Synch Licenses Break Through
During this time in the music world where conditions are less than desirable and constantly changing, we, as young student musicians, are surrounded by the same disheartening reports, and the chances of breaking through as an independent artist can seem impossible. But after spending a week around happily satisfied music publishers and bitter record label executives at last week’s Billboard Film and TV Music Conference in Los Angeles, little rays of hope are peaking through and the message is loud and clear: LICENSE YOUR MUSIC! A synchronization license to be exact.
At the November 1st & 2nd conference, composers, publishers, major labels, and networks alike gathered to share their thoughts on the ever changing film & TV music business and the words resounded repeatedly throughout: “Grey’s Anatomy is the new radio and Starbucks is the new record label”, Jeff Elmassian, Creative Director/Composer of Endless Noise, said it himself and panelists across the board nodded in agreement. As media marketing outlets are crossing into each other and the branding lines are becoming obscure, indie acts are presented with many more opportunities to not only stabilize a stream of revenue but also to put themselves on the map: one that is shared and made available to a very large and valuable audience. Music supervisors, directors, song placement companies, and publishers are searching high and low for eclectic music to pair with visual images and form other unique partnerships between music makers and the rest of the world. Once you take a good look at it, the future might not look so bleak for those “no-namers” hopeful to make a living at what they love.
As music students, we are bombarded with so much emphasis and grating overstatement of what we have known for a while now: physical product just doesn’t sell the way it used to. We know! We know! Now its time to educate ourselves on what we can accomplish and how we can survive as emerging songwriters and artists. Major artists who made their debut anytime before the year 2000 were not faced with the breakthrough and developmental obstacles that new comers are dealing with in the market today. Once panel discussions began, it was a relief to see the vulnerable industry leaders tuned in to the innovative changes and unique marketing plans being implemented between parties. Players, who in past years may have rivaled each other for market attention, are now combining forces and trading duties. When you stop into Starbucks for your grande vanilla soy latte, you can buy the song of the day at the register along with your five-dollar caffeine fix (may I point out how interesting it is that we spend more on the coffee then we do on the music). The same holds true for primetime Television programs such as Grey’s Anatomy. No one is listening to the radio anymore, but people are still watching TV and are in fact finding new music through this avenue. Some may argue that the “McDreamy” audience may consist of a skewed demographic of viewers, but nonetheless we must all note what an incredible impact it has had and how important the right TV or commercial use can be for an artist and/or songwriter. The proof is in the pudding.
May I introduce to you Ingrid Michaelson. I promise: if you have a TV, you have heard her songs. Michaelson was an unknown singer/songwriter from New York City with nothing but a microphone and a myspace page, and just like Berklee kids she gigged around in small clubs and coffee shops. In November of 2006 a freelance music licenser came across Ingrid’s songs on her Myspace page and directed her to the music placement company that provides much of the music for Grey’s Anatomy. Four of Michaelson’s original songs have been licensed for use on the popular ABC primetime drama, including “Keep Breathing”, which debuted at the end of the Grey’s third season finale. Over twenty-five million people tuned in and heard that song. The day following the airing of that episode, Michaelson’s Myspace page received 30,000 plays, and continued to receive 10,000 hits per day thereafter (compared to the 500 per day she had previously). She currently has over 3 million profile views. Her name was deemed the most searched for name on Google that morning. Since then a whirlwind of opportunity has floated her way.
