Thinking Outside the Box: Bolstering Revenues by Exploitation of Older Music Catalogs Via Non-Traditional Means

Do you have a “legacy” catalog that you’d like to work and regain exposure?

Recently quite a few artists have decided to take the reins and wrangle their copyrights and recordings themselves. You’ve seen the trend since the late ’90s of well-known songs placed in ads and music supervisors using more catalog material in TV and films. The New York Times article “Remaking Old Hits to Earn New Money” notes that several artists have re-recorded their major hits to great success, citing Wang Chung, Twisted Sister, Foreigner, and Simply Red as examples. These groups see it as empowering to control all aspects of their output, for they gain control over where their songs are used, how much is charged for their usage and can keep a greater percentage of the proceeds (even long-time holdouts, Led Zeppelin have permitted a few licenses).


As publishers, we already know that being a one-stop licensing entity for our copyrights—controlling mechanicals, sync and masters—is optimum for media licensing.

Twisted Sister re-recorded their entire album, Stay Hungry, and have seen considerable income from major advertisers and on-screen usage, as have Aerosmith and Wang Chung. Noteworthy is Johnny Rivers, who’s always had a crystal ball, and re-recorded many of his songs years ago.

The two risks of recreating a song or an album are 1] substandard re-records (aging voices, cut-rate recording techniques and studios), and 2] the wrath of the record companies. Note for #1, advertising agencies’ personnel and music supervisors have ears. For #2, ancillary usages add income for the original record companies and contracts should be carefully scrutinized for clauses that include time-sensitive moratoria on remaking songs.

Industry kingpin, Irving Azoff encourages his clients to recreate their hits, feeling that with new technology, they may create better sounds/new arrangements, new markets and even sell in retail.


Do you want to license a famous song for your film/TV/ad project, but know that the cost will be in the big bucks or red tape stratosphere?

Not always so. Sun Records has partnered with Fort Worth-based Musicbed to offer 1,100 of its tracks on Musicbed’s online music licensing platform. So, not only tracks by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich and Conway Twitty are now readily available, but lesser-known Sun Records blues, gospel, country, R&B, soul, and rockabilly tracks are now finding new life in period dramas such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men. In the effort to revive their archives, Sun Records’ V.P., Collin Brace has been building up frequent flier miles promoting this new ease-of-licensing platform.

And then there’s Bob Dylan. One would think his fame and prominence would make licensing a difficult process. “Not so,” say many industry insiders. Dylan’s manager and music company chief Jeff Rosen is said to be “really straightforward,” and if Dylan likes a project, it’s green-lighted. However, the caveat here is that it better be a project that has an intelligent, appropriate usage. Filmmakers and music supervisors know to plead their cases with the seriousness, respect and passion Dylan’s songs deserve. (Case in point—in an episode of “Six Feet Under,” they used Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” tied to the death of lead character.)

Jeff is also praised for quick responses, his respect for cinema and filmmakers, and because he’s always open to working within the scale of the production.


Placement Tidbits from the CCC Membership:

Music and lyrics can be found in a myriad of products. Tonight’s speaker Joe Berman, who has licensed greeting cards, apparel, toys, and gift items, will fill you in on more clever usages. Note the interesting license from two of the CCC members:


  • Allison Caine notes her uncle, Lou Handman’s song, “Are You Lonesome Tonight” is played on the Elvis slot machines, in music boxes, on a certain liquor brand when the cork was removed, and, of course, on the Elvis channel on SiriusXM.


  • Julia Riva’s Four Jays Music Company controls some of her grandfather, Harry Warren’s extensive catalog, including “That’s Amore”; so, you can imagine some of the usages just on that song alone! The most unique was a Simpson’s Talking Pizza Pie Cutter along with usages in a plush chef, greeting cards, and a Dean Martin bobblehead.


  • Angela White controls her father’s publishing, David Rose Publishing with his lush television theme and score music, but many requests come in for “The Stripper.”