Video’s Rise Can Lift Music's Fortunes, But Only If Music Clearance Catches Up Technologically

As the availability of content continues to balloon and the streaming technology on which it's accessed continues to advance, the process of clearing music for picture remains stuck in the year 1989, even as the demand for synced, pre-recorded music is ever-increasing.


Guest post by Scott Freiman, CEO of Qwire

With the technological transformation of video delivery thanks to streaming, you’d imagine that the entire world of film, TV, and video production--and particularly the music department--would be equally transformed. Yet as the amount of content balloons and margins melt away, music still gets cleared for picture via paper, post-it notes, scattered spreadsheets, and file folders. It may be 2019 on the consumer-facing side, but in the back office, it’s eternally 1989.

The music industry is losing out on opportunities because of this. Even as music supervisors and clearance teams keep using the same manual methods, the demands on them, as well as the licensing landscape and the stakes in sync, have increased dramatically. The need for pre-recorded music has skyrocketed in the OTT (over the top or streaming video) era.

Yet just finding out who owns music that is not from a production library can be very time consuming. Once you’ve finally figured out ownership, you have to send letters and agreements and negotiate separately with multiple parties, for each placement. These offers may have limited lifespans or be limited to specific uses and/or territories. Making a mistake with the precise details about length and type of placement can cost a production thousands of dollars and even open the door to lawsuits.

The more that can be done to simplify the process of clearance, the more time and money production teams can save and the more placements artists, labels, and publishers can get. The easiest way to do this is to simplify and streamline workflow via technology. But that’s not so easy.

The will is there: Music supervisors will tell you they need things to change, but change is hard. I’ve seen this transition before, from paper trails and manual entry to electronic systems, thanks to my work pioneering automobile lending technology in the 1990s. Things are working now--at least sort of. Movies and TV shows are getting made. In many ways, paper feels comfortable. You can touch it and hold it. When it is filed away, you can (sometimes) point to where it is. And those budget figures are stored right in this spreadsheet… that I think I updated yesterday… if I could only find it on my desktop...

4For those holding the purse strings, the focus is on the creative side, on more and better final content that’s more appealing to the viewers, and on the promotion of this content in an increasingly competitive market. The processes that drive production are less visible to the people at the top, much as they are barely visible to viewers. There’s a budget, but monitoring the details of how that filters down to the departments doesn’t feel as pressing. Improving the work of music supervisors and clearance is not always the highest priority.

Improving the music clearance process will clearly save significant time across the entire process while improving efficiency and reducing errors, all of which leads to cost savings. And the benefits of having real-time information at your fingertips is critical--especially when it comes to managing budgets and negotiating better licensing deals.

It’s not only studios and production companies that can reap the benefits of technology to assist music licensing. Ask any music label or publisher, and they will tell you about the often manual systems they have set up to manage and respond to incoming quote requests, as well as track the specific rights granted and the dates those rights expire. They will tell you about business lost due to data entry errors, misrouted quotes, and lengthy response times. And they will tell you about music license fees not received or sent to the wrong party. Imagine how much easier the entire process would be if rights holders could receive and respond to quotes electronically by connecting directly to technology on the music supervisor's desk.

When you peel back the layers, it’s obvious how we can make the entire system work better for all parties. The problems are starting to spark a change. So much content is being produced that media companies are focused on improving efficiency in any way possible. The tide is turning, and music licencors and licensees can be a part of the transformation.

Clearing the Desks, Changing the Industry: Qwire Builds Software to Transform How Music for Picture Gets Licensed, Managed, and Reported

The soundtracks to the shows and films we love have a secret. They were born out of stacks of paper overwhelming desks, dotted with Post-Its and White Out. They sprang from personal spreadsheets that only one person can find or navigate; from data entered numerous times into multiple spreadsheets, keyed into multiple software applications, and stored in multiple paper files. They involved negotiations with little to no historical information to reference -- and mistakes that can cost in the six figures and delays that meant payment headaches for writers, publishers, and music labels.

These experiences are a regular part of licensing music for picture and reporting usages for the purposes of properly paying out royalties, a $4 billion-a-year industry with more than 2 million musical works licensed annually. They are challenges music supervisors, composers, PROs, music clearance and licensing teams, and film and broadcast execs grapple with every day.

