Five Questions: Ryan Allen

The stockmusic.net CEO gives his advice for licensing your music
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Ryan Allen is the CEO of stockmusic.net, a music library service that represents more than 180 artists. Allen and his staff help to place their artists’ music in films, television programs, ads, and other outlets that the average musician might not even imagine. If you’re a prolific songwriter with broad interests and talents, licensing your music could become a source of regular income — if you keep your eyes on the details.

What are the different opportunities available for composers to license their music through your service?

Stockmusic.net is an online sync store. We sell music licensing to all kinds of media production, every single day. That includes television, radio, podcasting, games, plush toys, talking toothbrushes, you name it. If it’s media and they need music, we can license it.

What do you look for, musically speaking, when you’re choosing artists to represent?

We look for high-quality, well-rounded musicians. That means musicians who can produce anything: symphonies, country and western, hip hop, EDM, folk, bluegrass. There are always exceptions to the rule: If someone happens to be incredibly good at a particular style that’s in demand and our library is lacking, then we’ll consider signing them, but for the most part, we’re looking for well-rounded musicians and writers.

Are there other qualities you look for when you’re deciding whom to sign?

The next thing we always ask artists is, “Have you submitted any of your material to an exclusive library?” Our library is nonexclusive, so we try to avoid anyone who’s signed anything exclusive.

The danger is that if a piece of music gets signed exclusively we might not know it, or there might be a long delay between when an artist uploads music to a library and when it actually gets signed into production. In the meantime, some other library may have signed exclusive rights to it. We’ve had cases where artists have signed nonexclusive representation agreements with us, and they upload to our library, and then a couple years down the road they send us a take-down notice because they signed an exclusive deal with someone else. That causes a lot of problems.

Could you please explain to us the structure of musician payments, when someone signs with you?

There are two fees: First, there’s the upfront sync fee, which is what they get when their music is purchased. Depending on the license and the quantity of music that is purchased, the amount can vary, but it can be up to about 20 bucks.

The real money comes on the back end, from the public performance side. On our website, we’ve published an article that breaks down the different types of presentations there are and the fees for each, and it varies tremendously. Are you going on a commercial for Bob’s Late-Night Plumbing, or are you going on a Coors commercial during the Superbowl?

This ties into another thing artists need to know: You need to be registered with a Performance Rights Organization, and you need to make sure that all your cue sheet information is accurate, because that’s how you are going to get paid. If your music ends up in a commercial, the media producer has to submit a cue sheet to the Performance Rights Organization, whether that’s BMI, GMR Music, or ASCAP in the U.S., SOCAN in Canada, or any of the many other similar organizations functioning worldwide that track these things.

Every year millions of dollars go unclaimed because the PROs can’t find the artist. We always tell artists, make sure your metadata is properly submitted to the PROs and that it’s up to date.

What else do artists need to have in place to be considered?

Have all your metadata in order, and ready to submit. Does every track you’ve produced have a description, a name, genre, mood, instruments, links, the proper credits for all the writers, percentages of writers and recording artists involved? For every musician, for every recording, for every single track you write, keep note in a spread sheet. It will make your life 100 percent easier throughout your career.

Metadata matters more than ever. A decade ago, license deals were handheld. There was an agent and an intern who submitted all the data for you, and that’s how your music was tracked. Now, that process is being replaced with automated tools.

You submit your music library through a software interface. It’s going to ask for the metadata. If the library is worth anything, they’re going to have some kind of bulk submission process, where you can submit hundreds of tracks on a spreadsheet at the same time, and the track name can be matched with the column on the spread sheet so the site will populate all the metadata. Any library that isn’t doing this today will be doing it by next year.