The Day The Music Dies: What’s Really At Stake When Licensing Music
July 11, 2013
Music Dealers in Music Industry, Music Industry, Music Licensing, Music Services, artist branding, independent artist, music licensing, music marketing

Music Dealers The Day The Music Dies: What's Really At Stake When Licensing Music

The Day The Music Dies: What’s Really At Stake When Licensing Music

By Christopher Rucks—Music Dealers

It’s more than just a car to drive. It’s more than just a belt to hold up your pants. It’s more than just a song to go in a web video. It’s a promise of service.

We recently lost a music licensing opportunity. We proposed a fee of 1K for the requested use; web content, worldwide, perpetual use, mid-tier, but phenomenally licensable up-and-coming artist that we have a great relationship with.

The client was able to secure the exact same song from another vendor for $250—a quarter of the value we proposed. Unfortunately, that deal unraveled into a complete copyright and rights management mess. While not responsible for the ensuing mess, that music-licensing vendor did refrain from inserting themselves into the process of rectifying the situation to ensure the mess was resolved.

This predicament says quite a bit about music licensing and the “race to the bottom” theory that we’ve all been forced to face. The race to the bottom, traditionally, is a concept that we attach to price—the most obvious value of a thing. However, there’s more at stake. Care, attention to detail, a company’s promise and brand, the way it communicates to its clients, its artists, how thorough that company is, how diligent they are with rights and legalities—these are all extremely important factors to consider when analyzing a company’s fees.

In the situation described, everybody loses. We lost the job. It happens all the time. But if we lose a job, and the song is licensed for a ¼ of it’s assumed value, and a rights management fiasco develops, then everybody loses. The artist loses. The company licensing the song loses. The client acquiring the song loses.

The artist has lost by giving their music to multiple libraries—one less scrupulous than the next—that are willing to accept bottom value for art and stand aside while legal situations arise. Artists must do their homework to fully understand how the company, to whom they’ve loaned their precious musical progeny, values their music and what’s important to that company.

The company acquiring the music has created a devalued expectation of licensed music. They’ve gone to the shady car dealership with the greasy salesman and bought a lemon—all to save a few hundred dollars yet pay dearly in the long run.

The company licensing the music has destroyed their relationship with that client. After such a headache, they won’t get business from them again.

When you’re dealing with nickel and dime businesses, it’s the overall value that’s at stake. 

Not just the easily discernible fee. It’s the lack of attention and not treating every transaction with ultimate care. This is someone’s copyright and its price is not only a reflection of the care gone into creating it, but also screening the rights, ensuring the t’s are crossed and i’s dotted, that if you’re unsure or unaware, someone will take the time to educate you—so you can rest assured.

If you’re a business acquiring music to license, your allegiance is to your budget, the positive line on the spreadsheet. But your allegiance is also to knowing that you’re covered, that the details have been addressed. When you pay to acquire music from a company, that’s the value that you’re purchasing, after the sound of the music.

Is it more expensive upfront? Value usually is.

Are you ever just buying a car? Or a toaster? A purse? No. You’re looking for value that touches on the level customer service and attention, the quality of the product, how you’re going to be treated if there’s a problem. You buy the expensive leather belt because if it breaks or rips, you know you can bring it back to the company and they will attentively address your situation and replace your belt.

You buy the quality or brand promise of a car. You buy the ability to drive it right back to the dealership and say, “this is wrong, please help me.” And they’re attentive, empathetic, and quick.

It’s more than just a car to drive. It’s more than just a belt to hold up your pants. It’s more than just a song to go into a web video. It’s a promise of service. A promise of excellence. A promise to do everything possible to make sure a client is good to go. Of course that doesn’t mean that every company is free of error, or no issues ever arise. It’s about what’s been done to minimize those occurrences and the level of attention to resolving an issue should one arise.

That’s the difference between $250 and $1000 bucks. That’s what’s really at stake with the music licensing race to the bottom. At the end of that tunnel, there’s no value. No quality.

At the end of that tunnel, everyone’s grown accustomed to earning the lowest fee possible, to running a skeleton crew of rights managers, lawyers, and A&R’s, so that nobody cares, or has the time or ability to. At the end of that tunnel is the end for everyone.

Contributions by Dan Kuypers, Music Dealers Senior Creative Director

“In the long run, there are only two sustainable positions—you sell less for less or you sell more for more. It’s tempting to think that you can pull a Wal-mart and appear to deliver more for less, but that’s far more rare than it appears. And the market is smart (and getting smarter) so delivering less for more, while apparently a great gig, doesn’t last.
People are going to figure out what’s on offer, and they’re going to seek out real value. For some, that means getting a little less (less service, less quality, less panache) and paying less, or getting a lot more (more meaning, more insight, more joy) and paying a bit more. Time to pick.”—Seth Godin

Photo Credit 1: Simon Bleasdale 
Photo Credit 2: z287marc 

Article originally appeared on Music Think Tank (
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