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The Influencers

Two Words a Music Supervisor Does Not Want to Hear on a Monday Morning

soundlounge, 2 days, 22 hours ago

INFLUENCER: soundlounge's Ruth Simmons on a very complex and misunderstood area of music copyright

Two Words a Music Supervisor Does Not Want to Hear on a Monday Morning

‘Soundalike’ and ‘Musicologist’. Two words that, as a Music Supervisor, generally fill me with dread. This is especially disconcerting on a Monday morning, when everyone from an advertising agency has been busy in the recording studio over the weekend. And when these two words are used in the same sentence, my heart drops.

‘Soundalike’ and ‘Musicologist’ creep into the conversation after someone made enquiries during the previous week for the publishing usage of a well-known track. We have been advised that the brand absolutely loves this track, but discovering that the copyright is more expensive than anticipated did not go down well with the client on Friday afternoon. (It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that the cost of licensing the original master sound recording is going to be too expensive for this budget.)

Faced with finding alternative ways to creatively move the client onside without actually changing the creative proposition, someone tries to make the budget work harder.

Let’s take an objective look at the situation that is developing. We have a publisher who is now very aware of a potential synch fee. If his/her writer is also the artist, someone may already be doing the sums of the combined value of master and publishing licenses and of course their potential PRS revenue. That Caribbean holiday is coming into view!

The problem of how to solve the shortfall gets magnified when the solution appears to be to commission an unsuspecting music production company and brief them, almost causally, to produce a track that is very similar to the original master. This includes, of course, getting close to the vocals and backing track. A ‘Soundalike’. Worse is when a brief goes out to some innocent composers to write a completely new track that’s similar to the original master, but not quite! (An especially popular approach with instrumentals.)

In both cases we end up with a track that is uncomfortably close to the original music production and voice without the artist’s say-so. True, it will come in at a fraction of the cost, but it can leave the client open to much more expensive litigation.

It is very simple. Rerecording an existing copyright track needs consultation with the publisher as to what is acceptable and what is not. Where a ‘new’ piece of music has been ‘inspired’ by the original copyright track, the music industry and their legal teams feel a greater sense of injustice to the original writer/performers. And that’s about the moment we hear the term ‘Musicologist’ sliding into the conversation.

Call me a cynical Victor Mildrew, but I suspect that everybody knows what has gone on. The intention was at best misguided and at worse ill-advised. If anyone at an agency or brand feels that they need the advice of a musicologist to vindicate their decisions, they are also aware that some bending of the rules and the law has taken place. The hope is that a musicologist report will ultimately say to the client, ‘see, we did the right thing and can show you how we saved money and got you a track that works’. Is the objective of employing a musicologist, to shift accountability, introduce a shade of grey into the mix and hope that the report may help their E&O claim later down the line? As Julia Roberts so infamously said in “Pretty Woman”, ‘Big mistake! Huge!’

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To the best of my knowledge, there is no official definition of soundalike (the clue could be in the word itself), but you can see here the soundlounge guidelines of a very complex and misunderstood area of music copyright. Happy re-recording…

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Ruth Simmons is CEO of soundlounge

Genre: Music & Sound Design