Verdict on the CueSongs beta – Not for the likes of us

Update 22/01/13: Since CueSongs has recently changed significantly in the aspects I discuss here, see this updated blog post for a second look at the issue.

As a video production company, naturally we use a lot of music. Often clients want to use commercial music, rather than royalty free alternatives, which is also understandable. But currently using commercial music in online video is a no-go, due to the complexity of the rights involved – not to mention the costs. Of course, many home users (and some businesses!) submitting to Youtube just use the music anyway, and are often tacitly approved of by the rights holders, via ContentID’s iTunes link mechanism. As a principled business, we’ve always wanted to avoid the risks and complacency of this approach – ignoring the law in a gamble that they won’t take the video down is hardly professional, in our view.

This is why it was so exciting to see this BBC article. It seemed the music industry was finally sitting up and taking notice, and filling the gap in the market for a product aimed at home users, charities and microbusinesses, making compliance with the law easy and cheap. We immediately found and signed up for the CueSongs beta (as it is currently up and running, unlike its rival Ricall Express).

Having made a lot of video for amateur drama schools and the like, we have made extensive use of PRS’s Limited Manufacture Licence, which combined with the bundled license from PPL makes DVD production for amateur use affordable (at rates such as £81.70 for 100 DVDs with less than 25 minutes of music used). As such, and following the text of the BBC article, we were hoping for a similar pricepoint from CueSongs.

However, having logged in and examined the pricing page, we were disappointed to find our expectations rather wide of the mark. It seems instead that the service is aimed more at large corporations and agencies, with prices to match. Videos on social media with “heavy branding” are £2000 per year per song. Even the “micro enterprise” rate is too high – £1200 per year per song. That might suit businesses near the £1.6 million a year turnover limit of the category, but is completely beyond the reach of businesses we regularly work with.

As for videos without heavy branding – drama school videos, say – the licence is £500 per song per year – totally out of the question. Licencing a video with one song uploaded to Youtube would cost between 25% and 50% of the total bill for videoing the event and producing all the DVDs – and that’s just for one year online!

Other licences worthy of note are the Short Film and Background Music to Website categories. At £250 per song per year, these are also too high, although not perhaps as unreachable as the others.

So, from these prices it’s clear that at the moment CueSongs has no interest in the low end of the market – a conjecture backed up when we contacted Edward Averdieck, co-founder of CueSongs, who said “We are not at this point targetting [sic] the amateur / semi pro market. But it’s interesting to hear your feedback and we will definitely review those types of usages for future implemention. Right now though we need to focus on just the B2B market as we get going.” (See the full text of his reply below)

But if CueSongs (or indeed Ricall Express) want to alter this approach, and target the other end of the market, how should they go about it? Well, here is our suggested solution:

Following PRS’s example, create a charity/amateur/home light/no branding user rate. Make it 20% or less of your micro enterprise rate (£20), and make it a one-off charge. Simple, straight forward, and affordable – £20 per song used.

Now, one might argue that that price is far too low. What if the video goes viral? What if the user puts advertising on it and makes a good deal of money from Youtube? Well, in that case the rights owners will be getting hundreds of thousands if not millions of viewers listening to their music – and if they made it a condition of the licence to put an iTunes link in the description, many users would then buy the song, having got it stuck in their heads thanks to the exciting video. It’s good to be associated with content the viewers enjoy – and you’re getting the music out there, exposed to more potential fans.

Of course there are other issues – such as music being played over offensive material, or included with copyrighted video content – and of course they could cover those in the terms of the licence. But here’s the point – make the charge too high, or the terms too restrictive, and users will continue to ignore the licence and break the law, maintaining the status quo. But as we’ve seen from iTunes with music downloads, and Steam with gaming: provide an easy method to buy, at an affordable pricepoint, and you will wear down piracy and increase sales – see this article.

So, in summary – it’s exciting that big publishers are finally responding to the paradigm shift the web brings to the music business. They’ve met one gap in the market, by making it easy for big companies to licence commercial music for videos on the web. But they’ll really be missing a trick if they don’t also tailor their product to amateur and home use, at an appropriate price.

Here’s the full text of Mr Averdieck’s reply:

Thanks for your feedback which is much appreciated and taken on board – this is exactly why we have set up a Beta, to get market feedback from potential licensees.
The issue that you raise of pricing is particularly interesting to read. Let me explain the parameters that we have guided our prices. The PRS for Music has a rate card for Production Music or library music and this is published .

This is the price that business users – broadcasters, advertisers and film publishers pay to license music. The repertoire is for library music where the writer is often anonymous. CueSongs is all about enabling licensees to use commercially released work, which as you say has hitherto been difficult to license; it’s often intimidating for businesses who don’t license music often as they would have to go to multiple rights holders to seek approval and this is time consuming and quite complex to work out who to contact and get a response quickly.

Our pricing strategy is Premium Economy and as such we price at a premium to library music (which is what we would term as Economy) and, as a result, our licensees can get access to the Real Thing rather than a sound alike or a library track. We only target at business licensees – and that could be brands, agencies and small businesses – who we hope would license commercial tracks if it was easy to do and represented reasonable value for money.

We are not at this point targetting the amateur / semi pro market. But it’s interesting to hear your feedback and we will definitely review those types of usages for future implemention. Right now though we need to focus on just the B2B market as we get going.

Do let’s keep a dialogue open and it was great to hear that you like the concept.

Best wishes


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