There has very recently been a series of reactionary editorials bandying about in cyberspace regarding the fair compensation of artists in today’s technological landscape. This NPR editorial begat this NPR editorial, which was met with this response by a mainstream artist, that led to this reponse by a reasonably successful indie artist. Unsurprisingly, they all had different viewpoints on the way music is changing, and the way these changes apparently aren’t being adapted to by some musicians who once were able to somehow make a living off of record sales. If you choose to indulge in these articles, please set aside a fair amount of time, especially for Lowery’s editorial, which, despite him stating otherwise, comes off as wholly condescending, judgmental, and ridiculously unrealistic.
Now I fit in kind of on the lower end of the age spectrum here, and that’s important. I’d say about a decade separates me from Emily White and Travis Morrison, who is roughly a decade younger than David Lowery. I was old enough to see the transition from cassettes to CDs, and to live through most of my childhood without much worthwhile internet access. I certainly did make cassette dubs of other people’s records, and I recorded the hell out of college radio, an act I hold in the highest of importance regarding my understanding of music. I remember when burning CDs was a brand new venture, one that I had trouble believing was possible. I remember Napster. I was also heavily involved with my college’s radio station for every year of my undergraduate studies, and took advantage of promos and library access with reckless abandon.
I am also a musician that has played in many bands, and has had many records released by said bands on extremely small indie labels. As such, I can barely relate to Travis Morrison’s success with his band The Dismemberment Plan. Lowery’s bands might as well be Def Leopard. Whatever that guy is complaining about in regards to music is outside of my realm of understanding, even if his first band was supposedly a purveyor of “DIY ethics” (probably before signing to a major label).
The main thrust of my argument is that the all-important record label, something Lowery seems strangely bent on defending, is becoming increasingly less important. In fact, I’d say that outside of making really sexy looking limited-run LPs for niche audiences who enjoy such things, they’re borderline irrelevant now. I also bet that record labels are more of a hindrance to a lot of important older music that nobody will ever legally get to hear because the label-owned recording has gone out of print, and/or is mired in red tape.
That brings me to the main point that isn’t addressed by any of the aforementioned articles. I think it would better serve music as a whole to try and use today’s technology to empower both the artist and music fan, and not make them both feel like they’re indebted to an antiquated business model or faceless company. Is there an alternative to buying a physical copy (which people don’t generally seem to want anymore), legally streaming the music (which apparently doesn’t compensate artists fairly), or downloading it legally (which not enough people seem to do)? One alternative is to completely cut the label out of the equation. Distribution channels are no longer monopolized by big labels, and if you need a loan, go to the bank, or better yet, start a kickstarter account. While you’re at it, start a PayPal account, too and/or a site like bandcamp so people can buy directly from you (and in a variety of file types to boot). As usual, it’s up to the band to figure out ways to get exposure, but, these days, putting yourself in a situation where you need to move 10,000 “units” before seeing a profit is absolutely ludicrous. It’s sad that Lowery won’t get a chance to issue his band’s older recordings this way unless he keeps waiting, or buys the masters from the label for exorbitant amounts, but that’s the legacy of the record label in 2012. I suppose he could set up a personal donation page if he doesn’t mind Virgin not getting a cut.
When I first started seriously composing stock audio on AudioJungle last summer, many of the highest selling songs on the site featured the ukulele. Fast forward a year, and this really hasn’t changed. What once seemed like a trend has become something different…and I’m not sure what. Even this current national advertisement features a song from AudioJungle that’s over 2 years old, and has been sold over 1600 times (!). To say that the ukulele is played out and overused is an understatement, particularly in advertising. The fact it persists as the musical focal point of so many of today’s commercials either speaks to the public’s insatiable love for the runty instrument, or of a severe lack of creativity in advertising.
I found a great New York Times article on the ukulele’s popularity from over a year ago, and even then the article spoke of the instrument’s over-saturation in advertising. It also pointed out the possible origin for this craze: Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s cringe-inducing version of “Over the Rainbow”, a song I heard at virtually every wedding I did sound for while living in California (so we’re talking 50+, maybe?). The article goes on to tout the ukulele as the instrument for the non-musician, and while I’m not sure I’d go there, I will say that at this point it’s kitsch. Period.
While people may love the uke because of the warm feelings it helps generate, there is more than one way to skin a cat. A different approach will likely yield the same results, and will alleviate the risk of people tuning out at the first strum. So, please, if you have to use a ukulele, please do so in moderation.
Compromise plays a role in everyone’s life. Whether it’s with fairly small scale day to day things, or large life altering decisions, compromise has a way of shaping and changing things in a substantial way. With artists, it’s an even bigger deal. And as it becomes increasingly possible as a musician to gain widespread exposure on a grassroots level via today’s burgeoning technology, the option of “selling out” has become less tempting. The reliance the musician once had on the all-powerful record label is falling by the wayside, and with that goes their willingness to compromise their music, and with that comes leverage. The musical artist, increasingly empowered, holds the cards. You need them more than they need you.
This seems like a strange game marketing agencies seem to like to play. In a previous blog post it was discussed that licensing music has become far more prevalent in advertising than hiring a composer, at least according to one industry source. However, with things moving in the direction they currently are in the “music industry”, I can only imagine it’s going to become increasingly difficult to wrangle a song away from an artist for an ad campaign. As a composer and producer of music, I see this as an opportunity to showcase what original music can do for a production. Music that’s created to support original visuals and highlight their emotional content, not songs created for their own sake, to sell records, or to pack clubs. There is a fundamental difference here which just reinforces my feeling that the true power of music is rarely utilized in association with visual media. That’s why in the rare instances you see it, you know.
