As the Director of Audio Collections at video and production music marketplace Pond5, Mike Pace oversees a vast library of music and sound effects and works closely with the artistic community contributing to the site.
A seasoned musician himself, Mike spent the bulk of his 20s touring and releasing music as the frontman of indie rock band Oxford Collapse and continues to write music for various personal projects.
We recently caught up with Mike to discuss the ever-evolving production music marketplace, the controversy surrounding royalty-free models, and how his DIY ethos informs many aspects of his role at Pond5.
You’re a musician first and foremost. Can you talk about your life in music and how it led you to your role at Pond5?
As a kid I always loved music. I came of age when Nirvana’s “Nevermind” came out and that blew the doors open. The distance between the rock star and the audience all of a sudden was demolished. During college I formed a band called Oxford Collapse and we signed with a small label and started touring. It was very DIY and such an amazing experience. After a couple of years we attracted notice from Sub Pop and wound up signing and releasing two records with them, which was a huge deal for us. I’d say we went as far as we could with as little compromise as we could and I remain very proud of that work. In a lot of ways it remains my defining creative endeavor so far and what I learned from the band still informs a lot of the professional decisions that I make.
After the band ended in 2009 I was adrift for a few years. My then girlfriend, now wife, was studying film and TV and a lot of her classmates needed music for their projects. I also had a friend who needed music for iPhone apps and games, so I had some success with that and I also began working on a solo project called Mike Pace and The Child Actors. At the same time, I became fascinated with library/production music and I got a part time job at Pond5 reviewing all the music and sound effects that came in and helping to build their catalog. Eventually it became a full-time opportunity to lead their music vertical, and I think being a musician has really helped me to empathize with the artistic community contributing to the site.
The Pond5 library contains royalty-free music, but you also recently launched a publishing admin service. How does that work?
In a lot of ways royalty-free is a marketing term. The way we define royalty-free is that for roughly 50% of the tracks on the site there are no additional performance royalties that need to be paid. You only need to pay the upfront sync fee and you can use that piece of music essentially wherever, forever, and however you’d like in a sync context. At the same time, we’ve always accepted and licensed PRO affiliated tracks, which make up the other half of our catalog, but we had never been involved in administering them on the backend.
The opportunity came up to launch a publishing admin service for our artists which we launched at the tail end of 2019, and it’s been growing ever since. We give 80% of our publisher share to the composers in the programme when they get placements. Publishing is a long-term play but it’s an incredibly meaningful, incremental revenue stream. One $20 sync fee from the right spot could turn into a huge amount of backend revenue. We have an enormous catalog of over 1 million pieces of production music, and we currently have about 400 artists and 150,000 tracks in the publishing admin program. We’re really excited about how it’s going to continue to grow.
How is the marketplace evolving for production music? What are your thoughts on companies like Epidemic Sound receiving criticism for their royalty-free model?
I think everyone needs to adapt to changes in technology. There’s no question that the commoditization of production music is happening. What’s exciting to me is that Pond5 is viewed as a disruptor. Pond5 came up as YouTube was coming up and we saw the democratization of content production. You have this whole new audience that needs music to enhance their productions, and platforms like Pond5 are recognizing this opportunity for what we call long tail buyers. These are people that don’t have huge budgets and aren’t necessarily versed in the legalese of music licensing, but they can come to Pond5 and find what they’re looking for and not have to worry about how they’re using it. And then there are traditional music buyers like producers, editors and increasingly ad agencies that we cater to as well.
“With the way things are heading, the slices of the pie might get smaller, but we can give you more slices!”
As far as royalty-free getting a bad rep I think the more traditional rights managed music sites are looking at “royalty-free” models and they’re afraid because they see that eating into their business. Pond5 has created a model where you’re putting agency into the contributors’ hands and letting them set the price. Again, it’s about adapting to change. The days of the $15,000 sync fee have all but disappeared. In a lot of ways, the royalty-free game is a quality and quantity game. The artists that tend to do well on Pond5 have significant portfolios. It’s about choice and creating as many revenue streams as possible. With the way things are heading, the slices of the pie might get smaller, but we can give you more slices!
As you mentioned, the content marketplace is continuing to evolve. Are you noticing any growth in the demand for music in any particular areas?
We’ve seen an increase in people using our music for podcasts and using our music for video games. Health and wellness is another one – we get a lot of buyers from the yoga/meditation community who are looking for ambient or drone tracks for their projects. It goes well beyond film, TV, and the traditional broadcast avenues. It’s growing into all kinds of unorthodox sectors. And again, with the democratization of content production it’s only going to get easier to create stuff, and so it should just be easy to license music. That’s the aim of what we’re trying to do.
