Guest Post: An inside look at production music, synch licensing, and more with peermusic

Apr 06, 2017

Peermusic is one of the oldest and most successful independent music publishing companies in the world. It is known in particular for its success placing music in ads, TV, film, and other synch opportunities. 

We've conducted several auctions for the songwriter's share of production music managed by peermusic, such as this one. This means that investors who buy these royalties benefit from earning income generated by peermusic's, um... peerless efforts to place this music with revenue-generating opportunities. 

So to give our members a little further insight into peermusic, what they do, and how synch licensing works from the insiders behind the business, we're reprinting this interview with the company's SVP of Film & TV, and VP & Director of Advertising markets conducted by our friends at SynchTank. Enjoy!

h/t to Synchblog


Synchtank recently sat down with Carter Armstrong, Senior Vice President of Film and TV at peermusic and Craig Currier, Vice President/Director of Advertising Markets peermusic to discuss the company’s 90th anniversary and matching up the company’s incredible roster with sync opportunities.

Hi Carter and Craig! Can you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and your roles at peermusic?

Carter: I’m new to publishing; I’ve been doing this about a year. Before this I was at Warner Bros Pictures as a Music Executive for 14 years, and I was also Head of Music at Lionsgate for a couple of years. Essentially my role is to try to find opportunities for our peermusic writers and copyrights in film and TV.

Craig: I joined peermusic a little over 16 years ago. My background was as a recording engineer and producer as well as working extensively in the commercial music world as both a Marketing Director and Executive Producer for several successful Nashville based commercial music houses. When I joined peermusic, I started what was then the first-ever advertising markets division for a major publisher. That was one of the things that attracted me to peermusic – they were so cutting edge and they saw it was an important area to focus on in the changing music business landscape. In my role I oversee all the advertising markets for the US, which includes the creative side as well as the business and licensing side.

peermusic has just celebrated its 90th anniversary, which is a huge feat. Why do you think the company has been so successful and achieved such longevity?

Carter: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it’s a family owned business. There is a sense of legacy at peermusic, and a feeling that you’ve got to do right by your clients. And we identify as people within the company, because it really feels like it’s made up of individuals rather than being a corporation. It’s also a really innovative and prescient company. Bringing me over from the buyer side was also an interesting move. I think it’s certainly very helpful to have the buyer’s mind – I feel like I have secret powers! As Craig adds, the sense of being part of a bigger family brings a real team atmosphere to the company. In any given day, I’m in communication with other peermusic creatives from all over the world and that allows us to maximize the sync opportunities for our roster of writers and artists.

peermusic artist The Phantoms recently had their track “Nothin’ Like This” placed in a Levi’s spot which ran during the Grammys. Can you tell us about that?

Craig: I think that spot is a good example of what we’ve been able to do in the ad markets division. When I came to peermusic 16 years ago, most music publishers were only seen as a legal entity that people came to get a license from. I was given free rein to be very innovative in my department, so I started applying some of what I had been doing in the commercial music world and began pitching and offering peermusic as a creative resource to the agencies. We were one of the first companies to offer free music searches to any agency, so over the years we’ve become one of their go-to resources.

This particular Levi’s spot came out of a long-term relationship with a music supervisor in Los Angeles. They were looking for an emerging artist for this execution, so after reviewing the script and music direction, I offered up some music options. In this case, it just so happened that this track resonated with the creatives and made it through the gauntlet. It was a great fit for both the artist and for the brand. It also led to us releasing the song as a single and shooting a new video. Levi’s even supplied the wardrobe for the shoot. It was a cool collaboration, and it’s been great for the artist. A week after its launch, it was one of the top spots Shazamed.

peermusic also scored a sync during the Super Bowl, with Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration” featured in the “Super Bowl Baby Legends” NFL spot. How did that come about?

Craig: That was another example of a great relationship. In this case it was a New York-based agency that we work with a ton and we pitched them various tracks, both old and new for this spot. We’d presented them with “You’re the Inspiration” in the early stages, and they came to the final decision literally a week before the event. We were in direct contact with the writers David Foster and Peter Cetera, and we were able to get all the approvals needed literally the day before it started airing. It’s great any time you can get an older classic song like this into a spot that is going to be seen by millions of viewers. It offers the song up to a whole new audience that might never had been exposed to it. If you look at the stats it was the sixth most Shazamed song during the Super Bowl, and there was almost a 20% increase in plays on Spotify.

