Why I’m Mad as Hell at Getty Music Right Now…

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The following guest post comes from Steve Corn, CEO of digital distributor BFM Digital. 

Getty Music Pushing for Performance Free Licensing

This week, Getty Images announced a rebranding of their music platform from Pump Audio to Getty Images Music. On the surface, it is not really such big news.  However, as I read their email blast, I came upon a very upsetting paragraph.  It’s nestled (or perhaps buried) in the middle:

Performance Royalty Free – Flexibility and Simplicity for Customers

Why is performance royalty free an important new license model? Music licensing is fairly complex and not all music customers or potential customers fully understand the process. Many will license music only if the process is made simpler–one size does not fit all. There are also certain customers who need a simplified and streamlined licensing process because they routinely use high volumes of tracks, usually at a lower price which will accommodate their volume.

Yes, this means individual returns are small or incremental.  But these users are growing in number so we expect this sector (as part of the overall market mix) to be increasingly valuable for Getty Images’ contributors. We understand that it is possible that you may not want every track to be available for performance royalty free licensing.  So, we’ve added an option that will allow you to flag a track as “not available for performance royalty free” at the time of submission.  We want to make clear, however, that excluding a track from performance royalty free limits its sales potential, so keep in mind it may negatively impact the likelihood of acceptance of your track.  As usual, we will weigh the value of each track against its limitations.

This may seem innocuous however I feel that it represents a dangerous and growing trend in licensing music for audiovisual use (aka synch licenses.)

Getty Music (formerly Pump Audio) has made a thriving business of representing music libraries and independent artists for synch placements in a variety of audiovisual products.  Along the way, they have been quietly amassing a catalog of music that is not only royalty free for the master recording rights, it is also free of any performance income royalties for the composition.  While this is not mandatory, Getty is making a hard push to its artists to opt in for waiving their performance royalties. Right now, Getty has nearly 60,000 “performance free” music tracks as compared to 139,000 “rights managed”.

Why does this bother me? In my world of digital music, labels and publishers are in a constant fight to protect their royalty rates (see Pandora’s recent victory against music publishers). There is an unending struggle to maintain the value of music against the economics of the various digital music services.

However, Getty is now on the other side and is guilty of devaluing music by encouraging artists to forego one of the basic grants of copyright law: “…to perform the copyrighted work publicly” and the income derived from this right.  Further, Getty is using fear tactics by saying that “…excluding a track form performance royalty free limits its sales potential…” Why is Getty creating a system that benefits from discouraging artists to defend their right to retain their basic rights?  In other words, it seems like they managed to create a business model that purportedly will decrease your sales if you choose to protect your performance rights.

Their justification is that they are merely responding to customer demand.  It is perfectly understandable that a large company like Getty wants to please its customers. That’s only natural.  But Getty Music relies on artists to keep making music (all at their own cost) and licensing it to Getty.  It seems counterintuitive to not only deprive the artists of a potentially long-term revenue stream, but to actively encourage the artists to do so out of fear of lost opportunities.

Obviously, Getty draws a line in responding to other customer needs.  It sets a price on its products and expects the customer to pay it.

So why can’t they draw a line with regards to performance rights?

It is because they generally don’t participate in such back end revenue streams.  Their take is on the upfront license fees.  So, it causes them no apparent harm to give the customers what they want in this regard.  In fact it even gives them a competitive edge over other music services.  All on the backs of the very artists that they purport to support.

The logic that Getty presents is that the loss of any potential performance income will be offset by the increase in license fees an artist may receive.  On a macro level, it’s a no-brainer for Getty (read: Getty has nothing to lose).  But, generally speaking, it will not work on the individual artist level.

For the majority of artists on Getty, getting a synch placement will generate more revenue from performance royalties than from their share of the synch fee.

Certainly all the production music libraries understand this math.  With thousands of artists signed up to Getty Music, I find it very hard to conceive that any individual artist will see a substantial increase in the number of licenses issued enough to justify stripping away their performance royalties.

Royalty-free music libraries have been around for decades. Most such companies survive only because they earn performance fees from broadcasters, cable channels, etc. In fact, many have even given away their music for free knowing that they would likely make enough on the back end.

