Exclusive Music Publishing...Get off the Fence

I spend a lot of time studying what is going on in the music licensing world. Not only as a way to scout new opportunities, but to evaluate trends and stay ahead of the game. I've seen a lot of debate on the Non-Exclusive vs Exclusive model, but I have noticed a definite shift.

The easiest way to understand the two models is that with non-exclusive publishing you can place the same track in multiple libraries while exclusive licensing means it's only available in one library.

Generally speaking, non-exclusive libraries are typically easier to get involved with and are good starting spot for musicians and producers getting their feet wet in licensing their tracks. You don't have the fear of tying up your music in the hands of one company, and then getting zero placements.

The thing to keep in mind is the music library business is setup like a pyramid. At the very bottom are the libraries that fill up the "dirt cheap" category. Generally they take just about anything, license music for super low prices, and are really not worth your time.

The next rung of the library business kind of blurs into "royalty free" category. Typically with them you will see the majority having non-exclusive deals. If you are just cutting your teeth in the commercial music game, these are probably the libraries you'll want to first try out. They are not all created equal, and some you have potential to get a decent amount of sales.

Higher up the pyramid is the Non-Exclusive Re-Title Libraries and Exclusive PMA libraries. This is the area where a lot of the money is actually made for commercial musicians. These placements include a lot of television, ads, films, games, and uses that involve back end money. These libraries occupy almost the top of the pyramid. These are the libraries to strive for, but often they are very difficult to get into, but they should be the goal. Once you've honed your production skills, this is where you want to be, and where you can make a solid living.

Then there is the top 1% of libraries. These libraries typically target big budgeted projects like a Hollywood Blockbuster Film, National/International Movie Trailers, Major Release Video Games, ect. Think like the Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Randy Newman level, with massive budgets, and best of the best quality.

Again, the lines of this pyramid are not set in stone, but kind of blur. My personal observation though is that there is a separation, it's just difficult to define exactly. Some libraries can kind of be on the verge or could be right on the line. It just depends, but generally speaking this is kind of the generic blueprint.

Here's the trend I've noticed about the non-exclusive model. It effects the pyramid differently, but there is still something to be said about it. The non-exclusive model in the "royalty free" area of the pyramid is turning into a music parking lot. Some of these libraries have 500,000+ tracks!

That being said the non-exclusive model is probably still the best model for musicians/producers entering into the game and developing a music catalog for sync. The problem is there is so much non-exclusive music already, the tracks have to stand out to make any substantial sales.

I've even noticed some non-exclusive libraries uploading their entire catalogs unto other non-exclusive libraries. This is a disturbing trend that might be the sign of what will ultimately happen to to the non-exclusive model. I predict that eventually their will only be 3-4 libraries that hold any substantial market share. The rest will either fail or be absorbed into those libraries. The pie left in the non-exclusive model is getting sliced pretty thin, and will continue to get thinner over time.

Now moving up the ladder, you get into the non-exclusive re-title libraries. What they do is take a track and register it with the PRO with an amended title so they get the backend publishing royalties for syncs they land. The business model for these are already rapidly changing. Many of the big players in this level are switching business models per customer requests. The rumor is the customers are getting tired of being pitched the same music at different prices from different libraries, so they are demanding unique content.

The proponents of re-titling say well you can have us as your source for non-exclusive music but then source the rest exclusively. That way you will always get unique music. It seems logical, I guess, but you can already see this switch occurring as many of the libraries that used to accept non-exclusive content now only accept exclusive music. Sometimes watching the action of the library is more important then listening to the debate.

So I guess the question would be, whats a producer to do? The most important thing to keep in mind is with music revenue streams are vitally important. Most musicians and producers, don't depend on just one revenue stream but have many trickling in. I've heard from a lot of musicians and producers that say I don't want to work exclusively with one publisher because I don't want to put all my eggs  in one basket. Keep in mind though, if all your doing is non-exclusive deals that is one basket too. You are putting everything on a business model that is potentially dangerous and risky.

My advice is to diversify. Get your music at the highest level non-exclusive libraries you can. Focus on the ones that provide you with sales and backend royalties. If you're with one for a couple years and it's done nothing for you, pull your music. Also, sign with a couple of exclusive libraries near the top of the pyramid. Try to balance out your track so you can optimize your chances of getting syncs.

I hope this article helps, and if your on the fence whether to sign an exclusive deal get off it, and do it. A great place to research before you do is at the Music Library Report. Don't sign an exclusive deal with a library near the bottom and ALWAYS make sure their is a reversion clause.

Thanks for reading and feel free to share, like or comment below!

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