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Media Composers: New Rules Of Engagement?

4th June 2009 @ 6:30 pm - 9:00 pm

Venue: The Basement, PRS for Music, Copyright House

INTRO: This think tank debate will compare traditional and evolving commissioning models for composers and producers of music for advertising and television.  From production music libraries to media content producers and publishers, this session will examine what’s changing and why and consider the impact on music creators in this highly competitive sector.


TOPIC: Until relatively recently, media composers had two main routes to market – (1) writing and producing tracks for production music libraries and (2) pitching to ad agencies and independent media production companies either directly or via a publisher or other intermediary (e.g. a specialist agency, consultant or music supervisor).

Times are changing though, and more recently the market has witnessed models that challenge tradition.  Newer businesses have shifted away from those primarily concerned with representing the interests of writers and music production companies, to models that seek to secure the best interests for the end user – the commissioning body.  Concerns abound that such models create further downward pressure on rates and fees, and indeed bring into question the price placed on creativity and intellectual property.

In the world of advertising, some contend that the traditional commissioning model is outmoded, is inflexible and fails to take account of new and multitudinous distribution channels.  Moreover, it’s seen by some as a construct of a bygone era that has simply failed to take account of a changing commercial landscape.

Coupled with an over-supply of music from established players in addition to a constantly replenishing source of new, keen writers and producers, some businesses have deftly moved to secure greater flexibility with the creative assets they’ve acquired and view this as an inevitable move in a market that is adjusting to ever-decreasing budgets.

Some argue that brands want ownership in IP not for financial gain but in order to have flexibility of use without restriction, (and in this respect take a US lead with regards acquiring rights).  The broadcast sector has long-since acquired publishing rights for commissioned music, runs the argument, why should advertising be any different?   Leap Music’s Richard Kirstein is of the view that historically, advertising agencies have been “held to ransom” by publishers and that some newer entrants represent a new way of working, free of some of the constraints of more traditional models whilst deriving meaningful revenues to writer and agency/brand alike.

Others maintain it’s a cynical move to subsidise media production costs and provide an additional revenue stream for the commissioning body.  Aside from the thorny issue of whether those agencies and brands that assume publisher roles are inclined or indeed capable of discharging their new-found responsibilities (especially with regard secondary exploitation), the value placed on IP lies at the heart of the issue.

It isn’t just writers and music producers that have felt the strain of the changing landscape: production music libraries have likewise witnessed challenges from newer entrants to the market – from so-called ‘royalty free’ to subscription models – most recently Audio Network.  Appearing to have turned the library model on its head, it stands accused by some of forcing repeated downward revisions of the standard MCPS rate card. Founded on the firm belief that the traditional production music library model fails to meet the needs of a connected, multi-platform world, this subscription model has dispensed with synch fees altogether, thus providing near-unhindered use of its entire catalogue, citing increased PRS returns as more than making up for the loss of up-front synch fees (that typically account for significantly more than 50% of writer income).

Whilst all might agree that an increase in PRS returns can only be good news for publishers and writers alike, what of those whose music is used for non-broadcast purposes – corporate & training videos and in-flight entertainment – for which PRS royalties don’t accrue?

The impact on the commissioning process itself gives cause for concern with anecdotal evidence pointing to fewer composer opportunities.  Being invited to pitch on the understanding that no commissioning or synch fees will be paid if successful is said to have become increasingly commonplace – itself a consequence of market innovation – and is of increasing concern to many.

Then there’s the impact on the skills-base – in the absence of meaningful income will writing-to-picture/interpreting music briefs become a lost/dying profession?  And is the loss of control over how creative works can be used at odds with creators’ moral rights?

Ultimately, what lies at the heart of this session is this: is there a growing disconnect between content owners (the media production company, ad agency or brand) and music content creators that undermines the very art of writing music for media?

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