But now we are seeing a decline in upfront synch fees (classic supply-demand scenario) AND a coordinated effort to remove all other revenue sources.

So the promise of a Pump Audio/Getty Music has been to give the indie artist a chance at receiving synch revenues that they wouldn’t normally have.  Definitely a noble endeavor without a doubt. A win-win, you might say especially for large licensing deals where Getty takes only 25% of the upfront fee.  So why not leave the performance royalties intact?

Fortunately artists have complete control of the situation (at least, for now). It is not mandatory to waive your performance rights when you submit music to Getty.

I would strongly encourage all of Getty’s artists to think very hard before ticking the wrong box.  It’s a classic, slippery slope.


41 Responses

  1. PerveGriffin

    Getty Images is Satan. They are internet trolls who send out thousands of demand letters (for visual works) hoping the recipient will just pay up.

    I have dealt with these turds. And, they ARE turds.

    • Babbleplay

      I just googled the company name because they claimed a 20 minute video for their own monetization over 30 seconds of intro music at the start of the game I was showcasing.
      I don’t want to just roll over and take it, but, I am hesitant to challenge it; Youtube has become infamous for not looking into this crap, and just automatically siding with the bompanirs making the claim.

    • Mark

      Thank you for posting this as I was just about to send Getty some of my music…now I won’t waste my time..again thank you!

  2. Extremely Jingle Pumped

    Reason #5,345 as to why artists continue to lose. You must ALWAYS pay for the privilege of use. Most TV/Film productions do have music budgets. Some big. Some small. Regardless, these music libraries have driven the value of music so far into the ground that it’s created a culture of “Free”. What they don’t tell you, in the fine print or publicly, is that they secure overall network or season-by-season deals with those parties for substantial cash. The libraries always win, the artists continue to lose. All music library companies are guilty of this. They won’t tell you in the face, but it’s a dirty fact. BMI and ASCAP continue to lower their return rates to the little guys as well.

  3. Desire Inspires

    I know that there is a small but hardcore group of composers that would only prefer to have music in a performance free music library. Some people have a deep dislike and even a hatred of the PROs. By doing direct licensing with a performance free music library, these composers would be choosing to get paid upfront and rejecting backend royalties.

    I think this model will not be adapted by PRO composers, at least not initially. But to be honest, I think that the performance free model will be adopted by many micro stock sites and by some non exclusive retitle companies. Royalties from PROs are not the best for smaller companies. They would probably go for splitting an upfront payment with the composer instead of waiting for publishing royalties to come in.

    My main question about this model is will there be blanket licenses? A blanket license usually implies that a composer receives no upfront money. The performance free model would provide no backend royalties. So the only winner of a blanket performance free music library is the library itself. Licensing a boatload of tracks on the cheap with this model completely cuts the composer out of the picture financially.

    My guess is that the big company that is moving towards the performance free model will initially not do blanket licenses. But they will eventually end up changing the terms with a slight-of-hand and will then offer blanket licenses. From reading the email I received, they are leaving the terms of the contract vague so that they can make such changes without prior consent. Composers will have to opt out, and may pretty much have all of their music removed from the library.

    Even if there are no blanket licenses, will payments for individual licenses go up at all? Will people still be licensing music for $10 and splitting half with the music library?

  4. Sync Music Guy

    “I would strongly encourage all of Getty’s artists to think very hard of this classic, slippery slope before you tick the wrong box.”

    Are you kidding me?????

    Just leave the site entirely and put them out of business! Don’t be a coward, are you really that desperate?
    There are dozens of other companies that can license your music. Just go elsewhere.

    • Composer Lady

      As a composer I totally agree! It’s a huge corporation, of course they want to squeeze every dime out of you. It’s a known fact that most libraries screw you over. And not only that – by joining you are cutting off the branch you’re sitting on. So many wannabe composers do this. Undermining the music business by selling themselves cheap. They have a day job so they don’t need the pay – and they certainly don’t put the time and effort in it like a full-time composer.
      The effect is just like when wannabe carpenters build houses for half the price. People are greedy and want to save money. They gladly pay less for less quality. With the wannabe carpenter you risk that your house falls apart and it all becomes way more expensive in the end. IF you are for instance a film director and just buy some random “home made” music, your film might fall apart too. What a smart move – you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of your life and then you choose to ice the cake with poop!!!

