SUPPORT WITH SONIC/AUDIO BRANDING PROJECTS
By PCAM Chair Paul Reynolds.
Many of our members are being commissioned or are actively seeking work in the audio or sonic branding field, and are encountering many new challenges in the work, the administration and the deal negotiation.
In this article, I’ll be providing some notes that could be helpful for those starting out in this area, including a few things that you really should know before starting this type of work.
If working with a creative agency, often they will insulate you from many of the tricky processes you can experience when working with a brand, and the path to winning and completing the work will thus be much more simple, but the downside is that the work itself tends to be more executional than strategic (though some of our members have expressed a preference for this!). However, a lot of members are finding themselves being commissioned for work directly by a brand rather than a creative agency, especially when it comes to audible brand identity work.
In this section, we’ll deal with the deal itself. This is the trickiest part of the process and where, if you’re not careful, you can end up with costly problems. But if you get it right, then the work can be very enjoyable — and quite rewarding too.
Who are you dealing with? It’s important to know the type of person you are dealing with, and what their responsibilities are. You could be commissioned by a brand manager, marketing manager or by procurement. For larger commissions and brands, it’s often the latter that will get in touch with you. If you haven’t already, brush up on what their roles are, as there are different motivations for each party.
Insurance. An immediate bump in the road is something that can happen further down the line when a contractual agreement surfaces. If it is from a brand, it will almost certainly require you to have a certain level of business insurance that includes professional indemnity cover. If you don’t already have this type of insurance, check early on in the process to see if it is required, as this will give you time to organise cover. PCAM has teamed up with Performance Insurance to offer PCAM members discounted cover that also includes cyber insurance at a very competitive rate.
Compliance. Do you have a Diversity and Inclusion Policy? A Corporate Social Responsibility strategy? An Anti-Slavery policy? This might all sound very OTT for a small business but you will encounter these types of questions when you are starting work with a sizable brand. You can access a lot of this material through the web, but be prepared to assemble a ‘Company Handbook’ or statement of business policies very quickly if you don’t have this already.
RFI/RFP/RF What? On the subject of completing questions, when being asked to pitch on an audio/sonic identity, you may be approached to complete an RFI (Request For Information). There will be a lot of questions about your business, including requests for financial information. Make sure you are up to date with your own accounting and that you have your business paperwork to hand. Alternatively, if you have an accountant or bookkeeper, it can be advantageous to ask them to assist you in parts of this process.
Should you be selected for the pitch, you will then complete an RFP (Request for Pitch). The pitch process can take many forms. At its worst, it’s a 50+ page document to complete plus a few rounds of pitching. At its best, it’s a single pitch presentation/meeting.
The pitch process can be very arduous and costly in terms of your time. Don’t ever shy away from asking for a pitch fee. Whilst not common, smaller creative music companies cannot afford to pitch at the same level as large advertising/marketing agencies and a pitch fee is an entirely reasonable ask. If there is no set pitch fee, then consider your time that will be spent, plus any administration/third party costs and budget the fee from there. Whilst rare, it has been known for large project pitch fees to be as high as £20,000.
If you get stuck in the process, do reach out to the PCAM Helpdesk where someone will be able to help you.
Budgeting for your work and time.
‘How do I budget for a sonic brand?’ is probably the most common question we get asked. There are many factors to take into consideration, but we can crudely split the budget into four areas.
1) Composition/Licence — You may find that there is a set budget to fit everything into, and therefore calculating separate fees for the composition, recording, mastering, and the subsequent licence feels redundant. However, it’s very useful to have absolute clarity on what is charged for different parts of your work. It is much harder for procurement to chip away at figures if you are armed with justification for every £1 in your costs. I’d always recommend using the PCAM suggested rates and format when building the budget and make sure that your licence agreement is clearly set out and agreed. A brand might want to start small (cheaper licence) and then expand/extend the use if they feel the work is successful, and we all love a good re-licence. Upping or lowering the licence based on intended usage also allows you some room to negotiate as your production/composition time is fixed and shouldn’t be subject to much negotiation.
