Sync and brand partnerships are increasingly important sources of income for musicians, but there remains some tension around brands working with artists directly, rather than arguing over fees with their labels.
That was one of the talking points from a session on ‘the business of music’ at the FastForward conference in Amsterdam today.
“The thing with sync is the promo versus revenue argument, which we’re constantly battling with: to what extent you’re prepared to give somebody your music in their communication, whatever it is, that helps that bands’ career,” said Rich Robinson, SVP of sync at Warner Music Group for the UK and EU.
“For us it’s largely about generating revenue for artists. We focus a lot on advertising, because that’s where a lot of revenue is for artists. If an artist is lending a brand their art to promote that brand, they should be remunerated accordingly… Sync is one of the things that we’re quite strict on thinking artists should be remunerated for.”
Robinson warned artists to see the value in their music, rather than be overawed by the size of a brand that wants to use it. “All John Lewis care is about their Christmas sales in the store, they don’t give a shit about the song,” he said.
That quote looks bad written down, but Robinson wasn’t insulting John Lewis. It was more a reminder that this kind of brand’s priority is understandably its own business rather than the financial health of the artist – which is why artists and labels have to stand up for the value of their music in any such negotiation.
Artist Anna Pancaldi was also on the panel, and talked about working with Levi’s in 2016 after auditioning for a campaign, then pitching an original song for it.
“Having only released one EP at that time, to be affiliated with a brand like that was brilliant,” she said. “I don’t think artists can really stick their noses up at it. It’s a new platform to reach fanbases you wouldn’t necessarily reach otherwise.”
Alex Clough, social media director at Splendid Communications, talked about some of the things that can turn a brand off working with a particular artist.
“Some artists will be drinking Red Bull on stage one week, and then wearing Doc Martens the next, and then crowdsurfing with Converse the next,” he said.
“It’s the words integrity and credibility. Is it an artist that has changed their approach to music three times in three years? Or is it an artist that has done their time, played the sticky rooms, developed and started to get some buzz? That’s the sort of stuff brands like to work with.”
The conversation regularly came back to the value of music in brand partnerships and sync deals, however, with Robinson stressing the importance of a genuine value exchange in the latter.
“The more somebody is asking of that artist and that music, the more they should be remunerated, whether it be financially or ‘promo’ in the loosest sense of the word,” he said. “And everything we do has the artist’s approval. If the artist goes ‘no way, why should I give them my music for free?’ and we’ll politely explain that to the client.”
Clough’s comment that “it’s certainly easier for the brand without a record label involved” sparked a spirited – but friendly – conversation over the merits of labels as middlemen in artist/brand transactions.
“You tend to be able to have a more open discussion about what the brand is going to be able to do for the artist, and that can affect the final price on the contract, particularly when you’re dealing with iconic global brands,” said Clough.
“It makes the conversations easier as a brand: ‘You can see what we’ve done, you know we’re not in this music partnership game for the short haul. We have x amount of visibility and media spend, the content will be seen by x many people’. That becomes an easier conversation to have with an artist that has a bit more independence about their decisions around what they do with the music.”
But Clough admitted that for artists signed to a label “that’s just not the way the label sees it, and we would not try to wangle that sort of a deal”.
Communion Music’s head of digital Claire Mas, who was also on the panel, quickly responded. “He means they’re cheaper!” said Mas. Robinson grinned. “It just means ‘we don’t have to pay you as much!’ There is an element of that, because the label will fight for the money, and that could be perceived as difficult,” he said.
“But labels – particularly majors – historically have been difficult to work with because they’re slow to respond. We’ve worked on that a lot to change it… Labels can be difficult and they can be slow, and I can understand the frustration of a brand waiting a week for a label to respond. That’s unacceptable. And in my experience publishers can be equally slow and difficult as well. So I can understand Alex’s point there.”
Mas and Pancaldi talked about the importance of a creative network for artists, rather than simply a web of commercial relationships.
“It’s about getting your artist to create a network… You can save a lot of money by having cool friends who are designers who can create your artwork, or photographers, videographers, people who do fashion… Anything that’s creative, having that network around you makes a difference,” said Mas.
“Having that network is so important,” agreed Pancaldi. “Making genuine connections rather than it just coming out of a pile of emails.” And she gave an example of a connection perfectly pitched for a thirsty music-industry audience.
“I really like gin! And before I had management, I just approached a gin company called Mason’s, and they created an infusion for me, a little elderflower gin! So there are things you can do on your own. It’s about finding the thing that the artist genuinely cares about,” said Pancaldi.
The panel also talked about the importance of storytelling – “where you tell a narrative of how the artist has lived and what they’ve done which has led them to this point at which you’re doing a story,” said Clough, citing Levi’s partnership with Skepta as an excellent example.
Mas asked him if there are also more brands offering less creative deals: for example, paying musicians a fee to post an endorsement on a social platform like Instagram.
“Unfortunately it is growing. Unfortunately for the quality of content. Just doing that and paying for that, I think a lot of people can see through that,” said Clough. “It’s totally down to you if you want to make that choice, but be prepared with your community, particularly if you’re an artist with a point of view, to have that challenged.”
Meanwhile, Robinson fielded a question about whether the exploding world of online / digital video, from YouTubers to the original shows on Netflix, is creating new opportunities for sync.
For the Netflix / Amazon Prime style originals, Robinson explained that as things stand, a platform like Netflix tends to ‘buy out’ a song for perpetuity, like a traditional film sync deal.
“It’s still being hammered out. When they create original stuff, they’re buying out the track as if it’s a movie,” he said. “There are moves afoot to look at some sort of blanket licence that covers those sorts of streaming services.”
And YouTubers, who are more likely to be buying ‘royalty-free’ production music than striking sync deals with labels? “The YouTubers is something we’re talking about a lot at the minute. It’s still developing,” said Robinson. “It’s still being sussed out.”