Is production music finally getting the attention that it deserves? David Weiss chats to the Production Music Association‘s Chairman Adam Taylor about the opportunities this sector brings to songwriters and rights holders in the golden age of video production, and the issues facing the music licensing landscape.
Quick, what’s a $1 billion dollar global industry that’s consistently flown under the radar? If you said “production music” then congratulations – you’re right on target.
That’s the international value determined via research performed by the Production Music Association, a non-profit trade association for the production music industry, which counts over 650 music publishers and libraries as its members, as well as supporting thousands of composers, songwriters and related recording studios, rights administration services, software services and more. In the US alone, that revenue stands at an estimated $500 million – and these numbers may be on the conservative side.
With that kind of leverage stemming from sync licensing, it’s no surprise that the PMA is expanding its efforts and scope. The organization recently announced initiatives for an increased global focus, led by the addition of three new board members in Michael Sammis, Global President of Universal Production Music; John Clifford, SVP Global Sales, Marketing & Repertoire for BMG Production Music; and Edwin Cox, President/Creative Director for West One Music. The PMA’s theme of “Creating Global Value. Forward Together” will be central to its 5th Annual Production Music Conference (PMC), happening September 26-28 at the Loews Hotel in Hollywood, CA.
Helming it all is the PMA’s Chairman, Adam Taylor. Named to the post in April of 2017, Taylor’s previous experience as Vice Chair, as well as being president of production music powerhouse APM Music, has prepared him well for the position. In this Q&A with Synchblog, Taylor talks about what it means to be truly global, the direction for the board, and why the production music sector is an important and viable career path for people who are psyched about sync.
Adam, it’s been a little more than a year since you took office as chairman of the PMA. In what ways has the job been what you were expecting?
Well, I’ve been involved with the PMA for a long time, I was a vice chairman for years and I was on the board before that and I’m quite involved in all aspects. I therefore don’t know if there was too much that was surprising, but I am constantly moved by the creativity, passion and energy of our vibrant community. As you know, the media landscape continues to evolve and there is therefore always a great deal of work to do in terms of building community, identifying ways of preserving and enhancing the value of music and educating and so in that way it’s what I expected. It takes time and commitment, but it’s an important organization for the industry.
Conversely, have there been surprises along the way? I imagine it’s one thing to observe the chairman doing his or her job, maybe it’s a little different to actually be in that seat?
I don’t know if surprising is the right word, but the amount of composer engagement has been really fantastic. Many of the library owners or heads of libraries are also composers — I am not — but many of them are so they are able to offer that important perspective. In the various PMA events we’ve done, including the PMC last October, it was really impressive how many composers and songwriters attended, how many people make their living from library music, and how many new composers and songwriters were interested in this world, all of whom see it as a vibrant economic and creative outlet. That was surprising and impressive. And how passionate everybody is, was terrific to see.
How would you characterize production music’s evolving role in the sync licensing landscape? What are the new opportunities and challenges that you see unfolding for production music companies?
There’s more production music synced into programming than any other kind of music and the licensing landscape is evolving. With so much production happening on every level and in every distribution model, there are many, many new and emerging opportunities for composers and songwriters.
“With so much production happening on every level and in every distribution model, there are many, many new and emerging opportunities for composers and songwriters.”
Regarding our challenges, there are a variety of models out there that I guess one could call disruptive. Some of them have been a positive influence on the value of music but others tend to decrease the value of music in the eyes of our clients. We have seen this in composers and libraries giving their music away for free, hoping to get enough marketshare on the performance side to make it worthwhile, and we have seen others using a performance-free model where they only sign up songwriters and composers who are not affiliated with a performing rights organization. This to me is a manipulative practice that takes advantage of composers and songwriters who don’t know any better. They don’t realize that the bulk of their money over time is going to come from performance revenue, and they are not necessarily aware of some of the legal implications of performance-free licensing in certain international territories.
