Subconscious Headset: Should I Sign With A ReTitle Library? or It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Sting.

By Chris Jones

Chris Jones

Chris Jones

With master recording licensing and synchronization now being the current revenue-generating and promotional system in the music industry, we see all the traditional recording exploitation boundaries disappearing.

Music libraries take on scoring gigs, produce artists/songwriters, and ad work while maintaining their catalogs of TV-ready production music. Record labels seem to be fully hitched to omni-lateral licensing pie, artist-endorsed ad campaigns, single tie-ins, whatever. Add the quick-and-easy factor of digital delivery AND soon-to-be ubiquitous audio recognition tech AND deeper metadata AND the slippery slope of what passes as acceptable quality both audio- and video-wise AND this is America, the land of excess. Production = bigger and faster, but not always better.

Point: The “production music” pool is one big pattern-recognizing server of every kind of gang. It’s all our turf. Can you dig it?

One of these “gangs” or business models in production music specific publishers is the re-title library or (to illustrate points using metaphor and acronym) “inert” libraries. It’s a (typically) Independent Non-Exclusive ReTitle music library that will rep your catalog after they give your (only) master a unique title. The library then registers that unique title to their PRO (be it ASCAP, BMI, et al.) as that titles’ “publisher” and can then go forward and collect future performance royalties on said title and also collect any other fees (direct license, sync) associated with licensing. From the research I’ve done, this model has the composer world polarized yet unified in one aspect: we seem to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

On the surface, one would think: What’s to lose? I have tons of crap sitting on my drive doing nothing for nobody no-how. If someone can make me money and wants to take 50% please be my guest. And it’s non-exclusive? Even better. I’ll look up every re-title library and get cracking. Man, I am sitting on a fucking gold mine.

So, should I sign with an inert library? That question creates more questions and that is the universal choking sign of a deal to me. I agree that the inert model could be a positive way to crowd-source useful, high-quality, and (most importantly) available masters. But I speak from the viewpoint of a composer that has a specific agenda of producing a high volume of library music for the big exclusive Production Music Association (PMA) libs in addition to what I’ll call “custom” music like songwriting, sound design for composers, remixing, whatever.

There are many ways to poke holes in the inert model, but let’s start with imminent ubiquity of audio pattern recognition technology. BMI acquired BlueArrow almost 5 years ago, and ASCAP has been working on Mediaguide since 2002. These are technologies and services that give your audio/masters a fingerprint via audio analysis, not traditional watermarking (which is hit-or-miss and distorts the file). The tech then monitors broadcasts looking for matches. Soon (the sooner the better) all broadcasts are going to be monitored with this robotic vigilance. Unfailing accuracy. Amid endless dirty AM radio ads, it will be searching for your singularly unique combination of digital DNA. Wait, what-the? This track has 5 titles and 5 publishers…the robot computes.

I’m curious how that’s going to work.

Plus, I thought the whole idea in business was to be exclusive. Where’d that go?

So I send this stupid breakbeat track called “A” to inert lib A. Inert lib A registers “A” to ASCAP as publisher. Already I’m uncomfortable. I send the same exact file to inert lib B. All the way to fucking Z. I have 26 people claiming to publish my tracks? Are they all undercutting each other or is there a standardized fee? The fee is nothing because you gave sync away in lieu of the slow buck? You just gave away my 50% of shared sync but I guess the contract says you are publisher so you have that right. Oh and the gig was non-broadcast so there is no slow buck. No buck at all.

Oh well I’ll see money on the back end.

Holy shit, there are 50,000 tracks on this drive! The editor, overhearing my subconscious italics, says 50,000 is way too much bullshit to wade through and goes back to cutting a backend-less corporate video. Then he looks closer. He’s pissed because it’s the same 50,000 tracks the guy from inert lib G left last week. He went through a random 100 or so and they all sucked so he figured they all must suck. Therefore, all inert libs must suck, he thinks. No wonder he waived sync. To charge would have been criminal and there’s no way he paid for this music.

I only have 25 tracks on that drive. I hope the users find them. Back-end may not enter the picture because there’s tons of shit you never see called non-broadcast. It’s all front-end. So if they waive sync I’m screwed. If they direct license I’ll do better at .0002%, unless it’s .0002% of zero.