      I saw a film a few weeks ago. Pretty bad one actually. (bad script, bad acting) The only thing that could’ve saved it was the music. The library music put in on random places was the nail in the coffin for that one and you could hear it from the very beginning. It was just way off.

    • new to licensing

      What other licensing companies would you recommend that actively place your music in rights managed contracts?
      Getty allows non-exclusivity so it makes sense to actively be looking for other avenues.


  5. mdti

    I agree that simply not registering or leaving getty image seems to be the right solution if the article is true.

  6. enough already

    I pulled my tracks..I actually stopped submitting music to them after they changed their payment split..pathetic

  7. Zac Shaw

    Stop confusing music with copyright. They’re two different things.

    You said something in there about “devaluing music”, which is impossible because music is free. We use copyright to control access and create value around songs. But songs are inherently free. Hum a song and put a price tag on it. Whoops, without copyright you can’t, and now I have a copy in my brain that I can share freely.

    Most musicians think a corporate-lobbied, government-decreed royalty makes absolutely no sense in the 21st century. Don’t you?

    Let’s stop blaming the technology companies who give a far larger percent of their revenue to musicians than the 3 labels who own 70% of the rights to the world’s music and still dictate the terms by which artists get paid through litigation, lobbying and market manipulation.

    Music access is inexorably going free. Musicians can adapt or fight a quixotic #IRespectMusic battle to protect publishers, labels and PROs by juicing a couple more percentage points out of an anachronistic system of exploitation in an industry that is now purely technology.


    • Steven corn

      No, I don’t think that most musicians think of performance royalty income as nonsense. Every musician or artist I know or work with (and that is 1000’s) still expect and/or rely on such revenue and consider it very relevant and necessary.

      • Anonymous

        No other industry, creative or otherwise works this way (including 99.99% of the people who work in film by the way). It’s always fee for service. Music is special however and they need tons of extra random royalties besides a salary or a upfront license.

        • how much+from+teaching

          you are completely wrong. do you know anything at all? most creative fields make money from royalties: it’s a way to offset the time/research/years of development:

          any acor, or director. or any novelist. or any scientist with a patent. or a graphic designer who doesn’t do buyouts for his logos. or illustrator. or photographers. or painter, who retains rights to the image of his work, and can make money even after the painting is sold (from photos etc), or from resales percentage at auctions, etc.

    • hippydog

      Quote “Hum a song and put a price tag on it”

      i dont know where to start..
      Your mixed up logic is so fracked up I’m not sure if this is an april fools joke or not..

      so your basically saying lets get rid of ALL copyright?
      anyone who writes a song, or a book, or a movie? frack them.. its now free?

      hum a song and put a price tag on it..
      again.. wow..
      worst argument ever.. clearly it shows you dont even have the most basic grasp of copyright..

    • Emlyn

      “Free music” is the symptom of an industry accustomed to a new mediocrity; yes, the web opened up new avenues for indie artists, but with the good comes the bad. Truckloads of it.

      Yes, the record labels stifled innovative music and turned music from a communal experience and a means of expression, to a commodity; but that shouldn’t imply that the inverse is true: art takes time, effort and skill to produce and the artist–the real artist–deserves to make a living wage from it. Pennies don’t cut it; that disrespects the artist’s investment and it demeans the art.

      Enter copyright; for better or for worse this mechanism is one by which an artist can maintain control as originator of the work. Otherwise any idea is worthless, and where would that leave us, the makers of ideas? Should all ideas be free??

      There is no free lunch.

      No, music is not copyright, just as an invention is not a patent and a repaired toilet is not a receipt; the latter simply ensures that the former is respected as the _originator’s_ right to claim a value for their work on it.

      A non-argument.

      Getty sucks; take a stand.

