Experts panel: the secrets to unlocking the value of music catalogues


Music Ally’s Global Experts panel is an international group of industry leaders. Each month we put a single, vital question to them about today’s music industry – and ask them what should happen next.

If the recent big-money acquisitions are anything to go by, catalogue – both recording and publishing – has never been valued higher.

Hipgnosis is splashing hundreds of millions of dollars on the composition rights of big-name songwriters as fast as it can raise the money, and the $300m sale of Taylor Swift’s recordings to a private equity company is an intriguingly murky high-stakes tale.

While frontline releases dominate the top of streaming charts, there is still a lot of unlocked value sitting in catalogues, and in 2020, all it takes is a video of a skateboarding man chilling to an MOR classic to catapult a song from stasis to an international audience.

The value of catalogue music is, perhaps, that it is waiting to be rediscovered by new and old audiences. To rejuvenate old songs, some modern thinking is needed – and that’s where our Experts come in.

We asked them: where can value be found in catalogue, how do you rekindle interest in a song, and how can we unlock it with innovative marketing and new technology?

Use new technology to find new use-cases for classic songs

There’s still huge importance in knowing all the songs in your catalogue, not just the famous ones, says Jane Dyball, ex-CEO of the Music Publishers Association, and founder of Laffittes Ltd.

“There’s clearly a lot of untapped value in catalogue music. If you look at a classic album like Dare by Human League, there’s one track off that album that’s exploited to oblivion, and three other hit singles that you rarely hear: 222m Spotify streams for Don’t You Want Me, vs only 11m for Love Action, which is just as good a song (and arguably even a better one). To my mind that presents an opportunity.”

Those opportunities, she says, are familiar – synchs, covers and samples – but also, “from new markets such as apps and games. That’s what makes keeping an eye on, and supporting, startups so important.”

There are lots of artists with ‘hidden’ songs that are just as good as their mega-hits, and with some careful placement and use, a new audience may discover them. John Lennon’s recent deal with TikTok licensed 11 of his solo tracks to the platform, and while ubiquitous hits like Imagine and Instant Karma! might be the ones users initially jump on, TikTok and Lennon’s estate were keen to launch with a challenge around the less-obvious Gimme Some Truth.

Robyn Kennedy, Sync Licensing Manager at Bucks Music Group, agrees: “one of the best ways to unlock additional value from catalogue music is to license it for use in media such as advertising, film, TV or games. It doesn’t have to be a hit song either – with so much new content being made, there’s ample opportunity to sell music into projects. Not only can you negotiate a fee for the use, but it can also introduce the music to a new audience.”

Modernising songs isn’t just about placement, she says – look for ways to make songs sounds right for the niche markets of today: “if you’re open to remixing or re-recording catalogue tracks, we’ve noticed a recent trend of advertisers wanting familiar tracks from past decades with a modern twist.”

This is a very modern confection – but one that can command a broad audience. It’s also commercially less risky: audiences and brands are seeking safe songs choices that are more likely to perform, coupled with a cosy nostalgia, and a modern production sheen.

Storytelling is even more important than ever

New platforms offer opportunities to drive people back into music, or to discover it for the first time. The recent resurgence of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams after the aforementioned viral TikTok video may (or may not) have been a charming fluke, but offers a set of instructions on how to bring an old song to life for a new generation.

Jennifer Kirell, VP, Catalogue Marketing at AWAL, thinks that you must consider catalogue music to be of the moment, not the past: “The key to unlocking the value of catalogue music is to not think about it as “catalogue” music. This is important. As the barriers to discovery continue to fall, a myriad of avenues are opening up for any great artist or song to be discovered, whether it’s five months, five years, or five decades old.

“Platforms like TikTok and fitness apps are catapulting music to the masses in new, unique ways. In addition, strategic placements in mood / contextual playlists and gaming synchs can and are helping drive discovery or re-discovery of amazing music, regardless of whether it was released before or after a certain date.

