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.

Research links:

Access THIS…

Before there were recordings, there was live performance and sheet music.  In order to hear your favorite piece of music, you had to either show up at a public concert where it was being played, or learn how to play the notes.

When radio broadcasts became available, you could listen for hours until you heard your favorite song being played.

In the days of records, you could purchase a recording and play it in your home any time you liked.

When the cassette recorder came out, you could personally tape record your favorite individual songs either from your records, your friends’ records, or off the radio, and play them on your home stereo, your car player or battery powered portable player.  Freedom at last!

CD’s became just a high tech version of the LP until the CD recorder came out.  Then it became a high tech version of the cassette recorder.

And now the internet turned our favorite song into 1’s and 0’s that we could share with our friends in a data stream, wherever they may live.

Concurrent with that is the history of audio data storage.  LPs were 1/8” thick and 12”x12” square.  Cassettes were smaller but thicker.  CD’s in jewel cases are about ¼” thick and about 5.25” square. MP3 files have no physical dimension, but they take up digital storage space as measured in megabytes – about 1MB per minute of music.

Who wants to devote an entire room to a collection of 1,000 LPs, cassettes or CDs?  Maybe you can devote an entire hard drive to your music collection, but you wouldn’t have access to it while you’re at work.  Maybe you can put some of it on your MP3 player, but you wouldn’t have it all.  That’s where the cloud comes in.

The cloud is nothing more than a huge cluster of computers to which you are granted access.

And so our model of recorded music is shifting from ownership to access. We, the media consumer, want everything all the time, because it’s now possible.  The control of access is where the money is. You pay Comcast every month for access to hundreds of channels that you don’t watch because that’s the only way they sell it to you. You pay Netflix every month for access to thousands of movies that you don’t watch because it’s cheaper than one night at the local movie theater.  By the same token, every now and then you stumble on something cool while channel surfing and become a fan, or you’ll read a movie synopsis presented by the Netflix “Because you liked this..” algorithm and decide to watch it instantly.

In our field, the big three access models are Pandora, Grooveshark, and Spotify.  Each allows you to join for free, provided you don’t mind the ads.

Pandora is built on the old radio station idea, where you build a channel based on the style of your favorite artist.  You’ll hear the artist about one in every ten songs, but you’ll hear a variety of music and musicians that have similar styles.

Grooveshark is a personal playlist engine.  You do the work of finding the songs and create your own playlists.  The site will present you with suggestions of similar artists.

Spotify incorporates both ideas.  You can listen as your own custom radio channel, build your own playlists, use playlists generated by other users, or any combination thereof.  In addition, by default it shares what you are playing to your Facebook or other social network friends so that they can see what you’re listening to. If you don’t want to share, you can set your session to be private.  Also, you can use music found on your desktop or mobile device in your playlists and access it anywhere.

None of these applications take up much room on your desktop or your mobile phone.  The music you stream comes from the worldwide cluster of computers in the cloud, not your personal and limited storage.  You are free to stumble upon as much new and interesting music as you like, provided that it is available on the service – which is why I write this.

If you’re not represented on a streaming service, it’s time to think about it.  Each service is interested in both signed and unsigned artists.  You may have to go through a middle man ‘aggregator’ like CD Baby or Tunecore.  You probably won’t make much money.  But you will be represented, people will have a chance to discover you, and you can make some money.

The requirements for each service can be found in the following links:

Pandora  |  Grooveshark  |  Spotify

Back To The 40’s Again

So I subscribed to Spotify Free on my desktop.  The number of choices of music is simply amazing.  Of course, being the free subscription, they aren’t streaming in high def but I’m OK with that for now.  And, being the free subscription, it’s only available on my desktop, not on my Android phone.  Still no biggie.  My phone doesn’t even come close to replacing my desktop at the moment.

I first started looking up people who had recorded with me to see if they were listed.  Claude Diamond’s albums are all there.  Jeff Talmadge.  Even Marty Nickel’s first CD is listed.  There’s a little graphic to the right of the song with a number of bars to indicate the popularity of the track. Initially empty, one of the bars lit up after my play.

Then I searched one of the more mainstream artists – Katy Perry.  All of the bars were lit on all of the songs listed.  Not only were there songs that she had recorded, but there were listings of people who had alternate versions of her songs.  For “Teenage Dream” there were dance versions, trance versions, club mixes, and acoustic versions as well as the original.  I listened to every one of them and deemed the original release as the best.