    • Peter Robertson

      Not sure you totally understand the context of this discussion. Are you saying composers should contribute their music to be a part of other work for free and then not see any return as that larger work makes money? I think when people talk about devaluing music they mean devaluing musicianship and the craft of composition/peformance/recording…. What do you mean music is free? Is time/work/effort free? Data is arguably a bit like water. Radiowaves are arguably a bit like water. The art that they may be encoding not so much. There’s a lot to discuss re copyright and how artists make a living but I find your analogies very trite and not that helpful. Are you on book writers forums saying ‘literature is inherently free, tell a story and…’ Maybe a hummed tune will get across the crux of a composition but it’s not an arranged, crafted, performed, mastered recording is it? You haven’t got a copy in your brain that you can share freely. You might have a melodic idea you can pass on but…
      There’s a lot wrong with how it’s been exploited but copyright is a noble idea in that it is trying to enable those who work in the abstract and intangible to be recompensed for their work, which also takes effort and time, in the same way that craftsmen who work in the tangible are.

  8. jw

    If you’ve ever browsed Getty’s photo database, the higher quality photos are generally rights managed & the lower quality images are often royalty free. A lot of the royalty free photographs just plain wouldn’t get licensed if they were rights managed, & a lot of projects are so small that they don’t justify rights managed photography. So this solves a need for both specific licensors & specific licensees.

    As a photographer, you’re probably more likely to license a photo royalty free. But, if there is a demand for your specific photo, you’re likely to make more money per license by managing rights. The photographer has to make that decision.

    I can imagine scenarios where certain artists could make more money licensing royalty free audio for smaller projects more frequently. And I can also imagine scenarios where an artist might be shortchanging his- or herself by foregoing those performance royalties. It’s up to the artist to make that decision.

    Now, the flip side of that is that some licensors are going to go with royalty free because it’s available, when they have a budget for & otherwise would’ve gone with rights managed. Is that going to be made up for with more frequent licensing? I think that Getty believes so. Some projects that otherwise wouldn’t have had music will now have music, or some projects will get a green light because the overall cost goes down. So the artist has to decide… is my music good enough to demand frequent rights managed licensing? Or do I want to switch to royalty free in hopes of making up for the lower payouts with volume?

    At least that’s how I understand it.

    • Anonymous

      It’s a bit different. Rights managed photographs are typically also an upfront license, it’s just for a specific purpose. The music industry has this PRO system where they collect royalties forever even after an upfront license is paid. There is no tandem in photography or really any other form of creative media.

      There is a movement to produce music with a performance licensed attached and this is what this article is concerned about. To be fair, it’s not just Getty, there are many websites these days that offer fully royalty free music (which means, no license from a PRO required).

      • jw

        Essentially Getty is functioning as the PRO in the case of photography. (I would suggest that it’s more than just an upfront payment, as they also enforcing licenses & collect fees for violations.)

        It’s not perfectly analogous, but be that as it may, I’m not sure there’s any evidence that Getty is really doing anything other than mirroring it’s photography licensing tiers per customers request. You just can’t write off the economic viability of royalty free music licensing simply because Getty isn’t profiting directly from performance royalty collection. That sounds like paranoia to me.

        The bottom line is that Getty isn’t forcing anyone into royalty free licensing, & there are plenty of scenarios where royalty free would make economic sense to certain artists.

    • hippydog

      Quote “A lot of the royalty free photographs just plain wouldn’t get licensed if they were rights managed”

      I’m far from knowledgeable in this area..
      but if i understand the original problem, it wasnt that they couldnt “sell” the usage, it was more that it wasnt economically feasible.. IE: selling a picture so someone could produce 25 mugs or t-shirts with the picture wasnt worth it too them.. You either were a “big spender” or you used the royalty free ones..

      This made sense when processing small requests costs more then the profit that could be made, but like everything else, in the digital era the prices stayed the same, but the “manufacture costs” went down..
      BUT, why wreck a good thing? so instead of making things profitable for everyone, its just ‘easier’ to go with blanket licenses..

      Having said all that.. I do understand that music licensing is convoluted, so “royalty free” does make sense for them..

      and supposedly the money they make “upfront” can actually be more then an artists would get otherwise..
      IE: if “fans” are not buying the song, getting $200 so someone can use it in a small advertisement is a LOT better then nothing.. whats weird is a picture seems to be worth more then an entire song..

      • jw

        The way I look at it is almost like a major/minor league baseball type of situation. If you can excel in the major leagues, by all means retain your performance royalties. But then for a lot of other artists, it makes more sense to lower his or her demands in order to get licensed. Sometimes it pays (literally) to be a big fish in a smaller pond.

