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A Voice From the Dark Side – Confessions of a Retitler

Vaughn Johnson, composer and President of ScoreKeepers Music, recently wrote an article for Film Magazine and has given us permission to post it here. It’s nice to hear another point of view from one of the more successful non-exclusive retitling music libraries.

A Voice From the “Dark Side”: Confessions of a Retitler

Hi, my name is Vaughn Johnson and I’m a retitler.

I am a composer by trade with a great deal of experience selling all rights to my music as a hired hand for television production. When I became involved in the music library business, I set out to provide a different experience for composers by offering them an opportunity to retain ownership of their work. I wondered if, as a publisher, there would be a way to collect royalties only for those broadcast performances that are the result of my company’s placements. I discussed these issues with a representative from BMI when I started this venture. He suggested that we retitle the tracks as that would be the simplest solution to properly allocate publishing royalties per our agreement.

I have read the criticism and misinformation swirling around the internet regarding non-exclusive libraries and the practice of retitling, and feel motivated to raise my voice with others who view the non-exclusive model as a viable alternative.

It is worth noting that my business deals with providing instrumental underscore tracks for TV, not pitching individual songs. Perhaps in the world of advertising, promos, etc. where individual songs compete for placement, the retitling concerns take on a different scope than what I’ll discuss below. Since I do not represent the views of other non-exclusive libraries, some of my responses are personalized to accurately reflect the philosophies and practices of my own company.

Criticism #1. Multiple claims of ownership/legal disputes and ethical issues

Only one party owns the music: the composer. He/she has given us non-exclusive control, the authority to retitle, and the right to collect publishing royalties generated from our placements. Non-exclusive library administrators understand that the cue sheet indicates which title was actually used in the broadcast and therefore which party is entitled to collect publishing royalties. Opponents of retitling are making this practice out to be some sort of back-room deception, using terms such as sketchy, unethical, and insidious. In reality, retitling affords complete accuracy in administering non-exclusive deals by providing the simplest way to satisfy the terms of the agreement.

Criticism #2. Blacklisting by TV clients

I work with producers and editors every day to make sure they have the music and service they need to create successful scores for their programs. They are not concerned where the cleared music came from, or if they can get the same music from another source. They need great music that works for their shows. And lots of it. Deliver that with a smile and they’re happy. I have not encountered any “blacklists”. However, if there are music supervisors or networks that have a problem with non-exclusive libraries, I offer a solution: You don’t need to rule out all non-exclusive libraries, you just need to rule out all but one. One non-exclusive library fits nicely alongside your exclusive libraries and offers a wealth of great music that the exclusives can’t provide.

Criticism #3. Retitling devalues your music

Sustained financial success in the TV music business comes from performance royalties. You don’t get a higher royalty rate because your composition is represented exclusively. From my viewpoint, retitling increases the value of your music by allowing more opportunities for placements and generating royalties. I think most of us will admit that there is a degree of luck involved in this business. As a composer, how do you know which library will be the “lucky” one with your track?

We have composers who are making a substantial annual income due to one particular show for which we provide music. Had these composers put their tracks in an exclusive library (or, for that matter, divided their tracks among non-exclusives) they may have seen income from different sources, but completely missed out on the huge ongoing payout from that particular show. In cases like this, these non-exclusive retitles have proven to be invaluable.

Criticism #4. No possibility of exclusive deals

Composers, do you think that if there is an opportunity for exclusive libraries to make money from your music they will say, “No thanks, that track has been tainted with non-exclusivity”? If the music works and they have clients who are willing to pay for it, I’m sure they’d be happy to take it off of your hands. And per our deal, we will remove any track from our database at the composer’s request, in order to accommodate a better opportunity for them.

Criticism #5. Retitling can attach inferior titles to your songs

Not true with our company. We use actual and completely new titles that complement search parameters in our database to make tracks as useful and marketable as possible. What advantage would we gain by assigning an inferior title?

