Adam Lambert’s Star Power from an industry perspective 4 Music Clearances, Publishing, Rights, Show Production, Entertainment March 27, 2009 at 4:41 pm


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Regarding song selections on American Idol, this news story from features a quote from Nigel Lythgoe and explains the music clearance story, including:

“For instance, when we did the ’50s, we gave them a CD of ’50s songs. We actually gave them Barry Manilow’s ’50s album and then a whole pile of other songs that we could clear, ’cause obviously we have to get music licenses,” co-executive producer Nigel Lythgoe said. “And then they choose their own song. And they’ll sing it a couple of times and go, ‘I don’t know if this is right,’ or ‘Yeah, I love it.’ ”

The contestants can try to find another song… but:

“The risk in finding something else is that producers still have to clear it — and if they can’t, the contestant better have a backup prepared.

“American Idol” has deals with the two major publishing companies, ASCAP and BMI, but that’s only part of clearing a song to be performed on the show.

“If we wanted to, say, clear a song by the Eagles, we would have to ask the publisher, the person who holds the rights, the songwriter and each one of the Eagles,” Lythgoe said. “And if one of them says no, we can’t sing the song.”

According to Vincent Candilora, senior vice president of licensing at ASCAP, there are five different rights in the copyright of a song and “Idol” needs two of them to use it on the show: the performance right, which ASCAP and BMI handle, and the synchronization right, which “you need to get when you sync a musical composition with any type of visual: motion picture, video, etc.,” he said. “That’s handled directly by the musical publishers.”

So that’s a bit about the music clearance business and why it was such an accomplishment to have the Motown instrumentals, Grand Ole Opry, etc… on the other hand, exposure on television’s #1 show is incentivizing :)

Because contestants may want to sing the same song, either a contestant defers and invites the other to sing it, or there has to be another method to choose. Scott mentioned this on air a few weeks back when he referred to, “losing the hat toss.” It wouldn’t be for the overall song, just to fairly settle who gets to sing a specific song.

Regarding questions about China, it’s a super complicated market because of piracy and censorship. Visionaries like Rupert Murdoch are spending huge resources preparing for the day when China becomes the powerhouse market it invariably will be… but unlike nations like ours that think in years, China’s 4,000 year history (around 2,000 B.C.) often leads them to think in decades and centuries. So for now, Japan is the place.

With respect to help the contestants receive during the show, there are fantastic vocal coaches, stylists and production staff to help, as well as the incredible Musical Director, Rickey Minor. But at this point, as the judges often say, it’s ultimately about the Artist… they are the ones on the line. That’s one of the exciting things about Adam, he’s been really clear on what he wants to accomplish and I imagine you’ll agree it shows. After AI finishes the season, it’s really a team effort. I’ve worked with stars who, like Adam, have strong instincts, know what they want to do and can pull it off, and with stars who like to be told exactly what to do (usually those are the younger ones and it’s a smart decision).

There have been questions about how “insulated” contestants are during the show. While they aren’t sequestered like a jury, they are incredibly busy. Rightfully the producers take steps like keeping the popularity of iTunes tracks private and keeping things fresh and surprising. But they live through the eliminations, receive fan mail, have access to their families, friends and the internet (like iTunes), and are very savvy (they’ve potentially been able to follow the show for seven seasons). The wildcard is the voting… we’ve seen the shocking eliminations and so really, everyone is in the dark until the results are revealed and since that’s the most important thing you’re right. With respect to CD’s after the season, my experience is to try to “strike while the iron is hot” (especially with a single after AI) but it’s more important to be successful than fast so it really depends on the Artist, management and label. (I want to point out that’s just my experience, how 19 and Sony handle it is their confidential business but you can find quite a few Simon quotes that reflect the basic idea.)

We’ve talked about the financial here but just as (more?) importantly, this is a fun entertainment show! The more entertaining, the more popular; the more popular, the more financially successful. (And “entertaining” can include suspense, controversy, surprise and the  clichéd “thrill of victory and agony of defeat.”) That’s why I continue to be so impressed and awestruck by 19, the Simons, and the team. Here we are eight years in and the show is still #1, still finding new ideas to implement, still finding extraordinary talents, and still keeping it entertaining. The whole idea is for the audience to have fun and be entertained!

Best, Michael

One Response to “Adam Lambert’s Star Power from an industry perspective 4 Music Clearances, Publishing, Rights, Show Production, Entertainment”

  1. [...] respect to music clearances, as you may have seen in my referenced blog post Adam Lambert’s Star Power from an industry perspective 4 any musical material that is broadcast requires clearance. It’s also true that any visual [...]

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