I hope A-Z keep tabs on the reporting process. I hope the drives aren’t circulating. I hope an exclusive deal on a track doesn’t come along because that would mean having to turn down a lot of money. I wonder if I could call every editor in the world that FTP-posted or p2ped my slutty one-offs and say, “I own the copyright on these masters and I want to sell them.” Seems like inert libs and their supporters wave the flag on “copyright control.” But how do you retain total control if your choice to sell exclusive is removed? Note: I worked with one inert model that had an “OK to buy” option but again…how could you repo that master if it’s in A-Z and beyond? I fear being the real publisher of these types of masters for these exact scenarios of potential ass-biting to be honest.

So, no, I don’t like it. I want people selling my stuff like they own it because they do. If you own music and want to re-purpose it please do. But why not re-cut it into expected TV format and sell it to a proper exclusive library with sales, search, and broadcast (back-end) clients? Refuse to re-cut because you “channelled” something or claim “it would just feel like murder”? You are a precious lazy bastard. It’s a reject of some kind. That’s why it’s sitting on your drive. Slap some make-up on and make a :30. If you get frustrated because you cannot re-cut a through-composed orchestral film score, just think what a TV editor will say.

Regardless of what type of library model you love or hate, consider this: you still have to go away and make amazing tracks appear out of thin air every day. None of these arguments apply to composers that are unaware of their music’s failure to meet the creative and technical requirements to be broadcast in the 21st century.

  • shaun

    SO what is the way around this? Slight remixing and/or remixing of files to circumvent the audio fingerprinting? Changing the lengths of the files? I don’t know much about this technology, but would hate to have to limit myself to only one music library for my tracks. After all, limiting my tracks to ONE would mean I would have to choose between EITHER another library or MY OWN library–and although I hardly have enough hours in a day to plug my own library, the idea of giving exclusivity to a singular entity, whose main purpose is to grow as large as possible–increasing revenue for itself while simultaneously making the individual composer less and less significant–well this is not appealing at all….

    What do you think?

  • shaun

    SO what is the way around this? Slight remixing and/or remixing of files to circumvent the audio fingerprinting? Changing the lengths of the files? I don’t know much about this technology, but would hate to have to limit myself to only one music library for my tracks. After all, limiting my tracks to ONE would mean I would have to choose between EITHER another library or MY OWN library–and although I hardly have enough hours in a day to plug my own library, the idea of giving exclusivity to a singular entity, whose main purpose is to grow as large as possible–increasing revenue for itself while simultaneously making the individual composer less and less significant–well this is not appealing at all….

    What do you think?

  • Shaun-

    The problem(s) I see with the “inert” model aren’t just the fingerprinting tech that is already in place within the two main PRO’s in the US…but that looming tech ubiquity is enough. It’s the fact that any publisher or rep should be pushing their catalogs and since they did not buy the copyrights, really have limited motivation. The second problem is no network is going to touch this stuff so you lose out on proper broadcast performances. The third is no screening: even if your stuff is stellar it’s got a lot of floating to the top to do. I don’t know if this: “the idea of giving exclusivity to a singular entity, whose main purpose is to grow as large as possible” is entirely accurate or anything I’d hang my hat on. The PMA libs that are growing out of control and absorbing smal lib after lib are still exclusively repping those libs in a specific territory. If you have your “own” lib why not have a bigger PMA lib distribute it? Do short term agreements and if it isn’t working try someone else. At least this way you retain rights to choose what you want to do. The column is an editorial and my feeling is this: no one is doing me any favors if they don’t own the music. By buying it and contracting that publisher has committed time an money to the project and the composer. They also have the clients you want: broadcast network TV, post-houses, and all the (very diverse) admin required to manage an operation like a major PMA lib. Again, either way you slice it you have to go away and make amazing tracks that ANYONE will want to use or hear. Updating every inert lib you can find (to me) is a waste of time with very little chance of significant (or ANY) long-term return.

