West One Music Group is a global production music company focused on bringing visuals to life with a diverse and authentic music catalog. With offices and production studios in 15 countries, the company is continually evolving and expanding into new territories.
Here, CEO Edwin Cox gives us his thoughts on the evolving production music market, from concern over copyright buyouts and royalty-free music, to new music licensing trends and opportunities on an increasingly global scale.
Royalty free music is causing disruption and concern in the media sync space. Why is it important to address this?
There are many different interpretations of what royalty free means around the world, but the key element in discussion here is that royalty free music, in its most basic form, is represented by companies that are not members of Collective Management Organizations (CMOs). The composers and songwriters they work with similarly cannot be members of CMOs.
Non-royalty free music simply means that the composers and songwriters that create musical art have the freedom to join the world’s CMOs. They can then benefit not only from an often-small one-off upfront fee, but from a fair and standardized payment of ongoing royalties when their music is performed around the world.
Just to offer perspective, the global performing right market is worth close to $10b to its creators and CMOs exist to protect their members.
West One Music Group is a proud member of over 50 music CMOs around the world. The composers and songwriters that we work with also have the freedom to join CMOs so that they can get paid and benefit from the ongoing collection of royalties when their music is broadcast or played in public or online. These royalties help support their independence and their creativity, this is hugely important to us at West One Music and the music industry.
As a global independent production music company, it is vital for us to work with and champion creatives that are free to make music that is truly authentic to them. Making sure that they get paid fairly and properly for this music for the life of copyright is integral to our ethos.
Aside from “royalty free” music, what else concerns you in the music for media market?
On the AV side of steaming, our challenge is ensuring that the music creators can continue to thrive and that appropriate and proportionate remuneration for their work is upheld. The creators’ bargaining power is weaker now than it has ever been with some of the world’s largest companies acting globally as both producer and broadcaster.
“The creators’ bargaining power is weaker now than it has ever been with some of the world’s largest companies acting globally as both producer and broadcaster.”
The concept of a ‘total copyright buyout’ is causing a huge challenge across the industry, and collectively we need to raise awareness of this issue. The recently approved European Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (DSM Directive) offers several protections for creators from unfair buyout practices, but the application of the directive is still very much a work-in-progress. Lobbying needs to happen at a local level to ensure that the protective provisions are put into law.
Recent movements and initiatives are pledging to make the industry fairer and more equitable, particularly with regards to streaming payments. What are your thoughts on this topic?
There are several open and well publicized debates on the value of music streaming finally happening now. The music industry has broadly always been unhappy with the economics of streaming but, despite this, nothing has been done to address it. At least now, safe harbor, per stream royalty splits, and the market share accounting mechanism are all up for debate.
I should imagine the public would be shocked to learn that their monthly subscription money is pooled and doesn’t go directly to their favorite artists or songwriters.
How has the pandemic affected the production music market? How are things looking now?
We’ve seen the shift away from linear TV accelerate with the subscription market really taking hold. For example, Disney+ is already over 100 million subscribers worldwide; Netflix added more than 36 million subscribers in 2020, and in the UK, for example, we’ve seen one major cable channel switch their entire operation over to online subscription.
This increasing global platform play is resulting in many of the main media companies merging and consolidating the market to ensure they have control of vast content libraries to attract consumers.
“We’re currently working on a project to bundle a music license within a limited run NFT offering.”
On a different scale, podcasts and NFTs have certainly been the success stories of the pandemic, both gaining significant value to brands over the past 12 months. This has created new opportunities for music licensing, including for us here at West One Music. We’re currently working on a project to bundle a music license within a limited run NFT offering, which is certainly an interesting concept to explore.
Can you take us through some key recent developments at West One Music Group?
Since our inception in 2002, we have organically grown the business both in terms of catalog as well as localized sales, marketing, and administration.
A key driver for us is the ability to build relationships with clients on a global basis and not just under a traditional territory-by-territory model. The effects of this strategy have come through strongly, particularly in the past twelve months with the increase in global platforms and the acceleration to nonlinear tv during COVID.
Most recently, we’ve launched music partnership with our clients, expanded the repertoire to reflect an ever-growing, multinational audience and continued to open offices in various countries, including Australia, Malaysia, and Denmark.
Our recently launched custom music division, headed up in the LA, has been extremely successful, securing partnerships with notable brands like LEGO, Viacom, CBS, Disney and AETN.
“A key driver for us is the ability to build relationships with clients on a global basis and not just under a traditional territory-by-territory model.”
You also expanded into Latin America last year and operate offices and production studios around the world. Do you have on-going plans to expand into further territories, particularly emerging markets?
Absolutely! We are continuing to look at what’s happening around the world and how we might best serve the media community. We’ve enjoyed success over the years in a couple of the key emerging markets and we’re constantly reviewing what’s next for us.
We’ve also recently launched a new label called Asia Record Collective. This gives us a greater opportunity to bring in talent from across Asia to ensure that we have a content offering that is both localized and authentic. So far on this new label, we’ve already recorded in India, Thailand, China, Japan, Iran, and South Korea in the past 18 months.
To further invest in our existing operations, we have most recently established a local presence in Copenhagen to better support our Nordic clients, as well as Kuala Lumpur to bring further growth opportunities from Southeast Asia.
What are the challenges that you face operating on an increasingly global scale?
As content and production have become ever more global, we’re simply proactively aligning with our clients’ needs. In execution, this means we need to operate independently in key markets to facilitate the level of control required to license in a way that best serves our clients.
This independence brings the usual challenges of resource, time zones and cultural fit. But beyond these issues, it’s important to ensure that each local team is lined up with the company’s overall goals.
We are continuing to make investments in our tech platforms, royalty and finance tools, and client management systems, all of which are important elements to bring a globally diverse operation together.