Almost a year into the global coronavirus pandemic and live music is all but extinct in North America. The rest of the music industry has reeled as they attempt to recover the massive loss of revenue from concert stoppages. One income stream that savy musicians and their teams are pursuing during the pandemic is licensing music for commercial use.
Licensing music is a complicated ordeal, however. A music supervisor on a television show identifying a great song that works for a scene is one thing, but tracking down all of the rightsholders to license the song can be a whole other can of worms. Rightsholder data can be difficult to identify, especially for indie musicians, and the industry has been slow to adapt the entire process to modern technology — a central database of song data does not exist. That’s where record labels, performance rights organizations (PROs), and tech startups have stepped up in a race to build industry standard databases of rightsholders to make it easier to license songs.
Indie disruptors like Rightsholders.io have sprung up with clean, searchable databases of copyright information, promising to save time and take the headache out of the licensing process. The need for tech-powered rights management also arrises at places like TikTok, as their ownership group Tencent recently invested millions into Pex, a digital rights startup that trawls through social media posts to identify uses of copyrighted material and verify that proper licensing has been established. ASCAP and BMI, the two largest PROs in the U.S. have also teamed up to tackle this issue, launching Songview in 2020. Songview is a database that aims to provide access to ownership information for the more than 1.5 million songwriters that they represent collectively.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of recorded music have continued to grow, with total first-half 2020 revenues from recorded music in the U.S. increased 5.6% to $5.7 billion, according to the Recording Industry Association of America’s 2020 mid-year industry report. Synchronization licensing — the process by which copyright holders grant permission for use of their recorded music for television, film, YouTube and video games — represents more than 2% of total revenue from recorded music in the U.S.
Sync licensing’s importance as a revenue source for musicians is only going to increase. The pandemic has given rise to several forms of media, all of which require proper licensing, like streaming concerts on Twitch or Instagram Live or collaborations with online video games, such as the Travis Scott concert on Fortnite, which was streamed by over 12 million players. The last year has also seen sales of back catalogues for major artists, like Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac, for huge sums of money (Universal Music Group snapped up Dylan’s catalogue for $400 million). The value in these catalogues oftentimes lies in not only the sale of music, physically as records or digitally on streaming services, but in future commercial licensing use.
As copyrights to
According to a report by BPI, music sync licensing accounted for 6.6% of industry revenue in 2019.