2) Research/development time — Some more involved sonic branding projects will require a reasonable amount of desk work. Research, brief development, mood boards etc all require considerable amounts of time. Make sure you set your hourly or daily rate and cover yourself for the amount of work that will be needed. It is often at this stage that the work can really drag along and eat up a lot of unbudgeted time. Make sure you build in some maximum time limits so you are able to charge overages due to client changes in the process.
3) Out of pocket expenses — It seems obvious, but if you are using external talent, make sure that you budget enough for the time they will need to put in. Sonic branding work requires a lot of experimenting with different routes and can use up a lot of talent time. Make sure that your deal with the talent is clear so you both go into the project knowing what the expectations and boundaries are. You’ll also want to make sure that you agree up front any ‘win’ fee should your third party talent be successful.
4) Legal/administration — Often overlooked is the cost of all the administrative tasks that you need to undertake. You may need some legal support or would want to factor in the cost of a musicologist. You can easily drop these out of the budget if they aren’t needed, but it’s much harder to introduce the costs further down the line. Your client won’t want to have any surprises later on, so the whole idea is to cover all the tasks that you need to undertake in the completion of the project. You will also want to cover the cost of all that time taken on the RFI/RFP.
Charge what you are worth! It doesn’t matter who you are dealing with — you bring a lot of value to the brand with your work and I strongly advise you to stick to your guns. Procurement can sometimes feel very intimidating when you are negotiating but it’s important to remember that they are just doing their job. Getting a very good relationship with them in the first place will make a big difference. If you are budgeting carefully, make sure you know the point at which the ‘deal’ becomes unfavourable. You are entitled to fair remuneration, so make sure you are comfortable with whatever the final deal is. If in any doubt, please get in touch with our Helpdesk.
It’s good to remember that with projects like this, the work can drag on for many months and you can get pulled into multiple iterations of your work. There is also an added danger of the project cancelling if it drags out for a long period, so make sure that you build in cancellation clauses entitling you to payment for all work (including hours) to date, plus a fair cancellation fee as you will have booked future time/talent for the project. Also make sure that you add clauses that are very explicit with the work, including time, that you are being contracted for. Any vagueness in this area will not end up in your favour.
If you feel that the initial deal on offer in the negotiation is quite a fair distance from what you feel is acceptable (fair), then please also let us know. Being a reasonably new service for many brands, there isn’t that much knowledge around the cost or process involved for your work and we want to encourage the promotion of good practice to both our members and your clients.
Now, we’ll dive into the work process and the administrative side, helping ensure that you can complete and wrap up your project without any hiccups and have every opportunity to enjoy any future revenues.
The work process.
If you are not used to working on a sonic brand, you may find the process quite different to anything you’ve done before. There are many stages of work before you even get in the studio. You may be either handling the whole project yourself or be contracted by a sonic branding company that will take care of a lot of the non-composition work. The main stages of the work are:
Understand the brand. The first step is to understand the brand. What are its values? What is its personality? What is the target audience? Once you have a good understanding of the brand, you can start to develop a better understanding of what music suits the brand and the intended audience.
Research. The next step is desk research, looking at the musical landscape. Are other similar brands using sonic identities? What is the brand and its peers doing with music? What are the latest trends in sonic branding? From here, you can start to develop a brief for a sonic identity that learns from others but is unique and memorable.
Brief. Once you have a good understanding of the brand and the sonic landscape, you can start to create the brief. This is often done hand-in-hand with the client. It’s quite a different experience to being handed a brief, as you are helping to create the brief yourself. What kind of music would be appropriate for the brand? What does the audience listen to? What instrumentation should you use? What kind of tempo and rhythm would you use? What are the practical applications? Collate as many ideas as you can, and then start to narrow them down with your client.
Composition. This process could involve you producing multiple ideas and versions as you keep experimenting to find the right brand sound. Involve your client in this process — it’s a rewarding experience for all.
Refine. Once you have aligned on a rough draft, expect to keep refining for multiple rounds. As the decisions from the client become more concrete, you may find new stakeholders appear and have their own opinions. Be ready to rip it up and start again! Seeking good feedback is a tricky art, but it is worth being persistent as good feedback will help get you to completion much more quickly.