You also mentioned that you’re seeing more and more ad agencies coming to sites like Pond5. Why is that?
A lot of it is budget related. We get a ton of agencies who say, I have to produce X number of social media posts a week, here’s my budget. It’s unrealistic to think that you can fill that with commercial music. Pond5 is a budget conscious solution for folks who need a lot of music in a short amount of time. I think the perception of production music as being uncool is antiquated at this point. I think more and more people understand that there are all of these different avenues for licensing music, including production or library stuff, and that’s exciting. It appeals to my DIY upbringing that you have kids making music who don’t have a composition background, who are just using software and coming up with something super cool. These days, that’s what a lot of agencies are looking for. By and large, our clients don’t care if it’s Hans Zimmer or Hans and Franz, as long as it’s the right music for that production.
What role can libraries like Pond5 play in supporting a career in music? Can people make a living on these sites?
Absolutely. It’s kind of a liberating thing in that we have this inclusive approach, which allows people to experiment and figure out what works. I think especially with the way the music landscape is now with COVID, production music is another outlet for musicians who need to be able to diversify. I come from the era where selling out was considered a really bad thing. That’s changed because it’s really hard to make a living doing music. Any opportunity that you can explore is worthwhile. And the great thing is we are non-exclusive so you can have your tracks on Pond5 and a host of other non-exclusive sites. Some of the contributors to Pond5 have played in bands that I love. To me it’s awesome that they are exploring every opportunity that they can. There’s absolutely no shame in trying to make a living.
“I think especially with the way the music landscape is now with COVID, production music is another outlet for musicians who need to be able to diversify.”
Speaking of COVID, what impact has it had on Pond5?
What’s interesting is that after the initial few months of the pandemic we saw an uptick in sales across the board with music and video, because a lot of production companies and producers were starting to figure out how to navigate in this new environment. If they couldn’t go out and shoot and finish their productions, they could turn to a platform like Pond5 to license the assets that they needed to finish those projects. People are realizing they have the ability to create content themselves, and if they add music it’s going to exponentially increase the power of that content. Pond5 has this enormous selection of music, the broadest license out there, and incredibly competitive price points.
There’s typically a lot of friction in the licensing process for commercial music, which again puts production music libraries at an advantage.
A hundred percent. I think there is opportunity down the line for a streamlined licensing approach to commercial music and we’re seeing companies like Tracklib starting to go there, although that’s geared towards a music producer crowd. But, in the meantime, the Pond5 license is worldwide, it’s in perpetuity, it’s across all media, it starts at 15 bucks, and you can find awesome tracks on there, as opposed to trying to deal with some commercial publisher for your podcast. Again, it’s about production music being functional and serving a purpose. Production music is really at the forefront in terms of licensing music for these emerging distribution and content channels.
“Production music is really at the forefront in terms of licensing music for these emerging distribution and content channels.”
In terms of the licensing models that support these sites, how have you seen that develop in recent years?
I think the simplicity of the model is key. There are a lot more people who will spend 15 or 20 bucks on a license than there are $1,500 on a license. We’ve definitely seen subscription models grow over the past few years, but it’s geared towards that specific buyer who needs music in bulk. I think companies like Soundstripe and Artlist are showing us that there is a market for a subscription model. When we say you have to adapt to survive, that’s not just the composers, that goes for the libraries too. The market is so big that the à la carte buyer, which has traditionally been Pond5’s bread and butter for music, isn’t going away. That high end enterprise buyer isn’t going away. You just need to figure out how to service all of these different demographics.
What impact do you see AI having on the production music world? Is it a legitimate threat?
I think AI is a tool. There’s no discounting the human touch that composers give to their tracks. Is AI music going to get better? Of course. But I don’t see it driving composers out of business in the near future. Again, we talk about adapting and surviving. I work with a few composers who have used AI technology in the creation of their tracks and it’s promising, but it’s not necessarily a slam dunk. I don’t think composers should be afraid of looking into how it can help them in the creation process. But I don’t think that it means curtains for the business.
Are there any upcoming projects or services that you want to plug?
I’m really excited about a partnership that we’re launching with AdRev to provide a Content ID solution for our customers. We worked in tandem with AdRev to create a solution to release Content ID claims within a matter of minutes with a license key process. That’s the first of its kind for a marketplace of our size. I’m also really excited to see where Pond5 Publishing continues to go and to explore additional revenue streams. I think there’s a ton of opportunity to cross sell music to video buyers that media marketplaces haven’t really taken total advantage of, so we’ve been looking at some opportunities to really showcase music and sound effects to video buyers. Pond5 is really a one-stop shop. You can get everything in one place, and I think that’s really exciting.
Learn more about Pond5:
Check out Mike’s music:
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