About Kevin

Kevin is a Grammy nominated artist, podcaster, and indie musician advocate. He resides in Portland, OR where he is the Director of Marketing for CD Baby (cdbaby.com). Oh, yeah, he also plays guitar in Smalltown Poets.
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    Licensing Companies – What to look for and what to avoid

    This past week, I had a number of artists ask me about potential music licensing deals that they had on the table. The common concern was whether or not the deal they were being offered was legit. This is something that could be discussed in great detail on a case by case basis, but I thought I would give a few brief bullet points on some things to consider before getting involved with a licensing company.

    Are they a licensing company or a music library? – The lines can be a bit blurry here, but a general distinction between the two is that a licensing company will pitch individual tracks, where a music library might supply clients with a searchable hard drive of music with thousands of tracks. In general, a licensing company will get higher fees.

    What rights are they asking for? – At a minimum, you have to grant a licensing company the right to represent your music, but there can be varying levels of artist involvement for each placement they negotiate. Some contracts are pre-cleared(Meaning they don’t have to get the artist to sign off on each individual placement), and others give the artist the right of refusal before the deal goes through. Most indie artist will encounter pre-cleared contracts. Another thing to look for is if it’s exclusive or non-exclusive.

    What type of placements do they typically get? – All licensing companies are not created equally. Most of them have areas of strength and weakness, so one company may be really strong on network TV, but not as great at getting songs placed in film trailers. Another company may specialize in getting music into video games. One thing to watch out for are companies that do a lot of bulk licensing deals that return little money to the artists they represent

    What percentage do they take? – Fees can range between 20%-50% of the gross licensing fee, but it’s important to keep that in perspective. A small company that gets a high number of placements for you might be worth the 50% fee.
     
     
    *Things to Avoid*
     
    Don’t work with a company that asks for an upfront fee – They should make their money off of getting songs placed, not by getting you to sign up more songs

    Don’t grant them mechanical rights – Some licensing companies will slip some language into the contract that allows them to release your music in album form and make money off of it. A standard sync license contract is pretty straight forward, but granting mechanical rights ventures into record company territory which is far more complex. This should be avoided at all cost.

    Don’t permanently sign over any rights to the song – That would be more of a publishing deal, which can be beneficial, but it’s important to make a distinction between a publishing deal and a sync licensing representation deal.

    • http://www.hesahusky.com Dan Holmes

      Artists should also be wary of companies that will re-title their songs in order to collect a portion of the performance royalties.

    • http://kevinbreuner.com KevinB

      I didn’t include re-titling on the list because in general I agree with that you should be wary of it, but I have seen some cases where it makes sense. I talked to an artist who had that type of deal with his licensing company, and when I asked him why they signed that deal, he said, “Because they get us tons of placements!” They had been in over 10 movie trailers and a bunch of network TV stuff. It seemed like it was worth it in that situation to give up a little so the licensing has that extra motivation, buts they should be able to deliver.

    • Stephanie

      Should an artist be ok with a pre-cleared contract? I can see how it would help a licensing company be able to place your music faster, therefore creating more revenue for you, but what are you giving up in return?

      How can I find out if a licensing company generally places songs in tv or movie?

      What are mechanical rights?

    • http://kevinbreuner.com KevinB

      Stephanie,

      The only downside to a pre-cleared contract is that you won’t be able to give the OK on a placement by placement basis, so if you have any strong feeling about how your music is used, then you need to talk that through with the licensing company ahead of time. If it’s a smaller company, chances are good that they’ll be able to handle your requests and make note if them. Larger companies won’t have the time to fill you in on every placement, that’s why they always use a pre-cleared deal.

      Mechanical royalties refers to the money paid to the artist and songwriters when an album sells. Those deals are much more complicated, so don’t give a sync licensing company that right.

    • http://cdbaby.com/cd/ghostblacksandy Sean Carter

      I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE MY SONGS PLACED IN FILM OR TV. I’VE SEEN A FEW ON THE INTERNET, BUT KNOW ONE REALLY SAYS
      ANYTHING ABOUT HIP HOP & R&B MUSIC. ARE THEY HARDER TO PLACE
      THEN OTHER GENRE’S OF MUSIC?
      THANKS FOR LISTENING, SEAN CARTER,
      I CAN BE REACHED AT
      http://WWW.REVERBNATION.COM/GHOSTBLACK305 OR
      http://WWW.MYSPACE.COM/GHOSTBLACK305
      THATS WERE YOU CAN FIND ME & MY MUSIC’S. TAKE CARE ALL

    • http://kevinbreuner.com KevinB

      I wouldn’t say that Hip Hop and R&B are harder, but it is important to hook up with a licensing company that is good at placing that type of music. Never feel like you can’t ask a licensing company questions about what they are able to place. With licensing, it always come down to the type of contacts the licensing company maintains within the Film and TV industry. Some mainly focus on TV, others work more with ad agencies. Just be sure to ask, especially before you sign any exclusive agreement(Which I don’t recommend).

    • http://myspace.com/stunnaloadz STUNNALOADZ

      Are there any reputable companies that you can recommend?

    • J B

      When we get into a contract for sync licensing. Can we use that song on our own personal album or i tunes selling and at the same time let it play on TV or movies. Is that kind of contract possible?

    • http://kevinbreuner.com KevinB

      J B,

      The simple answer is yes. A standard sync license does not give the production using the song any ownership. You are free to do what you want as you still retain the rights. It’s always important to read a contract carefully though, as there are some instances where they may ask for extended rights.

    • http://deepseamusic.com Dan P-C

      Kevin,

      Where’s a good resource for understanding how a sync license works? Thx!

    • GW

      A company I’m talking to renames the songs. Takes 100% publishing! 50% mechanical writers share. A 15% admin fee up to $300! Also 25% if the writer writes something specific for the situation! Thoughts? Thank you!

    • http://www.awsm-music.com/ Kim A. Wagner

      Hi Kevin,
      Could you advise me on where we can locate contact information of established sync licensing companies (US and Canada). Is there a list we could obtain somewhere of these companies?

    • http://www.awsm-music.com/ Kim A. Wagner

      Will sync licensing companies seriously consider our music if we contact them directly or is it absolutely necessary to have representation? Any advise on what is the best approach?

    • http://www.awsm-music.com/ Kim A. Wagner

      Could someone advise me on where we can locate contact information of established sync licensing companies (US and Canada). Is there a list we could obtain somewhere of these companies?

    • NorthsideLou

      I got this list from an article by Emily White; Terrorbird, Lip Sync, Music Alternatives, Zync, and Bankrobber. HT Loren Wells