Whether you’re an artist just starting out in your career or a songwriter looking to monetise your catalogue, musicians should always be thinking about how they can license their work to other media. That’s the message from The Sound Pound founder Tyler McLoughlan who will be panelists at both New Zealand’s Going Global Music Summit and BIGSOUND.
Founded in 2011, the Brisbane-based company focuses on placing songs from indie artists with a diverse range of clients, from movie and TV producers, to advertising agencies and firms looking music for corporate videos.
Below, McLoughlan shares her insights on the sync business.
Don’t let your music be used for free – even if it’s just for a short social clip
It could be an advertiser who believe they are doing an artist a favour by providing exposure for one of their songs or a fan who just wants to place one of their tracks on their social media platform.
Whatever the reason, some people still think music can be used for free. However, McLoughlan maintains indie artists should never be afraid to ask for money from someone who wants to use one their songs.
“I’m finding that even with a small Instagram video, people are becoming way more aware that they need to pay for this kind of stuff,” she says. “And if an artist actually asks for a fee, the other party often don’t mind paying it. So the more the independent sector says ‘you’re using something that has value and therefore you need to pay for it’, then the better it is for everybody.”
Local TV productions offer great opportunities for indie artists
Although some local shows will seek out songs from overseas artists to soundtrack a particular scene or episode, most Australian productions are happy to source music from local musicians. And McLoughlan says this provides a great opportunity for indie artists.
“Quite a lot of Australian productions will look for local independent content because of budget,” she continues. “There are a lot of productions that have been great in giving opportunities to independent artists.”
More often than not, a commercial client is not sure exactly what they want as far as music is concerned
In advertising, McLoughlan says that some clients do have a very clear vision when it comes to the music they want to use. “I worked on a production for a major brand campaign and they were very clear that they wanted to use Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’ because it very much suited the way creatives were writing it,” she says. “So sometimes the song is very much the focal point of the production and is incorporated into it.
“Other times, they have no clue what they want; they just need to solve a music problem. And in that case you know you’ve just got to ask lots of questions: what media is going to be used, what’s the vibe they are trying to create, do they want certain types of instrumentation?”
The most important question, though, she asks is: what is their budget? If they have only allocated $500 for their music, there is no way they are going to be able to afford a chart hit like ‘Thrift Shop’.
You don’t have to be a Spotify superstar to make money from commercial work
While some clients do play close attention to what’s hot on platforms such as Spotify, many stick with the songs and the music they know and like. “With more traditional media, I find that clients are still often looking at an old golden oldies song that has some kind of familiarity attached to it and which has come from their own personal listening habits or a CD that they’ve just been listening to for years.”
A songwriter’s lyrics will rarely align with the vision of the client
While film and TV shows will often seek out specific songs whose lyrics match scenes in the production, when it comes to advertising, it’s the music clients are mainly interested in.
McLoughlan says some songwriters often think the lyrics of one of their songs would be perfect for an ad for a particular type of product but in most cases the reverse is true.
She cites the case of an artist who had written a song about a woman who was getting ready for a night out and was putting on her lipstick; the writer thought it would be tailor-made for a make-up advertisement, but as that was already the theme of the commercial, they didn’t need it replicated in the song.
“A focus for a lot of advertising is on ‘universal’ chorus lyrics, where it’s not so specific and potentially could go across a number of product categories,” she adds.
Film and TV music maybe more glamorous, but don’t dismiss things like corporate videos either
A song that has been discarded by a songwriter for artistic reasons might still find a home in the corporate sector, according to McLoughlan. She says composing a tune for something like a corporate video requires a different sort of creativity and while some songwriters are not keen on publicising the fact that their work is being used in this way, it can still provide a useful revenue stream.
“I particularly like to find independent artists who show potential in that space because it can provide a valuable income source for them, especially early in their career when artists are forced to take part-time jobs they don’t like.
“My feeling is that even if you are writing for a corporate video, it’s still probably a more interesting way to earn an income than a job that might be not really fulfilling their creative needs.”
So, of all the songs placed by McLoughlan over her career, is there one that stands out as a particular favourite?
“I was working on a Samoa tourism ad a number of years ago and they wanted to use a big known radio song at the time,” she recalls. “But they didn’t have the budget for it and they also really needed a quick turnaround as they had two days to edit it.
“I’d been keeping a couple of songs from an artist called Bobby Alu up my sleeve and when this came across my desk, it made complete sense: he is of Samoan heritage and his song was the perfect holiday song in my mind because it was called ‘Take It Slow’.
“I felt really good about that placement because it was able to provide an independent artist with an income that they would never have seen otherwise. But it was also perfect in terms of the cultural alignment and the significance of his heritage being used to promote Samoa.”