It really hit me that we haven’t seen this kind of thing in a long time. Back in the 40’s, the Tin Pan Alley songwriter would pound out a song on a piano for a publisher.  If it was accepted, the song would be transcribed to sheet music (melody line, lyrics, and chords only) to present to various artists. Because there was no recording presented, arrangers were free to adapt the song for their artist any way they chose.  As a result, the same song was recorded by multiple artists in a variety of styles and released for radio airplay roughly at the same time.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen on radio anymore, but cloud services like Spotify are bringing all of those versions together in one place again. It’s quite possible that the original artist release may be considered inferior to and ultimately not as popular as a later, better production by a different artist.  Also, if a song originally recorded and released by an independent songwriter/artist is covered by another more popular artist, those two versions will exist side-by-side on Spotify – each with an equally good chance of being streamed by the listener.

Google has a cloud music service – free.  Amazon has a cloud “locker” – $20/year.  Apple will be releasing iTunes Match cloud service with iOS5.  These are beta services right now and they’re still a variation of file downloads where your music is stored to your local device.

In the case of Spotify, these aren’t downloads – they are music streamed on demand.  They aren’t broadcasts – they are personal subscriptions.  They’ve worked out a payment deal with major and independent record labels of how much to pay for each stream or portion of a stream, and the artist is getting their cut of that money.  It’s not a lot, but since you’re talking about an audience the size of the digitally connected world, if you’re streamed an awful lot it adds up.

These large amalgamators won’t be making money on the music.  That’s like the admission price at Six Flags. They’ll be making it from the advertisers drawn to the large numbers of people who use the service. They’re accessing your Facebook info and passing your likes and dislikes on to the demographic number crunchers who can determine with an algorithm your likely purchasing habits.

The 40’s weren’t necessarily times of prosperity.  They were times of world war.  The long play (LP) record wasn’t invented yet.  Radio was in its infancy.  The boom didn’t take place until the 50s.  But the stage was being set, and I think that’s where we find ourselves today.  The media forces of the next decade are now emerging, using the attraction of music in the virtual space to drive the purchase of real goods.

Fans as Producers

I’ve stated before that I think the key to effective live performance is to break down the barrier between who’s the performer and who’s the audience.  I give the example of my friend, Skip Folse, who performed at a club here in Atlanta.

At one part of the evening he would start the “naked conga line.”  The club had two entrances and people would form a line in front of the stage, dance out one door into the parking lot, return through the other door, and when they reached the front of the stage the ladies would lift their tops and the men would turn and drop their trousers.  Skip performed with one hand on the keyboard and one hand holding a digital camera, which he used to snap a picture as the action happened.  He would meet the people on his break, find out their story, edit the pictures with ‘stars’ to cover the naughty parts, and upload them to his website before going to bed after the gig.  Everyone knew that if they were part of the naked conga line, they would be ‘famous’ by morning.

Now look at this video and check out what the Kaiser Chiefs are doing with their new release. Fans can go to their website and listen to 20 new songs by the Chiefs.  They pick their favorite 10 songs, arrange them in any order they wish, and design their custom album cover from pre-selected art.  They are then given their own personalized web page to sell their version of the album.  For every copy they sell, they receive £1 via PayPal.

I know it’s still selling copies, but I think it’s a great twist on the idea of exactly who is the the producer of the album. Very creative idea, IMO.

They’re Here

Spotify is making its US launch today.  We already have music stream services like Rhapsody, but Spotify offers a free ad supported version of its services and offers integration with Facebook, making it easy to share music you love with others.  Well, that’s the company line, at least.  It’s surely the way music will be moving forward.  Instead of ownership of a limited number of copies, we as consumers will gain access to an unlimited virtual library of songs.  We’ll all have our own  personal jukebox in the sky, so to speak.

Plus, for those of us old-schoolers who do have a library of owned material, we can use the Amaon or Apple cloud and store everything there to stream back to us when we need it.

Side thought, brought on by the law of supply and demand: As technology has moved forward, computer manufacturers have dropped the things from their hardware that are out of step with the times.  There are no more floppy disk drives, no more PCI slots, AGP graphic slots, IDE hard drives, etc.  With the advent of the iPad, there are quite a few things missing that were on our desktop computer.  If you need it, it’s available ‘in the cloud.’

