Musicians faced a test of their resolve and commitment when the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to most live performances, placing limitations on how they could make money in an already difficult and competitive industry.
But as they explored new ways to sustain themselves, many artists found success in a well-established alternative – the decades-long practice of licensing their music for television, film, and video games.
“These licensing agreements provide many creatives a great way to continue working despite tours being put on hold and stages left vacant,” says Casey Taylor, vice president of Nashville-based VEVA Sound (vevasound.com), which verifies and archives projects for clients in the music industry.
One example is country music artist Shelly Fairchild, whose work is featured on productions by Netflix, ABC, CBS, and USA Network, among others. Shows that have used her songs include “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Riverdale,” and “Love Island.”
“Though the entertainment industry as a whole was hit hard in this pandemic, the need for music content never went away,” Fairchild says. “There has been a continuous need for songs to fit into the continuous outpouring of television content, and that alone has kept me working.”
The practice of licensing songs for a video format is known as synchronization, or sync, licensing.
Sometimes a well-known song gets incorporated into a TV show or video game, such as when “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones was used in the “Call of Duty: Black Ops” video game, or when Joe Cocker’s version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” became the TV theme for “The Wonder Years.”
But in some cases, artists write and record music specifically for television with no intention of releasing it otherwise, says Taylor of VEVA Sound.
“This music spans genre, style, and expression, giving artists a creative outlet, and revenue stream, outside of the norm,” he says. “A few artists have broken through the noise and found incredible success with sync-licensing placements.”
Among those is Fairchild, with about two dozen TV placements.
“Most musicians and artists who I know are extremely adaptable creatures,” Fairchild says. “We have to be to survive the ever-changing music business. If you are a songwriter, which I am, you are a storyteller and what better stories to capture than that of the human struggle, our fight for survival, and the love that we need and have to give. This past year brought all of that.”
When stay-at-home orders went into effect, Taylor and Fairchild say, some musicians adapted by learning to record themselves in their home studios.
“I am so grateful that I was one of those people because I was able to continue to write and record songs when all of my live shows were cancelled,” Fairchild says. “Music licensing companies have definitely taken a hit during this pandemic year, but have continued to be a major avenue for music creators to actually make money.”
As a result, many determined musicians were able to persevere through these challenging times, says Wendy Duffy, president of Resin8, which works with musicians to get their work placed in advertising initiatives such as TV promos and film trailers.
“Thankfully, music licensing has stayed fairly healthy and consistent, as people continue to write and produce from home,” Duffy says.
Film and TV productions have also been ramping up, with extensive COVID-19 protocol, as people are desperate for content to view, just as much as the multi-million dollar industry is to create and profit from it, she says.
“We are seeing a lot of resilience in the creative community, which is truly inspiring,” Duffy says. “We can use this time to focus on what we can control vs. what we can’t, so that when this all ends, which it eventually will, we have a huge harvest from the seeds we planted during this difficult season.”