A cautionary tale

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This topic contains 34 replies, has 14 voices, and was last updated by  Gael MacGregor 1 month ago.

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  • #31976 Reply

    b1nrybl0ke
    Participant

    OK I’m never sure how to start, so best to just dive in.

    Between 2013 and 2017 my royalties dropped by 70% and have held steady in the low 5 figures since then. Needless to say things have been tough, but adversity does clarify the mind if nothing else. So how did I end up here and what can be learned?

    I’ve been composing production music (UK) since the late 90s, I’d met a group of writers who were just starting a library and looking for tracks, and lucky for me they were very good on the business side. Over the next 10 years I worked almost exclusively with this one library and my royalties grew rapidly with very high placements on major shows and networks. It’s easy to point to this as Mistake No.1 due to the “eggs in one basket” situation, but the reality was that I had approached other libraries but they just didn’t bite, meanwhile I’m trying to keep up with the competition from new writers at my main library – by this point they had sold the company to one of the top global publishers, and the royalties had gone ballistic. My tracks were all over UK/US TV and had paid for an extension to my house, with a small purpose built home studio. Life was good.

    It was around 2012 that I started to feel restless as a composer. I was starting to think that I’d probably peaked in terms of my abilities, and I began looking around for somewhere else to focus my creativity. I completely missed the growth online of non exclusive, “royalty free” side of the industry. Another mistake, not staying in-tune with the industry, to be quickly followed by not keeping on top of the finances. I hadn’t seen my income being in danger of pushing me into a higher tax bracket and I ended up with a substantial tax bill, I had the money put aside but it could have been managed better.

    It’s around here when the wheels started to fall off. It had become clear that the new owners of the music library I had worked for had no idea how to continue developing the catalogue, they ditched all previous writers and began releasing poor quality music which didn’t fit at all with the reputation of the label. Also, unbeknown to many, the BBC had negotiated a deal with one specific publishing company for almost all their prod music needs. My library was out of the loop. Cue the rise of on-demand TV, the huge changes in sync music publishing, and the new wave of hungry musicians and composers who no-longer saw library music as a creative sell-out – and there you have it, my own perfect storm!

    Obviously, I’m not the first composer to take a hit from changes in the industry and despite how it might look, I’m not one to dwell on past decisions. I have had a few moments where I’ve wondered if it was all just luck, rather than ability, and whether I actually wanted my business to take a downturn because I didn’t think I deserved the success? But I’m actually feeling pretty positive about the future, I’m focused and confident that my skillset and experience mean there’s a chunk of the market still there to be taken. Above all, I’m aiming for more control over all aspects of my business.

    Cheers for reading!

    #31979 Reply

    Art Munson
    Keymaster

    Hey b1nrybl0ke,

    That’s quite a story and not the first one I’ve heard from composer’s who have been the production music end of the game from the 80s and 90s. We didn’t start until 2006 so we never saw those spectacular earning years. But, from the time we have been in, we have seen a decline in earnings. Not only from what you have mentioned but also (a few years ago) BMI’s recalculating of how royalties are paid.

    It does make one wonder about our abilities and luck. In the end I think it’s more important to do the work, put the energy out there and “Don’t let the bast***ds wear you down!”. 🙂

    #31986 Reply

    cozyhand3
    Participant

    …Thank you for sharing your story. It hits close to home! And I agree with Art. DON’T let ’em wear you down!

    #32006 Reply

    b1nrybl0ke
    Participant

    Thanks chaps. “It’s just a ride” as Mr Hicks said.

    #32007 Reply

    AllanGiorgio
    Participant

    So, do you think the main income source for the average composer nowadays is performance royalties or sync fees? I’ve been reading everywhere that PROs are paying less and less.

    #32008 Reply

    Michael Nickolas
    Participant

    I think library income these days is only a part of the puzzle; at least for the large percentage of writers. It needs to be augmented with other sources. I song-write for the educational market, write articles and do the occasional live gig. Others teach.

    #32009 Reply

    boinkeee2000
    Participant

    thanks for sharing your story b1nrybl0ke, this community owes a lot to the vets like yourself, especially those who never experienced the “golden days”

    from your experience, what would be your sound advice for those whose willing to stick it out the next 10-15 years?

    #32010 Reply

    BEATSLINGER
    Participant

    So, do you think the main income source for the average composer nowadays is performance royalties or sync fees? I’ve been reading everywhere that PROs are paying less and less.

    When I first got into this forum, I used to think “Wow, they are really playing it close to the vest”. They must not really want to divulge the “Pots of Gold”. But, now I realize more and more there really is no formula, let alone any sense in how to structure your personal success story. Just so I can be transparent. I made a lot of really strong moves since being on The MLR. But where most have said they had good luck/fortune in RF sites. To date, I literally am STILL under a $1,000. in sales..

    I think library income these days is only a part of the puzzle; at least for the large percentage of writers. It needs to be augmented with other sources. I song-write for the educational market, write articles and do the occasional live gig. Others teach.

    Custom Composing, Non-Recoupable’s, and Licenses for Films have been my best payouts “so far”..

    #32012 Reply

    AllanGiorgio
    Participant

    I’ve been 1 year composing music and all my income is from sync fees. Not a single BMI statement. Maybe I have to wait but I don’t rely on royalties, I don’t know if it will ever come.

