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Winslow Bright

Music supervision and licensing for podcasts

· By James Cridland · 12 minutes to read

How easy is it to get commercial music cleared for a podcast? It’s easy to say no, but there are companies that’ll help - like Premier Music Group. Winslow Bright is a music supervisor for film, audiobooks and podcasts, who worked with the company on the audiobook Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon.

I interviewed Winslow for the Podland podcast. This is a lightly-edited transcript: I started by asking her what Premier Music Group was.

Winslow: Premier Music Group is a music supervision company. We specialize in music for advertising, film and TV and podcasts. We work with various agencies, we work with directors, we work with production companies, film studios, and - anyone creating podcasts.

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James: So let’s focus on the Paul Simon audio biography, Miracle and Wonder. It’s a five-hour audio book - 67 songs in it - and you spent eight months clearing those songs. That it seems a large chunk of time for this.

So can we just go back to basics? First of all, I have read on the internet that I can just use up to 30 seconds of any song and that’s just fine, and nobody will complain. Is that true?

Winslow: Who on the internet said that? That’s not true - that’s definitely not true.

I am certainly not a specialist when it comes to fair use: I push everyone towards lawyers who specialize in that, but when it comes to using music and a podcast, generally speaking, unless the lawyer that you work with can specifically say a reason that a song can be deemed or considered fair use, the music should always be licensed. Even if that’s a gratis license - an agreement with the owners and artists that there is no fee, but it’s understood that the artist has signed off on.

James: So really, you do always need to ask permission. There are at least two sets of people that you need to ask for permission: music publishers and the record companies, have I got that about right?

Winslow: Yes, that’s correct. Sometimes there can be multiple publishers on a song, too. Generally speaking, there’s often one record label, but sometimes if there’s two artists - think of two contemporary modern artists making a song together - oftentimes both of their record labels own a 50% split. Then there can be multiple publishers depending on how many songwriters are on the song.

James: Right. So how do I find out the publishers and the record company? It used to be obvious just looking at the CD, but there are no such things as CDs anymore.

Winslow: I do feel like it’s much easier than it used to be nowadays - you can go on the performing rights societies websites like BMI or ASCAP, SEESAC, PRS is the UK equivalent. Type in the name of the song - and their databases are getting better every day - and you can find the writer info there. If it’s something that’s old, or maybe the rights have changed over and that’s not up to date, that can require some sleuthing and some detective work: we certainly pride ourselves on being great detectives at our company.

James: So, in terms of the Paul Simon work, I’m guessing it was relatively easy. Has he been with the same record company and publisher all the way through?

Winslow: He actually just sold his publishing rights to Sony ATV, and that goes into effect in early 2022. So it was interesting coming on when we did, because we’re in the middle of that transition. And then the majority of the master recordings that we used for this project were all with Sony on the master side as well. There are several songs where it’s a collaboration or where there’s a co-writer or something like that - instances where it required other approval rights with such a big artist.

With someone who has such a robust catalog and where we’re licensing so many songs there were a lot of layers internally that we had to work through and aligning on fees and aligning on terms and rights: making sure everyone internally at both of those companies were approving what we were requesting or managing all expectations with both our client snf the various layers of approvals at the publisher and label.

James: So, generally - because you clearly can’t talk about this particular client - how are the costs worked out for this sort of thing? I’m really thinking here around podcasting, because obviously audiobooks are going to be a little bit different.

Winslow: It all comes down to how long and where a project is going to live online. So if you’re requesting something for one year that might have one set of costs, whereas if you request something for five years, ten years or in perpetuity, then those fees often change. That’s the biggest variable with major labels. There’s a threshold in terms of what they’re willing to consider, so even if you want to only license something for two months or six months, there’s an admin piece with that - and they want to make sure that they’re paying their artists appropriately.

James: And then of course, a podcast is available for free typically, and available without any rights management on there as well. So are there the things that you also have to agree, like 'I will only use 45 seconds of this track’, or 'I will use the instrumental rather than the sung version’, or that sort of thing?

Winslow: Whether it’s a movie or an advertisement or a podcast, we always have to specify how the song is being used. So whether it’s the instrumental version, lyrical version, what the scene description is or the context of the use. If Ariana Grande is going to be on the episode, and this is her intro, and so a song of hers plays underneath that; or whether it’s John Legend talking about Marvin Gaye and they play a clip of (Marvin Gaye’s) Got To Give It Up for context of the way that he’s describing his vocals - every uses is different. The rights holders, and the artists and the writers or the estates of those parties want to know the actual context of the use. Something could be approved for one type of use and under one consideration, or it could be denied if the estate or someone didn’t like the way that it was portrayed or discussed or something like that. We always have to provide all of that info: the length of the use, the type of use, the scene description. Then, like I said, the term, and then where it’s going to live - is it living only on Apple Podcasts or is it on every podcast platform? Is it available on the website of the podcast? Is it being used on Instagram for social teasers? All of those are things are things we have to negotiate when we go to clear the rights for the media.

James: This is not sounding easy so far. I can see why you spent eight months doing all of this work!

When I used to buy music a long, long time ago now, I remember finding an excellent record store in my home town which sold gray imports. So instead of buying Michael Jackson’s Thriller for six pounds for the cassette, I ended up buying it for just three pounds, but it happened to be on the Epic Greece record label. Everything was in the Greek language, but it was the same recording!

So, I’m wondering how this works internationally as well. Clearly this audio book I’m guessing is going to be made available in more than just the US, but podcasts are international in scope, too. What’s the deal there?