I read a very interesting interview (which I found thanks to John Presley at musiccomposerblog.com) with Ryan Fitch, an accomplished music supervisor at a seemingly large advertising agency. In addition to giving some great links and advice, he also spoke a lot about the appeal of using licensed music almost to how I’d hear an A&R rep talk about their job. In his experience, because there is just so much music that’s already created and therefore able to be licensed, the situation that requires something original from a composer doesn’t present itself nearly as much as it used to. Sigh.
Most interesting to me was a recent campaign he was involved with in which he professes to have spent hours trying to shoehorn a licensed track into a commercial, and could only successfully do so after cleverly disguising an odd time signature with sound design. After watching the commercial, I was really confused about why the track in question absolutely had to be “the one”. The music itself is a pretty nondescript repetition of a single phrase with minimal vocals, slightly modified towards the end. The song apparently didn’t naturally work, and had to be modified considerably, thus taking the time that licensed music was supposed to save. In other words, this was an easily replicable piece a qualified composer would have no problem scoring to the existing footage in a few hours. Why they didn’t go this route didn’t make sense to me. There must be something else at work here. That’s when I saw the Shazam logo.
I figured there was no better way to understand their angle than by “Shazamming” the commercial and seeing the results for myself. After dow
nloading the app (and skipping Shazam’s many attempts to get up in my bidness), I played the commercial. To my surprise, the only thing I discovered about the song itself was the artist and title. No link to listen to it, no link to buy it, no link to the artist’s website. Nada. There was, however, a contest I could enter in addition to other links I could follow to product related social marketing.
Let me state that I do not see any issue at all here with the way the music was used in this advertisement. Consent was obviously given, and I’m sure everything was above board. I do, however, understand why some artists seem to be apprehensive about licensing their music to advertising campaigns. In addition to the all-important credibility the song adds to the product, the sound of of the music itself is now tied to the product in a way that almost supersedes that simple association licensed music usually provides. The notes the artist wrote on their guitar, in this particular case, now directly link to a product they didn’t create. That’s pretty heavy.
The interview reinforced, but also shed some new light on, my view regarding why ad agencies so actively license music as opposed to having something original tailored specifically for their campaign. It’s not just credibility they’re after, but an additional way of presenting the consumer with their product. This opens up new avenues while also creating new dilemmas for the artist, some of which I’ve witnessed first hand. Ultimately, it’s good to see the power of music taken seriously, and hopefully that aspect won’t change in a constantly changing industry.
As you may have noticed, nearly all of my royalty free music is available for purchase via AudioJungle, which is part of the Envato Marketplace. Despite the fact that they have a little more downtime than I’d like, as an author I find the site attractive, the music of high quality, and the community very helpful. Since purchasing my music requires you to sign up for an account with Envato, I wanted to highlight some of the best parts of a diverse marketplace that includes something for everyone.
The Envato Marketplace consists of 9 different sites which all sell a different range of royalty free products. Aside from AudioJungle, I have experience with ThemeForest and PhotoDune. ThemeForest sells HTML and CMS templates, providing an easy way to revamp your website without having to hire a designer or spend hours coding HTML. Want an example of a template available from ThemeForest? You’re looking at one! The amount of excellent content at ThemeForest is amazing, and the customer service you get from the designers themselves is an added bonus that really makes the service an outstanding bargain. Examples of products from PhotoDune are also on display on this site. Most obvious are the large, high quality photos displayed on the home page advertising my music. While PhotoDune is a new site, the images are plentiful and professional, and will surely provide options for those in the market for stock photographs.
Happy with your website or blog, and not in need of any stock music or photography? Try VideoHive for After Effects project files, video, and motion graphics. GraphicRiver provides Powerpoint themes, and Photoshop templates to spruce up your resume or business cards, for example. 3DOcean sells all things 3D for advanced modeling, and CodeCanyon provides HTML script for everything from plug ins to players to forms for your website. Looking for eBooks or “How To” guides? TutsPlus is for you.
So, please don’t sweat the sign up. Envato is a wonderful marketplace with a wide variety of quality items, and I’m sure you’ll be glad you took the extra few seconds to make an account when checking out.
Call it “spring cleaning in July” if you must, but I’ve blown the digital dust off of some of my past compositions and featured them on AudioJungle for your licensing pleasure. I feel these pieces deserve better than being hidden on my hard drive for a rainy day, and may work perfectly now for the person in search of something unique to add to their video, film, podcast, etc. The list of exclusively available pieces is ever growing as I root through the archives, and they are available for a very, very reasonable price.
Now this whole thing is a bit of a double edged sword. While I feel like the amount of compensation I’m getting for the licensing of my works doesn’t nearly equate to what they’re worth with regard to how much time I spent on them, it is promoting both the use of original music in independently produced media (ie not illegally used popular music), and myself as a composer, producer, and artist. Missing from all of this is composing specifically to a visual, which is something I very much enjoy and prefer, but I’m hopeful that these pieces on AudioJungle will get people interested in having me do just that for their future projects.
The pieces I am putting up for sale now are mostly orchestral in nature, and I plan to stick to that format as I feel like there is always a lack of quality produced, authentic sounding orchestral music on these types of sites. Heck, I hear obviously MIDI derived scores on television all of the time, when a little more money spent on quality samples combined with a little more time spent addressing the sounds might have fooled even the most ardent of listeners. I’ve done my best to provide pieces I feel fit this criteria that also feature some character often missing in much of the sterile, synthesized material on comparable sites. While this might not garner me any “hits”, I’m hoping it will enrich people’s projects in a way that sets them apart from the rest.
Until next time…