Royalty Free Libraries. Should You? Who's Right?

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This topic contains 128 replies, has 18 voices, and was last updated by  Krisemm 1 week, 2 days ago.

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  • #14746 Reply

    Art Munson
    Keymaster

    This thread originally started here https://musiclibraryreport.com/forums/topic/library-alert-another-music-thief/. It moved off topic into a discussion about royalty free music libraries and whether a composer should be involved with them. The comments from that thread have been (or will be) moved here.

    #14727 Reply

    More advice

    Every composer should join a PRO. Without a doubt, just do it. And…no one should support buyout “performance free” libraries, ever.

    #14728 Reply

    Tim

    Michael – I’d love to discuss further with you – perhaps in an email or call instead of in the forum here. However … for the readers info …

    Are you a UK writer or a US one? I ask because the UK model re. advances and income etc is very different to the US model. I actually find the UK model to be a much fairer model in that everything, all income, forever and ever is split 50/50. You’d be hard pushed to find a UK library that pays any advance now. I do know of two .. and one of those is a recoup .. of £100. Woopeedoo! Things that they do pay for though is recording costs, things like mastering (we have started using Abbey Road for some projects) … and of course all the marketing … for instance TFJ schmooze clients on an almost daily basis and we have parties and do the big conferences etc in the UK. Writers invited to these too for free drinks and to fill their boots!

    The $200,000 ones are, as you say, a bit like winning the lottery … but that happened within 25 tracks of being published for me … and I saw it happen to many others with literal ease .. especially spread across a few quality tracks and a couple of good years etc … I’m not gonna complain at those odds. Also .. I’d spent 15 years looking at tracks that earned the real money and practising at my production skills to make sure I could deliver etc. Also there’s plenty of other tracks that have earned serious money too (and of course many that have earned just a few k here and there) RF of course has eroded this type of income … some would say fair enough. But I along with many other writers worked very hard to get their break to make that sort of money. I lived off a sack of potatoes for two months in 1992 to buy my first sampler! That’s all ate for two months … because I wanted it SO bad! It now hangs on the wall in my studio to remind me what a good life choice it was!

    RF – well … it is much more damaging compared to 30 years ago as there ARE companies now that dont service JUST the small corporates or whatever but ALSO service huge TV stations … like here in the UK. And guess what? All those people who supplied their tracks for $50 a pop are now losing out – performances rarely put plenty of food on the table and really only the best stuff gets used anyway. That’s why you might hear the same old tracks used time and time and time again. Because the rest that are just there to make up the numbers so the RF library can sell it in to the TV station will never get touched due to the quality issues.

    I’m sorry … but overall people are being sold a lie. I see everyone post in here about how their track was used on Americas Next Top Model or whatever and they are sat waiting for their performance cheque to arrive. Don’t get too excited folks. But I have around 60 tracks out there on PRO / MCPS / PRS libraries (many as co writes too) … and haven’t had to work for another company since 2006. Have hardly written a thing since then either. Try that with RF. I’m not gloating here … I asking people to see the differences and make the right choice.

    [Removed for clarity.]

    This is a healthy discussion about an unhealthy situation. I’m enjoying hearing others views.

    Please excuse typos! 😉

    #14730 Reply

    More Advice

    I have to agree with you 100% Tim. After playing the RF game for 2013 to test it out, it does not compare to what we earn with PROS. My beautiful Foreign Royalty ASCAP check just arrived today and it crushes what one can earn in RF.

    Tim start a thread called “Why Royalty Free Must Be Defeated”. TV networks worldwide gentlemen, must be forced to use PRO based libraries so we can continue to collect royalties otherwise we are F$#ed long term.

    To all young writers, I highly recommend joining a PRO now and focusing on that path. You will have to wait longer to start making money…2 to 3 years, but once it kicks in…It really kicks in and blows RF away. I really believe that the average guy with a decent sized catalog may at best be able to pull down $1000 a month in RF…figure 250 a month from 4 different sites. That may at first be hard to walk away from, but you’ll appreciate the checks for 10K or 20K a quarter much more from PROS like PRS, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, GEMA.

    Again, it is imperative that Networks source their music from PRO Libraries for the long term health of the business.

    #14732 Reply

    Art Munson
    Keymaster

    Again, it is imperative that Networks source their music from PRO Libraries for the long term health of the business.

    RF is making some money for me but I’ve always said my PRO money far outweighs it. I’ve never made New Years resolutions before but this year I did. “Work smarter and focus” is my new mantra and to that end I’m looking to work with higher end libraries. I will also be joining the PMA. I met with one of the board members last week and mentioned that I think they should reach out to composers more, he agreed.

    For those who don’t know about the PMA (Production Music Association) they are here: http://pmamusic.com/

    #14733 Reply

    MichaelL
    Participant

    Again, it is imperative that Networks source their music from PRO Libraries for the long term health of the business.

    I think the key word there is “Networks.”

    But…that is only one part of the musical pie, one small part of the licensing picture.

