You really can make money from your music on the Web.
One of the major quandaries in selling music online is finding buyers. Even those musicians who establish decent Web sites and manage to bring in fans have a hard time making any money online from their music. Most musicians resign themselves to the notion that an online presence is just one component - albeit an important one - of a multifaceted approach to marketing music. But for those musicians interested in selling their songs for use in commercials, soundtracks, computer games, and the like, there is a new online music option that works.
A few bright souls figured out that the Internet offers the perfect alternative to traditional music licensing. Usually, when music is needed for a project - say for a motion picture - the music supervisor must find the appropriate music. One way to do that is to call music publishers, describe the type of song that's needed, wait for the publisher's suggestions, listen to them, decide whether to license any of the suggested tracks, and then fill out the necessary paperwork to pay for the right to use the song. Sometimes the music supervisor knows the song he or she wants but has to track it down and wait for approval to use it - and often pay a very high fee. But new Internet companies are challenging this old way of doing business. These companies make thousands of tracks available for licensing or purchasing through downloads.
Music supervisors, television producers, and game designers are frequenting these sites in ever-increasing numbers as a new way to find music for their projects quickly and easily. Musicians who want their music represented on these sites must submit songs and await acceptance - or rejection - just as they would when seeking a record deal. The twist is that these sites want to load up their databases with quality tracks, so they evaluate the music on a song-by-song basis. That means musicians aren't faced with selling their bands as whole - including marketability, appearance, and style. They can simply try to sell individual songs. The benefits for all involved are clear: musicians can sell songs whether they are signed to labels, and industry pros can easily search through prescreened, quality tracks. LicenseMusic, iNoiz, and MusicBlitz offer similar services to their clients, but each company operates differently and has different agreements with its musicians.
LICENSE TO SELLHaving debuted in early 1997, San Francisco-based LicenseMusic (www.licensemusic.com) is the oldest established company in the bunch. The idea behind the company was to make already cleared music from all over the world available for commercial projects. "We wanted to use the Internet as a market maker between the buyer and seller of music," says Gerd Leonhard, CEO of LicenseMusic. "There is so much good music that never sees the light of day. We thought it was a good idea to create a marketplace where, say, an Australian producer of a Shockwave animation could go to our Web site and find a cool acid jazz track by a Swedish guitar player."
Customers looking for music to use in a project can search the site in a variety of ways. They can search by genre, or they can perform advanced searches by specifying details such as the desired musical genre, instruments, tempo, setting (for example, action, romance, after-school special, vaudeville), and price range. Tracks that match the given criteria are listed on the screen, and the customer can preview the tracks and download MP3s to audition them as temp tracks. After deciding which tracks to license, the customer clicks on the Calculate License Agreement button and is prompted to choose options for all the licensing possibilities.
"The licensing engine is the nuts and bolts of what we do," Leonhard says. "Traditionally, it can take six weeks to do a song clearance because there are so many variables. Now, we've constructed this engine that computes about 250,000 different licensing deals. Let's say you're doing a motion picture. You can choose worldwide rights, perpetuity, opening credits, all the variables films have, and it spits out a license right on the spot. No lawyers or anything else."
Leonhard says it took about a year just to do the research on the licensing engine. "It's really the biggest asset of the site," he says. "All of the legwork necessary for a traditional licensing deal - such as calling the publisher, label, and so on - isn't worth it for a $500 deal. The average transaction time is about 12 minutes for a customer to license a song from us."
The company works with unsigned and signed artists, record labels, and music publishers. The contract is very basic: the artist gives LicenseMusic the right to represent him or her in licensing a particular song. The company gets a percentage of each licensing deal. "The artist, label, or publisher keeps all the rights," Leonhard says. "They are just telling us that we can do a deal on their behalf."
The easiest way to submit songs is to go to the Web site's Submit Music area. There, you'll find options for labels, publishers, and unsigned artists. All the music must be original and can't contain uncleared samples or anything that's been published or released. Even though the company is always looking for new music, it turns down a lot of artists. "We have to be picky because we fund everything until there is a transaction," Leonhard says. "We don't get anything in return until there is a licensing deal."
