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 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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Quantity Surveyor Man, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 1:38am


    I issue them the "20/20 Blindsight Award" for 2008!

    If you give these ass-pods and enema, they'd disappear entirely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    PaulT (profile), Oct 15th, 2008 @ 1:53am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    SteveD, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 2:37am


    Someone hasn't heard of Massive Attack?

    This is why we need Pandora back. :/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Eeqmcsq, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 2:38am

    There's the foot

    There's the gun aimed at the foot. And there's the bang.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Cixelsid, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 2:59am


    I just can't get myself to sit through an entire episode of House without feeling disappointed that Hugh didn't drop his pants while bellowing loudly "Belts off! Trousers down! Isn't life a scream!". He's a sellout.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Yogi, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 3:38am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Twinrova, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 3:38am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 4:23am

    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 should bend over and kiss our ass approach"

    It wouldn't be the first time

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    SteveD, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 4:27am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Ima Fish, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 5:12am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Labels Killed the Musician, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 6:00am

    I would bet that it was actually the label that kept House from using the song again since they own the actual recording of the song!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 6:55am

    Re: Man...

    Actually, i'm told he does that regularly, but it's often editted out of the finakl cut before the show airs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 6:58am


    wKRP plays crap? That's funny...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 7:10am

    U.S. House theme

    Did I miss something? The theme for House in the US is the same (Teardrop) as it was since the first episode.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    MeMeMeMe, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 7:20am

    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.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Tucchus Johnson, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 7:28am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 7:34am

    Re: U.S. House theme

    Umm, yeah. I just checked and its the exact same song in the US. Unless they did a Vanilla Ice and changed one note somewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 7:40am

    The really sad thing is that the record company gets most of the license fee - the band hardly sees anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Ima Fish, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 7:40am

    Re: Re:

    "wKRP plays crap? That's funny."

    God, that was funny!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 8:41am

    Re: Re: U.S. House theme

    You're right. I sent this in before Season Five began, after Fox had talked about changing the theme song to the UK theme song. Apparently, they changed their minds. In the US, the UK theme song is played at the end if you wanted to hear a clip.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 8:45am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    nasch, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 9:44am


    I couldn't really say if your concentration in a solution has decreased or not (diluted), but if you mean deluded (led astray, fooled), no you're not. It's stupid and those days are numbered.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), Oct 15th, 2008 @ 3:56pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Hide this ad »
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Chat
Hide this ad »
Recent Stories
Advertisement - Amazon Prime Music
Hide this ad »


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.