Criticism #6. Limited potential for international income

We have a system in place that legally affords our composer-owned catalogue international placements and receipt of all applicable royalties including mechanical royalties.

Criticism #7. Performances not tracked by fingerprinting/sound recognition technology

Recently, a music library that uses TuneSat recognition technology claimed that a track credited to me on cue sheet was actually theirs. After reviewing the track itself, it was clear to all parties that the cue sheet was correct and the track was mine. Here’s what caused the trouble:

Both my track and the track from the other library used the same drum loop, with different overdubs. I had added timpani, while the other composer had added guitar. I contacted TuneSat to inquire as to how my track could have been mistaken for the one it fingerprinted. TuneSat’s response was that the track they had in its database was the closest match to the track that was broadcast (mine). Closest? Doesn’t sound like a fingerprint match to me. TuneSat acknowledged that improvements to their technology are necessary to account for different compositions that use the same commercially available loops and sounds, as well as compositions that have been retitled. It is evident that until this technology is perfected, we can anticipate inaccurate results. Perhaps the ultimate solution in sound recognition technology will be one that can account for both the use of drum loops and retitling.

Criticism #8. Non-exclusive libraries are less motivated to promote your tracks

Another generalization that is untrue in our case. Our company is thriving because we work diligently to promote our composers’ tracks. We like making money and our composers do too. ?

Some claim that non-exclusive libraries are only interested in amassing cues—regardless of quality—in order to boast a large track count. In our case, we only accept high quality cues that are sonically and compositionally useful in television underscore. We champion quantity when it’s quality.

Criticism #9. Actual quote: “Exclusive libraries have a long track record of generating steady income for composers; non-exclusive libraries, on the other hand, are doing everything possible to drive sync fees out of existence and to further accelerate the devaluation of music in the marketplace.”

I will assume that the author’s generalization is an effort to stir up discussion and that he doesn’t actually believe these points to be absolutes. I will address each issue separately:

A. “Exclusive libraries have a long track record of generating steady income for composers.”

I’m sure for some this is true, but isn’t it possible that there are composers who sold their copyright to an exclusive library and have never seen another dime for that composition? Is it possible that they have sold several pieces and after years of exclusive representation have only seen an occasional trickling of performance royalties? These same disappointing results are possible with non-exclusives as well. The difference is that with non-exclusive deals, composers keep their copyrights, control their material, and can pursue many outlets for representation and potential income.

I recently received a call from a very good composer. He has music in our non-exclusive library and has also provided music for several major exclusive libraries over the years. He stated that ours is the only library from which he has seen substantial performance royalty income. For him, generating “steady income” turned out to be the product of a non-exclusive deal. It’s not the music library business model that determines whether or not a composer will make money. Both exclusive and non-exclusive libraries can generate steady income for composers.

B. “Non-exclusive libraries, on the other hand, are doing everything possible to drive sync fees out of existence and to further accelerate the devaluation of music in the marketplace.”

The assumption that it is the motive of non-exclusive libraries to lower fees in an effort to devalue music is absurd. There is more than one factor contributing to decreasing upfront fees in the television music business. As far as music libraries go, low-ball bids are not the sole domain of the non-exclusives. We have had our pricing undercut before by big, reputable, exclusive libraries. Obviously no one in this business is above doing what it takes to compete.

When considering the value of music composed for TV, every experienced composer in this marketplace knows that the sync, or upfront fees are inconsequential when compared to performance royalty income. Any business focused on getting music on the air to generate broadcast royalties truly values the income potential of that music. Our company not only places high value on the income potential of composers’ music, but on their right to keep ownership of it.

In conclusion, we all want to write some cool tunes and make some money while we’re at it. In the music-licensing world, the past few years have proven that you don’t have to be affiliated with a traditional production music library to make a buck. Is it a market-share-scare that would cause some of these exclusives to ban together to cast aspersion on a different business model? Do they feel that by demonizing the practice of retitling they will undermine their non-exclusive competitors? Surely there is room for more than one way to represent a composer’s catalogue. The important issue is the composer’s ability to maintain rights to his/her hard work. I question the motives of any party that would castigate an honest effort used to advance that cause.

