Music licensing, and the complex FAQs that it commonly throws up, is a topical puzzle in today’s fractured and fragmented online landscape. The following article is a guide for those who are looking to ‘source and synch’ high-quality audio content to their multimedia projects, with music that is pre-licenced and ready for immediate use.

This feature will also offer insight into the innovations undertaken by Getty Images Music to answer a pertinent dilemma within the creative industries: what is the next big thing in music licensing?

While the rapid expansion of digital video content creation over the past 15 years – known to many of us now as, perhaps, the YouTube era – has opened the doors to new revenue streams for businesses, advertisers and creatives, it has also inevitably shined a light on the complex and alienating practices surrounding how to licence music properly. In today’s user-friendly online landscape, the music licensing industry’s increasingly unfriendly and outdated business models, which included a myriad of confusing options regarding the pre-clearing of worldwide copyrights and payment of the appropriate royalties to the relevant composer(s) predictably scare off many content creators, either leading them to licence music inaccurately or, worse, not at all. Without music copyrights and licencing in place the whole multimedia industry could effectively shut down. After all, if no one buys music, no one can afford to create it. However, the process of music licensing doesn’t need to big and clever, Melinda Lee, General Manager for Getty Images Music, argues. It just needs to be simple…

‘Music licensing from a consumer’s perspective is a complex and fragmented market,’ Melinda begins, ‘but that’s OK, fragmented doesn’t have to mean bad. Music licensing has to exist. Businesses will always want to use copyrighted materials within their projects. And the simple message that Getty Images Music are trying to get across right now is that we have simplified the music licensing rights process down to its core.’

With the flourishing of video online to advertise brand names and their products, the music licensing process has had to adapt and evolve in order to meet the requirements of this expanding supply and demand. Content marketing, for example, has shown that many once non-creative businesses now have the technological resources at their disposal to reach out and interact and inform their customer base quicker, more freely, and more creatively than ever before. Advertisements, apps, microsites, social media marketing campaigns, viral adverts, video-embedded weblogs, online featurettes or promotional shorts are all purposelessly designed to boast the identities of businesses, and the music they employ to soundtrack their vision is designed to empower them – and whatever it is they are selling – with more personality, more familiarity.

Businesses can also react quickly – almost instantaneous – to major news events or #worldwidetrends with online advertisements, synched with intelligent audio, that is able to respond, and participate, with their audience on the issue/event at hand. Many businesses are now choosing to publish their internally-facing corporate videos, or brand show reels, online, at YouTube, for example; while this yields a greater audience reach, it does come with certain ramifications – anyone can leave a comment/abuse. Getty’s GUESTLIST platform, a prime example of laser-focused music licensing, encourages high-profile TV advertisers to create bespoke music that’s never been heard before; while this approach is less expedient and more expensive than home-made content creation, the pay-off is greater:

High street department retailer, John Lewis’, award-winning bespoke Christmas TV campaign highlights how a piece of well-placed music can stimulate seasonal revenue growth through powerful advertising.

The supremacy of visual content in 2014 has inevitably led to confusion about how to navigate the acquisition of music rights. Those photographers or marketing managers who require audio for their creative projects are starting to demand pre-cleared music at the tips of their fingers, for immediate use. They don’t want to wait for rights clearances and permissions. They want to shop and go. And that’s where Getty Images Music has stepped up.

‘The biggest thing Getty have achieved,’ Melinda begins, ‘is to come up with really simplistic business models that anybody can understand so they can start acquiring music that is properly licenced immediately.’

At the heart of that simplifying process, Melinda believes, is simply accepting that music licensing is complicated, but that with the proper education the future of music licensing need to no longer confound.

‘I can confidently say,’ Melinda states, ‘is that people now know that they actually have to licence music, and I think that is a huge step forward. Five-six years ago, in corporate videos for instance, people didn’t even think that they needed to licence the music. I think that education is there now but…’ Melinda pauses, ‘actually knowing the ins and outs of what rights are available for any one piece of music … there is still a lot of education that needs to be done. Getty Images Music has a customer base that doesn’t really understand music licensing, so our job is to look at the market and work out how can we make licensing content easier for our customers as well easier for our partners and creators. That’s the recurring theme in my day-to-day work – how can we make music licensing as simple as we can, rather than complicate it? Because its already complicated enough!’

