As I’ve discussed at length on this blog, live events are crucial for developing musicians in acquiring new fans, building a buzz, and getting to the stage where they can monetize what they are doing effectively. For artists just starting off, smaller non-traditional outlets like open mic performances at coffee shops, church or library events, etc can be a good place to make this first plunge into the live performance arena. And for these non-traditional outlets (which are not solely focused on music), hosting live music can bring in some additional traffic, as well as provide a way to support local arts. It’s a symbiotic relationship, which helps musicians to hone their live performance chops, and smaller businesses to engage with their community.

Copyright law dictates that any venue that hosts live music is required to have a performance license, and pay the associated annual licensing fee. As Joan Anderman points out in her Boston Globe piece this morning, the Performance Rights Organizations (who are tasked with collecting these licensing fees and distributing the proceeds to their members) are aggressively pursing these smaller “venues,” many of which make little or no money from the music they present. As such, many of these smaller business owners are eliminating live music from their schedule. As Anderman points out:

Among them is Magret Gudmundsson, who until recently hosted a monthly acoustic open mike in her Middleborough, MA cafe, Coffee Milano. “I like having it here, but we’re not making any money from it and they wanted $332 a year,’’ Gudmundsson said. “The town really needs something like this. They ruined it.”

The PROs counter that the music provided by these artists is adding value to these businesses, and they should pay for this value in the same way they pay for other utilities. There is no doubt that music has value, but if tiny outlets truly are not generating enough revenue from these performances to cover the costs of the license, is it more beneficial for the artists (whom the PROs are representing) to consider these outlets as a way to get their live chops down and hopefully start their local following, as opposed to an income generating vehicle? Are the PROs, as my friend Milan might say, killing an ox for a pound of meat?

I’m all for artists collecting money for their work. But if the end result of PRO field agents (who get paid a commission based on the fees they collect) working coffee shops for a license fee means that there are fewer small outlets for developing artists to perform at and perfect their craft, I’m not sure the ends justify the means.

Take a look at Joan Anderman’s Globe piece here

The live events at SXSW are amazing. Because of the limited time allotted to most bands (which I think encourages bands to “pull out all the stops”), and the fact that the barrier of entry is pretty high, you’d be hard pressed to find another convention anywhere in the world with as much concentrated talent in one location.

Complementing the live music scene at SXSW are panels held throughout the week at the convention center. From Jim Griffin talking about his Choruss idea, to Ian Rogers moderating a panel on “Making a 360 Deal with Yourself,” the overall theme of the panels I attended this year revolved around the ways that artists and music business companies can identify and optimize alternative revenue models as the music business shifts away from traditional record sales. Music licensing, while nothing new, is a hot topic right now among content owners (songwriters, labels), managers, and artists. Licensing offers the possibility of incredible visibility to artists, and depending on usage, it could also provide a fairly solid revenue stream.

Here is my takeaway from the “Placing Your Music in Film and TV” panel with Jennifer Czeisler (VP Licensing, Sub Pop Records), Marianne Goode (VP Music, Lifetime Networks), Season Kent (Music Supervisor, Relativity Media LLC) Alexandra Patsavas (Owner, Chop Shop Music), Alicen Schneider (VP Music Creative Svcs, NBC Universal TV Music), and Madonna Wade-Reed (Music Supervisor, Whoopsie Daisy):

It’s a Good Time to License Independent Music

The panelists all agreed that it was a fantastic time for independent artists to look for licensing deals, simply because of economics. Producers are more open to indie music, as A) indie music is typically cheaper to license, and B) many producers consider themselves tastemakers, and want to be known for breaking bands. Alicen Schneider spoke about the fact that 75% of the music used by NBC is now independent music.

How Much Can Artists Expect to Get Paid?

There is a wide range in the amount of money artists can expect to get paid from a licensed track, much of which depends on usage. Variables include the length of the use, the thematic placement (is the song in the credits or in the background of a scene?), the budget of the production, if the song is for a one-time use or used as a recurring part of the promo for the production, and more. The more that is requested of the song, the more the song will be worth. It’s important to also note that when a song is used in TV or film, two licenses are needed: a synchronization license from the copyright owner of the music, as well as master recording license from the copyright owner of the sound recording. These are two separate agreements, and typically, artists that control both their master rights as well as their publishing will do “All in” deals that cover both “sides” of the composition. According to Jennifer from SubPop, artists can expect to receive anywhere from $1,500 to $15,000 for the master rights alone for one-time placements.

Dos and Don’t: Rules for Submissions

Similar to traditional press, blog, or radio outreach, there are specific rules that artists should follow when pitching supervisors. Once you find the name of a specific supervisor that you want to target (the Music Business Registry is a good option for finding contact info), your package should follow these guidelines:

1) Although they take Mp3 files in emails, supervisors still primarily work with full art CDs. They prefer their music in proper jewel cases with a spine that lists the artists name and title. Madonna from Whoopsie Daisy (who has worked on “Smallville,” “One Tree Hill,” “Alias,” and “Felicity,” and others) said that she receives upwards of 150 submissions a week, many of which she files away. Artists have to make it as easy as possible for them to file your music, and find it later.
2) If you are burning a CD, be sure you have added all the track info to the individual songs (particularly artist and song names). If a supervisor burns your music into iTunes, you don’t want to be in their library as “Track 2.”
3) Clearance problems are always an issue. Make the publishing and master info as prominent as possible, especially if you control both.
4) Be sure you are targeting the right show. Supervisors hate emails that ask: “What are you looking for?” Know your show’s demo, and send them appropriate music.
5) Do Not Call. Supervisors have no time to spend on the phone. Quick email reminders are appropriate. Successful pitches are those that do not expect anything, and do not put too much pressure on the supervisor. Keeping in front of them is great; stalking them is not.
6) Do not ask them for opinions on your music. Supervisors are not A&R reps. Good music will stand out and get placed at some point.

Use Songpluggers

All supervisors have a trusted stable of songpluggers that they can go to in a pinch. Songpluggers (or independent licensing companies) have relationships with all the supervisors in LA, know what their taste is in music, and can provide cleared music to them, which they can run with immediately. Indie artists should look into building a relationship with licensing companies that have these direct connections with the supervisors. However – do your homework on them. Like any promo area in the industry, there tends to be some false claims and embellishments. Learn more about songpluggers here.

Music Licensing is Insanely Competitive

The labels are keenly aware of the importance of music licensing. Alicen Schneider related a story about Dave Matthews’ label sending Dave himself to play a one-on-one concert for her to showcase some of his new license-friendly music. But the bottom line is that if artists can find fans of their music in the supervisor, (or sometimes even a key actor, as was the situation with Death Cab for Cutie and their placements in the O.C.), indie bands have as much of a chance as a major label artist (if not more, with the smaller budgets) with success in music licensing.