I believe it is the composers, not the naysayers, who will determine the future of retitling. An alternative method may emerge, one that may require more complicated administration, but still offers non-exclusive representation. It’s been my experience that music for picture has many lives and many uses. A well-structured non-exclusive deal affords the owners of those useful compositions many opportunities for income, and at the same time leaves open the possibility of selling their works exclusively should the right deal come along.

Vaughn Johnson, Composer/President ScoreKeepers Music

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PMA (Production Music Association) meeting on Non-Exclusive libraries and retitling

Robin and I attended the PMA meeting, June 21st 2010, on “Non-Exclusive libraries and retitling”.

Tunesat sponsored this event and it was great to finally meet some of those folks, Mellisa, Chris and Lara. They are as nice in person as in the many e-mail conversations I’ve had with them! Chris was on the panel and was particularly eloquent in explaining Tunesat, fingerprinting and detection. It is the future!

Another nice surprise was when one of the panel members, Catherine Farley, Director of Music Licensing, for the Disney ABC Television group mentioned that she uses Music Library Report for research and recommended that others use it. Wow, cool, so they are paying attention. Very gratifying. Thanks Catherine!

The panel members included: Catherine Farley (Disney ABC), Cheryl Hodgson (Trademark and Copyright attorney), Ron Mendelsohn (Megatrax), Alicen Schneider (NBC Universal), moderator Randy Wachtler (615 Music) and Cris Woods (Tunesat).

It’s not hard to imagine how most of the assembled panel and guests felt about the topic. You can read more about their position here: http://app.e2ma.net/campaign/27456.af55d60b404c79870d1c9931918a94fc

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, many of their points were well taken. In particular, I can see it from the networks’ point of view. Alicen Schneider (NBC) and Catherine Farley (ABC) both spoke of the increase of multiple claimants on music that has been aired. They also spoke of music that is overexposed because of the retitling issues. (Then again, at least with production music, how many people are going to recognize a short piece of music from one show to another, buried under dialog?). There is also the issue of 3rd party deals that might conflict and how they may impact foreign sales as well as potential legal and ethical problems. All very good points, and they opened my eyes a lot wider.

On the other hand, from the PMA’s point of view, it all seemed a bit self-serving. The old library business model appears to be failing and there is a mindset that the “The sky is falling”. It’s fine to protect the interest and value of music, no argument there, but the genie is out of the bottle regarding non-exclusive libraries and re-titling. There must be tens of thousands of re-titled tracks available through non-exclusive libraries. One of the biggest arguments against re-titling is the potential loss of ownership of your copyright. Call me naïve, but I find it hard to believe that the courts would take the position that all of those thousands of copyrights (involving untold numbers of libraries and composers) are in jeopardy because of re-titling. I think one of the answers lies with the PROs and finding a mechanism for keeping all those income streams straight. And yes their are other potential problems but I don’t think the “sky is falling”. Then again I’ve always been a “glass is always half-full” kind of guy!

For those of you who are new to this: Generally speaking, you have a number of options to promote your music to the film and TV world. There can be many variations depending on your negotiating skills and/or demand for your work:

Exclusive – Up-front Money. The music library will pay you, upfront, for each piece of music, up to and including, all recording costs and expenses. You will give up ownership of the copyright in perpetuity and will not participate in any license fees. You will retain your writers share of the performance royalties (but not the publishing share). There will be no re-titling of your music.

Exclusive – No Upfront- Money. The music library will NOT pay any upfront fee or costs. You will give up ownership of the copyright in perpetuity. You might participate in any license fees. You will retain your writers share of the performance royalties (but not the publishing share). There will be no re-titling of your music.

