They’ve got you covered, all right. The newly launched mVibe sync music platform has arrived, and if it’s cover songs you crave for media, they’ve gathered up quite a collection: 500,000+ covers and counting.
Built from the ground up to provide easy access for music supervisors at ad agencies, films, TV shows, streaming media, and more, mVibe’s multi-genre catalog of modern hits and classic songs has been over a year in the compiling. And the music they have is just the half of it: mVibe combines personal search assistance with an advanced platform, powered by Synchtank, to tailor the experience specifically for cover song discovery, allowing users to quickly compare multiple versions of the same song via categories including “title,” “performed by,” “made famous by,” “genre,” and “mood.” Plus, if a song’s not in their catalog, mVibe has a producer/musician network who can quickly create a custom recording.
Founded by the prolific composers Stephen Edwards and Mike Suby alongside Stephen Kadenacy, the big idea behind mVibe is to make licensing covers for film, commercials, and other creative uses as easy as possible. The company expedites the often challenging process of licensing covers by pre-procuring rights for the master recording, deploying deep metadata, tapping the knowledge of intellectual property licensing experts, and automating the documentation processes. On the all-important publishing side of the songs’ rights, mVibe strives to facilitate clearances with publishers.
Synchblog spoke with mVibe’s CEO Jeff Van Driel, formerly CEO of classical music powerhouse label Naxos Records, and VP of Product Chris Jaffe (pictured above) for this article. The complexities of committing a catalog to cover song licensing for sync as well as their particular convergence of art and technology are covered; plus, what qualifies as a “good” cover song anyway? Let’s cue up this convo!
What makes sync licensing for covers particularly complicated? What are the biggest misperceptions that media creators such as advertising agencies, filmmakers, or TV shows generally have about sync licensing covers that you have to educate them on?
Jeff Van Driel: The big one is that because the cover is known to be affordable, the thought is that the publishing would be easy to clear. For a Rolling Stones or Muse cover, you’re going to need to have a long talk with the publisher before you’re going to get the publishing cleared. You can go create all the covers of the biggest hip-hop songs, but it doesn’t mean that the publisher is ever going to clear them.
Jeff, can you break that down a little deeper? What are the intellectual property contents of a cover song that make for a different kind of conversation with the publisher?
Jeff Van Driel: To synchronize music to film, there are two licenses required: One is for the sound recording, which in this case is the cover song, and the other license is for the publishing. That publishing license is for whoever created the original music that was typically recorded by the original artists and were usually made famous by the original artists, but not necessarily. So there’s those two licenses that are needed.
What we represent on our platform are the songs. We do have a lot of relationships with publishers and can facilitate the clearances, but we typically don’t have blanket licenses to represent the publishing.
One thing I wanted to be clear on is that I mentioned the word “affordable.” In general, cover songs are not necessarily priced at the same price for the publishing license [as the original]. With an original song what typically happens is someone says, “I want to have ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ by U2, so I’m going to call up the publisher.” The publisher says, “That’s great, we need $100,000 for that.” Then [the music supervisor] is going to call up whoever has the master and [the master recording rightsholder] is going to say, “Well, what quote did you get from publishing? $100K?” Then with MFN [Most Favored Nations], they’re going to do it for the same price or they’re not going to do it at all.
With a cover song, [the music supervisor seeking the sync license] could go to the publisher and the publisher says, “We approve this use, we’re going to need $100K,” then [the music supervisor] comes to our site and they find 50 different covers. They’re going to then negotiate that [master recording license] as a separate discussion, and it would for sure be cheaper than the original [master recording].
There’s the affordability issue, but even more importantly nowadays, the interest in covers has to do with the fact that they want the song recognition, but they actually want a different mood or different style to the music to fit the picture better. Especially when you’re talking advertising, they can write their own jingle and then they’re going to play it over and over again to get the recognition. But if they can use a song that people recognize and they can have the cover done to fit what they’re trying to brand, that’s kind of a win-win for them.
“There’s the affordability issue, but even more importantly nowadays, the interest in covers has to do with the fact that they want the song recognition, but they actually want a different mood or different style to the music to fit the picture better.”
– Jeff Van Driel – CEO, mVibe
The licensing in music is, as you know, incredibly complicated, and just finding who owns the license is crazy sometimes. There are songs in our catalog where it’s now clear who would own the publishing, and that’s where we can help bring our simplified approach to licensing and help people. Many music supervisors understand the business at a very deep level, but some don’t. And there’s also differences in the licensing process between advertising, TV and film — the way that it’s licensed from the ground up is different in those different industries. There’s no manual sometimes.
