Notes on Making Music, Making Money


Making Music, Making Money was a panel session and live showcase at the Getty Images Gallery in London’s West End. All part of the Performing Rights Society centenary celebrations which included a special photography exhibition celebrating 100 years of great music.

Ruth Simmons, managing director of  independent music-synching consultancy The Sound Lounge, got proceedings underway with a presentation called ‘So you want to sell your music to advertisers’. This provided a snappy introduction to the art of ‘synch licensing’, technical slang for licensing music for advertising or other visual media.

First she asked members of the audience to raise a hand if they had purchased an album this year. Not many did! “And how much does a ticket to Reading cost … £200!” Then she highlighted some of reasons why it is so difficult to make money in music these days.

  • You don’t sell albums any more
  • Downloads are declining
  • Streaming is winning
  • ‘You will be 180 years old before you see any revenues from Spotify’
  • Playlists for free
  • Production for peanuts
  • Give publishing as a gift

And then she pointed out that why there are opportunities to make money from advertising. Brands want personality, values and principles and music can deliver this like no other media. She gave five good reasons to use music

  1. It grabs you like nothing else
  2. It’s a universal language
  3. Soundtrack of your life
  4. Engages your body
  5. Connects with the heart beat

She took a trip down memory lane, back to the 1970s when jingles were ‘the bottom end of the advertising world’ but still extremely powerful. Some of the big successes were Shake n Vac, Fairy Liquid, and Mars. Artist earned royalties on repeats and in the case of Mars, this was enough to retire on.

Everything changed in the 1980s with the success of the Levis 501 ad featuring a young man in a launderette undressing to the sound of ‘I heard it through the grapevine’. Not only did the ad sell jeans, it also took the song back to No.1 in the charts … and it wasn’t even the original version but a sound-alike.

This convinced many in the business that a new era, and associated revenue stream, had arrived. Other advertisers copied the approach but often failed to deliver the same kind of creative values.  They scrimped on budgets and the music licensing opportunities turned out to be far less lucrative.

It seems that music has always been the poor relation. A recent study by leading brand agency Millward Brown found that in a typical advert, impact was fairly evenly split between the visuals – 58% – and sound – 41%.  Sadly, relative parity did not carry over into productions budget: 84% for visuals and just 12% for sound.

Ruth thought this might be because advertising ‘creatives’ tend to have a visual background. Even so her message was that opportunities for music in advertising were growing but composers needed to learn the art of negotiation if they were to make the most of them. She provided five tips on a theme of ‘What’s in it for me?’

  1. Find out what is in the budget for music? Talk to your peers and then negotiate.
  2. Ask what else can the brand give if not money, what is guaranteed media and what happens if there is no PRS cheque?
  3. Ensure track title and artist are credited on the brand site and YouTube. Make sure the music is available for download and link back to your site. And get it in writing.
  4. If they can’t give you any of the above ask yourself if it is worth it. And if it is and you do go ahead, make sure you have enough time to optimise the association and align your marketing plans.
  5. And if none of these boxes are ticked, ask again, ‘What’s in it for me?’

Ruth provided an engaging and useful insight into this part of the business. At one point in her presentation she replayed the Levis ad without the music. More than anything else this demonstrated the magic that musicians bring to the world of advertising, and it is a magic that they need to sell more effectively.

Check out more from the The Sound Lounge on the blog and juke box. Also worth exploring is the Millward Brown website which has lots of industry research and intelligent stuff around branding and the music industry.

Panel session

The second session provided a mixed bag of top tips and anecdotes from a panel comprised of PRS experts, a music lawyer, manager, music label; half of them musicians in their own right.

  • James Endeacott – Manager & A&R
  • Pete Bott – Media Lawyer
  • Kat Kennedy – Manager & A&R
  • Alex Sharman – PRS for Music
  • Andy Ellis – PRS for Music

On the legal front, the top tip for early on was don’t let the legal stuff interrupt music but if it is a band sort out legal issues early on particularly share of profits and liabilities. Make sure you copyright the work. And it is may be worth getting in touch with a media lawyer for an exploratory. There’s a chance that he or she may provide some free advice on the basis that you may come back when there is some money in the bank.

When it comes to pitching your work to the business, how do you make your introductions? The advice from a former tour manager for the Strokes was don’t overdo it. “Make your work and you a bit mysterious and exciting.” The best he had received was a CD with one very good song and an email address. “It’s all about the tune!”

There was agreement that even in this day and age there was a still a good case to be made for a deal with a record label and having management. But musicians still need to do stuff themselves so they understand how the business works. “You can’t get away with just making a record”.

Typically musicians should be looking to build their online profile using facebook and other social media. And make the most of any opportunities to showcase your work. For example by submitting work to BBC Introducing which has broken a few artists in its time. There’s some additional thoughts and ideas on this in an earlier post called Rough Notes on Music and Social Media.

People and links

As well a formal presentations, there is much to be learnt from the people you meet at such events.

Folk musician Glen Hodge recommended the open mic at the Betsy Trotwood in Clerkenwell and explained how he has begun to make some money by organizing his own evenings.

Elliott Jett told how he had put his IT entrepreneurial ambitions on hold to explore the opportunities in his first great love, music. We got talking about the importance of the name and how the switch from Elliot G to Elliott Jett had eliminated some gangsta confusion.

Another who was working hard to bring a new brand to market, was SmithLDN. Great combination of the most common English surname with the abbreviation for London to create a brand name that looks like it could travel worldwide.

PRS Centenary Photography Exhibition at Getty Images Gallery in London

PRS Centenary Photography Exhibition at Getty Images Gallery in London

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