Her song “The Way I am” was licensed for a 2007 Old Navy commercial (you know, the ‘sweater song’). The song has repeated music video play in key stores. That same song was also licensed for use in a 2007 Chevrolet commercial. Shortly after, she was invited for her first network debut performing “The Way I Am” live on September 21st, 2007 on Last Call with Carson Daly, and is featured on Scrubb’s Zach Braff’s Myspace page as his favorite artist with her music playing. Michaelson has had several other song placements on the CW’s One Tree Hill, MTV’s The Real World: Denver, Kyle XY, The Bad Girls Club, and Lifetime’s Side Order of Life. She has been played on XM’s Starbucks channel, Sirius’ “The Coffee House” and featured in the “What’s Hot” and “Staff Picks” on the iTunes home page. Ingrid even recently had a feature story in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Singers Bypass Labels For Prime-Time Exposure”. Practically over night she was ranked as the #4 unsigned artist on all of Myspace.com, #1 CD Baby Top Seller, #11 Pop Album on iTunes, and #53 Album over all on iTunes. In 2006 she released her self-produced album entitled “Girls and Boys” which hit number 166 on Billboard Top 200. She distributes the album herself through RED Distribution via her own label, Cabin 24 Records. “Keep Breathing” appears on the Grey’s Anatomy Volume III original soundtrack. She has had appearances on Good Morning America, Fuse TV, Plum TV, MSG, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and she has even been asked to compose an original song for two major motion films. Michaelson receives 2/3’s of iTunes digital download profits, making more now as an indie then most emerging acts signed to a major. Ingrid Michaelson still remains unsigned. Not too bad for a nobody.
Brandi Carlile also has seen a great deal of success after her TV placement debut. Although Carlile is signed to a major label and has been on the club radar since 2004, her primetime exposure launched her career into the public eye. Her hit single “The Story” debuted on a special two-hour episode of Grey’s Anatomy in April of 2007, while simultaneously releasing her second album of the same name that month. At the end of the episode, a special version of the music video was aired with pieces of the show interspersed, and Brandi Carlile became a household name.
Singer/songwriters and composers across the board have begun to catch on to what looks like a licensing phenomena and there are companies out there to help. Indie publishers, placement houses, and other industry businesses are recognizing this and have expressed their willingness to step out side the traditional box in order find a solution to satisfy everyone involved. David Hirshland, President of Bug Music, shared his perspective as an independent publisher, “[We are] actively looking to break new artists while making producers and directors happy with their second options.” Often times the independent project budgets are not unlimited and supervisors may not always be able to afford an A-lister for a specific spot. Indie publishers and music licensing companies are there to find alternatives.
During a round table discussion with the President of Natural Energy Lab, Danny Benair, the former publishing executive shared the ins and outs of the licensing world. After a long stretch at Polygram, Benair branched out to form his own project that provides more intimate attention to artists and songwriters. He pointed how lucrative the publishing business has become, now that artists have a difficult time recouping music sales. Beyond that, even writers working with major publishing companies don’t always receive the personal service an indie company like Natural Energy Lab can provide. Over the past six years Benair has dedicated his business to operate outside the corporate vacuum and in doing so helps place us no-namers in the market. Big names like Apple Computers and XM Satellite Radio are a few of the transactions along with many TV, film, and commercial placements including Grey’s Anatomy, Payless Shoes, Target, Sears, Dr. Pepper, American Eagle, NFL Sunday Ticket, and many, many more. Natural Energy is granted the right to administer the copyright on the behalf of the composer in order generate more income for the songwriter. Anyone interested in having their music licensed should visit www.naturalenergylab.com and follow submission procedures.
At the “Music for Commercials and Beyond” panel discussion, it was made clear that advertising and music industries are coming together in a major way. And the major players in advertising and publishing are willing to explore new and creative ideas. The band Wilco, has signed with Volkswagen for eight commercial spots, even after receiving heavy criticism on the decision. Although some artists still avoid this route in fear of “selling-out”, many have adapted to new conditions while keeping themselves afloat in a sea polluted with notions of music being free to the average consumer.
Panelists from all sectors of the business were in agreement on the necessity of finding new methods to advance their business, new models, and building beneficial media partnerships. “When people take chances, amazing things happen”, Mark Kilian, the composer of “Rendition”, eloquently stated. Here’s the truth: the industry is changing and the companies out there are diversifying. Now is a better time than ever to start forming relationships and selling your brand. After all, what would they do with out us?
By Sarah DeMatos