One of the big challenges with covers is somebody will find a cover song, but they have no access to know who controls that master. It’s often somebody that created the music and tried distributing it some way, but it’s not clear who has control of the master. And then the other thing is that there’s a lot of licensing complexities, with licensing sync in general. So we bring a lot of expertise to that: mVibe brings technology and expertise and combines the two.
On the technology side, we use AI to create better data. It makes the music more discoverable because we have fields that have been added such as who made the song famous, because music isn’t typically distributed on that basis: It’s got the artists and the name of the song, but we add who made the song famous. Secondly, we can use data that’s not readily available, using our technology to find who the publisher is and match publishing to the sound recording. That’s very helpful in the whole licensing process.
So for every cover song that you have in your catalog, does that mean that you have a direct line to the publisher for every one of those songs?
Jeff Van Driel: We know who the publisher is. We don’t necessarily have a deal in place, or we don’t necessarily have a strong relationship, but in general, yes we have relationships with the publishers. I don’t want to overstate it and say that we do [have a deal] with every publisher, but with a majority we have relationships with the publisher and can help facilitate the deal.
Running for Covers
You currently have over 500,000 songs in your catalog. How did you gather those together, and how long did that take?
Jeff Van Driel: We’ve been working on that for a little over a year. We got it done by contacting rights holders, mostly record labels, but we can also deal with producers and artists directly, just making deals with them, aggregating the content, processing it and getting it uploaded. We have hundreds of deals in place, and there’s obviously some catalogs in the business that are known to have a lot of cover music.
But then there’s also scouring the Web, checking on Spotify what cover songs are popular and then trying to find the ownership of that and make deals. YouTube would be the same. It’s been a very dedicated process for us. We put a lot of effort into building relationships and getting people to believe in us ahead of time, so that we could make a deal and get their content uploaded.
If you were dealing with the label, for example, wouldn’t they have already had sync representation in place, or do you have exclusives on all these covers?
Jeff Van Driel: No, our typical deal is not exclusive representation. The value-add that mVibe brings is that this is additional income for most record labels, because it gives them an opportunity for something that’s buried in their catalog to get discovered. But if somebody goes directly to a record label and says, “I know you own that cover,” they can do that. We’re not trying to take business from that, we’re just making their life easy.
“The value-add that mVibe brings is that this is additional income for most record labels, because it gives them an opportunity for something that’s buried in their catalog to get discovered.”
– Jeff Van Driel – CEO, mVibe
What do you look for in a cover song? What makes it qualify for your catalog versus one that might not?
Jeff Van Driel: We’re a quality site, so we’re looking for quality music that’s a good alternative to the original. We’re not interested in somebody creating something of low quality and just uploading it because they can, which is something you can do on something like YouTube. In our case, we do check to make sure that the production is of relevant enough quality.
To clarify, we’re not a production music library. We’re not doing micro sync deals. Our deals are for working with mainstream high-quality productions and/or advertisers, and getting high-quality deals done.
Are you taking new submissions? How can indie artists who are creating covers have their versions considered for your catalog?
Jeff Van Driel: Definitely we are very interested in talking to anybody, and we are in the process of building a portal where people could submit the music directly and have it uploaded. But right now, they can contact us at email@example.com and we will work with them to get their covers on the site.
A Specific Kind of Search
What are considerations that you had to make on the client side? How are you streamlining the search process for your users?
Jeff Van Driel: We built the search around the “made famous by” field and a variety of other factors, and then making sure that we can list and sort things properly and break things down by a lot of different other factors. We have an advanced search.
Chris Jaffe: That was the primary directive that I was given, is that searching is difficult in this industry. Getting all the data into this one database is a big, big start, right? A single spot where people could come and look for quality covers for any mood or variation of a different song. But then you have to get the search right.
Doing that has meant taking time working with the Synchtank team to make sure that we have it all refined. One of the things with covered music is that you don’t always search for the “performed by” artists. As Jeff mentioned, we have blended artists, which looks for both the “made famous by” artists and the performing artists. So you could search for somebody that has actually performed the song but also search by the “made famous by” as well.
So searching for “Prince” or “Rolling Stones” or something like that would return the results that you expect that you’re really looking for: a Prince cover, even though Prince may or may not have sung it. We also have a fairly sizable and growing library of records which are technically covers but done by the artists that originally owned the rights, and originally sang the first version of it. That comes in conjunction with factoring in things like that metadata that Jeff was mentioning, such as mood and genre. We also have a field called “decade” that you don’t find in most databases of music.
