2020 Work Tales

In which a library music publisher talks about his job, and readers read it.

Happy New Year!

Here’s a big one all about 2020 and 2021 onwards in this wonderful library life.

What happened in 2020? This is what:

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JUBILANT JANUARY & FANTASTIC FEBRUARY

2020 got off to a fine start for us. Our 2019 sales had been 30% higher over 2018 in every corner of our work — trailers, advertising, TV.

After a long weekend break in the 2m deep Lapland snow we had a lovely sales trip to sunny LA in late February catching up with old music supervisor friends and gathering fresh ideas as usual. Until…

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MARCH MAYHEM

That virus went from a slightly concerning abstract talking point to a deadly pandemic and the year of shut-downs began. Life as we knew it ground to a halt and in March I started working from a box room at home and more or less never left it.

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APRIL APPREHENSION

Our quote requests (where movie studios ask us for price quotes for trailers) dropped from an all time high to nearly nothing in April. We also hit some teething troubles with switching agents in some major territories (partly to do with the pandemic scuppering the admin required from third parties), making us realise that we would have to accept a period of dipped income in 2021.

As a cost-cutting precaution we decided to slow production for 6 months from 3 albums per week to 2 albums per week (across 8 labels), I lowered my income and we reduced the amount of advances we were paying out, thinking we should save up some cash in case everything got worse.

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SUMMER SURPRISES

We waited for the devastating impact on our business and… it didn’t happen. Trailer income was lower but steady thanks to old bills still being paid to us, a few major video-on-demand releases then thankfully HBO, Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon, FX, Hulu etc rolling on with new campaigns.

Meanwhile international TV income remained good. By the end of summer we felt safe to return to our usual 3 albums per week (across 8 labels remember — sounds like a lot but it’s not much per label!).

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FINE FALL & HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Trailer and international income stayed steady through autumn and here we are at the year end. Our total 2020 income ended up about 20% higher than 2019 overall, leaving us with a bit saved up in the bank in case 2021 goes worse than expected.

From September we changed our writer agreements so that we split recording costs 50/50. Previously, although we paid the costs up front, like a lot of publishers we eventually recouped costs from the writer side of sync fees. From now we finally feel like we can afford to shift to 50/50. Hey maybe one day we’ll cover all of it but I won’t get ahead of myself and go full socialist on yo asses just yet.

Maybe because things were looking better or just because I’d got over the shock of the pandemic, by November I got deep into an enthusiastic publishing re-invention mindset — looking carefully at everything we do and trying to find as many improvements as possible major or minor — focusing on ‘quality above everything’ instead of my old mixed priorities which combined improving quality with controlling costs and increasing production.

Yes we’ll still be sensible with costs but we’ll spend more if it will result in better music, and at 3 albums per week we don’t need to increase production any more. 3 is enough!

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FUTURE FEAR

On the downside some of our higher than expected 2020 income is short term. The huge delays in income rising and falling in the library industry means this 2020 increase is actually coming from good results in 2018 and 2019.

Therefore, us changing agents and the pandemic in 2020 are likely to hit us in 2021–22.

That said, we are starting 2021 from a strong position with some cash saved up, and touch wood, thanks to the vaccines the movie trailer industry will probably gear up in the second half of the year as cinema re-openings are planned and that will bring us some early recovery income.

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MY 2020 EMOTION REPORT

Nerds don’t discuss feelings, they GIVE AN EMOTION REPORT.

I definitely went through *something* as I tried to get my head around the level of physical and business risk of the pandemic, as well as all the other big changes to our plans and working methods.

We kept on releasing great music but it felt like treading water, keeping up a brave face while worried and confused.

For whatever reason though, as I got used to the ‘new normal’ and as it started to look like the business impact wasn’t going to be bad I got back on top of everything and ready for a new chapter by the year end.

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QUALITY ABOVE EVERYTHING

I’ve been piping on about QUALITY ABOVE EVERYTHING a lot lately. No idea how it will affect the music (hopefully positively!) but towards the end of the year I got into this mantra of looking for ways to improve every aspect of what we’re doing.

The plan is that in 2021 we’ll have:

Better artwork (commissioned from talented fine-art painters on our Minim and Songcraft labels), better quality control, better mixes, better mastering, better industry intelligence, better music, better targeting of album concepts for clients, better marketing, better targeting of album ideas towards the right composers and better fees and advances.

Plus — most of our Gothic Storm back catalogue is now being remixed and remastered. We’re also shifting to a better online music delivery platform (DISCO).

Also, only our best and most active composers are being retained.

