When veteran producer David Kahne (Regina Spektor, Paul McCartney, Kelly Clarkson) was leaving his A&R position at Columbia Records in the mid-’90s, more than 200 artists were on the label’s roster. Not only are there less than half as many acts on Columbia today, many of the bands that would’ve signed with a major label for support have carved out sustainable careers on their own funded primarily by touring and synch licenses, a growing trend that appealed to Kahne.
“I’m working with three artists right now who–they’re not wealthy–have homes and do all kinds of good stuff yet none of them are signed,” he says. “They come in with big budgets for their records, like six figures, and look at licensing in a different way. If they can do a song and get some synchs on it, they don’t care.”
Five upcoming artists Kahne’s been working with are at the helm of a new label services venture, Record Breaker Music, conceived and owned by music supervisor Adam Joseph of Face the Music and distributed by Sony’s RED. Initial Record Breaker releases include singles and music videos from signings Basic Vacation, James McCartney, Miss Stylie, Josh Moran and the Ivorys with the primary purpose of getting the songs placed in commercials. The artists keep all the rights to the music and have the option to sign with a label at any time.
Although unsigned and independent bands have been licensing their music for national commercials for years, Record Breaker seeks to give its acts more of a visual identity that many artists lack by the time they’ve booked their first synch. “We want brands to feel like they have someone to base the campaign around,” Joseph says. “It’s really about the artist’s background and having a deep-rooted sense that there’s a foundation for them going forward.”
The artists’ genres range from indie pop (Basic Vacation) to ’70s rock (the Ivorys) to EDM rap (Miss Stylie), with singer/songwriters Moran and McCartney lending some of their more pop-leaning cuts to the label as well. Joseph and Kahne will then even suggest potential brand clients for certain songs once they’ve been submitted. “We can say, ‘Hey, that’s perfect for what we’ve done for AmEx, or fashion or whomever.’ It helps focus our pitch and who we’re targeting,” Joseph says.
The revenue potential is significant for new acts looking to score synchs–a national campaign that airs from six to 12 months can net an upcoming act and its publisher anywhere from $10,000 on the low end to $200,000 on the high end, according to several synch sources, depending on whether the master file is licensed and the number of platforms it airs. In the past year alone, up-and-coming acts like fun., the Lumineers and Alex Clare have scored top 10 hits launching off their songs’ use in TV ads, driving a trend away from licensing iconic, superstar acts in the process. That in turn may explain why synch revenue was down in 2012 (a 3% decrease to $191 million, according to the RIAA) even as volume of popular music licenses appeared to be up. Globally, however, synch revenue was up 2% to $337 million, according to IFPI.