Licensing deals help unsigned acts reach audience
Posted by: Stephanie De Pasquale on September 24, 2009 at 9:45AM CST
In the past two weeks, I've talked with three unsigned acts that passed through or are headed to the Q-C on a touring circuit.
Without label backing, getting their songs on the radio is close to impossible, but all have reached widespread audiences through licensing deals on television programs.
Gary Jules, who will play at Huckleberry's Pizza Parlor this Sunday, made the Billboard Top 100 chart after his song "Falling Awake" was featured on "Grey's Anatomy." When the folks at Billboard figured out he accomplished the feat without any radio airplay, a label, manager or publicist, Jules said they just started laughing.
"Two days later a writer for Billboard called back and did a whole article about it because it was sort of like a new door had opened," Jules said. "The idea that you could have a song on a television show and that people who watched that television show could immediately go and download that song and that song could subsequently end up on a more traditional record-buying list was amazing to them."
Five Times August's Brad Skistimas tours colleges almost exclusively, partly because he likes not having to compete with the bar atmosphere for attention, but mostly because he has secured multiple licensing deals with college-friendly shows such as MTV's "Laguna Beach" and "Real World." Skistimas has had so much success with licensing deals, that he became the first unsigned artist to sell his CD at Wal-Mart.
"For an artist like me, it's a great way around radio because a lot of artists on my level can't really get on the radio anymore because it's so corrupt and controlled," said Skistimas, who has tried in vain to schmooze his way onto the radio by performing at radio stations and buying the crew lunch. "Getting exposure on TV shows is really a great benefit to how we do things."
Pictures of Then also has had success with licensing agreements and just signed a new one to have their songs featured in upcoming shows on MTV. For them, the money that comes in from the agreements helps keep them afloat while on tour.
"Any licensing opportunity obviously comes with a payoff, and in terms of the payoff, it affords us the opportunity to put gas in the van or to do some promotion for the shows or for the record," said Tim Greenwood, of Pictures of Then, who added that licensing is also about adaptation. "Music is so accessible nowadays that really regardless of how good the music is, the band is not really ultimately going to make it unless they're capable of kind of adapting to the situation that the Internet revolution has brought about.
"So many bands are much more accessible than they ever were and there's so much music going on in the world, that the Internet has really kind of made all the old rules not apply."
But for all the good licensing deals have brought unsigned, up-and-coming acts, Jules says the practice really peaked about two years ago when "Falling Awake" boosted him onto the Billboard charts. Jules released his first record on a traditional record label in 1998, and since then has been putting out music on his own by utilizing the Internet.
"I think I've got it down in that I've finally figured out that things are constantly changing," Jules said. "In the absence of the traditional music industry, everybody sort of wants to know what's going to take the place of that industry and for a while people thought it was going to be licensing, when the truth is, is that nothing is going to take the place that the old industry left. Licensing is going to be licensing, and it's not going to be the be-all-end-all."