There are also issues with non-exclusive licensing and retitling which cause a glut of product on the market, and result in increased cost for the performing rights organizations that have to administer multiple copies of the same track and for the audio recognition systems that rely on the sound recording to identify tracks and pay entitled parties.
In particular, how do you see the advent of a constantly growing number of original content producers (such as Big Apple, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, Facebook) affecting the production music sector?
Two ways, quantity and quality. The pure quantity of productions that people like Netflix and others are producing is just extraordinary. That’s number one. And the quality, we all know that when cable came along years ago, HBO particularly, they really upped the bar. Broadcast television has a different audience segment and their programming has historically been quite different than what cable programming has been, consequently some of the best programming has been on cable not on broadcast.
Now, broadcast does have great programming, of course, but if you’re talking about just sheer quality of dramatic programming, most of the great work was done in cable and we are seeing the same trend in the productions on the streaming networks, particularly on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. The emphasis on quality means that the quality of the music has to be the highest quality.
The subjects of these programs are different too. There is much more historical programming being produced than ever before, much more than you would see on broadcast television and even on cable.
It seems that what would come in lockstep with so many more productions is more music supervisors — or people acting in that role — who have less experience with the field. Do you find that, that’s the case? That we’re dealing with younger or less experienced music supervisors? And if so, do they need to be educated about production music and what it does for them?
Certainly as the market expands you’re going to have new entrants into it; new production companies, new music supervisors and others. So, I think it works both ways, where yes you have less experience but you also get new voices. And so, you have people who grew up around music supervision bringing their knowledge and experience and you have others who come from different backgrounds, whether from Berklee School of Music or from the streets of the city. Some of these influences are classical, others urban, country, indie, rock, world music and more.
I think people having a taste for and feel for different kinds of music is great. But certainly, there’s a lot to learn. APM, for example, has a very large library — we have over 600,000 recordings and it takes a lot of time. It’s impossible to know all of it. But it does mean that people need to learn and they also, these days, need to know how to use search engines to find the music that they’re looking for.
THINKING GLOBAL SYNC
The PMA recently announced that it’s expanding its focus to be even more international in scope, why is this necessary now? What are some of the steps you’re taking to do that?
We are clearly in a new world of distribution with streaming networks and OTT and that means that a production company, a producer, a network, is not limited by territory, it’s not limited by the amount of programming it can produce and distribute because in the old days, you had 168 hours per week you could fill. 24 times 7, that was it. Now there’s no limit on it, just in the size of your database and how much you’re willing to store and pay for.
So, the implications of international distribution are affecting the rights structures of music. As you know music rights are typically structured by territory, by country. The performance rights are, for the most part, exclusively with local performing rights societies and many if not most of the countries in the world, the synchronization or as they call them, mechanical rights, are with the local mechanical societies, like MCPS in England.
Until very recently, those rights, the mechanical side or the sync side, were most exclusively with those societies. That has been changing, but the societies have been pretty slow to respond to the needs of the marketplace. For example, there is no way currently to get an international worldwide performance license, from one entity or from any of the entities. There is in fact though already an international consortium of performing rights societies (SISAC), but they have either not been willing to or not able to create a license structure where anybody in the world can plug into it and get the performance license they need in order to meet the demands of websites, apps and OTT services, all of which perform worldwide.
But the societies have known about the Internet for some time now and they should have worked this out. We all need to put pressure on the societies, and we need to work together to figure out how to do these things on both the performance and the sync side. What we do here affects the rest of the world and they affect us. We are truly living in an international world and music rights must respond to the realities.
“We all need to put pressure on the societies, and we need to work together to figure out how to do these things on both the performance and the sync side.”
It became very, very clear a few years ago that we needed to engage the international folks and now we are formalizing that. We brought on a number of people who live in England on our board, and we are constantly conferring with other library heads and the performing rights organizations in other territories to try to solve some of these international issues.
Can you speculate on what it would take to make this vision of a pre-cleared-for-the-world license possible?