Non Exclusive – No Upfront Money. The music library will NOT pay any upfront fee or costs. You will NOT give up ownership of the copyright (any music placed with a show will stay with that show in perpetuity). You probably will participate in any license fees. You will retain your writers share of the performance royalties (but not the publishing share). Your music will be re-titled.

Go It Alone – You will NOT give up ownership of the copyright (any music placed with a show will stay with that show in perpetuity). You will receive 100% of any license fees. You will retain your writers share of the performance royalties AND the publishing share. Your music will not be re-titled.

Because the exclusive library route is not possible (or desirable) for the many and the “Go It Alone” takes a particular personality trait, the non-exclusive avenue is an attractive alternative.

One member of the audience asked the panel what they would say to a non-exclusive library owner who says that this is the only business model that works for him. A member of the panel gave a rather sharp reply; “go exclusive or get out of the business”. I found his comment not very constructive. I would assume he also feels the same away about composers who are unable to get signed exclusively by one of the major libraries.

So, what’s a composer to do? I’ve been a writer/producer all my life with a modicum of success. Certainly, I have not been able to earn enough to live on. That doesn’t mean I will stop writing or producing as I love what I do. The various “Big” libraries I have tried to get into are not interested. I’m also not interested in smaller exclusive libraries that offer nothing more than a promise and want my music in perpetuity. Does that mean I should “get out of the business?” Not gonna happen. In a perfect world I would rather work exclusively with a company that I believed in and that believed in what I did. In fact I had that many years ago as a writer with a couple of major publishing companies. In the meantime, I’m comfortable working with the few non-exclusive libraries I work with and yes, the retitling issue is a problem and will have to be dealt with. If nothing else, last night opened my eyes to the potential problems.

I do think a workable solution can be found. It’s too bad none of the non-exclusive libraries, that were asked to participate, chose not to do so. The only way to solve these problems is for all sides to come to the table, be open, communicate and work out a solution.

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Should I Sign With A ReTitle Library?

Chris Jones recently wrote an article about re-titling over at SonicScoop. I thought it would be of interest to many and Chris kindly gave us permission to re-post it here.

By Chris Jones

With master recording licensing and synchronization now being the current revenue-generating and promotional system in the music industry, we see all the traditional recording exploitation boundaries disappearing.

Music libraries take on scoring gigs, produce artists/songwriters, and ad work while maintaining their catalogs of TV-ready production music. Record labels seem to be fully hitched to omni-lateral licensing pie, artist-endorsed ad campaigns, single tie-ins, whatever. Add the quick-and-easy factor of digital delivery AND soon-to-be ubiquitous audio recognition tech AND deeper metadata AND the slippery slope of what passes as acceptable quality both audio- and video-wise AND this is America, the land of excess. Production = bigger and faster, but not always better.

Point: The “production music” pool is one big pattern-recognizing server of every kind of gang. It’s all our turf. Can you dig it?

One of these “gangs” or business models in production music specific publishers is the re-title library or (to illustrate points using metaphor and acronym) “inert” libraries. It’s a (typically) Independent Non-Exclusive ReTitle music library that will rep your catalog after they give your (only) master a unique title. The library then registers that unique title to their PRO (be it ASCAP, BMI, et al.) as that titles’ “publisher” and can then go forward and collect future performance royalties on said title and also collect any other fees (direct license, sync) associated with licensing. From the research I’ve done, this model has the composer world polarized yet unified in one aspect: we seem to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

On the surface, one would think: What’s to lose? I have tons of crap sitting on my drive doing nothing for nobody no-how. If someone can make me money and wants to take 50% please be my guest. And it’s non-exclusive? Even better. I’ll look up every re-title library and get cracking. Man, I am sitting on a f*****g gold mine.

So, should I sign with an inert library? That question creates more questions and that is the universal choking sign of a deal to me. I agree that the inert model could be a positive way to crowd-source useful, high-quality, and (most importantly) available masters. But I speak from the viewpoint of a composer that has a specific agenda of producing a high volume of library music for the big exclusive Production Music Association (PMA) libs in addition to what I’ll call “custom” music like songwriting, sound design for composers, remixing, whatever.