I can see the potential downsides. More focus on directing specific composers to specific albums is going to reduce the wonderful experiments and accidents we got where less-known composers turned out to be much more amazing than expected.

Still, I think with anything as chaotic as creative work you’re going to get some happy accidents and experiments whatever you do so hopefully the changes will produce a more good than harm for our music and our composers.

We’ll see!

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SHOULD OUR COMPOSERS BE WORRIED?

No. The composers we’re ‘retaining’ are those who already write all of our music anyway. Those we’re not inviting to new albums are the same ones we didn’t invite to albums anyway.

The focus on quality is partly a mindset shift which will hopefully lead to better ideas, artwork, mixing and mastering, scrutiny, quality control, encouraging more great music and increasing budgets where that might help.

The biggest practical difference to our system is that from now the 90% of writers on our books who don’t write anything won’t have access to our album briefs any more which they probably shouldn’t have had anyway.

Some great writers might slip though the net though. We have maybe 200 composers from over the years who might have written or co-written a track or two and never got in touch again.

Hopefully if such writers are interested they’ll get in touch and share some of their latest music from time to time.

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COMING IN 2021:

As a rough summary of the business year ahead our plans are:

– Stick to the 3-albums per week release rate (across 8 labels) — it seems about right for us where we’re not having to apply extra effort to speeding anything up or slow it down

– Quality above everything! Yeh!

– Our Michael Coates is introducing a new catalog as part of his Future Pop label. Seems like a winner to me!

– Hope that cinemas worldwide will re-open by the end of the year and deliver a thousand huge trailer placements

– Hope we can get back to LA and meet our friends there again before the end of 2021. I miss that city so much, it’s become a second home over the years.

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2021 FOR OUR PERSONAL SCRIPT / MUSICAL PROJECT:

Me and my wife Sophie made progress on a spec musical screenplay we’re working on in 2020 but it’s still been stupidly slow. Draft 2 of the script is done with plenty of changes still needed. All the main songs have good orchestral demos and live violins and violas added but there’s a couple of reprise type songs yet to do, cellos still to be recorded and then lots of work yet on the final (demo!) vocals, arrangements and mixes.

Still, I’d have to be a much worse procrastinator than usual NOT to finish this during 2021 because we’re 90% there now. Then the plan is to see if we can get any interest in it from film makers, knowing that the number of scripts that ever get bought and made is very low, especially for high budget movies which this would have to be. Still, I like a challenge and this is certainly one!

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MY NEXT TEN YEARS:

I’ll turn 50 in June 2021. Yikes. It got me thinking about the long term plan and so I’ve been deep in an analysis of my future personal, creative and business goals over the last few weeks.

One option I considered was leaving publishing behind in a few years to focus more on composing.

That has its temptations but the results of my grand computation are that: nope, publishing is fun, it’s doing well and so I’ll stick with it for the long haul but try to delegate more of the tasks that someone else could do better than me, to free up more time for creative work every day.

That’s if I can stay alive by staying away from the maskless COVID zombies long enough to get a vaccine, and then avoid other daydreamer-hazards like traffic, holes and so on.

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CRYSTAL BALL — MY INDUSTRY PREDICTIONS

Ok who knows what will happen. Like everyone else on earth I didn’t see COVID-19 coming beyond a sense that various worldwide calamities are always possible including pandemics, financial meltdowns, war and asteroid impacts.

That said, my predictions:

2021:

The trailer industry will increasingly bounce back into a huge boom in the second half of 2021 leading to great times ahead for trailer music publishers and composers.

The world economy will bounce back quickly as governments, businesses and rich people invest in an anticipated boom. This will lead to a big rise in opportunities for library composers and publishers.

Income will drop in 2021 despite this due to the delays in money coming through the worldwide system, so publishers and composers won’t see the impact in higher earnings until 2022–23.

2022–23

The good times will really come when the 21/22 production and advertising boom starts to hit fee and royalty payments.

REST OF 2020s:

There will be a continued dizzying rise in new library music publishers and composers for a few reasons: income will remain good and safer than other composing options and the work is often more fun than scoring for TV and film.

The more composers there are, the more of them will decide to set up a publishing company, mainly for the same reason I did — in search of a more secure income.

The big increase in new music will force sub publishers around the world who have great client relationships to be more discerning, only representing new libraries if they are amazing and cover an original niche, and dropping old libraries when the renewal date comes if they aren’t good enough and are too general.

Clients (TV networks, advertising agencies, video editors etc) will need ever more help to shut out the noise of too much music and that will come from:

(a) relying on publishers to give playlists in response to searches instead of them having to audition everything themselves

(b) much better online search systems using AI to match the sound of guide tracks, analyse the music for genres and emotions and match it to search key words in a far more intelligent way than the current simple metadata key word matching approach.