    #32014 Reply

    Art Munson
    Keymaster

    I’ve been 1 year composing music and all my income is from sync fees.

    @allangiorgio. This is a very, very, long game. I’ve had tracks placed (with very nice payouts) that were written years before with little if any sales or placements.

    It’s been said before and I will say it again “It’s a marathon not a sprint!”.

    #32018 Reply

    LAwriter
    Participant

    Cheers for reading!

    Cheers for sharing and for your transparency and candor!! Keep the faith brother….

    So, do you think the main income source for the average composer nowadays is performance royalties or sync fees? I’ve been reading everywhere that PROs are paying less and less.

    IMO, there is no doubt that things are moving, shifting, morphing. They always were since I started into this in the early 90’s, but now, especially so. At this point, sync’s have gone from 2% of my gross to maybe 25-30%. And honestly, I haven’t pushed too hard into it. I’m in several top A level PMA libraries that pay out no sync’s (front end buyouts) that are supposed to bring in huge backend, but many (most???) of them have dropped the ball quite frankly. The little guys, specialty shops, small fish are making things happen. Ownership of content is becoming quite important to me, and it takes a very attractive situation to get me to give that up in 2019.

    I think library income these days is only a part of the puzzle; at least for the large percentage of writers. It needs to be augmented with other sources.

    ??? That may be the future if things don’t shape up. For me, all my money comes from either writing or investments I’ve made with money from writing. I’m still making it easily, but that’s come from decades of contacts, hard work, incessant writing, and quite frankly — luck.

    from your experience, what would be your sound advice for those whose willing to stick it out the next 10-15 years?

    Pray…. And no, I wasn’t joking….. 🙂

    But, now I realize more and more there really is no formula, let alone any sense in how to structure your personal success story. Just so I can be transparent. I made a lot of really strong moves since being on The MLR. But where most have said they had good luck/fortune in RF sites. To date, I literally am STILL under a $1,000. in sales..

    Of course….makes sense. Makes no sense. 🙂 LOL There are many paths to the destination / goal. We all get there in a different fashion. Here’s just hoping we all get there.

    This is a very, very, very, VERY long game.

    I’ve added a couple more “very’s” Art. 🙂

    The amount of time required, the investment required, the level of talent that’s necessary, the number of songs needed ( IMO, the number has doubled from 1k to 2k for a comfortable living) – it’s all gone up and is exponentially bonkers. Our art is being devalued faster than we can crank it out.

    Best of luck for all bold enough to even contemplate the journey….

    #32019 Reply

    LAwriter
    Participant

    PS – if you think you’ve figured things out, WATCH OUT!! As b1nrybl0ke poignantly pointed out, things DO, and always WILL change up and throw you a curve ball. Those who survive will be the ones who are quick on their feet. Those who can tell the future, act on it before it happens, and who have the stamina and guts to make crazy mid-course changes in their approach. Been doing it 25+ years and every time I think I have finally nailed it – I’ve been proven wrong. Many, many times.

    #32016 Reply

    Mark_Petrie
    Participant

    what would be your sound advice for those whose willing to stick it out the next 10-15 years?

    If I can throw in my $0.02’s worth, this would be my advice:
    1) write / produce the very best music you can, as fast as you can make it your best work.
    There’s little point in churning out mediocre music these days. I speak from experience that two or three great sounding tracks can make 1000 times more than 50 lame tracks that were rushed out the door.

    2) there might be an AI apocalypse for library music in 10 – 15 years, so make hay while the sun shines. It might not be AI writing and finishing music from start to finish (highly unlikely for at least the next decade) but we’ll probably start to see good AI -assisted writing become commonplace within ten years. This will probably decimate library music composers because it will mean every composer can now write much much more music than previously possible.
    If, before we get to that point, you have a lot of music in episodes of TV shows, those re-runs will at least keep you going for a while.

    3) focus on music that is harder for a kid with some loops and good samples in Garageband to put together, because a) there are more of those coming online every day, and b) that’s the kind of music that will be easy for AI to do first. Maybe record live instruments to sweeten your samples – further giving your music longevity.

    4) be patient with the money, but be impatient with getting music out into the world (into good libraries).

    So, do you think the main income source for the average composer nowadays is performance royalties or sync fees? I’ve been reading everywhere that PROs are paying less and less.

    I write mostly for trailers, a little for TV, film and games. I’ve been doing trailer music for over a decade so I get a decent stream of placements, but royalties still make up about 50% – 60% of my total income… the trailer placements are just nice bonuses but the steady money is from TV air time.

    #32021 Reply

    Michael Nickolas
    Participant

    focus on music that is harder for a kid with some loops and good samples in Garageband to put together

    Great advise and something I’ve tried to do for years now! My last two tracks were in the style of early swing. I worked with a co-writer able to record (and seriously play) real piano. I played real banjo and guitar and hired a woodwind player to come in and record clarinet and tenor sax.

    #32023 Reply

    MichaelL
    Participant

    3) focus on music that is harder for a kid with some loops and good samples in Garageband to put together, because a) there are more of those coming online every day, and b) that’s the kind of music that will be easy for AI to do first.

    Agree 100%. If you’re working at a level than be easily replicated by AI, it wouldn’t be unrealistic or mean to suggest that you should consider preparing to do something else in 10 years, maybe less.

    If you truly love making music, there are far better ways to make music and much easier ways to make money.

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