Roll-out. Once all parties have signed off the sonic identity, which often, in its simplest form, consists of a brand theme and a sonic logo, you can get on with mixing and mastering. Depending on the project, you’ll probably also need to create multiple adaptations, versions and edits. Make sure that everything you create is agreed in your scope of work and charge for any additional work!
Implementation. This is where most sonic brand projects fail, right at the last hurdle. If a client hasn’t prepared for implementing the sonic brand, such as communicating to their Agencies and partners how to use it, then it will very likely sit in a folder and never get used. Be prepared to create a simple user guide that the brand and their creative partners can use. Include information about the rights in the music and all registration details so the various partners can correctly credit/register the music’s use. It’s also a good idea to include your contact details so you can assist with any issues – and this could lead to additional work further down the line!
Rights! Who owns them? The discussion with your client around rights can often pop up at a rather tricky time. This is when you are at the final stages of the project and the client team realise (or are informed internally) that they must acquire all rights. The negotiation on budget that you had before the start of the project might have been for a standard exclusive synchronisation licence, determined by term, territory and media. Whilst this licence is sufficient for most brands, there are two main exceptions that regularly arise.
1) The client needs flexibility to create multiple versions in multiple territories with multiple creative partners. For global brands, the central brand/marketing team simply cannot control how or where the sonic brand will be used. Because of this, they will often request the publishing rights. The publishing rights in music are the rights that control how the music is used and distributed. This includes the mechanical rights (to allow for the reproduction of the music in physical or digital form, such as a download), the performance rights (to allow for the public performance of the music, such as on radio, tv or in a live environment), and the synchronisation rights (to allow the music to be used in audiovisual communications). Most of our members either control their own publishing, publish through a third party publisher, or manage through their own publishing entity. The publishing rights are valuable because they allow you, the copyright holder, to control how your music is used and distributed. Royalties from sonic brands can be a significant source of income for composers and music publishers if they are correctly managed. So if you decide to provide the brand with the publishing rights, then you must ensure that you exchange them for a fair price. If you are in doubt, please contact the PCAM Helpdesk for advice. We advise not surrendering your publishing rights, but in some cases this isn’t feasible or practical for the client.
2) The client has been told to obtain all rights. Everything. This case is very common, even with very well-established brands. So you may find yourself on the receiving end of a tough and sometimes intimidating legal and procurement team demanding that you surrender absolutely everything. A stern “No, I can’t legally surrender the writer’s share due to my agreement with the Performing Right Society” often stops the conversation progressing. The writer’s share is something that all composers must strongly defend as it is your right to retain this!
The writer share in PRS-registered music is 50%. This means that the composer(s) of a registered piece of music will receive 50% of the royalties that are generated from the use of that song. The other 50% of the royalties will be paid to the music publisher.
The writer share is determined by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This Act states that the copyright in a piece of music is owned jointly by the composer(s) and the music publisher. The composer(s) are the creators of the music, while the music publisher is the company that markets and distributes the music.
The 50% writer share is a standard rate that is used by most performing rights organisations (PROs). PROs are organisations that collect royalties on behalf of songwriters and composers. They then distribute these royalties to the rightful owners. While copyright split might traditionally be 50%-50%, it can actually be agreed to be any amount more in favour of the composer — i.e., 60% Composer / 40% Publisher. If you are being pushed by a client to give away publishing you can always offer an 80% Composer / 20% Publisher split, giving the rights that are required by the client but without the loss of royalty income to you.
Trying to determine exactly how the client might need to use/distribute your music will give you an indication of what rights they actually need. Acquiring all media, worldwide, in perpetuity, unlimited films and the publishing rights is very, very expensive, and almost completely pointless for a domestic brand. An exclusive licence with the right parameters included can provide all the freedom the brand needs, without the extra expense.
A composer who is signed to PRS can technically assign their writer share, but only if they have the express permission of PRS, which is very unlikely to be forthcoming. The rights are protected to protect you from exploitation. When a composer assigns their writer share, they are giving up their right to receive royalties for the use of their music. Don’t be bullied into this!
If you find you are stuck in negotiation hell and are considering assigning your writer share, it is important to talk to PCAM and to a lawyer to understand the risks involved. You should also make sure that you have a good understanding of the PRS Agreement before you sign anything.