Once LicenseMusic accepts a song and a contract is signed, the company encodes and archives the track. The process is tedious - everything about the song has to be described, including tempo, genre, mood, instruments, types of vocals, and what types of scenes it would work for. Accordingly, it can take anywhere from six to ten weeks from the time a song is accepted for it to be made available on the site. The benefits of using a carefully indexed site with quality music make the lengthy process worthwhile.
"In the old music business, the seller - meaning the label and the publisher - had the power to do the licensing deal or not," Leonhard says. "On the Internet, buyers have the power to go on the Web to look for a deal without a label having the leverage to force them into anything. It allows musicians to offer what they have through sensible outlets on the Internet, and the money can finally flow back to them."
COME ON FEEL THE INOIZBased in Wilmington, North Carolina, iNoiz (www.inoiz.com) operates in a similar fashion to LicenseMusic, but with a few notable differences. INoiz offers several other types of content in addition to music. The content is also bought outright - known in the industry as a "buy-out" - not licensed. "INoiz was originally set up to provide music and sound effects to the gaming industry, radio, advertising, television, film, and corporate industrial video," says Jamie Frederick, vice president of business development for iNoiz. "As we were setting this up for the Web, we decided to offer other content that would serve those industries as well, such as clip art animations, 3-D modeling, texture tiles for games, and so on. We wanted to be the Wal-Mart of production media content." Frederick founded the company with his brother David, who is the company's president and CEO. The site had an unofficial or "soft" launch in September. As of this writing, iNoiz had not completed its full launch, though it is expected to in first quarter 2001.
When a visitor logs on to the site (registration is free, but it's mandatory for using the site), the first thing that comes up is the search engine. The customer can search on keywords that describe the scene to be scored and on type of music. Customers can preview the appropriate tracks as RealMedia, Windows Streaming Media, or QuickTime files. Once the customer finds an appropriate track, he or she can add it to the shopping cart and then continue searching or check out. The purchasing process is much like that of any other e-commerce site in which site visitors use a secure server for credit card purchases. The customer can get the purchased music by download, e-mail, or FTP. A fourth option, which is usually best if a lot of content is purchased, is to have a CD burned and sent overnight. Because the music is bought and not licensed, there is no need for an elaborate license agreement.
"It's a buy-out deal. We don't purchase the music, but we sell it on our site," Frederick says. "Customers can't recycle it and say it's their own. They can, however, use it in another production. For example, say you're a game developer and you're using the music you've bought from us for the main theme on a game. You then want to develop several mission packs for that game and reuse the music - you can do that."
Musicians who want to get their work on iNoiz must submit a demo through the mail, e-mail, or FTP. The company gets a lot of submissions based on referrals and word of mouth, but Frederick says that they are open to unsolicited music as well. "We'll take anything from any channel because some of the best musicians are people working out of their home studios," he says. "That's what we want to focus on - untapped sources."
Once a song is evaluated and accepted, a percentage deal is negotiated based on the amount of music the artist provides and the music's production level. For example, a MIDI track will be priced differently than a fully orchestrated piece recorded with a large session orchestra. The more a song costs to produce, the more iNoiz pays the artist for it and therefore the more the company ends up charging the customer.
The company accepts music from unsigned and signed artists alike, but the basic deal remains the same. "It is the artists' responsibility to see that their percentage gets split up based on what they have worked out with their label and their publisher," Frederick says. "It keeps it simple for us, the artist, and the end user. That's the whole idea."
Once the deal is set, the artist provides the company with the song and all the necessary database information for indexing the song on the site. The song is then reviewed by the quality control department, encoded, entered into the database, and uploaded to the site. The artist is paid only when the track is sold, and the company mails out payments quarterly.
Frederick says that his brother's and his experiences as musicians and in film and television production were the inspiration for establishing iNoiz. "We have often been in situations where we're in an editing suite working on a project, and the client is looking over our shoulders, tapping his watch, wondering why it is taking so long to go through CD after CD to find the right piece of music," Frederick says. "Or we used catalogs, where you have to look through, find the description, order the music, and wait for it to come. Or you try to license a song, and the licensing process can be complicated and time consuming. When you are working on a project with a tight budget, time is very important. The last thing you want to have to do is to wade through a lot of garbage. You want to be creative without having to deal with that stuff, so we wanted to promote the creative process by taking the complications out of it."
