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Video’s Rise Can Lift Music's Fortunes, But Only If Music Clearance Catches Up Technologically

3As the availability of content continues to balloon and the streaming technology on which it's accessed continues to advance, the process of clearing music for picture remains stuck in the year 1989, even as the demand for synced, pre-recorded music is ever-increasing.

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Guest post by Scott Freiman, CEO of Qwire

With the technological transformation of video delivery thanks to streaming, you’d imagine that the entire world of film, TV, and video production--and particularly the music department--would be equally transformed. Yet as the amount of content balloons and margins melt away, music still gets cleared for picture via paper, post-it notes, scattered spreadsheets, and file folders. It may be 2019 on the consumer-facing side, but in the back office, it’s eternally 1989.

The music industry is losing out on opportunities because of this. Even as music supervisors and clearance teams keep using the same manual methods, the demands on them, as well as the licensing landscape and the stakes in sync, have increased dramatically. The need for pre-recorded music has skyrocketed in the OTT (over the top or streaming video) era.

Yet just finding out who owns music that is not from a production library can be very time consuming. Once you’ve finally figured out ownership, you have to send letters and agreements and negotiate separately with multiple parties, for each placement. These offers may have limited lifespans or be limited to specific uses and/or territories. Making a mistake with the precise details about length and type of placement can cost a production thousands of dollars and even open the door to lawsuits.

The more that can be done to simplify the process of clearance, the more time and money production teams can save and the more placements artists, labels, and publishers can get. The easiest way to do this is to simplify and streamline workflow via technology. But that’s not so easy.

The will is there: Music supervisors will tell you they need things to change, but change is hard. I’ve seen this transition before, from paper trails and manual entry to electronic systems, thanks to my work pioneering automobile lending technology in the 1990s. Things are working now--at least sort of. Movies and TV shows are getting made. In many ways, paper feels comfortable. You can touch it and hold it. When it is filed away, you can (sometimes) point to where it is. And those budget figures are stored right in this spreadsheet… that I think I updated yesterday… if I could only find it on my desktop...

4For those holding the purse strings, the focus is on the creative side, on more and better final content that’s more appealing to the viewers, and on the promotion of this content in an increasingly competitive market. The processes that drive production are less visible to the people at the top, much as they are barely visible to viewers. There’s a budget, but monitoring the details of how that filters down to the departments doesn’t feel as pressing. Improving the work of music supervisors and clearance is not always the highest priority.  

Improving the music clearance process will clearly save significant time across the entire process while improving efficiency and reducing errors, all of which leads to cost savings.  And the benefits of having real-time information at your fingertips is critical--especially when it comes to managing budgets and negotiating better licensing deals.

It’s not only studios and production companies that can reap the benefits of technology to assist music licensing. Ask any music label or publisher, and they will tell you about the often manual systems they have set up to manage and respond to incoming quote requests, as well as track the specific rights granted and the dates those rights expire. They will tell you about business lost due to data entry errors, misrouted quotes, and lengthy response times. And they will tell you about music license fees not received or sent to the wrong party. Imagine how much easier the entire process would be if rights holders could receive and respond to quotes electronically by connecting directly to technology on the music supervisor's desk.

When you peel back the layers, it’s obvious how we can make the entire system work better for all parties. The problems are starting to spark a change. So much content is being produced that media companies are focused on improving efficiency in any way possible. The tide is turning, and music licencors and licensees can be a part of the transformation.

Scott Freiman is the CEO of Qwire, creators of collaborative solutions for music licensing, royalty reporting and music post production.

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