Let’s think about what a society does today, ASCAP, BMI, PRS, SOCAN, whichever. Their job is to collect repertoire, to create a licensing structure for performance rights for that repertoire and then to collect and figure out how to distribute it. That’s what they do. Each of them is just doing it within one territory.
So what they need to do is learn how to work together to do exactly the same thing across territories. Identify the repertoire, figure out the rate structures, collect the money and figure out how to distribute it. It’s their job to do it. They have all of the knowledge and skill sets they need, it’s simply a matter of the will of individual societies and the vision required to understand what will happen if they don’t succeed in doing this.
There are of course going to be winners and losers. But it’s starting to happen. Facebook did a deal through ICE in England, made up of PRS, GEMA and STEM covering 160 territories and an agreement with SOCAN and SACEM covering 180 territories.
They’re starting to do this. But it has to be across the board, not just for one user. I do know it’s going to take some time, but we have to push, insist, and work with them — give them data so that we can figure this out.
Do you feel that the advent of Blockchain and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin could play a role in helping to forge a solution?
While Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies do use blockchain, they’re two different things in a way.
Blockchain will help with how information is stored and secured and shared. And I do think that has a lot of value in music and especially in terms of who owns what. There is much confusion around the world regarding music ownership and transaction records. I believe that blockchain can make a big impact there, and there are many different startups that have launched, both funded and not yet funded, that are trying to address this.
On the cryptocurrency side, it’s a currency but you’re also playing the market: Cryptocurrencies go up and down. I also know of a number of startups that are offering to pay for services and royalties with cryptocurrency.
THE BIG BOARD
You’ve added three new members to the board of directors at the PMA: Michael Sammis, John Clifford and Edwin Cox. What are board members called upon to do at the PMA?
Mike is the new president of Universal Production Music, and they own half of APM as well as Killer Tracks and FirstCom. APM is the biggest entity in North America, with the Universal libraries the largest internationally. Mike oversees both domestic and foreign, so he brings a global perspective.
John Clifford is a very knowledgeable library guy who began his career in Australia. He was subsequently head of Universal’s production music efforts in the UK and is now is head of library music for BMG. BMG is making inroads into the marketplace internationally and so he is an important voice. Ed Cox is the managing director of the West One music library, a library we represented for 10 years and now they do it on their own. He also brings a unique view — he was a publisher director of PRS and the Chairman of the production music advisory group at PRS/MCPS. As you know, American culture is different than European culture in how music is licensed, how societies work, and how rights are structured. It’s quite important to have these voices and this knowledge with us.
The board meets regularly to move our agenda forward, with quarterly board meetings and monthly calls. We also have the PMC once a year, with monthly cocktail gatherings and quarterly panels. Coming up on May 21 in New York is a panel with BMI, ASCAP, and the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) executives discussing and educating the audience about the Music Modernization Act working its way through congress.
The PMA board actively works to fulfill the organization’s agenda and three part mandate: to build community, to educate, and to preserve the value of music. We work with the PRO’s to enhance revenue and to help improve their systems. We’re on a number of different committees of the PRO’s and we work very, very closely to try to make sure that the value of music is preserved and that the information, as it flows through the ecosystem, is getting to where it needs to go so that everybody is properly compensated.
GRAND CONVERGENCE: THE PRODUCTION MUSIC CONFERENCE
The Production Music Conference (PMC) is taking place September 26 through 28 in LA. What has the PMA learned about putting on this event now that it’s in its fifth year?
The NAB show in Las Vegas in April used to be the primary place that libraries gathered. However, after many years we saw that there was a natural friction between the main purpose of going to NAB — which is to meet clients — and the work that needed to be done to collaborate on the goals of the production music business itself, and to allow people to share and to communicate and to spend time together.
We therefore decided to host a conference in Los Angeles. It started in a small hotel in Culver City but was surprisingly well attended. We have grown it every year and in 2017 we had over 600 people attending. We are currently on track for over 700 this year.