In a more unusual deal, peermusic artist Black Violin were recently commissioned to score the TV series Pitch. What was the process there?

Carter: That was really interesting. Black Violin had never scored anything before, so there were a lot of questions about how it would work and how it would make money, because with a work for hire the network typically retains the publishing. Because of my background I wasn’t going to let the opportunity go. I’ve connected many artists with composers over my career, from Mark Ronson and Geoff Zanelli, to Mastodon and Marco Beltrami. So it wasn’t a stretch for me to imagine doing this, and Black Violin were perfect for the job. It ended up being incredibly successful creatively and financially for everyone, and the band now have a new skill set.

Were you able to retain the publishing rights?

Carter: We figured out a financial model that worked for everyone.

Why were Black Violin in the mix in the first place?

Carter: We had done a showcase with the artist because once people see them perform they tend to become evangelised. Afterwards I got a call from their management saying that they’d been approached by one of the producers of Pitch because they felt that their sound really expressed the world of the show and the inner world of the central character. So it was up to us to figure out how to make it work.

Craig: At peermusic we really work strategically to match up the incredible talent on our roster with sync opportunities, whether it’s a placement with a particular brand, writing a theme song or scoring a show. We’ve also had a lot of artists write specifically for advertising campaigns which allows an artist another creative outlet and opportunity for exposure…not to mentions the additional income stream generated. In this particular case Carter saw the opportunity immediately and jumped right in. It was exciting.

Carter: Both of us really work at generating opportunities. We love picking up the phone and giving quotes, that’s fantastic, but we have no control over it. If we want to captain our ship, we have to seek out destinations. And if we’re going to do that we need to create music that the client needs in order to tell their story.

What other projects have you been working on?

Carter: There’s lots of stuff that just comes to us, and that’s exciting. But it’s not as exciting as the stuff that we manage to generate ourselves. For example, the TV show Gothamneeded a French chanson for a scene but they couldn’t get the recording, so we did our own recording for them. There’s also a forthcoming film franchise project from a major studio. I don’t want to say what it is or what the song is, but it’s probably one of our top earning copyrights. We were able to create a unique version for a very special use in the film, and creatively it works for everybody; filmmakers get what they need in order to tell their story, and from a financial standpoint we get both sides of the fee. In terms of other big syncs there was Katy Perry’s “Firework” in Sing last year. There was even a McDonald’s Happy Meal with the pig singing “Firework”. I don’t know what more you could ask for!

Craig: I love the mix that we get to work on within our copyrights. We just finalised the fourth year of a renewal of one of peermusic’s top copyrights and most well-known songs ever, “You Are My Sunshine” written by Jimmie Davis. It’s been the core piece of branding music for Whirlpool for the past four years, and it’s been very successful for them because they use it in a whole new way. We also had a great new song entitled “Couldn’t Ask for a Better Friend”, co-written by our writer/artist Andrew Simple and recorded by indie artist Michael Logen used in one of the top most viewed ads during the Olympics for Folgers – it was actually the most searched for song during the Olympics.

Have you noticed any recent trends in sync licensing?

Carter: I think there’s a trend toward creating special versions of known songs for film and TV, especially in the promo and trailer space. For a long time, it’s been the slow dark version of a well-known song, and that’s been very effective. I think there are new avenues to explore with that, but the repurposing of familiar material is always great for trailers and promos because you’re trying to sell something that is an unknown entity. So I think that will continue to be a trend for us. I also think that creating special score moments in film and TV will become more of a big deal.

Craig: It’s no secret that synchronisation has become one of the most important areas for the music industry, and so a whole new slew of companies have cropped up, and the amount of competition is greater than ever. The major thing I see on my side is the quality of music that’s being demanded by advertisers and agencies has never been higher, so we’ve got to be on top of our game. We’ve got to find and develop the best artists out there, and be creative in the ways that we’re offering up our music. From an advertising standpoint, there’s no one genre that’s predominant now. It’s just all about authentic great songs that help deliver the brands message in the most powerful way and speaks directly to their audience.

peermusic has a catalogue of over 350,000 copyrights. How do you go about approaching that in terms of workflow?