As if to prove how topical the issue of music licensing is, earlier this month, the iconic rap-rock group the Beastie Boys won their case in the unauthorised use of some of their most famous tracks used in promotional videos online to advertise the Californian-based fizzy drinks company Monster Energy.  After an eight-day trial, held in New York, the court found Monster had ‘committed wilful copyright infringement’ and the band were awarded $120,000 for each of the ten violations of copyright, totalling $1.7million. Monster Energy has admitted they had not sought any music licensing to use the songs or obtained the band’s prior consent or permission. License to Ill, indeed.

Monster Energy’s latest online promotional video campaign used tracks –unlicensed and without permission – by the Beastie Boys. The band reacted immediately and sued, winning $1.7m in damages.  The videos have been removed.

Getty Images Music’s commitment to simplifying the music licensing process can be seen in their licensing models as well the multitude of user-friendly platforms, such as their premium service GUESTLIST (specifically created for high-profile TV/film music projects that music supervisors are screaming out for) , PumpAudio (the standard service), their partnership with Soundcloud and most-recent high end service, SoundExpress; these innovations, central to Getty’s forward-thinking to tackling music licensing head-on, also challenge the issue of simplifying music licensing directly.

‘Getty Images Music give the content creator the option of different business models on a track-by-track basis,’ Melinda asserts. ‘This is a similar process to what we provide for our image business. A lot of our customers just log on to our site and licence tracks for whatever they need, immediately. They don’t have to wait for approval, or be granted a licence; they look at their budget, they search the database of content, and based on either what’s trending (‘piano’ or ‘happy’ is always popular, Melinda tells me) or just whatever it is they feel will work, and licence that track straightaway. By operating this service model allows Getty to always be on the cutting edge of where our customers want to go creatively and be able to grant them the rights to do new and exciting things without anything holding them back from a licensing perspective.’

Apple’s iPad Mini ‘Piano TV Ads’ used pianos to stimulate an emotional, and interactive, connection with the viewer. ‘Piano music’ is one of Getty Images Music most searched terms for music licensing projects.

When it comes to licensing music for multi-media projects, a synchronisation licence and a master use licence is required. Getty Images Music, like the Getty Images licensing model, takes the complexity out of music licensing by offering music that is pre-cleared for synch and master use rights. Alongside this, Getty offers two strands of classification on how music in their collections can be licenced: Rights Managed (RM) or Royalty Free (RF)

‘RF offers the greatest freedom of rights,’ Melinda explains. ‘Basically, it’s a one stop shop,’ Melinda says on Getty’s licensing models: ‘a broadcaster, brand or company can licence the track they want immediately and know that all the required rights for that track have been taken care of and pre-cleared by us – because we have that direct relationship with the creators. By looking at the needs of both the customer and the creator, we can create a product, or offering (the Soundcloud app is a perfect example of this) that really fits in well with both partners. For us, it is easiest to simplify the licensing process by bundling in the master use and the publishing rights together as one package.’

By asserting this somewhat logical approach, Getty has been able to expand its core business (there has been a growth in synch licensing year on year now, Melinda mentions) on one uncomplicated premise: simplicity – ‘that’s the next big thing in music licensing,’ Melinda reveals. That’s the real innovation here.

GUESTLIST signings, The Peach Kings’, track was synched with the dramatic trailer for HBO’s hit show Boardwalk Empire. Other big-name GUESTLIST signings include Joss Stone, Visqueen and Simian Ghost, whose tracks have appeared in many TV and online commercials.

‘Where we want Getty Images Music to be is at the heart of the creative process as much as possible,’ states Melinda, our time almost at an end. ‘Our day-to-day job across all our platforms –SoundExpress, PumpAudio and GUESTLIST – is to simply keep an eye on the market and see where the creative needs are for our customers and simplify licensing as best we can. Our job is to make sure we keep on providing for the customer and the creator and that people continue to be educated about music licensing and, above all, to continue spreading the word to our customer base that Getty creates and supplies high quality music content for video projects … and not just images’.

Toshiba’s YouTube corporate video is just one of thousands of businesses who now choose to make their identity more transparent online and to have a direct plug-in with their customers. Note the piano music, to enforce that connection.

About Malcolm Croft

Former music journalist, publishing Commissioning Editor and now author, Malcolm Croft spent his formative career travelling and interviewing many of the world's biggest bands, artists and actors. These days he can be found at his desk, writing and editing books on a wide-range of topics and genres. He is the publisher of many bestselling books, and author of over 20 music, humour and popular culture titles.

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