Catherine Manners is the Director of Manners McDade in London, a music composer’s agency and publishing company. Whilst on a business trip to Singapore she took some time out to talk to me about how she helps composers manage and monetise their music in the digital age. Have a listen or read on below…
In 2006 Catherine Manners had an epiphany. She had been working in the music department at a large publishing house in London when it occurred to her that no one in London was managing “media composers” i.e. the people who write music for television, film, advertising and video games. It’s not that there wasn’t huge demand for such artists; there was just nowhere specific that commissioners could go to find them, so Catherine started Manners McDade, a talent agency for composers.
For five years Catherine successfully built and managed a roster of musicians and developed long term business relationships with British broadcasters, ad agencies and brands including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and even Pampers, but then she had another revelation. What if, in addition to managing composers, she also managed their music, specifically their copyrights? In 2011 Catherine added a music publishing division to her company, which now owns over 3,000 copyrights. But what exactly is a copyright? Why doesn’t the composer own it? And what does Catherine do it with it when she has it?
Then X-Men Apocalypse trailer features original music from Manners McDade
Music copyright is a fairly complex area of law, hence the need for specific companies to manage it, but here’s what you need to know. Every piece of music inherently has two copyrights; the first is owned and controlled by the composer, it’s what’s known as a presumed right because the moment they (or you, or anyone) commits anything to paper it’s immediately copyrighted to that person. However, professional musicians tend to take the additional step of registering their compositions with industry bodies such as the Performing Rights Society to avoid any disputes that may arise over authorship in the future. The second copyright is known as the ‘matter copyright’ and that means the the physical recording. Here’s how it works in practice. Let’s say you wanted to use Adele’s Hello for an ad. If you got someone to cover the song you would only have to pay Adele (or rather her publishing company) for the rights to use her composition. However, if you wanted to use Adele’s recording of the song i.e. her performance, you would also have pay her record company for those rights too, which is likely to be very expensive. That’s why, almost every artist you’ve ever heard of has both a publishing deal and a record deal and that’s how Catherine’s company came to own 3,000 copyrights.
It may seem odd to an amateur musician to hand their compositional copyrights over to another company but musicians are actually one of the most well-protected categories of artist under copyright law and, in most countries, can’t legally give away more than 50% of their ownership, which means they and their publishing company share equally in the spoils. But why would they give it away at all? Because, ultimately, they will make more money having a dedicated company focussed solely on monetising their existing work rather than just sitting on it.
My next question for Catherine is around commissioning. When a client commissions a composer and is therefore paying for whatever the composer comes up with, who owns the copyright then? Simple, she says, the composer owns the composition and the client owns the performance, which means the client can continue to use the recorded performance however they wish but cannot exploit the written work by, for example, re-recording it with another artist unless they compensate the composer through the publishing company. There is one way around this and that is for the client to negotiate a ‘buy out’, which is when they pay a huge amount of money to the composer up front to buy out all copyrights. Catherine says this is popular amongst gaming companies who calculate that a single buy out deal will actually work out cheaper, in the long run, than paying royalties for the music in every single game they sell, which can run into the millions.
Sometimes a piece of music in a TV show or film will grasp the public imagination and create demand from the general public for CDs and downloads. Manners McDade does not sell direct to the general public so they partner with record companies who already have the marketing and distribution mechanisms in place to promote and sell music through online and retail stores. In this instance the copyright licensing agreement between the publishing company and the record company will contain a ‘most favoured nations’ clause that incentivises the record company to do their best by providing them with the most beneficial financial terms i.e. the more they sell, the more they make.
None of this legal stuff is actually new to the music industry but, with the decline of physical music sales, it has become even more important to enable musicians to earn a living wage and to continue producing music that enriches both our entertainment and our lives. Or, as one web wit put it…
The heady days of the 80s and 90s when record execs expensed private jets to pop star’s accounts are over but Catherine has no sympathy for them, “The companies that sit around complaining, they’ve all just gone bust…we never relied on that income in the first place so we don’t miss it.” Quite right!