gut is to say we're boycotting this practice, but if we do that, someone else will get it. We continue to have this internal debate."
While publishers may say no if the price isn't right, there's one usage that they uniformly covet: the music for the inevitable season finale montage, such as Sia's "Breathe Me" on the series finale of "Six Feet Under," or more recently, Ingrid Michaelson's "Keep Breathing" for last May's season-ender of "Grey's Anatomy." Michaelson, who owns her own publishing, already had three placements on the show, but that usage led to a cover story in the Wall Street Journal and an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America."
"Because we're working with artists who are unsigned, we can get an answer without going through the publisher or record label," says Michaelson's manager Lynn Grossman, who owns Los Angeles-based Secret Road, which represents 80 singer-songwriters' catalogs and has placed songs on "Grey's Anatomy," "Men in Trees," "One Tree Hill" and "Eli Stone," among others. "It's a one-stop shop.
We try to maintain an appropriate fee for the artist, but we're much more flexible than a major publisher or label may be."
Aware of the need for a quick turnaround time that may be hours, not days, major music publishers have implemented strategies for faster clearance. "We've worked hard so that we can turn things around," EMI's Lester says. "Everyone is on a BlackBerry. We can clear songs from all over the world overnight."
To further assist quick turnaround, many publishing companies are starting music libraries that allow for instant clearance on music that has been written solely for film/TV usage.
Universal Music Publishing Group, for instance, has just increased its production library by acquiring MasterSource. "There's instant clearance for the libraries; It's high-quality music, whether it's orchestras we record in Europe or Chuck D cutting authentic hip-hop tracks," says UMPG's Renzer, who adds that both the master and sync rights are included in the fee.
Similarly, Primary Wave has just launched Think Music, a joint venture with Pulse Music that offers 6,000 titles. "It gets very frustrating for the music supervisor when they have to get the record label, the publisher, writer and artist to approve something," Mestel says.
While publishers recognize the need to work within budgets -- and music libraries are a recognition of that need -- a chasm is growing between publishers and labels who often want the fee to be lower than the publisher feels is fair because the label is counting on the TV usage to boost CD sales.
Labels are "fixated on, 'We must sell discs; let's give away everything else for free,'" Benton says. "We're still not giving it away, but we're not getting what we used to."
Hirshland says the shift signifies a major change: "Ten years ago, with Stevie Ray Vaughan, (his label) would quote ridiculous amounts on songs that were up to two times what (the price should be), and now the battle is turned completely around. We're having to cajole the master owner up to a reasonable quote."
But such issues are minor, say music publishers, who agree that not only is song placement one of the more lucrative parts of their work, it's one of the most enjoyable. "There's real compatibility and cooperation between supervisors and us to try to deliver the right song," Hirshland declares. "And it's fun. Let's not forget that matching the song to the right visual is one of the great things about this job. You can be sitting at home or in the theater and that moment hits, and it's so great."