    When I speak of my catalog, a big chunk comes from corporate and educational work. For example, I once composed a score for the merger of a US and French pharmaceutical companies. It was filled with dramatic orchestral music in American and French styles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That is not exactly broadcast friendly music that shows up often in your average network broadcast.I certainly don’t think that JP, SK or CR, would be clamoring for it.

    How about the “nature” music that I did for a film about horseshoe crabs. You think they want that?

    Oh, and the there was all of those manufacturing films / videos with products rolling down assembly lines. Which reality oriented EDM heavy library do you think wants those cues?

    The point is that there is music that exists outside the purview of the big exclusive libraries, and is of little or no interest to the retitlers, because it does not generate any backend.
    Yet..I know that there are hundreds of thousands of “informational” film /video producers out there who want and need this kind of music.
    Why, because a lot of broadcast friendly music is too in-your-face, which distracts from the information /message that informational and corporate clients want to get across. Just as music can be broadcast friendly, I believe that it can also be unfriendly to non-braodcast producers.

    The point that I’ve made all along is that much of the RF world is separate and distinct from the broadcast world, including the styles of music. Because I’ve accumulated mostly non-broadcast oriented music, it makes perfect sense for me to market it where non-broadcast producers shop, which I believe is RF libraries.

    One other point, is that many of the top RF libraries ARE PRO affiliated and do require their broadcast clients to file cue sheets, so the term royalty free is simply marketing. So, presumably then, RF libraries like AS are OK, because they aren’t really “royalty free.”

    Calling for the “defeat” of RF libraries is just extreme rhetoric that fails to look at the big picture of the industry and all of types and levels of potential music using client that exist.

    Of course, if you happen to know of a big exclusive that wants early 20th century French style music or horseshoe crab music let me know.
    I won’t hold my breath.

    #14736 Reply

    Edouardo
    Participant

    Thank you guys, especially Tim, Art and Michael for this very interesting discussion. For a newbie in the field, but not without general business experience, it raises questions concerning my own strategy to integrate this world. I was going to jump in with the perspective of a “seasoned freshman”. For example I work with RF for a specific reason, but Tim’s insights does question some my beliefs.

    #14738 Reply

    Mark_Petrie
    Participant

    Touching on something Michael brought up, I think we should clarify the difference between:

    1) a library that is marketing itself as ‘royalty free’ where there are no further sync fees for future use after the initial payment, yet
    still insists on clients filling out cue sheets if the music airs on TV, film or radio.
    This is the vast majority of websites competing for google searches containing the words ‘royalty free ___ music’.

    2) a library that is marketing itself as a catalog of music that doesn’t have to be reported to PROs. That is,
    100% performance royalties free.

    The latter is a small minority of what’s out there, and even some websites that cater to clients that don’t want to pay annual fees to PROs (like restaurants, websites, hotel lobbies, on-hold systems to name a few) still allow their composers to be PRO affiliated, and encourage their clients to fill out cue sheets if they are not on the hook for the PRO fees (TV and radio advertising, TV shows for example).

    #14739 Reply

    MichaelL
    Participant

    Thank you Mark. As always, you provide an intelligent and informed response that looks at the big picture and nuances between business models,rather than making broad judgments and sweeping emotional statements,without complete analysis.

    @Art… I think the thread became its own topic.
    Your decision to be more focused and go after “higher end” placements, continues a proven path for success that Mark Petrie followed, which was to establish a base income at one level of the industry then build on that, and move on.

    #14741 Reply

    MichaelL
    Participant

    @Tim…I’m selling my original emulator sampler, circa 1983. They only made 500.
    But, it’ll cost you a wee bit more than a “sack of potatoes.” 🙂

    #14742 Reply

    MichaelL
    Participant

    Are you a UK writer or a US one? I ask because the UK model re. advances and income etc is very different to the US model. I actually find the UK model to be a much fairer model in that everything, all income, forever and ever is split 50/50. You’d be hard pushed to find a UK library that pays any advance now.

    I’m a US writer. I am aware that its very different in the UK. Several of the exclsuive libraries that I have written for are radio focused, which means zero performance dollars. It’s vertically integrated stuff within a media giant. And no sync fees.

    All those people who supplied their tracks for $50 a pop are now losing out – performances rarely put plenty of food on the table and really only the best stuff gets used anyway.

    Tim..let me parse the meaning here. Are you saying that UK writers DO NOT get the bulk of their money from backend royalties? They get most of their money from sync fees? That’s the opposite here. Backend money is the holy grail that everyone here (except trailer composers) is chasing.

    #14745 Reply

    More Advice

    I jumped on the RF bandwagon one year ago to see what one can earn. I was fairly pleased to make some money. However, the money does not compare at all to what one can make in PRO library. Some may say that RF is mostly for non-broadcast, corporate/industrial/ educational, personal projects, amateur student film maker applications. What I am starting to observe is BIG BUSINESS is showing up. I heard that recently a $17 track was used on a Super Bowl ad. That’s insanity and destructive and race to the bottomish.

