Music Library Warning Bells

The DIY Musician on the controversial practice of retitling:

When you sign a non-exclusive agreement, you may have multiple parties wanting to collect public performance royalties on their specific placements only. The way to achieve this is by registering the song with the performing rights organization under a new title.

(This) usually means that the licensing company collects royalties for those placements in perpetuity (forever). If these royalties are theirs to collect forever, this could impact the value of your publishing catalog in the future, if you enter into a traditional publishing or co-publishing deal. It also causes confusion for music supervisors, studios, and the performing rights organizations when multiple parties are claiming ownership over the same work, which can often lead to content providers not receiving royalties they’re owed.

Before signing any catalog to a music library always specifically ask if they retitle. A lot of libraries have sneaky ways to insert retitling rights into their agreements that you may miss if you’re not used to looking for these sorts of provisions. If you think a ‘non-exclusive’ agreement means the library isn’t retitling then know that you’re probably wrong.

Retitling is messy business. It may be on its way out of favor thanks to audio identification software getting better and starting to be used by PROs for royalty tracking. If you have a lot of retitled songs in your repetoire then the emergence of audio royalty tracking could make your life hell … the retitled ‘versions’ of your songs could be the ones getting identified, which means the library owning that title will be getting the royalties whether they are responsible for the license or not.

A friend had his tracks retitled by a library that ended up submitting the new titles to a bunch of third parties (something else he overlooked as allowed in the agreement). Somehow these ended up at Shazam. My friend had a semi-popular song that this library retitled, and any time someone would ‘Shazam’ it, the re-title came up rather than the actual title that could be found in stores. He was able to contact Shazam and get this fixed but what a nightmare.

So, yeah … avoid any deals that involve retitling.

The DIY Musician article has a lot of other useful advice for things to look out for when signing catalog to music libraries. I’d also pay close attnetion to #5, “Limit the number of non-exclusive licensing partners you work with.”

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