Sunday, 25 September 2016

Is the Concept of "Selling Out" Relevant to Music in the Digital Age?

I am currently enrolled on Berklee College of Music’s Online Music Supervision Professional Certificate. This multi-course programme specialises in all the key areas of music supervision – a field which involves the synchronisation of music with visual media, notably TV, film, advertising and video games. Of the five courses that comprise the certificate, I have so far completed Music Publishing 101, Copyright Law, Music Licensing and Music Production Analysis, and I am just about to begin Music Supervision – the final and most vital module in this particular certificate.

As an aspiring music supervisor, I am fascinated by the avenues to which music is placed in TV and film, processes that are extensively covered in the Music Licensing module. A theme that was discussed in this course, is the one surrounding the concept of “selling out”, and whether such a notion is relevant in today’s digital-focused music industry. The course cites the unprecedented licensing of Moby’s 1999 album, Play – in which Moby turned to TV, film and advert placement opportunities when conventional promotional methods did not succeed in expanding his fan base – as a prime example of the shift towards a more creative and inventive approach to licensing. Play became the first album to have every track licensed, and in turn challenged conventional artistic standards in relation to licensing music commercially.

If I were an artist, I would embrace opportunities to have my music placed in TV shows, films or adverts. The music industry’s digital shift saw the physical CD lose its relevance as the main generator of income for artists, and as a result, the ways in which music is distributed have changed drastically. In today’s digital climate — in which most music fans/consumers are discovering new music through the internet, whether it be through streaming services or social media — placements are a much sought after opportunity for today’s upcoming indie artists, many of which are building their musical presence by way of a DIY approach through digital means. In this respect, the hype that can be generated through the use of a song in an advert, or popular TV show/film is especially invaluable for these types of artists.

On this basis, I believe the concept of “selling out” is, for the most part, no longer relevant, especially for these lesser known indie bands, for which every advert, TV show, or film placement, not only benefits the artist financially, but is essentially another opportunity for their music to be discovered by a wider audience. Furthermore, advancements in technology, including music recognition apps such as Shazam, have provided music fans with an efficient method for identifying songs they hear through placements. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been enthused over a particular song on a TV show or movie, and after identifying the song and band, have then subsequently gone on to become fans of the artist as a result of exploring their back catalogue and attending their live shows. From a fan perspective, there is something particularly satisfying about being turned on to artists via a TV show or movie — artists of which I may have never discovered had it not been for such kinds of placements.

For mainstream artists, the concept of “selling out” might prove a more difficult notion to escape from, on the reasoning that the success of these artists surely places them in a position for which they can be selective over the uses of their music. However, the status of these more established artists also places them in a position of leverage when negotiating licence fees, which in turn, most likely secures them a more lucrative deal. One could therefore argue that this is not “selling out”; rather, it is an alternative method of generating income in an industry where constantly evolving technologies, along with the decreasing relevance of the physical CD, has led to significant profit loss for artists as a result of illegal downloading and streaming sites — the latter of which does not provide much in the way of compensation for rights owners. This coupled with the fact that consumers now have the convenience of being able to download individual songs, without the need to purchase an entire album, has ultimately left the music industry with a lot to adapt to. In light of these notable changes that have occurred as a result of the digital age, I feel that placements are more valuable than ever, and that the notion of “selling out” is rapidly losing relevance within the music industry.