With record stores closing, CD sales in the tank, legal downloads leveling off, and major labels shedding employees while they jockey for their next merger, is the music business as we once knew it just a zombie waiting for a bullet to the head? One thing''s for sure: The old paradigm has given way to an entirely new landscape where connectivity and technology run the show. As Tom Petty once put it, the future is wide open.
“If you ask me, there hasn''t been a time this exciting in the music business since the dawn of rock and roll,” says Paul Anthony, founder and CEO of Rumblefish, Inc., one of the prime movers in music licensing for film, TV, video games, and social media. “Back in the day, there were just a lot of tiny independent labels. It was the Wild West, and as long as you were smart, you could figure out ways to do some really interesting things. Right now there are unbelievable opportunities for what we call the middle-class musician. It''s not about making a million bucks—it''s about making fifty or a hundred thousand a year as an artist, just on your music.”
For the artists who take advantage of it, licensing is just another revenue stream to add to CDs, digital, merchandise, and—if touring is part of the equation—ticket sales. Strange thing is, the licensing stream is very often the most lucrative of them all. So why aren''t more people talking about it?
Part of the answer lies in the sexiness of social media. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have proven to be essential for curating your online profile and connecting to your fans. But to be a truly agile artist in today''s market, you have to do more. Assuming you''re already registered with a performing rights society such as ASCAP or BMI, you own your publishing (and thus the synchronization rights that attach), and you''re regularly writing and recording, here are a few preliminary moves that can help you get your work in front of the right people.
PICK A NICHE AND OWN IT
Don''t spread yourself too thin when it comes to your sound, style, and creative direction. Music supervisors and music placement reps want honesty and authenticity; believe it or not, they can sense when you''re winging it. “If they''re looking for a song to evoke a certain emotion or character or situation,” Anthony explains, “then you''ve really gotta nail it, because you''re up against a lot of competition.”
CRUNCH YOUR METADATA
When you''re ready to start pitching your work, the way that you describe it is just as important as the music itself. “Put yourself in the producer or director''s role,” Anthony says. “They don''t search for songs the way consumers do. I recently got a request for love songs with lyrics in Chinese. I wouldn''t even know a Chinese love song if I heard one, but if someone sends me a song with metadata that says, ‘This is a love song in Chinese, and here are the lyrics,'' I''ll probably use it. The more metadata you have—lyrics, adjectives, who the musicians are, what the style is—the better.”
GET TO KNOW YOUR COMMUNITY
It''s easy enough to submit your work to licensing reps like Rumblefish (see sidebar), but you should also stay plugged into the grapevine. Indaba Music is a social network for musicians and a vital source of information about new music placement opportunities, remix contests, and potential collaborations. Indie Music Tech is a pretty solid music technology blog that often posts links to licensing offers, contests, and newly emerging music-placement companies.
It takes a decent bit of grunt work, and sometimes even a willingness to do your first job for free, but once you get into it, you''ll find that licensing is definitely one aspect of the music industry that''s very much alive and well.
In the next issue: one artist''s story of how he broke into film and video games.
For just about any possible use of music you can think of, there''s a company that covers it. Keep in mind, though, that when you submit your work to these services, it can take time to get a response; be patient but persistent. For more sites like these, visit http://bit.ly/cNcfms.
At this writing, Rumblefish has stopped taking new submissions while it retools its uploading system, but expects to resume shortly.