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How Music Licensing Rights Can Hurt Music Sales

from the you-don't-need-to-charge-for-every-little-thing dept

One of our regular readers, Rose M. Welch wrote in with an interesting story that reminds me of the mess concerning the show WKRP in Cincinnati. As you may know, the massively successful sitcom used popular music as part of its storyline about a radio station and its employees. Yet, the music itself was only licensed for the broadcast on TV, since in those days no one thought about any after market. So now, when DVDs and syndication of TV shows are popular, the show couldn’t actually use the original music, and had to dub in some crappy replacement music, harming the overall quality of the show. It’s ridiculous too, since it only harms the bands who have been “cut” from the show, and makes the show a lot less interesting.

Welch’s story isn’t quite at the same level but does a good job demonstrating how bands that focus on licensing their music and getting every penny for every use may be making a big mistake:

‘House’ is a very popular television show in America and the UK. I first started watching the show at the beginning of the summer. One of the things that I really liked was the beat of the into music. I did a search for it and found out that it was ‘Teardrop’ by Massive Attack. I found it on Amazon.com and purchased it. Woot!

After a few days, I went back and purchased more of their music, and some of the suggested music from groups like Thievery Corporation. I’m a rocker at heart, so this kind of music was really a change for me. I’ve probably spent about forty bucks on this kind of music in the last two months. I’m pretty into it and so is my hubby so I plan on buying more. Not to mention the people who have heard it in my home or vehicle and liked it.

So the new season of House has just began and it has a different but equally compelling theme song. I went to try and find it to purchase it. It turns out that it’s not a full song. It’s just a short clip called ‘House’ by composers Scott Donaldson and Richard Nolan, written specifically for the show.

Apparently, they’d had an awful time trying to license ‘Teardrop’ in the UK and said screw it. They made their own. It’s now the theme for the US and the UK. And the next person to go searching for that neat genre will be disappointed because you can’t purchase that clip and that clip doesn’t lead you to any similar music. Not to mention the loss any of funds they would have received for the US show.

So, in attempting to make sure the musician got every penny for every use, the band has been cut out entirely, and replaced with a homemade snippet that isn’t leading anyone to actually purchase new music or go see a concert or anything like that.

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Comments on “How Music Licensing Rights Can Hurt Music Sales”

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23 Comments
PaulT (profile) says:

That’s a shame. I don’t watch House regularly so hadn’t noticed a change, but I remember seeing the pilot and thinking they made a cool theme choice (Teardrop was a top 10 hit in the UK, thanks largely to its unusual video featuring an foetus singing, in utero!).

I feel sorry for Massive Attack, as I’m sure the people who didn’t realise that Hugh Laurie is English are the same people who might want to grab a copy of this song they hadn’t heard before, and end up disappointed. Lose, lose situation.

Yogi says:

I'm really surprised

This hasn’t happened more and more often.

Sooner or later artists will be begging people to use and hear their works for free.

There are so many more people creating things today than in the past that there is a real surplus of creativity. Sooner or later the rest of the market is going to realize this and copyright will be a relic of the tyranny of the record labels and their stooges.

Twinrova says:

Will it ever stop?

Movies and TV sparking downloads? Oh my! Did anyone in the industry ever think of this?

I’m just curious to know how long Techdirt will continue posting blogs like this when it’s quite clear the industry isn’t going to change, especially with the recent law having been passed.

It’s like watching someone beat a dead horse. Entertaining, but it is getting a little old.

SteveD says:

Re: Will it ever stop?

Putting things in perspective the entertainment industry has changed a great deal in the last few years, considering how little it has in the last 25.

One blog might have very little impact on the way the world works, but the right idea presented in the right way at the right moment can change everything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just be careful about taking sides on this – often artists will grant licensing for proper attribution (ie. listing the band’s name and website in the credits and on the tv show’s website.)

It could be that the show’s producers took the “We’re house…you should bend over and kiss our ass approach”

It wouldn’t be the first time

Ima Fish (profile) says:

I’ve rented season one of WKRP on DVD and the music is beyond suck. It’s utter crap. It’s as if the producers decided to create the worst and most inappropriate and ill fitting music possible to replace what was there.

What I would have done was allowed other bands from that time period to license their music. So maybe if they could not use the Knack, they could have got a song from the Romantics instead.

And if that was not possible, they should have at least attempted to create music that existed and was popular at the time of the show. The ultra crappy and lame “metal” they’re using makes the station look like it’s run by morons. It’s no wonder WPIG always kick their butts, the music WKRP plays is crap. And that chances the entire show. Anyone watching it for the first time would have a completely different take on the show without the original music.

MeMeMeMe says:

My theory

The RIAA actually doesn’t want us to listen to any music at all. By trying to make it difficult to purchase/hear/sing/or otherwise we can’t enjoy any music without paying for every note. It won’t be long until they start pulling you over in your car for singing a song out loud. Radio will be long gone as it might damage a dollar the RIAA (note.. not the band/artist) might have made. Sound impossible? Think again…..

Tucchus Johnson says:

this is the problem right here

as someone who’s worked in the music-for-film industry for a few years, i have found that this is the type of attitude that is ruining a whole sector of the soundtrack industry.

all the directors expect music to sound like it’s off of an ipod. additionally, listeners are disappointed when they find out the song is not by a band.

the solution is to make full-length versions of good theme songs, whether it was custom made or not, but in the meantime i read a lot of whining when people find out that someone was actually *hired*(oh no!) to write the theme song.

if you listen to soundtrack music from the 60s, 70s and 80s, you will hear some amazing music that was written for picture, including theme songs. just because those songs had a dated sound to them, doesn’t mean that current shows have to forego the experience of using custom music. it just has to be done right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Question: How much of that “penny” do you think the artist really sees, and subsequently, do you really think the artist is the force behind this? No, it is the big 5, as in every other one of these problems. They rob the artists of their money, and the people of the music.
My brother has a friend who tried to get into the music business. He was good. Not like Santana good, but still damn good. After seeing his first contract, his goal became to one day have a contract giving him at least 10% of his record sales.
Does that sicken the rest of you or am I diluted?

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Custom Music For Shows

in #16, Tucchus says:
“doesn’t mean that current shows have to forgo the experience of using custom music. it just has to be done right.”

You’ve misunderstood the whole discussion.

Nobody said anything bad about original music composed as a theme to a show. What they said is that it’s a missed opportunity to promote some music of any provenance. A musician like Feist got big just by placement in an Apple ad. The same could be said for the composers of an original piece for the show – and the show producers would no doubt capture the upside in sales.

Think of examples like Dukes of Hazzard or Greatest American Hero, which produced pop hits.

But an intro theme that is nothing more is a dead end, and an opportunity lost — all the more if the theme is good. Lost opportunity for the musicians, for the show, and for the consumers who can’t find more music or a full song. Everyone is worse off.

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