The record industry has seen the benefits of embracing advertising opportunities that might have been shunned in the past. Advertising has become a springboard for many credible artists. But as more agencies and clients embrace the phenomenon of licensing, an ugly trend has emerged. A whole cottage industry of so-called music industry insiders has popped up offering to help agency creatives find just the right songs for their commercials. Which, by itself, can be very helpful. Until those same people turn around and pitch their services to record labels, management companies and publishers - as advertising personnel offering to match them up with agencies who are hungry to license their goods. What are they up to? Well, that's just it. Nobody really knows. Unfortunately, neither the advertising industry nor the music industry knows very much about the way each other does business. It's that ignorance that these crafty individuals hope to exploit. The ultimate goal is to get paid by the agencies for bringing them the song and also get paid by the publishers for bringing them an agency that will buy that song. It's kind of like a real estate broker getting a commission out of both the buyer and seller.
As it stands now, advertising agencies not only facilitate this phenomenon, they exacerbate it. Some agencies hire more than one person to search for music for the same project. (I know of a situation where five people were independently working on the same project.) It doesn't take long for everyone in the music business to find out that Advertiser X is desperately looking for a song for its new campaign. When the track is finally settled upon, the label and publisher, knowing how eager the client is to have that track, can charge whatever they want. So much for the music budget. And then, of course, you have to factor in the additional costs associated with the music search guy double dipping from the agency and music companies. Suddenly, everything gets more expensive than it should be. And far more shady. Ultimately, labels will stop returning phone calls, artists will become distrustful and good music will become less and less affordable. Even in situations where the music supervisors are clean, having too many middlemen can breed confusion and distrust. Overworked label sync departments can only tackle so many license requests. The projects that resemble train wrecks always lose priority.
The sad thing is that independent music supervisors, search companies and licensing boutiques can play an important role in the music production process. Freelancers and outsourced business affairs companies are enormously helpful to overworked agency production departments on a per job basis. But until creative and broadcast agency personnel get a better handle on the mechanics of licensing and managing the music process, the door will remain open for exploitation and incompetence. In much the same way that the AICP has standardized the means by which agencies and production companies do business, a similar bridge needs to be built between the record industry and the advertising world. If we understand each other more clearly, the possibilities for deception, mistrust and graft will evaporate. Agencies can start by approaching the music production and licensing process with the same fundamentals applied to other aspects of creative production: Clearly define roles; appoint one producer (in-house, freelance, music or otherwise) in charge of the music portion of each project; compensate search people solely for their time and creativity, not to be speculative agents; and speak through one voice to the record labels and publishers.
Freelance music producer Rob Kaplan has worked at Euro RSCG MVBMS, Amber Music and J. Walter Thompson/New York.