Music licensing is the best play for artists in the new music digital age
By: James Di Fiore
“Music will never go away, and I will never stop making music; it’s just what capacity and what arena you decide to do it.” Dave Grohl
The Internet gave birth to two undeniable realities. First, everyone believes they’re musicians. Second, lots of people are both super talented, and completely unknown.
For years, the music industry was the digital pilot project whose online evolution taught other digitally-based industries what should and should not be done when ushering in new business strategies. David Grohl’s words ring true for musicians at every stage of their career, and the ever-changing online promotional and distribution methods for musicians to scratch out a dollar.
By now, if a career musician has not adjusted their approach on the business side to reflect modern technology and different distribution ideas, they are not going to last very long. In their defense, no other industry has had to make so many adjustments since the digital age began, a reality that creates as many victims as it does revolutionary ideas.
One of these revolutionary ideas is actually a fairly old method of getting paid for making music. Film and television will always need to find appropriate tunes for their programming, and today that demand is not only growing but the ways companies find music has never been more ‘artist-friendly’. It has been a long, ever-changing relationship between productions houses and musicians. It used to be a very exclusive club, where a relatively few number of composers were on speed dial, or the major record labels offered either up-and-comers or a select stable of hit makers for TV, movies and commercials. But this became expensive for producers who wanted catchy tunes but didn’t want to allocate half their budget to do so. Before the financial crisis in 2008, hearing a well known pop tune inside a commercial was not uncommon, but when the recession hit, with the exception of automobile ads, this trend became too expensive to justify. Licensing a hit song was no longer a viable option.
So, keeping in tune with the ever-changing landscape in the digital music industry, music catalogue outfits specializing in housing quality music began popping up online. Of course, lots of these companies were specializing in pretty mediocre stock music, and most reputable music supervisors are looking for quality, not filler. No problem.
Jean Anfossi is the CEO of reelsongs.com, a company specializing in linking production companies and agencies with artists and composers. Anfossi has seen both sides of the coin, as a musician and as a businessman for the past 15 years. He believes artists are on the brink of normalizing their inflows by licensing their music to television, film and commercials.
“There is so much talent out there that you have to be meticulous about what you can offer clients,” says Anfossi. “To remove the needle-in-a-haystack environment we hand pick what artists we want to showcase.”
Anfossi is one of several entrepreneurs who have succeeded at providing appropriate music for ads, film and television. His stable of artists, which includes well known composers like M1, Neil Busby and Indie label Ubiquity, have realized the importance of licensing to the overall career inflows of artists. This is what the future looks like for professional musicians. Licensing music to the ad industry and Hollywood used to be considered selling out, but when music became saturated, free and digital, everything changed.
“Musicians need to make money. You can’t live off ramen noodles and dreams anymore, especially in cities like Toronto and New York.” Anfossi, who is a Berklee-educated virtuoso jazz musician, knows the terrain inside out and is trusted by his clients to find the right composers for their projects. Artists simply upload their music or Anfossi’s clients request an original piece. And, as it should be, quality matters.
When Napster ushered in a new age of digital promotional strategies, it forced independent artists to create interest in their live shows through giveaways, remixes and other digital-only campaigns. When labels stopped signing artists the landscape contained a hodge-podge of strategies to get noticed. Internet radio was developing into an aggregate system where variety was king, but variety doesn’t mix well with trying to stand out. With thousands of options online, the undertaking of self-distribution had to be customized to fit the profile of each artist. That customization has been determined, and savvy artists are now making the bulk of their income through sites like reelsongs.com.
This is the new arena in making money in music.