Qwire, a SaaS firm founded by production music veterans, has set out to clear the desks and clean up the mess. By knitting together and centralizing scattered data and creating a unified workflow, Qwire’s software products are building on how music supervisors, music editors, composers, and administrators already work while transforming this work into a streamlined, efficient ecosystem with benefits for all sides.

“Everyone involved wants and needs to focus on the creative part of their work, not paperwork,” says Scott Freiman, co-founder and CEO of Qwire. “But when you are coping with tasks that are 50% or more manual processes and with data that’s coming from fragmented sources along the way, it’s hard and very time consuming to get the right licenses, pay rights holders quickly and accurately, or even figure out a basic budget across departments. We’ve estimated that cue sheets alone cost studios and PROs millions of dollars collectively in extra labor costs.”

Qwire was founded by Emmy-nominated composer Jon Ehrlich (House, Parenthood), composer Leigh Roberts (Power Rangers), and musician and tech exec Freiman (the man behind “Deconstructing the Beatles”). Freiman also happens to be a veteran software entrepreneur who took the tangled web of communication between auto dealers and lenders and turned it into a $100 million-dollar public company. His passion for distilling paper systems into sleek technology, combined with Ehrlich and Roberts' deep knowledge of the business, has led to a family of products designed to serve all sides of the complex music-for-picture equation.

Qwire has a set of interlocking products designed to cover the entire lifecycle of music post-production.

qwireClear: The only software product that unites all budget and rights information related to music licensing for picture, including the entire range of letters and notices, into a single platform, from quote to license.

qwireTracks: A database of licensing information available to all Qwire clients that centralizes music rights information for recordings and publishing, to prevent repetitive research and speed up quotes.

qwireCue: The latest product from Qwire, qwireCue helps teams get data into cue sheets as content is created, as opposed to long after the fact. Featuring video integration, support for audio recognition, and an easy-to-use, modern user interface, qwireCue will allow cue sheets to be completed and submitted with much less time and effort, enabling quicker and more accurate submissions to Performance Rights Organizations.

Before Qwire, music-for-picture processes were (and often still are) mired in paperwork. The collection and documentation of cue metadata (cues are the musical moments in films, TV shows, etc. that are subject to royalty payments) had always been a manual, forensic process of tracking down information, long after the fact, about content from creators who have already moved onto other projects, by under-resourced workers with little to no incentive to collect and record information accurately. Composers would get frequent pleas to provide data in retrospect, information that can take time and effort to reconstruct. Teams would be negotiating with music libraries, labels, or composers without access to valuable, pertinent data that current or past colleagues had already collected and done the legwork on.

All of these interactions lived on scattered papers, in random files on individual computers. The software applications designed to facilitate these processes were heavily siloed, limiting historical analysis, real-time budget reporting, or even communication between departments. Everyone involved, people devoted to supporting creative work, suffered from the disarray.

Ehrlich and Roberts decided to tackle the mess--which Ehrlich likes to compare to an overstuffed garage--when Ehrlich was hit by a tsunami of work on multiple TV shows and needed to maximize his output. The two composers created an application to share and manage their work and were shocked at the results. Before long, they had an application that could also help music supervisors and editors -- with all parties able to share and benefit from each other’s information.

“Once we got it to a place I could use it, I could manage those shows that I thought would overwhelm me and I was actually happy doing more work. I wasn’t constantly being interrupted with details that were critical but routine. I could manage it all from my laptop from a plane. It was life changing,” Ehrlich recounts. “Clearance and music supervisors have the same problems. They are also juggling multiple projects and a ton of paperwork that interrupts their flow and ability to stay in creative mode.”

The two composers connected with Freiman, who grasped their vision and helped turn their software into a suite of robust applications with studio-level security. Though Qwire was started by composers, the company’s first software products are designed to help with music clearance (qwireClear) and cue sheet reporting (qwireCue). (The company plans to launch related applications in the not-too-distant future.)

These products have attracted interest from major studios and from PROs, who are all interested in ways to reduce the pain of music clearance and royalty payments. “Along the way, we’ve thought of Qwire as working toward integration, not disruption. We’re adding value, taking what’s there and improving efficiency,” explains Freiman. “You can’t find better ways to pay royalties or streamline music licensing without cleaning it up first. The processes involved have been in place for decades. But we think more efficiency will lead to a great deal of innovation over time -- and we hope Qwire will lead the way.”

“Our overall vision is a big part of what sets us far apart from the tangle of siloed solutions that are just band aid fixes,” says Ehrlich.