There are many ways to poke holes in the inert model, but let’s start with imminent ubiquity of audio pattern recognition technology. BMI acquired BlueArrow almost 5 years ago, and ASCAP has been working on Mediaguide since 2002. These are technologies and services that give your audio/masters a fingerprint via audio analysis, not traditional watermarking (which is hit-or-miss and distorts the file). The tech then monitors broadcasts looking for matches. Soon (the sooner the better) all broadcasts are going to be monitored with this robotic vigilance. Unfailing accuracy. Amid endless dirty AM radio ads, it will be searching for your singularly unique combination of digital DNA. Wait, what-the? This track has 5 titles and 5 publishers…the robot computes.

I’m curious how that’s going to work.

Plus, I thought the whole idea in business was to be exclusive. Where’d that go?

So I send this stupid breakbeat track called “A” to inert lib A. Inert lib A registers “A” to ASCAP as publisher. Already I’m uncomfortable. I send the same exact file to inert lib B. All the way to f*****g Z. I have 26 people claiming to publish my tracks? Are they all undercutting each other or is there a standardized fee? The fee is nothing because you gave sync away in lieu of the slow buck? You just gave away my 50% of shared sync but I guess the contract says you are publisher so you have that right. Oh and the gig was non-broadcast so there is no slow buck. No buck at all.

Oh well I’ll see money on the back end.

Holy s**t, there are 50,000 tracks on this drive! The editor, overhearing my subconscious italics, says 50,000 is way too much b*****t to wade through and goes back to cutting a backend-less corporate video. Then he looks closer. He’s p****d because it’s the same 50,000 tracks the guy from inert lib G left last week. He went through a random 100 or so and they all sucked so he figured they all must suck. Therefore, all inert libs must suck, he thinks. No wonder he waived sync. To charge would have been criminal and there’s no way he paid for this music.

I only have 25 tracks on that drive. I hope the users find them. Back-end may not enter the picture because there’s tons of s**t you never see called non-broadcast. It’s all front-end. So if they waive sync I’m screwed. If they direct license I’ll do better at .0002%, unless it’s .0002% of zero.

I hope A-Z keep tabs on the reporting process. I hope the drives aren’t circulating. I hope an exclusive deal on a track doesn’t come along because that would mean having to turn down a lot of money. I wonder if I could call every editor in the world that FTP-posted or p2ped my slutty one-offs and say, “I own the copyright on these masters and I want to sell them.” Seems like inert libs and their supporters wave the flag on “copyright control.” But how do you retain total control if your choice to sell exclusive is removed? Note: I worked with one inert model that had an “OK to buy” option but again…how could you repo that master if it’s in A-Z and beyond? I fear being the real publisher of these types of masters for these exact scenarios of potential ass-biting to be honest.

So, no, I don’t like it. I want people selling my stuff like they own it because they do. If you own music and want to re-purpose it please do. But why not re-cut it into expected TV format and sell it to a proper exclusive library with sales, search, and broadcast (back-end) clients? Refuse to re-cut because you “channelled” something or claim “it would just feel like murder”? You are a precious lazy b*****d. It’s a reject of some kind. That’s why it’s sitting on your drive. Slap some make-up on and make a :30. If you get frustrated because you cannot re-cut a through-composed orchestral film score, just think what a TV editor will say.

Regardless of what type of library model you love or hate, consider this: you still have to go away and make amazing tracks appear out of thin air every day. None of these arguments apply to composers that are unaware of their music’s failure to meet the creative and technical requirements to be broadcast in the 21st century.

Home » Retitling


There is a lot of controversy about the practice of retitling music by music libraries that offer non-exclusive deals. Retitling allows the composer to place their music with many companies thus widening the opportunities for getting their music heard and thus sold. Some think this “de-values” ones music while others think it’s unethical or possibly illegal.


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