PUTTIN' ON THE MUSICBLITZLos Angeles-based MusicBlitz (www.musicblitz.com) operates much more like a traditional record label than iNoiz and LicenseMusic do. It scouts talent, signs artists, produces albums, and sells CDs through record stores. The company differs from regular record labels in that it also signs artists to single-song deals, usually for the purpose of shopping the song to music supervisors and the like.
"Our primary intent was to record some great new music from artists and to license it to television and film, and to explore other avenues to provide the artists with an alternative to a record deal," says Mike Mena, vice president of artist development for MusicBlitz. "Also, we have a great opportunity to work with artists who don't fit into a major label's plans right now, but they can certainly work with us. I think we've found the stuff that could possibly fall between the cracks. For instance, we're currently working with Taj Mahal. The man is a legend - he's won Grammys, and he doesn't have a record deal. He is somebody who is very appealing for us to work with."
The site is set up like a regular music site, with downloads from MusicBlitz artists offered side by side with free downloads of other artists, such as Eminem. MusicBlitz also offers independent reviews of all the site's music. The idea is to bring in traffic from music fans and industry insiders alike. "We're a lot more selective than other music Web sites," Mena says. "Our goal is not to have the most music on the Net; it's to have the best music. We consider one of our functions for our users is to filter out the large quantities of music they'd have to weed through on other sites."
In addition to encouraging industry professionals to check out the music available on its site, the company also networks with performance rights societies and film and TV professionals. "One of the advantages of working with us is that we can turn things around quickly," says Mena. "If a big record label or publisher is closing a multimillion dollar deal, a licensing deal might have to wait a week or two, which is time a music supervisor might not have." The Internet offers the access speed that the traditional method of mailing a CD can't compete with. "If someone needs a song quickly for a TV project, downloading a version of the song to check out is faster and cheaper than burning a disc and spending $60 in FedEx charges only to decide it's not the right track for the project," Mena says.
As for musicians hoping to get on the MusicBlitz site, most of the demos Mena receives come to him as referrals from colleagues, lawyers, or managers he knows and trusts. However, he is open to submissions from the Web site or through the mail. "No matter how we get it, the music has to have some kind of sex appeal," Mena says. "A cassette with a loose-leaf piece of paper rubber-banded around it is not as enticing as a demo that comes with some great reviews." Artists who are signed to single-song contracts still get the full record company treatment. Whereas LicenseMusic and iNoiz contract for already produced tracks, MusicBlitz follows the traditional record company path of taking artists through the A&R process and putting them in the studio.
Although MusicBlitz operates its own record label, it works with signed and unsigned artists for the single-song deals. "For artists not on our label or those with another label, we just own that one song," Mena says. "For the most part, publishers are pretty agreeable to working with us because it's just another form of promotion for them as well."
WRAP IT UP - I'LL TAKE ITFor most musicians, selling songs online for use in television and other projects won't be a major revenue generator, but it does offer a way to get their songs heard and to make money. For all the cliches about the Internet "leveling the playing field" for musicians, it seems that online music licensing is finally doing just that.
Some artists might not consider that when selling songs for use in television, movies, and advertising, they might have little say in where the songs are placed. That could be a problem if the song ends up as the backdrop to something objectionable.
Mike Mena of MusicBlitz says that because the company places the songs individually, that is not a concern for the company's artists. "The artist has the final say in everything," Mena says. "We take it on a case-by-case basis because you never know what an artist might be opposed to. We want everyone to be comfortable with the deal and where their music ends up."
LicenseMusic has a policy against licensing music for use in political campaigns, alcohol and tobacco advertising, and pornography. "The only leap artists take is that by giving us the right to license their song, we might sell it to an ad agency that does an ad for something they don't like," Gerd Leonhard says. "You don't have control over each single transaction."
Jamie Frederick of iNoiz says that the company has considered how to handle the situation of objectionable song usage, but it has yet to institute any policies. "Like any physical music library that can be bought, there is no control over how the music is used," Frederick says. "We felt that it would complicate things, and we just don't have the resources to police such enforcement. We do, however, have the right to deny a composer's piece of music because of bad taste, such as racist or overly sexual lyrics."