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 (musicsupervisor.com).
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.