With album sales in freefall, the music industry has had to adapt and diversify its revenue streams. Over the last few years, one of those streams has grown incredibly quickly: synchronization licensing. These are licences granted for the use of a work in a TV series, movie or advertising, an economic activity that directly involves songwriters and their natural allies, music editors. It also indirectly involves fans, who sometimes become hostile to musicians who “sell out” by letting their work be used to promote a product in advertisements.
“It’s a well-known fact in the industry: there’s a lot of money to be made with synchronization” of recorded music, says Patrick Curley, President and General Counsel at Third Side Music, a music publishing company founded in 2005 that manages a catalog of more than 40 000 works, many of them by Québec artists such as Malajube, Radio Radio, Lisa Leblanc, Champion and Groenland, to name but a few. (Curley is also a member of SOCAN’s Board of Directors.)
Nowadays, business is booming for this music publisher. With 15 employees, as well as an office in Los Angeles, Third Side Music is on the short list of go-to publishers who American audio-visual (advertising, TV, movie) producers ask for the perfect song. And thanks to its Californian eyes and ears, the company is always on top of new and upcoming productions and their music needs. From that point on, Third Side Music prepares lists for the music supervisors working on each of those productions.
And it works: Third Side Music “places” between 50 and 100 songs each month in all kinds of productions, mainly in the U.S., a market that makes up to 70% of its revenue. “Our profits are growing year after year,” as do the royalties paid to the artists, according to Curley, whose company has been surfing on a huge wave that’s carrying the whole industry.
In 2014, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) reported that, worldwide, the revenues derived from synchronization licences had increased by 8.4 percent, with certain markets benefitting even more than others. France, for example, saw an increase of 46.4 percent! Globally, revenues from synchronization licences represent 2 percent of music industry revenues.
“I really had to think it through before agreeing to one of my songs being used in an ad” – Patrice Michaud
Canada is not left behind in this growth trend. The most recent data published by SODRAC reveal that the royalties collected in 2013 for the synchronization of works in TV productions and video clips rose to $701,852, up from $579,856 in 2012.
One need only turn on the TV to find a plethora of examples of Québec artists who’ve benefitted from the audio-visual revenue stream. Lately, Radio Radio and Misteur Valaire have both seen their work heard in advertisements, the former for Telus and the latter, Vidéotron.
One of Patrick Watson’s songs – “The Great Escape” – was included in an episode of the popular TV series Grey’s Anatomy, as well as in an ad campaign for Tropicana juice.
“The song was quite popular on the radio about a year ago, and that was important to me,” says the artist. “It was near the end of its life cycle when we got a request for use in an ad campaign.” Which, nowadays, has become an alternative to radio play, giving an incredible amount of exposure to a few lucky songs.
In the case of Patrice Michaud – who is his own publisher, but leaves the management of his catalogue to professionals – he got even luckier, since he never had to pitch his songs to ad producers. They came to him with the specific request to licence “Mécaniques générales.”
This is “quite rare” according to Patrick Curley. “Generally, it’s a publisher’s job to suggest works for specific audio-visual productions.” For example, it’s Third Side Music that “placed” Groenland’s song “Our Hearts Like Gold” in an ad for Apple’s latest iPad. The ad – directed by Martin Scorsese – ran during the 2015 Oscars ceremony in February, and focused on the video production and editing capacities of the device.
“We make sure we maintain a good relationship with the production agency that handles all of Apple’s advertising,” explains the publisher. “We had prepared a list of about 10 songs that could work with their concept, and they made the final choice. We’re definitely very proud of that one!”
“Placing” a song in an ad can be tricky, however. In 2006, Malajube granted a licence for their song “Ton plat favori” to the ad agency handling a campaign for defunct retail giant Zellers, and the musicians had to stave off a pretty intense backlash from their fans. In 2011, Karkwa had to deal with the same type of backlash when their song “Pyromanes” was used in an ad campaign by Coca-Cola.
“I really had to think it through before agreeing to one of my songs being used in an ad,” admits Michaud. “To me, that song is a pop love song, an earworm, therefore I see no contradiction in the fact that it is used in an ad. Ultimately, it had a definite impact on album and concert ticket sales. A lot of people became aware of that song because of those ads. The next question for me is ‘What will happen to that song now? Will people be tired of hearing it?’ In any case, one thing is sure: it can’t be used in another ad.”