The PMC has become the gathering place for the entire production music system ecosystem. That includes composers, songwriters, producers, libraries, other publishers, the PRO’s. That also means hardware and equipment companies, and software companies that work in areas that touch the music business — that includes everything from editing software to workflow integration tools to audio and coding tools, to audio recognition systems.
“The PMC has become the gathering place for the entire production music system ecosystem. That includes composers, songwriters, producers, libraries, other publishers, the PRO’s.”
Our fundamental belief is that an income stream from production music should be one of the legs that a composer or business stands on if they’re in the music business. It’s one of the arrows in the quiver, it’s one of the key revenue streams and it is steady and long term. If you are a composer or songwriter and you have any interest in writing music for production libraries, you’ve got to be there.
SO YOU’RE THINKING OF GETTING INTO PRODUCTION MUSIC…
I assume the PMA is not only an advocate for currently existing production music companies, but hoping to serve as a resource for new ones to form. What advice would you offer to someone who’s thinking about launching their own production music entity?
I think that fundamentally, and this is true for any business, you need to have a vision. It’s a very competitive marketplace, there’s a lot going on. However, there’s a lot of room because we are in the Golden Age of production, including productions on the professional side and on the amateur side. If you go back 10 years or so, 99 percent of all videos were produced by professionals. Today 99 percent of all videos are produced by amateurs. So there is an enormous need for music across the entire world of video production, podcasts and more.
If you’re starting a library, what is it that is going to make you stand out from everybody else? Why do it? I think that you should have a clear understanding of your value proposition, your selling point. It could be you’re a composer and you write in a certain style and you want to start with your own music — that’s a good enough reason to start as long as you have a vision and a way to stand out, or you are a producer or a businessman with a vision. Make sure you stand out. Understand your own story and tell it well.
Additionally, people need to embrace both words in the phrase, “Music Business.” It’s not just about music, it’s about business and you have to determine your business model. As I’ve said before, I would very strongly caution new entrants going into sync-free and performance-free as business models. They are fraught with problems. Once you start giving it away for free, you can never charge.
Fortunately, most customers are ready and willing to pay for the use of music and both domestically and internationally, the performing rights organizations are strong. Don’t get into a business giving up one half of your income stream. Sync revenues will be a higher percentage of your revenue on an annual basis in the US, but a sync license happens only once. Performance is forever. Here at APM we still receive performance revenue every single quarter for a TV series produced in the late 1950s. So, do the composers or their estates. It’s annuity that you’re building.
We have composers and songwriters who write exclusively for APM, and we have ones who write for us and five other libraries, and they get their music placed all over the place. We have composers who make their entire living from library music, and some who actually make their entire living just from us.
What should your dream be? That you have an avenue where you are stimulated creatively, where you are making a living for your family, and where you have a business you can pass on to your kids if you want to. I think those are three pretty good value propositions.
Here’s my last question: There’s no shortage of associations out there to join. What would you say to a prospective member who’s wondering if they should allocate their dues budget to the PMA?
Firstly, this is a viable and potentially profitable part of the music business for somebody who wants to write. It remained profitable and growing even during the worst days of the music business in the shift from CD to digital, and remains so today. When EMI, Universal, Warner, Sony and others were really struggling with dramatic dropoffs in revenue, APM’s revenues and the revenues of many other libraries increased steadily.
Secondly, as I said before, we are in the golden age of video production. This is a great time to be in the business.
“We are in the golden age of video production. This is a great time to be in the business.”
Thirdly, if you want to be part of a community, if you want to learn, if you want to network and interact with people and opportunities in the production music industry, the PMC is the single most efficient and effective way to do it. It is a wonderful community of incredibly creative people, with a closeness that engenders both receiving and giving back — a mutual give and take.
Production music is a creative, fun, interesting, and profitable business. People need music for productions.
— David Weiss