Is The Music Industry Missing Out On Music for Sync Licensing Income?
James: A lot of people are now creating online content. However, the music industry, for your average content creator, is quite inaccessible for several reasons: multiple publishers, multiple interested parties, confusing sync licensing terminology and digital requests at the bottom of the pile. This is forcing people to look for free/stock music, so do you think the commercial music industry is sleepwalking past increasingly significant income as the world’s population moves online?
Lynden: Well, I feel like the world’s population moved online about 30/40 years ago, and I think the world has been really slow to realise that. I don’t think it’s limited to the music business. As we see now with COVID, anything that requires people to leave their homes and go to a gallery space or go to a venue…we’re all now waking up to what a big expectation that is on individuals to make those commitments.
When I was a teenager, I couldn’t afford to buy records. I could occasionally buy a cassette, and I then listened to everything else on the radio, which was free, or I ripped off my friend’s older brother’s CD collections. And I just think we’re seeing those stats digitised now. I don’t think it’s news that young people don’t want to spend money on things…because they haven’t got any money. Therefore, it’s inevitable that the internet is hugely appealing to a wider range of people.
The internet has democratised access to culture, but the pay-off with those types of things is that you can’t control what people are buying into. So, if they want to sit and make videos about their cat falling over then that’s the way it’s got to be, and we can’t tell people ‘Oh, actually, you’ve got to listen to Beth Gibbons or Jon Hopkins’, or whoever – people will do what they want to do.
I think that’s had the biggest impact, and we’ve seen that with Spotify. If people want to stream a song about sausage rolls, they will. The music industry doesn’t quite have that handle-hold, that it used to have, where it would allegedly almost fake sales, for want of a better expression, and there were lots of tactics. Now it’s free-game, and I think that’s full of opportunities. But overall there’s got to be different choices/options, so I think in the sense of saying the music industry’s sleepwalking, I think they were sleepwalking, particularly when Apple and Napster were emerging. The industry took a classic ‘lock them down’, ‘get the Web Sherriff out’ approach. I think that was wrong, and I think the music industry should have seen that as an opportunity and invested.
We slept walked there, but I don’t think the industry is sleepwalking now. I do believe the industry is very insecure, naturally, and they’re not always pioneers, but I don’t think that the artists on my roster want their music to be on every single online video. I think what’s important is that people recognise that certain types of music make sense for certain kinds of usages. I’m not sure it’s quite right to expect to put every single artist’s song on every single kind of online video.
I think it’s down to the artist. If they feel they want their music to be used like that, then that’s their choice. And I think what’s fundamental is ‘are you in the music industry to be a businessperson, or are you making music for pleasure?’, in which case if you want your music to be anywhere then perhaps money isn’t the main object. But if you’re going to make it a business then I think you have to be really clever about what you make available and what you don’t make available. I think there has to be a choice. Some people want the real deal, some people don’t mind a robot version, and maybe the same artist is a seminal orchestral film-score-creating genius that simultaneously has a music library that simultaneously has a copyright-free library – that’s their choice. I don’t think you can have a ‘one size fits all’.
I do think people should take more responsibility about being ignorant about copyright. So, if they want to use music copyrights then go and do some research in music copyright! It enrages me that some people have this assumption that music doesn’t seem to be owned by anyone. I think there needs to be more awareness, and perhaps if the music industry has slept walked, then it’s just been very poor at communicating information. But I can equally understand why it hasn’t communicated that info because traditionally it’s made a lot of money from people’s lack of understanding.
So, I think the future will rely on the music industry making itself understood and accessible. But that’s always going to be a really hard thing to do because there are so many voices involved, especially when you have different copyrights and different stakeholders in different territories. I think there’s definitely a willingness within the music industry for people to make themselves more accessible. Still, it’s always going to be slow and painful because there are so many people involved in decision making.
Ultimately, it will have to be driven by the artists themselves and they’ll have to determine how they want their music to be monetised and represented. I think when you’re inside the music industry it can be quite frustrating because a lot of the time musicians want the end product (money) but they can’t really be bothered to think about how they get it or the different uncertainties that are involved in achieving that. I think there will be some really strong voices emerge in the next few years where musicians have been able to own their business from the beginning, because of the internet, and those voices will be the voices that lead the way about how it should be monetised and protected in the future. Imogen Heap is a really good example of that.