The following article was written by Vaughn Johnson, a composer and President of music library ScoreKeepers Music
Hi, my name is Vaughn Johnson and I’m a retitler.
I am a composer by trade with a great deal of experience selling all rights to my music as a hired hand for television production. When I became involved in the music library business, I set out to provide a different experience for composers by offering them an opportunity to retain ownership of their work. I wondered if, as a publisher, there would be a way to collect royalties only for those broadcast performances that are the result of my company’s placements. I discussed these issues with a representative from BMI when I started this venture. He suggested that we retitle the tracks as that would be the simplest solution to properly allocate publishing royalties per our agreement.
I have read the criticism and misinformation swirling around the internet regarding non-exclusive libraries and the practice of retitling, and feel motivated to raise my voice with others who view the non-exclusive model as a viable alternative.
It is worth noting that my business deals with providing instrumental underscore tracks for TV, not pitching individual songs. Perhaps in the world of advertising, promos, etc. where individual songs compete for placement, the retitling concerns take on a different scope than what I’ll discuss below. Since I do not represent the views of other non-exclusive libraries, some of my responses are personalized to accurately reflect the philosophies and practices of my own company.
Criticism #1. Multiple claims of ownership/legal disputes and ethical issues
Only one party owns the music: the composer. He/she has given us non-exclusive control, the authority to retitle, and the right to collect publishing royalties generated from our placements. Non-exclusive library administrators understand that the cue sheet indicates which title was actually used in the broadcast and therefore which party is entitled to collect publishing royalties. Opponents of retitling are making this practice out to be some sort of back-room deception, using terms such as sketchy, unethical, and insidious. In reality, retitling affords complete accuracy in administering non-exclusive deals by providing the simplest way to satisfy the terms of the agreement.
Criticism #2. Blacklisting by TV clients
I work with producers and editors every day to make sure they have the music and service they need to create successful scores for their programs. They are not concerned where the cleared music came from, or if they can get the same music from another source. They need great music that works for their shows. And lots of it. Deliver that with a smile and they’re happy. I have not encountered any “blacklists”. However, if there are music supervisors or networks that have a problem with non-exclusive libraries, I offer a solution: You don’t need to rule out all non-exclusive libraries, you just need to rule out all but one. One non-exclusive library fits nicely alongside your exclusive libraries and offers a wealth of great music that the exclusives can’t provide.
Criticism #3. Retitling devalues your music
Sustained financial success in the TV music business comes from performance royalties. You don’t get a higher royalty rate because your composition is represented exclusively. From my viewpoint, retitling increases the value of your music by allowing more opportunities for placements and generating royalties. I think most of us will admit that there is a degree of luck involved in this business. As a composer, how do you know which library will be the “lucky” one with your track?
We have composers who are making a substantial annual income due to one particular show for which we provide music. Had these composers put their tracks in an exclusive library (or, for that matter, divided their tracks among non-exclusives) they may have seen income from different sources, but completely missed out on the huge ongoing payout from that particular show. In cases like this, these non-exclusive retitles have proven to be invaluable.
Criticism #4. No possibility of exclusive deals
Composers, do you think that if there is an opportunity for exclusive libraries to make money from your music they will say, “No thanks, that track has been tainted with non-exclusivity”? If the music works and they have clients who are willing to pay for it, I’m sure they’d be happy to take it off of your hands. And per our deal, we will remove any track from our database at the composer’s request, in order to accommodate a better opportunity for them.
Criticism #5. Retitling can attach inferior titles to your songs
Not true with our company. We use actual and completely new titles that complement search parameters in our database to make tracks as useful and marketable as possible. What advantage would we gain by assigning an inferior title?
Criticism #6. Limited potential for international income
We have a system in place that legally affords our composer-owned catalogue international placements and receipt of all applicable royalties including mechanical royalties.