Also, don’t be bullied into waiving your Moral Rights. These are a legal statutory right conferred by a 1988 Act and is the right to be attributed (or credited) for your work, to not have your work falsely attributed, and to not have your work treated in a derogatory way. Legally, Moral Rights cannot be sold or given away.
Administration: Register Everything!
It is important to register all versions of your music with PRS because it ensures that you will be paid when any version of your music is used in public. For example, if you have a sonic brand that is recorded in multiple versions, such as a 20” acoustic version, a 30” electronic version, and a 1’30” brand theme, you will need to register all versions with PRS in order to collect royalties for all uses of the music. If you have a publisher, they should do this for you and should also check that your works are all registered. If they aren’t, you won’t get any royalties.
PRS also recommends that you register your music on Soundmouse, which provides music reporting services to the broadcasting industry. Using Music Recognition Technology (MRT), Soundmouse monitors key TV and radio broadcasts in the UK and around the world and reports the data to PRS. Joining Soundmouse means you can upload your works so they can incorporate them into the work they do, and as a PRS member you can join Soundmouse for free and upload your music to make sure your repertoire is available to broadcasters and other collecting societies for reporting purposes. More accurate reporting for the TV and radio stations monitored should result in more accurate distributions and royalties for you.
Other organisations such as ICE (Integrated Copyright Exchange, a joint venture between PRS for Music, STIM, and GEMA) and other collecting societies also use Soundmouse, so joining should mean that your works will be easier to match both in the UK and overseas.
Always agree and sign a contract – and ideally, agree and sign the contract before you start any work. The contract outlines the rights and responsibilities of each party, and it can help to prevent unnecessary disputes. Agreeing terms before you start work will ensure that:
You protect your intellectual property. The contract should state that you, the composer, owns the copyright to the music you create for the sonic brand.
You are paid fair and in a timely manner. The contract should state the amount of money that you will be paid for your work. It should also state a very clear payment schedule, with project cancellation clauses/fees. Make sure that you don’t leave long gaps of time between payments, especially if the project stretches out over many months.
You can avoid disputes. The contract can help to prevent disputes by outlining the rights and responsibilities of each party. Be very clear, and detail the work that you have agreed to do. If there is a dispute, the contract can be used to prevent the need for lawyers.
Get legal support — and charge for it! If you receive a 90-page contract from a brand, it can be quite intimidating. Most composers are not fully-trained music and media lawyers so it’s advised to have a good relationship with a lawyer who has experience with music, advertising, and branding.
With most large brands, you will not be able to use your own agreement, as the brand will demand that you work with theirs. A lot of these agreements are standard and tend to be in place for all creative partners. As such, you’ll find you’ll have difficulties altering the section on rights (see above). This can be a bit of a headache and you may wish to consider handing the work to someone who can get the agreement sorted quickly so that it does not distract you from your creative work. It’s a very good idea to build in a legal/administration fee in every sonic brand project. This is a standard fee that all creative agencies will add, so it will not seem unexpected to your client. A mark-up on your legal costs is also advisable to cover your time.
Some clients have been known to push composers into producing soundalikes of famous songs for their sonic brand. This is because licensing a song for a sonic brand use can be incredibly expensive. However, this can lead to copyright infringement. If you are asked to produce a soundalike, seek the advice of a musicologist and ask your client to cover the cost. If the copyright holder of the original work has been approached for a licence, this is a big red flag.
Most sonic brands are created after a process of working with ‘reference music’ that has been chosen during the earlier phases on a sonic branding project. As such, it’s always recommended to have a musicologist review the work and give it a clean bill of health in terms of any similarity with the references. During the process they will also apply their encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s music to help flag any other potential issues.
If you are in any way uncomfortable with your work despite a positive musicologist’s report, PCAM advises members to either refuse to permit the use of the music or to cross out any indemnity clause before signing a contract.
If you have any questions about sonic/audio branding, please do get in contact with the PCAM Helpdesk. Many PCAM Committee members have experience in this field and will be happy to assist you.
You’ll also find much more in-depth information relating to best practice, rights and agreements on the PCAM website.