By Stefanie Flamm
Summer is officially here, but the music publishing industry is not taking a vacation:
- Racially-charged jazz standard “Strange Fruit” is used in The Birth of a Nation trailer, demonstrating that certain compositions are great to have in a sync catalogue, even if they’re rarely used.
- Music executives urge for music industry unity at the NMPA’s annual meeting in NYC.
- Sync placements are shown to be a twofold benefit to artists like Drake, Skrillex, and The Mamas & The Papas.
- Major labels, digital distributors, and streaming stores came together as part of Berklee College of Music’s Open Music Initiative to provide more efficient royalty solutions for streaming.
Read more to see how songwriters and publishers alike are working hard for higher royalties and greater industry unity.
“Strange Fruit” proves to be an important song for sync placement in spite of its rare use in TV and film.
Be it the original Billie Holiday version, Nina Simone’s haunting cover, or Kanye West’s sampling of the song in his album Yeezus, the lyrics to “Strange Fruit” are an eerie reminder of America’s dark and not-so-distant past. A soulful recollection of both pre-Civil War and Jim Crow-era America, Abel Meeropol’s 1937 poem provides lyrics to one of the most haunting songs in American history and Time Magazine’s song of the 20th Century.
Because of the gravity of the song’s content, rights owner Music Sales Corp. is particular about to whom they license “Strange Fruit.” The licensing of this song is tactful, with permissions only given to a small percentage of applicants.
“The importance of the song is certainly not lost on us,” says Executive VP of Music Sales Corp. Miles Feinberg. “It contributed to the civil rights movement, so we’ve been very protective of it.”
It is for this exact reason that Music Sales Corp. decided to greenlight the use of Nina Simone’s version for the trailer of the upcoming film The Birth of a Nation. Simone’s evocative tone gracefully pairs with the footage in the trailer, leaving a feeling that is both ominous and galvanizing.
It’s the rarity of the song’s occurrence in pop culture that makes it so resonant, and while the song isn’t of much monetary value to Music Sales Corp., the principle of owning the song is worth its weight in gold. “[Strange Fruit] is not a big money earner,” says Feinberg. “But it is an incredible one to have in your catalog.”
Sometimes the greatest songs are the ones you rarely hear.
Publishers push for music industry unity at the NMPA’s 99th annual meeting in NYC.
The packed event room at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, NY was buzzing on June 8th as music industry professionals gathered for the 99th annual meeting of the National Music Publishers Association. The main focus of the meeting? Music industry unity.
“The music industry has never been more powerful and popular and we as an industry have never done a sh***er job of rallying together as one industry,” legendary music industry executive Irving Azoff said in his keynote address. “We should work together to solve the root of the problem.”
It’s not news that US music publishing legislation is grossly out-of-date; the regulations that were enacted in 1941 have seen very few changes since their inception. Irving speculated that the lack of effective legislation in Washington is a direct result of a disjointed industry. Without a sense of unity, the US Department of Justice has been steamrolling the industry in favor of the consumer.
The DOJ recently reviewed the consent decrees that are at the backbone of BMI and ASCAP’s licensing agreements. With this recent review, the DOJ is considering “100 percent licensing,” which means that any rights owner can license the entire song, regardless of what percentage of the song they own. The music industry seems to unanimously agree that this is a bad idea, as it could potentially mean an imbalance in royalty payments, as well as restricting songwriters to only collaborate with artists in their PRO.
NMPA president David Israelite also had some words to say on what he called the “One Music” strategy, stressing that the industry standing together to fight for better legislation is stronger than individual groups fighting on each side.
Songwriters across the United States believe that now’s the time for songwriters to come together for a common good.
Sync placements kill two birds with one stone for artists like Drake, Skrillex, and more.
We’ve all seen the video – Taylor Swift puts on “Jumpman” by Drake & Future, starts running on her treadmill while rapping along to the song, and falls flat on her face. The Apple Music commercial has gained upwards of 17.5 million views since the video was posted to YouTube on April 1st. But what’s more impressive is the success of the song as a result of the sync placement.
Downloads for “Jumpman” increased 193% in the week that the video went live, from 15,000 sales the week of March 31st to 44,000 a week later. This is another win for Drake, whose sync licensing for “Hotline Bling” in a T-Mobile Superbowl commercial brought in royalties from 130 countries where the game was broadcast.
BMI and ASCAP reported over $590 million in sync revenue from 2015 alone. These sync licenses bring extra attention and sales revenue to both new artists, like when Feist’s “1 2 3 4” was featured in an iPod Nano commercial in 2007, to older artists like The Mamas & The Papas whose 1965 hit “California Dreamin’” is making a resurgence via an H&M commercial for Coachella.
Sync is one of the biggest tools for success in music today, and it’s paying off big for songwriters.
Berklee’s Open Music Initiative brings streaming services together with labels for more efficient royalty matching.
Goliaths of the industry, from major labels to streaming stores, came together this month to help streamline digital music distribution and copyright. These groups are working with The Berklee College of Music’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE) as part of the Open Music Initiative (OMI) to create better royalty matching solutions for publishers and streaming services alike.
Berklee is joining with teams from the MIT Media Lab and the University of London to create advancements in matching technology, which will help with the speed and accuracy of royalty reporting. While strides have been made in the past, BerkleeICE believes that the support from institutions, industry executives, and distribution services like TuneCore will give OMI the push it needs to succeed.
“The internet led to an explosion of innovation precisely because of its open architecture. We now have the tools to build an open architecture for music rights, using a decentralized platform,” said Neha Narula, director of research, Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. “We’re excited to work with BerkleeICE and the Open Music Initiative to create a foundation for innovation, not only in rights management but in music itself.”
OMI is hitting the ground running this summer, with their inaugural gathering held in NYC on June 22nd, and a three-week innovation lab to be held in Boston from July 11th-29th.
An open-sourced platform around creative rights could be just the thing the industry needs to create a unified force against outdated legislation.
Make sure you’re receiving all of the songwriter royalties that you’re entitled to by joining our Music Publishing Administration.
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