At Synchtank we’ve created an exciting new audio, video and blog series called ‘SynchStories’, where we chat to sync licensing professionals about what they do. This week we held a webinar with Dominic Griffin, VP Licensing of Synchtank client Disney Music Group. Here’s what he had to say…
Dom thanks for joining us.
You’re welcome, it’s great to be here.
For people that don’t know your story and career trajectory can you share a bit about your role at Disney Music Group?
I’ve been at Disney over 10 years. I oversee the music licensing team for Disney Music Group. Disney Music Group is the licensing arm for the entire Walt Disney Company. We handle both masters and publishing – that was a change made about 3 years ago and it’s been very good for business.
The music group as a whole looks to licensing as a growth area, so I would say our default position is yes we want to license, but as I say the elevator pitch of what I do is I market, monetise and protect the musical assets of The Walt Disney Company, so while I’m always looking to close a deal for our music assets I do have to be wary of the brand. I don’t want to license a classic Disney song to a use that would damage the brand, where someone who would look at it go “Oh my god I can’t believe Disney would quote on quote endorse that.”
Right, so there’s a lot of brand reputation that goes behind each decision. That’s an interesting point that you made about the move to control both the master and the publishing. Have you found that this has really sped up the process and made it easier?
Absolutely. I think if you were to look at how some of the other labels and publishers that are owned by the same company have to conduct their business they’ll often find themselves at odds with each other. But because I oversee both – I don’t like to fight with myself! Because you’ve got on the label side, especially if you’re looking at new and emerging artists they’re looking at the marketing component of a license, whereas on the publishing side they’re often just looking to recoup whatever investment they have made in the writer.
So I take a holistic approach and I can look at all of what we’re looking to do, be it recoup money or market artists. Often times with a new artist marketing is more important than recouping on the publishing side.
So if there were any conflict between the master and publishing side, for example if you wanted to take a lower rent license for perhaps higher visibility for an artist, you would have the ability to move past these decisions?
Yeah – I’ll give you an example. ZZ Ward is one of our newer artists that our team spent working and ZZ is a huge talent both as a writer and a performer. Over the course of about 3 years we had a hundred syncs from her album and we were able to do that because number one her music is amazing, and two ZZ and her manager were on board with the strategy. There were 7 songs on the album and she wrote 100% so we were able to do whatever we wanted.
Yeah that’s incredible. Can you tell us a bit more about the team at Disney Music Group and how you guys all work together?
Our assets are broken into 2 buckets if you will. There are all the assets that were created for a movie or a Disney Channel show which, with a few exceptions, we control 100% of. Those are your classics, your Jungle Books all the way up to your Pirates of the Caribbean and Tron. And most of those recordings we release on The Walt Disney Records branded label. And then we have Hollywood Records which handles all of our what we call ‘frontline’ artists which we don’t necessarily control 100% of the publishing. Those artists include Joywave, Bea Miller, Sabrina Carpenter, Zella Day, Selena Gomez, R5, Breaking Benjamin, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, ZZ Ward. A lot of those copyrights are on outside publishers.
There’s seven of us in the team and I oversee it. I have two people dedicated to film, TV, and trailers, I have one person dedicated to commercials domestic (as in US), one person dedicated to consumer products which is a huge business for The Walt Disney Company – so that would be your dolls that can play music and so forth. I have one person who supports me and also runs our website which was built by the wonderful Synchtank, and another person who deals with what we call our ‘MFN’ deals. They would be the likes of The Voice, American Idol, and so forth, where there’s no negotiation to be done.
It’s pretty interesting that you have the team divided per sync opportunity. Are these people brought into the team specifically because of their network and their understanding of the particular types of licensing opportunities?
Yes that’s correct. Advertising is such a specialised business, there’s hundreds and hundreds of agencies, and so we actually brought someone in who came from the creative side of that business. And then film and TV obviously there’s so many film and TV studios, production companies, independent supervisors and so forth. There is some crossover – some creative folks who work on trailers also work on commercials but creatively internally we all get briefs – so agencies will send us a basic storyboard of what they’re working on and an idea of the kind of music they’re looking for. So internally we all discuss ideas of songs that we have in our catalogue that we pitch.
Do you find that one of these areas is more lucrative or busy than others, for instance because Disney Music soundtracks are so well known and such their own brand that you do most of your business there or does it switch around?
It’ll vary from quarter to quarter – because of this movie called Frozen, you might have heard of it, our consumer products business has been one of our busiest for the past 9 months. But we’re constantly in pitch mode – we’re working anywhere between 7 to 9 singles at a time so we’re constantly looking for marketing opportunities vis-a-vis TV and film or commercials or trailers. We also do a very healthy business ex US with commercials.
So that sounds like a lot of pitching! What’s the volume of briefs coming in and are you actively looking for opportunities outside of the briefs?
I would say none of us are doing our job if we’re just relying on briefs. Everyone is supposed to be proactive – I joke that your phone is not to take incoming calls it’s to make outgoing calls. We do handle multiple briefs like every music company, and I refer to us as a music company as opposed to a label or publisher because we’re both.
We probably deal with between 3 to 10 incoming briefs a day, but what I want our team to be doing is not waiting on those briefs because those are easy – people are coming to us. I want us to be identifying opportunities, whether it be film, TV, commercials, consumer products.
Are there any best practices for pitching that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
Be nice, never stop learning – I think if you follow both of those you’re good!
Is there a little secret to the sauce of how you identify licensing opportunities?
Sure, I mean I wouldn’t say secret. It’s a relationship-based business. I tell my team their job is to make sure licensees listen to our music. If you can get them to listen to our music pretty much you’ve done 90% of your job, and the other 10% is closing.
You’re constantly following the various websites that announce pilots and new shows. We’re also constantly talking to the people at the studios about what new projects they have coming up. On the commercials side I use http://www.sourceecreative.com – it’s a subscription-based website that caters to the ad agency business and it’ll give you all the contacts and shows you all the commercials around the world that are being produced by ad agencies – I find it invaluable. But once again you’re constantly talking to the music producers at the agencies about what they’re working on. Information is key – I encourage my team and myself to constantly chase it.
Check out Part 2 to hear more about Frozen, Disney Music Group’s recent sync successes, Dominic’s all time favourite Disney Music soundtrack, and more!