Music Essays: Independent thinking

To compete with the majors, independents need to evolve with the needs of the ad industry.

While dining with a friend of mine who happens to be a producer at a successful London advertising agency, I discovered that he receives an average of 20 unsolicited calls from music providers every day.

That's a substantial amount of calls in anyone's book, but it is understandable when you consider the phenomenal number of music suppliers (publishers, labels, managers, consultants and so on) that are all vying for business. With so many potential competitors out there, how do you make sure you stand out from the crowd?

The obvious answer would naturally be "with great music". But music is so subjective: one man's meat is another man's poison. More importantly, though, and here's the real shocker, sometimes having great music just plain doesn't matter.

It certainly helps to have music that creatives and producers are personal fans of, but that doesn't automatically translate to successful syncs. After all, for every Sony "balls" out there, there's a Sheilas' Wheels. So, if it's not all about great music, what is it all about?

Consider, if you will, for a second, the "majors" and how they fit into the synchronisation feeding frenzy. By the very nature of their catalogues, they don't try to stand out from the crowd so much as tower above it, waving their multimillion-selling household-name artists around like brightly coloured flags. When you think about it, they need do little else. No matter how many ads out there look to uncover emerging artists or little-known gems, there will always be a huge demand for "names" - famous, recognisable tracks that audiences can instantly identify with.

As nice as it would be to sit back and wait for the phone to ring, it doesn't work that way when you're an indie. In the great tradition of the underdog, you need to stand up and be counted and you need to fight your way to the top. So exactly what do you need to do to achieve that level of success? Simple: everything ...

When I took over the synchronisation department at Boosey & Hawkes five years ago, our sole focus was to get our existing core classical catalogue used in film, TV and advertising.

Today, we represent music from all genres from the many varied catalogues we have acquired or partnered with over the past few years: classical, jazz, pop, rock, world, dance ... It's all there in some form or other. We offer a bespoke service with some of the best media composers in the business and are able to provide secondary exploitation tools for the right campaigns such as ringtones and downloads, commissioned remixes and so on. We've even launched a third-party clearance service: a publisher searching for and clearing tracks we don't even control!

So, back to the question "What's it all about?" The answer is flexibility. The flexibility that being an independent allows you to exert, thinking tangentially, going above and beyond the traditional remit of a music provider's services; essentially, thinking of every option that a client may want or need when it comes to music and doing your utmost to fulfil that demand.

Flexibility as an indie should also extend beyond the breadth of creative services and follow through when the time comes to consider financial matters. With the dreaded "R" word on everyone's lips, the effects of the current economic climate have started to trickle through to our industry, with agencies having to tighten their belts in all areas, including music budgets. Never has it been more important to be able to provide more affordable music than, say, a well-known, six- figure-sum track.

That is not to say that music should become a free commodity; far from it. It remains the responsibility of every publisher and label to ensure that their clients understand the true value of music. Yet, at the same time, there does need to be a degree of compromise.

This is something that the acquisition of our varied catalogues has allowed us to do here at Boosey: we are at a point where we can offer music to suit all budgets. It goes without saying that some of our best-known composers, such as Rachmaninoff or Karl Jenkins, command a certain level of fee, but working with lesser-known, up-and-coming acts where we control both publishing and master rights has allowed us to put forward commercial music at less expensive rates.

This has been especially true for digital campaigns and, in the past year alone, we have successfully placed commercial music in virals for brands as varied as Xbox, Nike, Nokia and Jitrois. With more emphasis being placed on digital as a more cost-effective ad medium, I wouldn't be surprised if this soon becomes an area of burgeoning synchronisation potential.

So there you have it: in order to survive and remain relevant, the independent music provider must learn to evolve with the needs of the ad industry. We may not have the latest chart- toppers or retro pop sensations on our books, so if you're after an identifiable hit, then by all means pay a visit to our good friends over at the majors. If what you seek, however, is a more left-field, affordable, easily clearable choice of soundtrack, then give the little guy a chance and consider that, in the past year, 70 per cent of music used in advertising was from an independent source.

As a folk legend, recently synced in an ad for the first time, once sang: "The times, they are a-changin'."

- Natasha Baldwin is the head of consultancy at Boosey & Hawkes.