Production music isn’t an area we’ve written about regularly in the past for Music Ally, since it didn’t have much of a digital focus. That’s changing fast, however.

YouTube in particular, and the need of its burgeoning community of creators for background music that won’t earn them copyright strikes, is opening up new territory that’s already being mined by companies like Epidemic Sound, Audio Network and No Copyright Sound.

A conference panel run by Music Ally at the by:Larm festival in Oslo this morning investigated, with the help of two of those companies.

Epidemic Sound’s head of growth and marketing Edward Høglund and Audio Network’s product and customer experience lead Matthew Hawn were joined by Upright Music’s head of licensing Maria Therese Seefelft Stæhr, with Music Ally MD Steve Mayall moderating.

“Sync is one of the most exciting places for artists and music, and as it evolves, it is opening up a new world,” said Hawn. “It’s all about experimentation now.”

Both Audio Network and Epidemic Sound run production libraries where they own 100% of their rights – “the only one between the musician and the ones buying the sync” as Høglund put it. Upright Music represents music rather than owns it, but nevertheless represents all the rights, for similarly-speedy deals.

“We don’t call ourselves a production library any more, we call ourselves a global music company that is aimed foremost at creative projects,” said Hawn. “A lot of it looks like a production library and that’s how it started, but the way it is evolving is not. It’s just a music company.”

The panel talked business models. These companies are flexible: Audio Network has a blend of a la carte sales of its tracks, as well as subscriptions for its more engaged customers, as does Epidemic Sound – the latter has network-wide deals with some multi-channel networks covering all their creators.

“That’s the challenge with the high-volume market. All three of us are trying to educate millions of content creators out there: hey, you can’t just steal music. And the same goes for YouTube, trying to educate that you can pay by watching ads or by watching YouTube Red,” said Høglund.

Epidemic Sound pays its composers upfront for their music, but it has been experimenting – as has Audio Network – with also making those songs available on consumer services like Spotify. In those cases, the original creator gets 50% of the revenues.

“We are still 100%, our aim is to be the best music provider for anyone doing video. That’s what we do. We’re not out there to do hits. But it’s interesting what’s happening,” he said.

The panel talked about one of the challenges in this area: how the production libraries intersect (or don’t) with collecting societies. Høglund said that “most of the societies” rule that composers can’t work with both for a song.

“We’d like that, but no. Most of the societies stipulate that. We would like the composers or artists to be able to choose, but in most countries they are not allowed to do that,” he said.

Hawn said Audio Network takes a different view. “We do belong to PROs, in fact our head of copyright sits on the PRS board in the UK. We believe very strongly that’s still where most of the money is,” he said.

“I wouldn’t take that away from our composers… we buy out the sync right, but the back-end right we try to be 50/50 with our composers… I’m not saying PROs are a perfect place. No one would like to see that fixed more than us. But we’re choosing to work within that system for now, because that’s where the money is – certainly for television and advertising.”

Stæhr agreed that she would like to see the collecting societies adapt to the new trends around production music.

“Right now it doesn’t really get that much focus, and then it’s hard to get it working in a proper way. That not forces, but invites a lot of clients to work with you, because it’s easier in that sense,” she said.

“It could be more fair if actually the PROs were looking more into working this out so the clients would choose the music for the music, rather than the business model.”

“That’s a super point!” said Hawn. “Choose the music and not the business model!”

The conversation turned to the quality levels of modern production music: “This is not a couple of guys on a keyboard,” said Hawn.

Audio Network recently worked with Chief Xcel of hip-hop group Blackalicious, as one example, funding the costs of recording upfront. “We own the sync right for that and the copyright for that, but 50% of that is our standard for deals… That only makes the syncs more valuable,” said Hawn.

Mayall brought up the example of Norwegian artist Alan Walker, who had a global hit with ‘Faded’ based on its initial popularity on YouTube channel No Copyright Sounds, which operates under the umbrella of UK music company AEI Media, making music available for free usage by YouTubers in their videos.

“Del Dias, who runs AEI, his company was really forward-thinking in that right,” said Hawn, citing its previous work with curatorial brand UKF. “He took the 17 year-old kid who ran UKF and said ‘come into my company’. I think that was incredible, and it’s what helped them do what they did with No Copyright Sounds.”

He did express concern about some of the phrasing used around this area, however.

“I don’t love the phrase ‘no copyright’, and ‘royalty free’ drives me crazy. We try not to use royalty free in our marketing, which is hard because that’s what people are searching for. But we are trying to get artists paid,” he said.

“What NCS has been doing is amazing, really impressive… People have longed for that kind of service, because they longed to be able to use music. They can pay for it as well. They just want something that works, where you don’t get a wrongful claim or copyright strike when you use a track,” said Høglund.

He went on to suggest that companies like Epidemic Sound are providing an important new source of income for composers and musicians.

“It’s more obvious that it’s tough for a jazz musician to make a living in the age of streaming. But we have load of composers who are super-niche in their territories, and we’re super-proud that we can provide their music – scoring music for us is their day job,” he said.

“This is a really fluid space,” said Hawn. “I think you’ll see us experiment in this space for the next five years, while the PROs catch up.”

Høglund stressed that composers can move between the production-music and traditional label worlds, rather than be forced to pick one or the other permanently.

“We’ve had a composer writing for us for years, but deciding to step out of our world and into the royalty world again. We applaud that and hope they make it. That’s what we want to see: people moving across. We don’t see the old model as bad, we just want to offer an alternative,” said Høglund.

Hawn ended with a cautionary note on production-music pricing, as this sector evolves.

“The stock photography world is a cautionary tale for us. If you get to the point where everything looks like it’s a dollar for clip-art – two guys shaking hands over the table – if that happens for music, we’re doomed,” he said. “That means not racing to the bottom on price.”

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