© sticking with the brands that they trust and being wary of listening to new labels unless someone they trust has highly recommended them

So, the massive increase in music supply will benefit established composers and publishers with the highest quality material which is better than 90% of what’s out there. That best 10% will build the brand trust amongst clients, and it will be retained by sub publishers while the 90% becomes part of the low-earning noise.

The 90% Underclass:

The lower quality 90% of music will only survive by lowering prices, and it will be divided in tiers — the best of the worst will get the best of the worst sub publishers, clients and fees and so on, down to the bottom 10% of crap which earns almost nothing except for bargain basement publishers who can only survive by pooling tiny amounts from a million cues, so the composers earn nothing.

2020’s summary:

The best composers, music and publishers will keep the good times rolling, benefiting from the growth in new music by having a bigger and bigger pile of crap to point at and say ‘stick with us to avoid all this time-wasting noise!’.

Meanwhile, anyone less than amazing will have to improve quickly or end up in the filler soup earning nothing.

2030–60: the rise of general AI.

As AI gets better, perhaps running on quantum computer based iPhones (which will be clouds of plasma by then), it will be way better than humans at everything. That will include decision-making, managing companies, writing, inventing, engineering, driving, film directing, acting, painting and everything else including publishing and composing music.

At this point humans will be an embarrassment, although AI will be so advanced it will be super diplomatic and make us feel like we thought of their ideas and say things like ‘wow look at you, a human did that? Cool job!’

It *would* be depressing but brain implants will prevent depression and we’ll be immortal AI pets in a permanent state of highly motivated ecstatic bliss.

As for how this will affect library music, if you ask me that in 2060 when I’m half human and half AI iPhone plasma, I’ll use my AI diplomacy networks to tell you what a cool question that is, while an old human nerve-group murmurs something bitchy in my sub conscious about how pathetic and small-minded pre-AI humans were.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

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MASSIVE THANKS

In my Work Tales I go on as if I’m the only one doing anything when actually I’m often doing the least. I’m doing my bit to steer the ship, correct course and keep an eye on clients, plans, album concepts, briefs, quality control, final approvals and all that, but the whole operation only runs because of the amazing team making it work.

We have my wife Sophie the co-owner who acts as the company president/chairwoman on major decisions, and is our company’s charisma on our sales trip double act (she finds out what people really want and how they feel and has an amazing memory, while I trot out my enthusiasm about our latest music and forget what’s been said). In 2020 our ‘sales trips’ have been zoom calls but she’s still worked her magic.

Michael Coates is our Chief Administrative Officer which means pretty much everything including overseeing royalties, accounts, tax, metadata, digital music distribution and solving endless administrative riddles. He is also the head honcho of the Future Pop label which is part of our group and which is going from strength to strength.

Andy Proudfoot does a wide range of things extremely well, from composing to social media, royalty admin, writing metadata and a million miscellaneous impositions.

In between his amazing compositions João Rodrigues oversees the track approvals and composer feedback for Songcraft, Minim and Lovely Music while albums are underway, and also helps to keep the whole music production system running by making sure everyone has the right thing at the right time, checking for audio issues and endlessly suggesting helpful improvements to the way we work.

The poetic and discerning Roy Goulbourn writes all the metadata for Library Of The Human Soul, Lovely Music, Minim and Songcraft.

Andy Flett creates and oversees all our contracts with studious precision.

Darin Leach the incredible designer creates our beautiful Lovely Music, Gothic Storm, Gothic Hybrid and Toolworks artwork.

Christoph Allerstorfer does our amazing mastering and is also an incredible composer and sound designer.

Alessandro Camnasio isn’t an employee or contractor but deserves a special thanks as our chief sound designer with all his incredible noises and perfectly high standards. I haven’t rejected or asked for changes for any of his noises for years. When someone becomes so advanced, all you can do is marvel from the sidelines and be thankful to have them on board.

And then there’s our incredible composers, too many to mention all of them but some of our best and most prolific writers who aren’t mentioned above include Wan Ying Chan, Amadeo Lopez, Andrii Yefimov, Kelly Mac, Chris Haigh, Rene Osmanczyk, Richard Wilkinson, Martin Gratton, Hannu Honkonen, Nick Tzios, Ros Stephen, Lionel Schmitt, David Michael Tardy, Brooke Mitchell, Grant Borland, Jessie Yun, Sami Laine, Guy Jones and so many other incredible talents.

Thanks everyone for your amazing work in 2020 and no pressure but… even amazinger work in 2021