Criticism #7. Performances not tracked by fingerprinting/sound recognition technology
Recently, a music library that uses TuneSat recognition technology claimed that a track credited to me on cue sheet was actually theirs. After reviewing the track itself, it was clear to all parties that the cue sheet was correct and the track was mine. Here’s what caused the trouble:
Both my track and the track from the other library used the same drum loop, with different overdubs. I had added timpani, while the other composer had added guitar. I contacted TuneSat to inquire as to how my track could have been mistaken for the one it fingerprinted. TuneSat’s response was that the track they had in its database was the closest match to the track that was broadcast (mine). Closest? Doesn’t sound like a fingerprint match to me. TuneSat acknowledged that improvements to their technology are necessary to account for different compositions that use the same commercially available loops and sounds, as well as compositions that have been retitled. It is evident that until this technology is perfected, we can anticipate inaccurate results. Perhaps the ultimate solution in sound recognition technology will be one that can account for both the use of drum loops and retitling.
Criticism #8. Non-exclusive libraries are less motivated to promote your tracks
Another generalization that is untrue in our case. Our company is thriving because we work diligently to promote our composers’ tracks. We like making money and our composers do too.
Some claim that non-exclusive libraries are only interested in amassing cues—regardless of quality—in order to boast a large track count. In our case, we only accept high quality cues that are sonically and compositionally useful in television underscore. We champion quantity when it’s quality.
Criticism #9. Actual quote: “Exclusive libraries have a long track record of generating steady income for composers; non-exclusive libraries, on the other hand, are doing everything possible to drive sync fees out of existence and to further accelerate the devaluation of music in the marketplace.”
I will assume that the author’s generalization is an effort to stir up discussion and that he doesn’t actually believe these points to be absolutes. I will address each issue separately:
A. “Exclusive libraries have a long track record of generating steady income for composers.”
I’m sure for some this is true, but isn’t it possible that there are composers who sold their copyright to an exclusive library and have never seen another dime for that composition? Is it possible that they have sold several pieces and after years of exclusive representation have only seen an occasional trickling of performance royalties? These same disappointing results are possible with non-exclusives as well. The difference is that with non-exclusive deals, composers keep their copyrights, control their material, and can pursue many outlets for representation and potential income.
I recently received a call from a very good composer. He has music in our non-exclusive library and has also provided music for several major exclusive libraries over the years. He stated that ours is the only library from which he has seen substantial performance royalty income. For him, generating “steady income” turned out to be the product of a non-exclusive deal. It’s not the music library business model that determines whether or not a composer will make money. Both exclusive and non-exclusive libraries can generate steady income for composers.
B. “Non-exclusive libraries, on the other hand, are doing everything possible to drive sync fees out of existence and to further accelerate the devaluation of music in the marketplace.”
The assumption that it is the motive of non-exclusive libraries to lower fees in an effort to devalue music is absurd. There is more than one factor contributing to decreasing upfront fees in the television music business. As far as music libraries go, low-ball bids are not the sole domain of the non-exclusives. We have had our pricing undercut before by big, reputable, exclusive libraries. Obviously no one in this business is above doing what it takes to compete.
When considering the value of music composed for TV, every experienced composer in this marketplace knows that the sync, or upfront fees are inconsequential when compared to performance royalty income. Any business focused on getting music on the air to generate broadcast royalties truly values the income potential of that music. Our company not only places high value on the income potential of composers’ music, but on their right to keep ownership of it.
In conclusion, we all want to write some cool tunes and make some money while we’re at it. In the music-licensing world, the past few years have proven that you don’t have to be affiliated with a traditional production music library to make a buck. Is it a market-share-scare that would cause some of these exclusives to ban together to cast aspersion on a different business model? Do they feel that by demonizing the practice of retitling they will undermine their non-exclusive competitors? Surely there is room for more than one way to represent a composer’s catalogue. The important issue is the composer’s ability to maintain rights to his/her hard work. I question the motives of any party that would castigate an honest effort used to advance that cause.
I believe it is the composers, not the naysayers, who will determine the future of retitling. An alternative method may emerge, one that may require more complicated administration, but still offers non-exclusive representation. It’s been my experience that music for picture has many lives and many uses. A well-structured non-exclusive deal affords the owners of those useful compositions many opportunities for income, and at the same time leaves open the possibility of selling their works exclusively should the right deal come along.