Craig: I think there are two things you’ve got to think about. Number one is being reactive to the requests that come in and delivering suggestions that are on brief, fit within the brands sound as well as work with their music budget. We’ve been doing this for a while, so we have a good feel for where we go to look for that music, and that also speaks to the way that we work as an international sync team. We are constantly on the phone with our colleagues to discuss current projects, timings, songs, and so on. We’re also in contact on all our searches, so for instance I can send a brief out to all our offices and get their input and suggestions quickly.

And then the other part of it is being proactive. We have to constantly be mining our deep catalogue of hits and gems and sharing them with the music supervisors who are looking to solve their music needs. We have a colleague in Los Angeles, Kara Wright, who helps put together what we call the peermusic essentials. She’ll pick a particular genre – maybe it happens to be 70s disco songs – and she’ll mine the catalogue and put together a great playlist we can share with our clients. So the way we work as a team is very unique. And Synchtank is an incredible tool that helps us to navigate that. We can go through our catalogue and drill down very specifically to a theme, to a genre, to a year, a tempo.

Carter: Kara is definitely an institutional memory that we count on. She knows our back catalogue so well and is really in love with music, and that allows us to provide a very human and personal set of offerings. She does an amazing job at creating these playlists along with Jason Lee in our LA office and Heather Cook in the Nashville office. Our frontline brief response captain on the Film/Television side is Alison Dannenberg and she has that same sort of intimate familiarity with our catalogue. I’m new so thanks to Synchtank I’m able to contribute suggestions and learn our catalogue in a really organic way. I’m getting closer and closer to that very intimate catalogue familiarity, so Synchtank really is an amazing system, and it adds a lot to the choices we’re able to offer to our clients. I think those tools combined with the passion of the team at peermusic, that’s an incredible combination.

Another recent success for peermusic involved production duo SOS (Sons of Sonix) working on Stormzy’s debut album. How did that happen?

Carter: That was a result of our A&R team, led by Tuff Morgan. He’s really a member of the writing community, and he’s always in rooms with people working on Kanye records, Justin Bieber records, Beyonce records and so on. Tuff keeps a sharp eye on those people and he’s part of their community, so he’s able to sign them up. That’s what happened with SOS, and he was able to get them several cuts on Stormzy’s album.

A&R has always been central to the culture at peermusic. Why do you think that songwriters gravitate towards the company?

Carter: I think the fact that we are creative and we generate opportunities is really exciting for a lot of writers.

Craig: I think Carter just hit the nail on the head. You have a lot of mega corporations out there whose writers end up getting lost in the mix. We’re very selective about who we sign and who we work with, and when we do sign somebody they get a lot of personal attention across all fronts, and on an international level. We have writers and artists that are having incredible success in sync all over the world. I tease one artist because he has Romanian groupies. He’s never been there but he’s had a couple of placements there and people are going, “Who is he?” And that’s just exciting.

A good case study is when we started working with Family of the Year, around six years ago. They weren’t really looking for a publishing deal or yet signed to a label. I worked with them on a campaign where they covered a well-known Donovan song controlled by peermusic for the re-launch of a major drink brand. It led to us developing a relationship with them and we started introducing them to all our offices around the world. We all fell in love with them, and I think the attention we showed them across all our offices was the key when they started to have significant success and were ready to sign to a publisher. I know they had other offers on the table but they knew the attention that we were going to give to them was second to none. That’s what peermusic offers.

Which artists and songwriters are you excited about at the moment?

Carter: I am super excited about SOSThe Audibles and also Sam F, an electronic artist signed to Dim Mak, Steve Aoki’s label. Another of my favourite artists on our roster is Hannah Georgas, I just love her music so much. I also love Family of the Year too. There’s a lot of stuff!

Craig: One I would point out would be The Royal Foundry, a Canadian artist we starting working with last year who was discovered by Heather Cook in our Nashville office. It’s exciting for me because I run the ad markets and their music is naturally sync friendly and especially ad friendly…which can be a challenge with some artists. They’re working on their first full album which will be released later this year and so far they have already had two significant ad syncs as well as a cool TV placement. It’s really exciting to have that happening for a brand new artist.