The music industry is very consolidated. There are only a handful of labels, talent agencies, digital service providers and promoters who make up the major music business. However, partners who help brands access the music industry come in all shapes and sizes. There are a ton of music houses, consultants, boutique sync reps, stock libraries and music agencies to help bridge the gap. For most brands and agencies, it’s very difficult to differentiate among them and find the right partner.
In this article, we focus on the major players in the music industry and how to select the right one based on the needs of your brand marketing projects.
Most Recognizable Music Is Controlled By One of Three Companies
Almost all of the music you hear on the radio is controlled by music companies referred to as The Big 3; Warner Music Group, Sony Music and Universal Music Group. These companies control roughly three-fourths of the global recorded music market, and are comprised of hundreds of smaller labels and publishing
companies that roll up into the 3 headed dragon that is the major recording industry.
It’s important to note that record labels and publishing companies control different aspects of a song. The record label controls the recording of the song, while the publishing company controls the underlying intellectual property that represents the songwriting. In other words, publishing controls the actual musical composition. And while the major music companies control the majority of the publishing rights as well, sometimes a single song can have shared ownership between two or all three of the Big Three companies.
Of course, there’s a lot more music out there than what you hear on the radio. That additional 25% of commercial music not represented by The Big 3 is made up of an exponentially larger number of actual songs and owners – thousands of independent record labels and publishers all over the world. So, while The Big 3 represent most of the “popular” music that is widely distributed to every corner of the globe, it’s important to remember that there is a whole world of “mom and pop” music out there too.
Note: The full landscape is much more involved than this; for all intents and purposes of this article, we’ll keep it simple. Your music partner can help navigate the intricacies of the industry.
In the mainstream music industry, labels and publishers differentiate based on artist roster, and compete to have the best suite of artist services to attract the top, most lucrative talent to their company.
When it Comes to Music for Brands, the Options for Music Partners are Seemingly Endless
After reading the above, you may be thinking “Perfect, the music industry is quite simple. I’ll just have one of my business affairs / creative / producer / post-production folks reach out to X artist’s label and we’ll get them on board to use
their song in our next campaign.”
Well, not so fast. IF you already know what song you want to use, then we’re probably talking about a song from a pretty established artist. And with that much money on the line, you have to answer some pretty important questions before making first contact. What will you be using the song for specifically? For how long? How much SHOULD you pay for this? How much money do you want to budget for music? If that option is over budget (we could be talking upwards of a million or more) or the artist is not interested in working with your brand, or some other reason pops up preventing you from using the track… what are your back-ups? Even if the song is available and the artist is willing to collaborate, how do you need to structure the contract to make sure you get everything you need and avoid surprises in the future?
On the flip-side, what do you do if you don’t have household-name-artist budgets, where do you find song options? How do you figure out who owns the rights to those songs? And how do you make the decision of whether to use a cheaper, less well-known song, or go secure more money for a recognizable song if it will have a real impact on the project or its effectiveness?
I think you get the point. Oftentimes with music there are more questions than answers, and finding the right partners to navigate the landscape is absolutely essential.
For brands that have clear business objectives to achieve and consumer problems to address, there are a lot of additional factors to consider besides the clearance of a song. After all, we’re talking about leveraging the emotional power of music to make a multi-million dollar marketing campaign more compelling and effective.
In response to brands’ need for music, a whole slew of companies exist to help navigate the vast world of “music” and hone in on the legal, financial, creative, strategic, and process details for brands. For a brand or agency who sees music
as just one small piece of a larger production effort, different music partners may seem to do about the same thing. You might think, “Hm, we need a track for this project. I’ll call my buddy’s brother, he’s a “music guy” of some sort. He can help.”
The perception that everyone in music can do everything music-related has caused the majority of the business to run exclusively on relationships and not much else. That works when your friend is an actual expert in the area of music you need an expert in, but can become messy when a connection is not the expert they claim to be or they try to operate outside of their specific area of expertise.
Below we lay out just SOME of the companies working with brands now and what each one does.
This should help to identify specific areas of expertise within this part of the business, and give you a good idea of what is possible with music beyond simply licensing famous music from a major record label.
Boutique Music Licensing Catalogs – Represent a small roster of artists who are not signed to a major record label or publisher. “Emerging” (non-famous) talent. Usually it is very easy to get the rights to use the songs and much more economical than major label/publisher music. “Real” music by “real” artists.
Stock Music Catalogs – Inexpensive music you can license usually online, non-exclusively. Often “production music” without vocals, although these catalogs have been offering better quality over the years.
Custom Music Houses – Compose original or “bespoke” music, specifically for your project. Often they have a small team of composers on staff who do all of the composing across every genre.
Music Licensing Brokers – You tell them what song you want and they go negotiate the usage rights and pricing with the record label and publishers that represent that song.
Music Supervisors – These guys and gals listen to a lot of music to find the right song(s) for your piece and then legally secure the usage rights you need.
Sonic Branding Agencies – If you want to develop the sound of your actual brand (a Sonic Identity that complements the brand’s visual identity, if you will), these guys walk through your brand’s ethos and create sounds, melodies, song examples, an audio logo and more.
Music for Brands Agencies – This company acts as an agent (hence, “agency”) for its principal, the brand. Typically, this team is mostly focused on what the brand seeks to achieve and helps the brand make choices about how music is going to contribute to that end goal. So, a music branding agency may handle original music compositions, finding the right track and licensing it, negotiating rights to a famous song, shaping the brand’s musical point of view and more.
How do I Know What Resources Can Actually Help Me Solve Music for My Brand?
Start with answering a few questions with your team. Begin from the desired end result and work backwards:
- What is the project/brand trying to achieve?
- How does music fit into that? (If you’re not sure, that’s great! You may want to look for a resource to help you clarify the role of music.)
- How big of a priority is music for this project, and what is a reasonable budget? (“Reasonable” is relative, so make sure your budget reflects the market costs of music of this type.)
- Do we have clear alignment on how we will use music to achieve #1 and #2?
- Who do I have working on music right now and what is their level of expertise in the space?
By answering the questions above and using this article as a guide, you should be on a good path to getting the right music resources in place.
Now is a great time for brands and music. Music licensing is a major revenue stream for artists and the companies who represent them, and they are more interested in collaborating with brands than ever before. Not only do artists make their music available for licensing to brands, but also many artists truly want to collaborate with brands directly. In an upcoming article, we will lay out the opportunities to work with the artists themselves and the things you should consider before committing to a talent partnership.
There is a whole world of possibilities out there for using music in a way that makes an impact with consumers. When it comes to usage rights, budgets, briefing artists, determining what music will create an impact with consumers… there is a lot to consider. Empower yourself and your team with enough information to know what questions to ask and bring on experts to ensure music is making a difference for your consumers.