  • Shaun-

    The problem(s) I see with the “inert” model aren’t just the fingerprinting tech that is already in place within the two main PRO’s in the US…but that looming tech ubiquity is enough. It’s the fact that any publisher or rep should be pushing their catalogs and since they did not buy the copyrights, really have limited motivation. The second problem is no network is going to touch this stuff so you lose out on proper broadcast performances. The third is no screening: even if your stuff is stellar it’s got a lot of floating to the top to do. I don’t know if this: “the idea of giving exclusivity to a singular entity, whose main purpose is to grow as large as possible” is entirely accurate or anything I’d hang my hat on. The PMA libs that are growing out of control and absorbing smal lib after lib are still exclusively repping those libs in a specific territory. If you have your “own” lib why not have a bigger PMA lib distribute it? Do short term agreements and if it isn’t working try someone else. At least this way you retain rights to choose what you want to do. The column is an editorial and my feeling is this: no one is doing me any favors if they don’t own the music. By buying it and contracting that publisher has committed time an money to the project and the composer. They also have the clients you want: broadcast network TV, post-houses, and all the (very diverse) admin required to manage an operation like a major PMA lib. Again, either way you slice it you have to go away and make amazing tracks that ANYONE will want to use or hear. Updating every inert lib you can find (to me) is a waste of time with very little chance of significant (or ANY) long-term return.

  • Yadgyu

    By Yadgyu on September 17th, 2010 at 4:10 pm
    The lack of understanding regarding retitle libraries is frightening and perplexing!
    The argument against non-exclusive retitle libraries is only made by exclusive libraries. These companies are losing money to retitle libraries and are scared that the exclusive libraries will soon be coming to an end. The exclusive libraries are correct; their days are numbered and rightfully so.
    Every legal and ethical argument made against non-exclusive libraries are actively practiced by exclusive libraries. Exclusive libraries get control for a song into perpetuity. This means that the library has the right to use the song however it wants. Many exclusive libraries enter into deals with foreign publishers where the library collects fees that they do not have to pay to the writer of the song.
    Non-exclusive libraries only retitle for the sole purpose of splitting up the revenue streams from music. Sending the same song to different libraries makes perfect sense because your songs compete against one another instead of competing against songs from other composers. It is a win-win situation.

  • Spoonwood

    “Can you Dig it?” love the Warriors … it’s New York.. I’ll read thew article now..sorry.

  • Spoonwood

    Are the performance rights groups refusing to pay or support their artists because of the “multi” publishers problem ? Either way the “writer” will always be the same..no? I can say I’ve not scene any money from BMI for the library music I’ve placed.. I’ve placed a bit.

  • Yadgyu

    I got music in a bunch of retitle libraries. I get a check from my PRO every quarter. I am staying non-exclusive.

    Why the hell would I give away the copyright to my music? Most libraries that want exclusivity do not pay to acquire the rights to music. So I get to give away my music for free in perpetuity.

    Well if I go exclusive, I would get a license fee for every placement, right? No flipping way! Most libraries just do blanket licenses. So all I would get is the writer’s share for my efforts. That is only if the cue sheets were signed.

    Don’t believe the hype. If a library wants exclusivity, they should pay to acquire the music. Also, a license fee should be charged for each use and split 50/50 between the library and writer. Otherwise, an exclusive library is no different than a non-exclusive retitle company. Get smart!

  • Chris Jones

    I got music in a bunch of retitle libraries. I get a check from my PRO every quarter. I am staying non-exclusive.

    -OK

    Why the hell would I give away the copyright to my music? Most libraries that want exclusivity do not pay to acquire the rights to music. So I get to give away my music for free in perpetuity.

    -Not true.

    Well if I go exclusive, I would get a license fee for every placement, right? No flipping way! Most libraries just do blanket licenses. So all I would get is the writer’s share for my efforts. That is only if the cue sheets were signed.

    -It all depends what kind of deal you make. I have all types: buy-out, shares, mixed.

    Don’t believe the hype. If a library wants exclusivity, they should pay to acquire the music.

    -They do.

    Also, a license fee should be charged for each use and split 50/50 between the library and writer. Otherwise, an exclusive library is no different than a non-exclusive retitle company. Get smart!

    -No lib will give you 50/50 sync PLUS a full buy-out fee.

  • Chris Jones

    A 50/50 split of $0 is still $0. Diversification of your content = getting smart.