Predicting Effect

A few weeks back I read an article on the sudden disappearance of much of the ice in Greenland.  I wondered what could be the cause. I’m sure there are teams of scientists investigating this right now.  The nice thing about investigating a cause is that the effect is known. With good research, a cause can probably be accurately determined.  It is much more difficult to predict the effect of a cause unless it has happened before.

With every new musical release we create a ’cause.’  We don’t really know what the effect will be.  Record labels use focus groups to grapple with this problem.  They will get a representative group or groups of people together and let them listen to the music that is up for release.  The companies running these sessions have prepared questionnaires and guidelines that help determine what demographic the record company should aim for in marketing the music.  These kinds of groups are valuable in that they help reduce the marketing costs involved in promoting a recording, and help target a potential fanbase for the artist.

Until now, that kind of research has been prohibitively expensive for the independent artist.

Sure, there are places you can get your music reviewed by a professional critic, and for the people who frequent those blogs or online magazines, this can be a source of validation.  But that is a professional reviewer, not the average unbiased listener.

There are social outlets and contests you can join to have your song rated highly.  This usually involves contacting your network of friends and requesting that they vote repeatedly for your song.  The only ones benefitting in the end from this is the hosting website, who gets all of those extra eyeballs for their advertising purposes.

One of my clients recently sent me a review of one of his songs that cost him around $40. It was a comprehensive report that was broken down by sex (male/female) and also into three age groups (16-24, 25-34, 35-44)  weighted toward the younger demographic.

It began with an overall market potential for a single overall market, in this case ‘rock.’  Following that was the ‘track rating’ and ‘passion rating.’  Then for comparison, three songs by established artists with similar ratings were listed along with a ‘play’ button to audition the tracks.

The ratings were then illustrated by pie and stack charts, showing the breakdown of the sample group by age and gender, and a 1-10 scale of how well the track was liked which was distributed by the number of people who voted that way.  It also showed a scatter graph of how the track would fare against 1,000 other tracks in that genre of music.

Next it did a breakdown of the language used in the reviews of the track, listing the most talked about elements of the track and a sound cloud with the most often used words shown in the largest fonts.

After that, selected individual reviews (over 40 of them) were listed, identified only by the age group of the reviewer. These ranged from very knowledgeable and articulate opinions to ‘not the style of music I normally listen to, but…’

What an awesome tool!  In his case, I believe he got the picture that the ‘rock’ track he presented was perceived as more of a ‘country’ track by this sampling of the public as of this date, and that his target demo was age 35-44 with a surprisingly strong following by the younger demo as well. This sure beats just going with your gut, taking years to understand who is going to be affected by your music.

So there is now an affordable tool for anyone who is serious about releasing their music to the public, building a fan base, and being closer to the target with their marketing.  I almost forgot.. the name of this company is SoundOut.  Be sure to check out what they have to offer.  I think it’s a real deal.


The New Retitle Publishing Approach

A friend and cowriter of mine recently sent me a link to a site that was interested in pitching our song for film and television.  All well and good.  But this proposition had a twist:

  • They would give our song a new title
  • They would have ownership rights to the retitled version
  • We would keep all rights to our original title

In every other respect, this was a standard publishing contract.

Why would a company do that?

The publishing industry has changed dramatically in the digital era. The two largest sources of income for published songs are broadcast performance royalties (radio, television) and film and television licenses (synchronization fees).  It’s practically impossible to crack this field as an individual.  Given the wide range of musical material needed for film cues, you have to have a large library of music in all styles in order to compete.  So in addition to the usual large traditional exclusive publishing  companies going after this business, there are also companies that employ member crowdsourcing (TAXI) and still others that troll searchable sound sites like Soundclick to quickly build up a catalog of material by working out retitle deals with the owners of the music.

In our case, I thought it was a win-win for everybody.  Our song had been written for a specific movie use and was not selected.  We had nowhere else to pitch it, so it sat dormant for a year.  The way this deal was structured left us free to continue to pitch our original title any way we wished, AND we had the benefit of the alternate title being actively pitched by a publishing company with film contacts.

As I did more research, I discovered that there are some drawbacks.

Because the content is identical, and only the ‘wrapper’ changes, it means in effect that the retitle publishing company does not have exclusive rights to the song.  As a matter of fact, we could find another retitle publisher and work out a similar deal, giving us our original and two retitled versions pitched by two different companies.  This can create confusion and ownership questions when the film company receives the same song with two different titles from two different companies at two different licensing rates.

Another area of concern is automatic song identification.  ASCAP and BMI have both employed ‘fingerprinting’ services that can identify a title by its sonic characteristics, reducing  the need for broadcast station playlists and streamlining the logging process.  This is extensively used for song identification with streaming internet radio.  If you have your original version recorded and released for airplay at the same time your retitled version becomes popular from inclusion in a film, who gets the airplay royalties?

Also, consider the possibility of future interest from a traditional exclusive publisher.  They would not be interested in signing a song that already exists in the marketplace under a different title.

Lastly, why retitle the song when there is the option of placing it with a company that does in effect the same thing (pitch the title to film and television) but they don’t retitle the song and there is no long term contract (

So it’s a mixed bag.  Retitling makes sense if:

  • Your song has not been previously released
  • You are not actively pitching the song
  • You don’t have the option of placing it with an exclusive publisher
  • You don’t have the option of placing it with a licensing company that doesn’t retitle
  • You sign it to only one non-exclusive retitle publisher
  • You are comfortable with the fact that the retitled version, if successfully placed, will be the version of the song that will be recognized and identified, not the original

If you do decide to pursue a retitle publishing deal, remember that this IS a  publishing contract.  As with any publishing deal, you’ll want to make sure you agree on the money splits, that there is some kind of reversion term where you get the song back after a period of time if no placement is secured, and that the publisher is someone you feel comfortable about staying in contact with since you have, in effect, entered into a partnership agreement.

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