Our In the Clear(ance) series features leading music licensing experts discussing particularly challenging projects.
In this edition, Vickie Nauman talks clearing music for a video game where several of the writer’s shares belonged to independent creators outside of the traditional industry ecosystem.
Can you give us an idea of the scope of the project?
The project was to license five songs from two artists into a game. The scope was in-game with limited out of context marketing. The genre was hip-hop.
What were the main challenges that you faced with regards to clearance?
For this project there were two main challenges – first, the timeline was short. When doing sync licensing, there are distinct steps that need to be done, and in a particular order to make the clearance process go smoothly.
I like to be as informed as possible to make sure I can quickly answer all questions from labels or publishers. This means gathering important info – functionality, length of use, commercial model with end users, branding, territory, and then any plans around marketing so I can frame it clearly.
The second challenge was that the publishing data available online was inaccurate. The five songs had 11 rightsholders and 29 writer’s shares, and three of those writer shares were from non-society, unadministered writers.
“The five songs had 11 rightsholders and 29 writer’s shares, and three of those writer shares were from non-society, unadministered writers.”
At the outset, this meant two of the five songs were not licensable since the shares did not add up to 100%. While my contacts at the major publishers were able to quickly clear their shares, we were short on two of the songs because of the independent writers.
So I went into problem solving mode – first, since the online databases did not have any information except writer names, I tried the labels then publishers for contact information for these co-writers. Nope. Next, I did some quick Google searches to find them.
I located one on Instagram, sent a DM and he responded with his email and approved the use. I asked him about the other writer on the same song, and he actually knew him by a different name than listed, so he introduced me to that guy’s manager and she approved the use.
Next, I went into scavenger hunt mode because the third writer’s name was linked to songs released in 1968! I thought, this must be a sample. I looked up that artist and found a link to a Wikipedia page. The discography section listed the most popular hits, which led me to a music library, so I sent a note to “licensing@” and they responded and approved.
In the end, we got to use all the songs. Went down to the wire but we did it.
What can be done to address these challenges?
Firstly, two of the independent writers have shares on popular songs and they are not registered anywhere so they are not collecting any royalties on fairly big songs. They need to register with a PRO and also find an administrator to collect their mechanicals. We should make this registration process as easy as possible.
“Publishing data is in its early-ish stages of global clean up. The more information that we can all access online the better it will be to help everyone get licensed and paid.”
Second, publishing data is in its early-ish stages of global clean up. The more information that we can all access online the better it will be to help everyone get licensed and paid.
This starts with adhering to standards, consistently using global identifiers, doing data exchanges between societies and systems, assigning ISWC codes quickly, and the holy grail of having accurate publishing data attached to the sound recording when it is distributed and when it is administered.
How are industry trends (i.e., the growing going number of independent artists outside of the traditional ecosystem) to impact this?
The two independent writers are typical of artists who operate completely out of the traditional system. They don’t have PROs nor mechanical rights admin even though they own parts of popular songs. Their royalties are sitting in black boxes, waiting to be claimed and usually get paid out to publishers by market share.
For whatever reason, these writers aren’t motivated to get set up properly and it’s likely because they don’t think the money will be meaningful. But on a global scale, the pennies add up.
These writers can often block a good sync deal as well. Having three missing shares is enough to tank a project, so everyone should be incentivized to help get the writer’s attribution and shares reflected in systems – ideally at the point of creation in the studio, and if not then in a simple process.
“Having three missing shares is enough to tank a project, so everyone should be incentivized to help get the writer’s attribution and shares reflected in systems – ideally at the point of creation in the studio, and if not then in a simple process.”
What new opportunities are you seeing for music rightsholders across the gaming world?
There is no end in sight for opportunities in gaming – but it’s mostly sync so you need to have your rights clear and accurate, either be pitching yourself or have someone who will represent you, and have an open mind about gaming projects.
You may not know the game or may not understand the culture, but it’s likely to put your music in front of millions of gamers which is valuable in itself.
Enjoyed this article? Why not check out:
- In the Clear(ance) – Deborah Mannis-Gardner on Licensing Music in the Metaverse
- Why Music Clearance Remains So Complex and How That Can Be Fixed
- Synchtank Report: Complexities and Solutions in Music Rights Clearance