It’s a combination of that metadata, and we have an automation process to do that. And we use musicologists that actually look and listen to every track that we upload, so before something gets published on our site, the musicologists will review it. It’s a multistep process: You have a baseline musicologist that listens to every song, then they’re reviewed by their supervisor, and then they’re reviewed by our senior musicologist. Four or five people are looking at just about every track that goes onto our database to make sure that we have good quality data.
‘The Trust Factor’
I take it that building and launching mVibe came with some surprises. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve encountered so far? And conversely, what are some unexpected opportunities that are revealing themselves?
Jeff Van Driel: I think the biggest surprise was how difficult it was to get the search right. That’s something you had to put a lot of effort into and get the right data and standardized data.
And that whole process is very difficult. That would have been one of the bigger challenges, and in a way that sounds like it shouldn’t be a surprise because what we’re trying to do is to simplify or automate what typically has been done by somebody sending out a brief to hundreds of different people. It makes sense that it’s that difficult, that it had to have taken a lot of fine tuning. We’re in a world that’s very much the intersection of people and technology and we need to use both. But, the more we can make people’s jobs easier with technology, the better.
“We’re in a world that’s very much the intersection of people and technology and we need to use both. But, the more we can make people’s jobs easier with technology, the better.”
– Jeff Van Driel – CEO, mVibe
The other thing is from an acceptance point of view, I don’t know if it’s necessarily a surprise because we really recognize that there is a need for the aggregation of cover songs in this way. We knew that people should be doing deals with us, but the uptake and acceptance by record labels and producers and artists has been great, and that continues to happen. So the content is going to keep coming in. It’s a really easy call for a record label to do it, because it’s a win-win that they’re utilizing our expertise and technology just to make their songs more visible and get licensing revenue.
You do have competitors though, right? There are other cover song clearinghouses out there, so how do you differentiate yourselves from them?
Jeff Van Driel: There are a few competitors. I would say that there’s two big differences: One is our use of technology and our willingness to invest in additional technology, and the second one is because of our expertise and experience we have the connections to have a much, much larger catalog available than anybody else has and can.
“I would say that there’s two big differences [between us and our competitors]: One is our use of technology and our willingness to invest in additional technology, and the second one is because of our expertise and experience we have the connections to have a much, much larger catalog available than anybody else has and can.”
– Jeff Van Driel – CEO, mVibe
Chris Jaffe: Expertise goes even deeper with the licensing side of it as well. Yes, we have the ability with our connections to get a larger catalog, but we can help you get those licenses and clearances much easier for you on the customer end. It may be difficult for us, but we know how to navigate those waters.
Jeff Van Driel: One of the really important things to add is that a big film or a big advertising firm wants to be very sure that they’ve got the rights that they’re being told to get. There are a lot of platforms where that is suspect, and there’s a lot of production music libraries where the requisite rights are not properly cleared.
We saw this a lot in classical music where people say, “Oh, it’s all public domain.” And then they would sell all these rights in perpetuity to songs that they did not own. So that was a big thing at Naxos is that people knew that we knew who had the rights to the music.
That trust factor is really important. And that’s one thing that we can really bring to the table is the trust factor, that people know that we know what we’re doing. If we say the rights are clear, they are cleared and then they’ve got the peace of mind to sync the music with their film.
An Art Form All It’s Own
Cover songs are an art form that are unique to music. After all, there aren’t cover paintings, buildings, books or ballet. What is so compelling about a cover song?
Jeff Van Driel: The good thing about cover songs is that it allows the song that was created to have other lives. I think that’s a testament to the fact that songs change lives, and that these songs can be interpreted in many different ways.
And a song does not need to be defined by one genre. A lot of songs exist as a song, but they’re only heard by the listener in the format that they hear. But there’s so many different ways for that to happen. So I think that that’s what’s really cool about cover songs is that it allows this art form called songwriting to be expressed in different ways.
Here’s my last question: Why are cover songs uniquely useful in sync licensing situations? What gives them a distinct power all their own combined with visual media?
Jeff Van Driel: There’s two things. There’s budget, the thinking that a cover song is typically going to be cheaper than the original, and that’s what most people go to. But that’s not the most exciting part about it. The more exciting part is that the re-interpretation of the song is much more applicable to the media.
And that’s really cool. The song lives on, people recognize the song. It’s an excitement that’s almost exponential because you know the song but the interpretation is different and that can generate emotion with the viewing experience. I think that that’s what’s kind of cool, because if you just give the original you’re going to get the recognition and you’re going to get the nostalgia factor. But what is a reinterpretation? There’s this additional wow factor to it, and I think that’s particularly true when attached to media. Because if the radio was just playing cover songs. It would kind of feel like a ripoff. But when you can see that cover song merge with a picture, synchronized with film, that experience can be quite emotional.