Winslow: It depends on how the rights are distributed internationally. I would say like with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, that was probably a bootleg! But when we’re figuring out who owns the rights to something, we’re always going to the original source and figuring out - if this recording was released in 1959 on this record label, who owns that record label now? Who would the rights now be owned by? We work this out based on the series of purchases and acquisitions and all of these things. That goes for the publishing too. It is a lot of detective work figuring out who currently owns the rights. When we reach out to our contacts at the labels and the publishers, they can tell you what they actually control.

I was working with somebody today and they said “we control 50% of this recording in the US”. I wrote back and I said, “the other publisher who’s listed on this song confirmed that if this is an instrumental then they don’t have the rights. So I believe that you actually control 100% in the US”, and they wrote back and they said “Oh, OK - in that case, we do and control 100% in the US but globally, we control only 50%”. So, you know, there are often territory splits because especially with older recordings some pieces were sold off and different pieces were bought. Labels and publishers are still selling off pieces or buying catalogs and all of that. And some people don’t even know what they own, there’s so much music out there. We often go to people and say, “I know you have this, I know you own mess. Help me help you.”

James: One of the things in podcasting is that download numbers aren’t necessarily the same as the total amount of listeners who heard it. What sort of information do the music rights holders wants to know in terms of usage? Is it, you know, this, this got 200,000 downloads or…

Winslow: In the film and TV space, we have to advise what the total budget is for a film, what the music budget is, or what the percentage is of the budget that’s going towards music. These are questions that we get asked all the time on other projects. I feel like it will make sense eventually for podcasts to move into that kind of space, um, to have licensing fees be partially, I guess, determined based on the number of downloads or the ad revenue and all of these different things.

I think the business has certainly boomed in the last few years, but given how democratic the platform is that doesn’t necessarily mean that every podcast is making the same amount of money or has the same amount of revenue or spends the same amount on production. So not every label or publisher is asking for that information right now - and frankly, not every podcast wants to supply that information or can supply that information, but I can see a world where that information is exchanged more in order to help determine more appropriate numbers when it comes to licensing.

James: If you were able to get direct links into podcast hosting companies to get the numbers directly, would that be a help in terms of at least reporting back to the record companies and the publishers how much usage something is getting?

Winslow: Yeah. If you have a brand new podcast that you’re launching and you just don’t know how it’s going to do that might help. I will say that the costs can be obviously variable depending on the song, depending on the rights holders. And again, depending on the term - but sometimes I do wonder if it would be helpful to have a better insight into what the ad revenue is like, and what the percentage is in terms of the total production costs, just to see if these fees feel fair based on the usage, or if they feel out of line with the rest of the project.

James: I would imagine that there’s a big difference between someone that just would like to use 30 seconds of ACDC’s Back in Black at the beginning of their podcast, and someone who is making a enriched eight hour audiobook. I’m sure that there are plenty of podcasters out there who would be perfectly happy to spend $250 on a little bit of music, but I’m not necessarily sure it works that way.

Winslow: Also, every artist has the right to consider how their music is used. The artists have to have that approval. They have every right to say, “I don’t want my music in that opening of that podcast”.

When you go to license music in indie films, those licenses are priced differently than the newest James Bond movie. The funding and the overall budget are different, and those are things that are considered and granted. It’s something that I think about a lot just in terms of the variable scale.

James: And on the artist, one last question: if I’ve done an interview with a band, and the band says “Sure, you can use my new track in your podcast”, do they actually have the rights themselves to say that?

Winslow: Such a good, great question. Nine times out of ten, I would say no. They don’t have the sole right. If they’re commercially releasing music, they would be signed to a record label and potentially have a publishing deal in place. If you and I are in a band together, and we’re both signed to different publishers, that’s two publishers. And then we have our label that technically owns the master recording. So we are the creators of the song, but we do not have the sole right to grant the use of our music in this project.

James: There’s a reason why somebody has signed a contract with a record company!

Winslow: Right! And we (the band) might say “Oh, that’s fine, for free!”, whereas our label might be like: “Um, no - the going rate for this is X amount. And even just to admin it, it requires X amount. And, we don’t want to do it for less”. Now, obviously it helps to have the blessing of the band, but technically the next step there would be to reach out to the label and say, you know, we have the blessing of the band and here’s the correspondence from the band, or whatever it may be.

James: So your advice would be, if somebody wanted to make a music documentary, call Premier Music Group and we’ll help you, I guess. But it certainly sounds as if it’s going to be a bit more complicated than originally thought.

Winslow:: My colleagues worked on Summer of Soul and they worked very, very closely with Questlove, and they worked very closely with all of the various rights holders and everything, but all of that required approvals. That’s a visual documentary. And even with Paul Simon - the creator really of this project, he and Malcolm and Bruce all speak very closely together - even so, we had to go through all of the proper channels to get all of the rights to all of the songs included, whether they were his songs or other people’s songs. Because again, he has a record label that owns those rights, and then he has publishing companies that own all of those rights.

Of course, it helps to be able to say that he’s obviously very closely involved in the project. So that’s like a whole other step: if you’re asking someone to be involved or if you have a project that you’re trying to do without someone’s involvement.

Generally speaking, unless somebody owns all of the rights to their own music outright, then you, you do still have to work through those channels. Having them involved can be super helpful and they can also be extremely knowledgeable when you’re working through decades of music, as with Paul’s music. He’s been recording music for a very, very long time. We were able to work closely with his management and work through some songs where we weren’t sure who had the rights to certain recordings, or who had approval rights. They were extremely supportive and helpful, but we did still have to like go through all the proper channels, which is why it took eight months.

Winslow Bright spearheaded the licensing and music supervision of Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon. The audiobook is available now, from Pushkin Industries.

James CridlandJames Cridland is the Editor of Podnews, a keynote speaker and consultant. He wrote his first podcast RSS feed in January 2005; and also launched the first live radio streaming app for mobile phones in the same year. He's worked in the audio industry since 1989.

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