What is ‘the cloud?”  It’s simply storage space.  It’s paid 4G data access.  You don’t want to be limited by that puny 500 gigabyte hard drive?  Here’s your solution.  Do away with it and store everything on the massive redundant storage systems offered by your internet service provider.

So, in the words of The Who: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.  It’s still a game of supply and demand.  We’ve demanded instant access to everything, and for a price, it can be supplied.

That puts the music industry as part of the supply chain, providing the content that the public can use.  How do the creators and owners of this music get paid?  That’s still an ongoing point, but one possible solution is a public performnace license.  Give a listen to Gerd Leonhard’s video.  I think it makes sense.

Prince: The Internet Is Over

Read all about it here.  I don’t think I can go as far as Prince, but I see his point.  If the internet has rendered the law of supply and demand  so lopsided that you have such an abundance of supply, then how do you create demand? In his case, by withdrawing.

His official web site is shut down.  He refuses to allow his music to be posted to YouTube, iTunes, rhapsody..  What is left?  Personal appearances?

His latest work is his 27th CD – 20TEN – which will be included as a freebie in the London Daily Mirror.  This is the second time he’s taken  this approach with a CD release.

Everyone else is talking about openness, context vs content, integrated virtual living, digital apps.  This is the guy who changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol to be legally free of the controlling recording contract he had with Warner Brothers. Here’s the guy who outsmarted SoundScan by including  CDs in the price of his live concerts so that they counted as sales, putting his album at the top of the Billboard charts in the early 2000’s.  He can clearly think outside of the box and doesn’t mind enduring some pain for his beliefs.

Maybe he’s ahead of the curve again.  Or maybe this time Prince has “left the (virtual) building.”

Limewire Loses

The RIAA just won the lawsuit against file sharing service Limewire. While this is necessary and meaningful, noone believes file sharing will stop. There was a good comment I read today on Jeremy Silver’s blog.

Worldwide expenditure on anti-piracy measures is out of all proportion to the worldwide investment in new digital content business models. More importantly the investment in new ways to invest in content is not coming from the music industry. It’s coming from new entrants who are faced with the prospect of rights holders who make it difficult and expensive to try new things out. Rights holding companies typically demand advances and even equity in companies that dare to enter their sector with a new idea for creating economic growth.

This will be a long struggle to find methods of digital distribution of music where artists are compensated fairly. It will have to happen, however. It’s not just the music business that is affected. It’s any creative content producing entity that releases their product in a digital form: software developers, print publishers, news outlets, mobile app creators, television and movies, etc.

More to follow…

Virtual Gigs

The movie Avatar was released last Friday. Haven’t seen it yet, but I plan on getting the 3-D glasses and experiencing it in a movie theater very soon. Critics say it revolutionalizes the way animation will be done in film. It reminds me of my experience a couple of years ago with Second Life.

Second Life is a virtual online world. You can join for free, but to really get the most out of it requires spending some money. The first thing you do is create an alter ego for yourself – an avatar. You decide how it looks, how it is dressed, how it moves, what vehicle it drives, where it lives, what it does. Some things are already made for you, but the good stuff is scripted and created by experts who charge for their services. The currency is Linden Dollars, which actually have a real monetary conversion rate. 5,000 Linden Dollars is currently worth about $20.00 US.

You can buy “land” – even own your own island. You can open up a business with a storefront on a main street in one of the cities. By spending a little real money, you can have a great virtual second life!

What about entertainment? It’s there, too. In real time – streaming to you live from someone’s desktop computer. Yesterday, I met one of the more popular Second Life entertainers – Noma Falta – in the flesh. She’s been “gigging” online now for the past two years and has built up a great reputation as one of the best blues singers in the online community. There’s a fee to watch and hear her perform, and it’s enabled her to bring in a steady stream of revenue to the point that this is pretty much all that she does.

You have to know that this wasn’t an instant thing. It took a long time for her to get the skills to not only control her avatar in real time but also stream a live performance over the internet and interact with the paying customers in the virtual room. She’s running an 8-core Mac, if that gives you an idea of how serious this is.

She also plays blues with a couple of guys in other countries in real time using NINJAM. She plays bass and sings from her location in the US, the drummer is in Japan, and the guitarist is in Germany. Sometimes they join her at the gig in Second Life.

It’s just nice to know that in this day and age where brick-and-mortar clubs are expecting free entertainment or even charging musicians to play, that the virtual online world offers a way to earn a living.