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Music rights explained

OK, so you’ve got a brand that LOOKS unique but now you want it to SOUND unique too. But what about music rights? What exactly are you paying for? Who gets what? And can anyone explain those ever-present royalties?

When you buy music, you’re purchasing a cake with three layers. Production, license and buyout.

Production is where the actual work is done (yay!). Composers sweating their magic and adding true value to your brand.

To actually broadcast that music, you need a license. This goes through copyright collectives such as BUMA (NL) or PRS (UK). In turn, these organisations ensure proper distribution of royalties to the composers.

But there’s another caveat: buyout. Buyout comes into play if you’re going to use music in a visual piece such as a movie, game or commercial. For this you need separate approval from the composer. Then what you pay is roughly based on the composer’s reputation and the size of your audience.

We know, this sounds way too complicated already… Unfortunately, most parties involved are reluctant to change any of this. Why? Because they’re benefitting from it. Here’s how:

Chain of fools

Most brands outsource their campaigns to their creative agencies. Who outsource their music production to music agencies. Who outsource their composition to freelance composers. With so many middlemen, it’s clear who gets to eat last: the people on the end of the chain: the brand and composer.

The more links in the chain, the more you pay for noise.

Sharing royalties not responsibilities

Often, composers need to share their royalties with one of these middlemen. By registering themselves as actual composers, agencies take a considerable cut. Without adding any real value. No wonder composers feel disgruntled.

Instead of protecting composers, the system works against them.

The buyout blackbox

The current schemes for calculating buyout originate from pre-internet dynamics. Things like the penetration of household television in Andorra can be the deciding factor in determining the buyout for your online campaign. Yes, it’s that dated.

Within this mess, it’s unclear what you pay for. Or if your composer is getting a fair share.

Welcome to Internetland

Brands are creating more content than ever before, exploring a variety of platforms. Any piece of content your brand publishes online is one click away from billions of people.

In this context, music and sound are playing a vital role in how brands interact with their audience. Still, having music composed for your brand remains costly and complex.

This is why brands seek shelter in boring stock-music. When a talented composer could have done the job. In the meantime, a broad roster of middlemen make a quick buck by exploiting your ignorance.

What you can do about this

Next time you’re planning to use music for your brand, make sure you know how your money is being spent. Say NO to stock-music and YES to rewarding the talent and hard work of composers. It’s time to stop funding the middlemen.

It’s time to start investing in your own brand instead.