    I am also starting to think that the model can cause confusion: on one hand it’s “royalty free”, on the other hand, some places ask that all PRO info be added for every track :who is the publisher, who is the writer, etc. This to me is “semi royalty free”. Who is demanding that a broadcaster fill out a cue sheet if they go on air with the track? I personally have never seen a cue sheet from my hundreds of RF sales. The model clearly is driving prices into the toilette – again take note of the $17 track on a super bowl ad.

    I am having a lot of second thoughts about this model and it’s ramifications moving forward. Back end royalties must be part of the equation forever, otherwise we are really in trouble.

    I look forward to everyone’s thoughts, especially from the experienced guys who play in both markets. While very few are earning 5 to 10K a month in this RF arena, perhaps literally just 40 guys, we have to ask ourselves if it is worth it to hang around this party for $200 to $400 a month, knowing that we are devaluing our industry and knowing that Big business is chomping on the opportunity like a pride of lions with an endless supply of baby zebras in their territory.

    #14765 Reply

    woodsdenis
    Participant

    1) a library that is marketing itself as ‘royalty free’ where there are no further sync fees for future use after the initial payment, yet
    still insists on clients filling out cue sheets if the music airs on TV, film or radio.
    This is the vast majority of websites competing for google searches containing the words ‘royalty free ___ music’.

    Is something we should all remember and the majority are non exclusive. There are many variations, so casting around “royalty free” as an insult does not help anyone to understand the business.

    AS as an example, is a “royalty free” site which insists on PRO cue sheets and has different rates of sync fees depending on usage.

    There are others who charge a once off fee for any usage and don’t insist on PRO cue sheets.

    There are others who forbid any PRO affiliation for their composers.

    and all variation of above !!!!!!

    So lets talk about exclusives.Their roster of composers is well stocked by now and subsequently very, very, difficult to get into, if not impossible, unless you bring something extremely unique to the table. I am not saying don’t try, of course you should. You could literally spend years submitting and getting nowhere, correct me if I am wrong but the big writers for exclusives have been doing it for a very long time. This is why non-exclusives are attractive to new composers.

    If the big exclusives represented by the PMA want to stop the race to the bottom, they need to reach out to get new composers on board IMHO. In the past there has been an elitist view of their own product and a marked disdain of any music that wasn’t controlled by them. Possibly motivated by fear and shrinking revenues ?

    Before we get all partisan on this there is fantastic music on ALL sites exclusive/Non exclusive/royalty free(in all its incarnations) and also some terrible music on all of the above.

    As MichaelL always reiterates their are many tiers and markets to this business. Music, ultimately is a commodity. Investigate and use all avenues of revenue is my opinion. There is no absolute wrong or right.

    #14766 Reply

    SCP
    Participant

    What I would like to know is – What constitutes a good Exclusive deal that someone like me, who makes a few hundred dollars a month from RF sites, would want to give up? Because all I’ve been offered from Exclusive libraries is this:

    Give us your tracks for 3-5 years (or in perp.) along with alts/stings/stems/notes etc…And we’ll give you little to no synch fee, take your publishing, and may or may not tell you if your track got placed so keep an eye on your PRO statements a year from now.

    I guess what I’m saying is the demands of the modern Exclusive deal have pushed me towards RF. I’d love to hear what a good Exclusive arrangement is and if it’s attainable by the types of writers that make a few hundred from RF’s.

    Wow – I just realized how bitter I must come across, but I’m really not. Just looking for solutions from many of the esteemed folks here. thanks!

    #14772 Reply

    Art Munson
    Keymaster

    @Art… Your decision to be more focused and go after “higher end” placements, continues a proven path for success that Mark Petrie followed, which was to establish a base income at one level of the industry then build on that, and move on.

    I think it’s the natural order of things. When one is entering any endeavor you start down a path that’s usually a path of least resistance. Royalty free music sites are one such path for beginning composers. As most of you know I’m probably the oldest guy on this forum, have decades of experience in the music business but have only come to the world of production/library music in the last few years. I consider my myself a newbie in this area but am ready to move up the ladder. But as long as there are newbies, RF sites with clients and that path of least resistance, the RF sites will not be going away!

    BTW it doesn’t take thousands of songs to make some extra money in the RF world a couple of hundred with alternate mixes will get you to 1500 or so tracks (I currently have 8 mixes per song). The alt mixes are easy to spin off and that should be enough to make some decent money, assuming you are writing what folks are buying. Just know that it will never take the place of PRO money.

    One thing I have observed by monitoring MLR all these years is that those that have been in the production/library music for a very long time are the ones that whine the loudest about today’s state of affairs. MichaelL, Mark Petrie (and a number of others here) are two that “get it”, they see the future and understand it. Technology is constantly upsetting apple carts, look out yours may be next!

    I should also point out that while some folks can win the lottery and make hundreds of thousands of dollars with very few tracks that is the exception rather than the rule. It’s much like any business, there will be many trying to make a successful venture but only very few will have ultimate success. It’s not necessarily the most gifted or talented but more about being in the right place at the right time a good bit of hustle and some luck. Still, there are those who believe there own press and you will not convince them otherwise.

    One last thing. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating, “Music is business, business is war, war is hell, adapt or die!”

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