How’s licensing music for digital platforms similar to Dominic Cummings?
A few months ago, it was really very easy to understand the rules of getting through the Covid-19 pandemic. Stay inside your home, only go out for an hour’s exercise each day, and to do some essential shopping. We all understood the rules and in general, most people followed them.
Then one day in May the news broke that the rules didn’t apply to certain people if they had ‘friends’ in high places. What followed has been confusion, dissention and a set of rules that were blurry at best and at worst open to interpretation by the individuals or families.
For many years, licensing music for clients followed a set of rules that whatever the media and digital platforms involved. No matter how new or apparently complicated an enquiry appeared,
As music supervisors, if we stripped it back to first principles, we could all work out what licenses we needed and benchmarks for quoting fees. And then, along came YouTube, the biggest of all digital platforms, which enabled everyone and anyone to become a broadcaster.
In the beginning, with early sound recognition technology, Rights Holders began to track those outliers who were using their tracks without a license and take them off air. Today it is so noisy out there, that with a ubiquitous use of well known tracks I have to ask “has it become almost too difficult to monitor or are there now special rules for some people and not for others.
Let me explain. A client came to me way before Covid-19 and wanted to launch a dance channel using big tracks. Great visuals, great heritage as an act and a well thought out strategy. This would be a subscription model. The Rights Holders presented figures that they thought would be a fair fee for this kind of exposure. The fees that we were quoted were way out of their budget, so we started to look at less well-known tracks.
By the nature of how this genre of music is conceived and created there were often 6 ‘writers’ or more all with different percentages and different minor share holding publishers all demanding MFN, because I now think they had no idea of what this usage was worth.
We looked at competitor activity. We found that there were literally hundreds of dance tutorial channels all using big dance tracks. And during this pandemic period, we have literally seen hundreds of sites set up to teach everything from Zumba to Aerobics. Almost every artist who ever used dance routines in their stage acts or had been the choreographer for those acts were/are giving away these sessions for free and they were mainly using ‘big’ tracks. This whole period has meant that my client couldn’t charge the subscription fee that he had planned and that the tracks that he had licensed for this usage were compromised. It is hard to explain to a disgruntled client why they have laid out literally thousands of pounds to do something legally and then Rights Holders are apparently turning a blind eye to the principles because it is ‘good’ exposure for their music.
Or am I right in thinking that the Music Industry is also suffering from the Dominic Cummings syndrome, one set of rules for one person licensing music for digital platforms, and one for another if you know people in high places?