“Savvy marketers are embracing these opportunities for storytelling and consistently shine a spotlight on existing repertoire and artists in front of new or lapsed fans around any moment that triggers a listener to want to revisit or discover.”

Beth Appleton, GM Australia and SVP Marketing Australasia for WMG also points to the resurrectional power of new apps. “Platforms such as TikTok and Triller are proving that music is timeless – and as people inspire us with their creativity with great tracks, we are seeing old songs have a new life.

“For my eleven year old daughter Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams and Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline are new! The historic gate keepers of hits – radio and retail – no longer have the duopoly. Hits can come not only from anywhere but anytime! We just need to create a story and a moment.”

Fleetwood Mac’s resurgent Dreams is the of-the-moment example of this process. All that was needed to bring the song to life to a younger generation was a proven, broad-appeal hit, some latent artist-recognition (via a parental record collection or a streaming playlist), and a “cool” re-framing on the app of the moment.

And when a song blows up afresh, it may take on a life of its own – and create unexpected income: artists are now capitalising on the newly-minted recognition factor of Dreams by recording covers of it.

Thoughtful hardware can revive catalogue for significant niche audiences

Innovative uses of physical technology are not impossible, and still highly desirable, even in the age of the smartphone and smart speaker. And in the case of one well-established Indian label, selling devices with pre-loaded classic songs can rejuvenate an entire company, as Tarsame Mittal, Founder of TM Talent Management explains:

“The best example in recent times is Carvaan by the oldest music label in India, Saregama. They put their entire catalogue of classics in a physical jukebox, and raised their revenues and growth by multiple times.”

Saregama found they had a giant hit on their hands by identifying the needs of a less-tech-savvy audience who still desire rapid access to a specific catalogue music.

Tarsame repeats the mantra of many of our experts: you have to know who wants the music, and how they want it delivered to them.

“You have to find the USP of your catalogues, be sure about its audience, understand what more you can do with the catalogues and its fans.” In Saregama’s case, the rewards for getting this right are obvious, with over two million units sold so far since launch in 2017.

New hardware that fleshes out the catalogue experience is having a bit of a moment: musician Tom Vek is crowdfunding a square-screened, record-sleeve-like music player that adds contextual sleevenotes and info to classic albums, and Oda is not only making very tasteful speakers, but also offering subscriptions to “seasons” of performances from established artists.

Don’t miss the low-hanging fruit

Aibee Abidoye, general manager of Chocolate City Group, warned against overlooking the answers right under your nose – there is a lot of value in, “tying the songs around key celebrations and running digital campaigns, like for Valentines Day and Christmas,” she said.

Release anniversaries, or artist life events will also be simple but high-impact opportunities for pushing catalogue: “Greatest Hits and remasters can be promoted by the Artist on the anniversaries either of the release, key milestones – or personal wins.”

And this approach does grab a lot of attention for artists, even ones that have not released music for a long time. “Talent-Owned” podcasts that tell the story of favourite albums or bands – like Listen Up: The Oasis Podcast, or Striped: The Story Of The White Stripes – can be synchronised with key album anniversaries, and revive interest for fans that have drifted across to a different media, like podcasts.

Finally – understand the repercussions of assigning your copyright

With catalogue music, of course, comes contractual agreements signed in the past – maybe many years ago. President of Songtrust Molly Neuman offers a word of caution to artists who are wondering how they could best use their catalogue now – or how their new songs may be used in the future when it turns into “catalogue”. Education, she says, is the name of the game.

“Issues around creative and business autonomy is one of the more interesting aspects to consider with regard to catalogue monetisation. I fully support rightsholders who strategically assign their copyrights knowing what it means for their career and the works they represent.

“However, there are a number of headline examples of songwriters and artists who have entered into agreements early on only to regret it later for any number of reasons. I do hope that the current generation of new artists, songwriters, and producers are fully informed of all the issues surrounding their rights, what restrictions might be in place based on the agreements they are offered, and how these agreements impact catalogue monetisation.”

Written by: Joe Sparrow