The Origins of Digital Music Licensing

July 16, 2020

If you haven’t seen, soundlounge has recently started a podcast! In Episode 1, James chatted to Domino Recording Co / Publishing’s Head of Sync Lynden Campbell on all things digital music licensing. You can listen to the podcast HERE but we thought we’d also post a transcript of the interview for you all to enjoy. Here’s the first part of the conversation, where James and Lynden discuss the origins of digital licensing.

James: When did you first start to see requests come in for purely online music licensing usages?

Lynden: So I think it’s been going for a really long time but I became consciously aware of it in 2011 I think. And I know this because I started to want more members of staff and that’s when I started to become a pain around the office. I just needed an extra pair of hands to process the digital music licensing requests. And the reason it became noticeable was because the people submitting these digital licensing requests weren’t music supervisors, so we were having to spend more time explaining the rights process, and that was impacting on how much time we had to do other things. So it felt like, from that point on, we needed an extra pair of hands to help guide people through that process and then we needed to overhaul some stuff to speed that process up.  The other thing that I’m conscious of was that I started to document fashion film because it felt like its own business area at that point.

J: Is that because it’s mostly online?

L: Yeah, it’s mostly online. So it’ll be within a catwalk situation or a retail situation, and then without the budgets to do TV advertising it felt like they were naturally using social networks and online websites. So it began as a ‘look book’, and it made sense for them to shift that online. So as companies like ASOS grew, then there was a massive blur between ‘is this branded retail or is this cultural editorial like a music magazine?’ So I’m really aware that some really complex questions started to open up, with regards to digital licensing, and we had to start working more closely with other teams, like our PR team.

We needed to speak to them because I say, ‘well, it’s ASOS so that’s got to be a fee because it’s a brand and it’s massive.’ But they were like ‘yeah, but it’s ASOS and that’s a massive audience and we’d like to have that editorial’. So, we then started to refine the questions on digital music licensing and how we approached it. There were lots of different processes that we started to naturally develop. This was to try to take into account all the different stakeholders so that the artist was getting the best deal, and if it was promotional vs not promotional.

We also had to learn how to define what a branded content use is because there was a blurring between art film/personal project but then it’s been paid for by Nike. So, definitely, it was at the turn of the last decade that all of that started to become quite testing.

J: In terms of how you guys adapted whilst upholding the value of music, was it trial and error as you went along and how did artists react?

L: Yeah, so to some extent it had to be trial and error because we didn’t know what technology was doing until it was already built – it happens and you have to then figure it out. So there have been some heated discussions, shall we say, and some touch points. Generally the artist will not want to lose music licensing opportunities and they panic, and that’s where you sort of find yourself arguing with an artist: ‘well there’s no money in this and this isn’t a content piece about you specifically so I don’t see what the promotional value is.’

Where it’s something that the press team at the label have initiated, then we are always 100% behind that because that is a promotional use. So we’ve got some measure of success because they know what they’re trying to achieve out of that particular project. But these online platforms were not built for brands, they were built for private users to share information and then they’ve used brands as a model of trying to gain revenue for those platforms.

And then there’s never really been a proper open dialogue about brands using social media as a platform for integrated user type content. The model is assuming that there will be a banner with an ad on it but I don’t think anyone properly thought through, ‘well, what if a brand wants to do a behind-the-scenes film and post that?’ I think that’s a massive oversight on the part of these platforms because that could have been a professional subscription that they could have charged, or it could be some content income that they could have isolated those types of users for their own benefit. But ultimately, we’ve constantly had to be on our toes.

With Domino specifically, in the last, 5 years, I probably speak to the digital team more than I speak to any other team in the company. I think that’s a really good indicator that in the past, sync and music licensing was sort of put with possibly the promo team, probably near the A&R team, but now I feel like I sit equally between digital and A&R (and A&R being the teams that develop and nurture our artists).

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