By Stefanie Flamm
From Rio to the US Presidential election, it’s been a busy summer for everyone, including songwriters around the world:
- Rio turns out to be as much a competition for artists looking to get sync placement as it is for the Olympic athletes.
- Donald Trump stirs even more controversy by using “We Are the Champions” at the Republican National Convention, against the wishes of Queen.
- Apple makes a motion to set a standard streaming rate, a move that would revolutionize royalty payments for songwriters.
Advertiser’s $1.2 billion budget for the Rio Olympics turns sync placement into a competition of its own.
It should come as no surprise that the Olympics is one of the most widely-popular televised sporting events around, particularly for US viewers. Even for a disappointingly low year, a whopping average of 27.5 million viewers watched Rio Olympic coverage via NBCUniversal over the 15 days of competition. And with that high number of average viewers, comes a high demand for prime advertising placement.
With the Olympic viewership paling only in comparison to the Superbowl, companies were chomping at the bit for an opportunity to intersperse the high-profile swim and women’s gymnastics competitions, among many others. Particularly at the opening ceremonies, with an outrageous rate of one commercial every eight minutes, there was a lot of competition amongst companies and ad agencies alike to help their product stand out from the crowd. This is where a skilled Music Supervisor comes into play.
Between the more US-friendly time zone and the hype surrounding high-profile athletes like Simone Biles, NBCUniversal had planned for a higher viewership than they received for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. As a result, companies were flocking to advertising agencies as early as a year before the competition began. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years — it’s the first time we’ve had to dig deep so early,” commented Grey Group Director or Music Joshua Rabinowitz.
Sync royalties for Olympic commercials were reaching upwards of $250,000 for the Rio games, not to mention the added benefit of an audience of 27.5 million people who could download or stream the song after hearing it.
Some agencies decided to stick with tried-and-true classics, like Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” or the Gershwin classic “Rhapsody in Blue,” and some chose to highlight newer artists, like Boys Noize’s “Rock the Bells.” A personal favorite advertisement for Nike included music from the 2003 song “Drums Are My Beat” by Sandy Nelson.
But not every song used for ad sync placement at the Olympics was a catchy or recognizable tune. Writers Andrew Simple and Michael Logan curated a sync-worthy song that snagged them a spot in a commercial for Folgers that left me quietly weeping at my desk. A colleague of Simple’s noted, “I knew it could be the soundtrack for a spot that taps into a close relationship,” and the song was pitched for sync placement before even being released.
Repeated unauthorized use of their song “We Are the Champions” on the Donald Trump campaign leaves Queen seeking legal action.
Whether you’re voting for him in November or you’re adamantly protesting against him, everyone can pretty much agree that Donald Trump isn’t playing by the rules of a typical US Presidential campaign. He brought this attitude to the world of publishing recently after his second unauthorized use of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
The issue first came up in June of this year, after the last Super Tuesday of the year when Donald Trump celebrated his victory over the last remaining primaries. Trump’s campaign blasted “We Are the Champions” to commemorate their victory, only it didn’t occur to anyone on Trump’s staff to acquire permissions from Queen first.
Queen’s guitarist Brian May immediately expressed his upset over this, taking to his personal website for a reaction statement. “…permission to use the track was neither sought nor given… Regardless of our views on Mr Trump’s platform, it has always been against our policy to allow Queen music to be used as a political campaigning tool.”
Unfortunately, Trump’s team did not see this statement as an unofficial cease-and-desist, as they played the song again this July at the RNC. After Melania Trump’s semi-plagiarized speech, the RNC was a one-two punch of intellectual property theft. Queen took to Twitter shortly after the broadcast to follow-up that Trump’s campaign had, again, failed to request permission to use the song.
This month, Queen’s publishing company Sony/ATV Music Publishing announced a formal statement regarding the Trump campaign’s use of “We Are the Champions:”
“Sony/ATV Music Publishing has never been asked by Mr. Trump, the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization for permission to use “We are the Champions” by Queen. On behalf of the band, we are frustrated by the repeated unauthorized use of the song after a previous request to desist, which has obviously been ignored by Mr. Trump and his campaign.
Queen does not want its music associated with any mainstream or political debate in any country. Nor does Queen want “We are the Champions” to be used as an endorsement of Mr. Trump and the political views of the Republican Party. We trust, hope and expect that Mr. Trump and his campaign will respect these wishes moving forward.”
Apple’s proposition to set a concrete, per-stream royalty rate could revolutionize songwriters’ relationship with streaming.
The battle between songwriters and streaming services has been around since the latter’s inception, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be easing up anytime soon. In the wake of the United States Department of Justice ruling for 100 percent licensing, songwriters and publishers alike are not satisfied with the DoJ’s perceived favoritism of streaming services. However, Apple has put an initiative into place that might change streaming payouts in favor of the songwriter.
In a proposal made by Apple, in conjunction with the Copyright Royalty Board, streaming services should pay 9.1 cents in songwriting royalties for every 100 times a song is played. While that only results in a payout of $0.0091 per stream, having a standard rate of streaming could mean more transparency between streaming services and songwriters.
“An interactive stream has an inherent value,” Apple wrote in their proposal, “regardless of the business model a service provider chooses.”
The need for the DoJ, streaming services, and songwriters to come together is ever-present in the increasingly streaming-friendly world. The general consensus seems to be at “freemium” streaming services like Spotify need to change their subscription models in favor of making more money for the songwriters. While this Apple proposition isn’t exactly giving songwriters what they’re asking for (and doesn’t necessarily favor its competitors’ pricing models), it’s a direct attempt to eradicate freemium streaming, and it looks like it may be a step in the right direction towards more harmony between artists and the streaming services that pay them.
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