Music Essays: The brand played on

Licensing music has had a facelift and PRS for Music aims to offer solutions to enable music to run across all new platforms and media.

Music and brand messages have been intertwined for almost as long as the idea of brand has been alive.

But fast-forward to the modern digital world and we find ourselves swimming in a sea of conflicting (or collaborating) media; of ever faster, more demanding and more user-controlled delivery platforms; of social networks and of user- generated content.

This is a picture that can strike fear into the heart of the stoutest brand manager. Where to go, what direction to take, how to make your brand's message heard above the clamour. Conversely, the many media outlets and profusion of delivery mechanisms provide a bold imagination with many opportunities to raise a brand's head above the general melee.

Which is where the music comes in. Gone (with a few undistinguished exceptions) are the days of the inane jingle. Now the same complexity that characterises digital mass communication is reflected in the ways in which brands use music to spell out a message, then reinforce it, emphasise it, extend it, add a raft of emotional and psychological values to it, and give it relevance and reach, where less than a generation ago it would have been meaningless.

But in the midst of this complexity and contradiction, one imperative remains reassuringly the same.

Music creators have intellectual property in their work, and should be paid for its use. Music's route to market - especially the work created by the solo artist with a Mac in a bedroom - is now so direct and so inexpensive that the need for licensing and protecting copyright may not become apparent until it's too late.

This leads to one of a raft of reasons why the former MCPS-PRS Alliance (a clunky title for an effective and necessary combination of the UK's two music licensing organisations) has rebranded by adding two simple, yet defining, words to the name of one of them, to become PRS for Music.

The uncomplicated message of the new PRS for Music brand is essentially: "If you need music, come to us." Any business that uses music can now understand what it has to do - and with whom - to avoid falling into breach of copyright.

I often read about how difficult and expensive it is to clear music and I spend much of my life explaining that neither is necessarily true. In fact, licensing the music that is right for your brand has never been easier. PRS for Music offers easy access to the world's database of music written by the world's composers and songwriters - that's more than ten million tracks. This includes all the world's commercial repertoire plus more than 300,000 tracks and sound effects from 160 music libraries. It's far from complicated to clear and all genres of production - big and small - are currently benefiting from this rich vein of music from the world's full creative talent.

Think how the use of Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight brought an early 20th century brand back to life and made it relevant to a whole new generation; not to mention how it revived the song and returned it to the UK charts.

But for those on a more limited budget or those looking to save money without compromising quality, production (or library) music can be just as effective. Many of the aforementioned 300,000 tracks have been written and performed by famous names, albeit under a pseudonym or alias. Sometimes, a brand may not want the predefined association with a named star. "Own brand" can be just as good as high-profile commercial repertoire to help define your values and your purpose.

Licensing this music has had a facelift, too - with a 2009 production music ratecard that provides a better, simpler, more flexible and more comprehensive service. A number of innovations and "one-stop shop" solutions have been introduced to simplify the licensing of music across new platforms and new media, some of them not yet even invented.

Most individual TV ads using production music are licensed for less than £2,000 for the UK and Ireland. And you can easily bolt on international clearance. Radio ads come in at about £500, on average.

The aim is to encourage agencies to propose another level of sophistication in the way their clients associate music with their brands. A tune, for instance, that is heard in an assortment of edits in TV, radio and online ads can very easily be applied to internal communications - corporate training videos or events, team-building and so on. Team members can then develop a deeper and more intimate relationship with their brand, to the benefit of all concerned, and the power and reach of the brand itself can be enhanced; in many cases for an extra £35.

Any brand manager or marketer will tell you that a key element of consumers' relationship with brands is trust. To be well known and well trusted is the aim. PRS for Music, with its longevity in the market and its established reputation among creative professionals, occupies that space for music licensing. And now, the simplicity of the new PRS for Music brand represents the simplicity of new licensing in an ever more complex world. It sets the scene for branding's continued and necessary fascination with music in a more responsive and accessible way than ever before.

- Paul Clements is the MCPS licensing director at PRS for Music.