        It would make no sense for an in-demand artist like the Black Keys to forego their performance licenses. And that’s never going to happen. It’s these “minor league” type artists who can benefit from this model. And, again, it’s up to the artist to make this decision.

        And regarding the value of a song license versus a photo license, yes… the value of a photo generally is worth more than the value of the music. (I would use the term composition rather than song.) Of course, there are many scenarios where one might want or need to license audio, but when it comes to advertising or promotional materials or whatever, the visual component usually directly supports whatever is being advertising or marketed, whereas the music is just sort of secondary reinforcement. You have to look at it in terms of the value to the licensor.

  9. Jake

    Hate the game, (ESPN doesn’t pay ASCAP/BMI ) not the player.

    • Mike Just+Mike

      Jake: Don’t forget Scripps network, who pays but doesn’t file cue sheets.

      How this s*$#% isn’t automated by technologies akin to Shazam yet is outrageous. Getty’s lame, but this is like looking at a tooth and forgetting you’re in Jurassic Park.

    • Emlyn

      Without the players–those who agree to the game’s rules–there would be no game.

      Change the game.

  10. Mike Just Mike

    Question: As I understand it, Getty never did pay performance royalties – the PRO’s do that. Pump retitles songs (Odd that no one has mentioned that in this thread), takes the publishing (ditto), and artist gets back end from ASCAP/BMI/SESAC, and whatever synch percentage that shows up.

    Does this post say that Getty is absolving their clients from putting in cue sheets or something?

    I mean, there are so many ways the artist is screwed here, I’m just trying to keep up on what new level this post is pointing out.

    Can anyone clarify? Paul?

  11. Mike Just Mike

    Does ASCAP/BMI have a comment on this, or how their power is evaporating?

    • Anonymous

      It has been for awhile, with publishers giving them the finger.

  12. Willis

    Does this issue really qualify as something that should get anyone “mad as hell?” That’s pretty angry, I’d bet.

  13. Michael Musco

    Great article. Performance free is a bad road to walk down. Good for them bad for musicians.

  14. Getty Contributor

    Getty is bad for the musician. This is a very valid article highlighting a huge legal change from this supposed industry leader. They leave the artist hanging by charging too little. I am pulling from Getty. I have had tracks in finals that could have been picked up on Getty for the cheap if they looked.

  15. dhenn

    I remember when Pump Audio first came out and I didn’t want to have anything to do with them because it was such a bad deal. As usual, the Pump Audio people got their money, the Getty people will get their money and the artists will get screwed. No thanks Getty.

  16. ricky schultz

    Thanks Steve for clearly articulating why Getty is DEAD WRONG here. How very-umm, what’s the word i could post here?-pathetic of them, no hypocritical. Feels like the big guy preying on the little guy hoping he or she doesnt know any better. Sure, waive this in the hopes of getting more of that. Would like to see them be so magnanomous with their Image licensing, LOL.

  17. robbiem

    Does anyone here have a licencing company they WOULD recommend ?

    • Johnny B

      Thanks to the above posters who offered cogent replies to these unacceptable indiscretions…I too would like some feedback on any viable licensing company/companies anyone here has had good experience with.

  18. David

    Check out http://www.sound-sink.com….seems like they are offering an alternative where musician’s can make contracts, set their own prices, and retain their rights. They just take a 7.5% transaction fee and leave royalties alone. Seems a lot more fair.

  19. David

    I just received an invitation to submit music yesterday, read the agreement, then found your article while searching the internet for people in my position who have had good experiences with this. Although I hate turning down an opportunity, I’m tired of being tied down to a deal that makes me no money as an artist. No Getty Images music publishing for me.

  20. Gino

    I know that my music revenue will drop significantly after Getty image had bought Pump audio.
    and it happened

  21. Chris "Prezidential" R

    If these companies keep asking us to give away rights eventually there will be no reason to be involved in the industry aside from passion. At some point we as musicians have to stop bending over and taking it. I notice a trend where these small companies like Getty Music are taking advantage of our motivation to succeed in an already extremely competitive industry. I personally think we as musicians should do it the old fashion way which is find a manager who has connections or get off our asses and go to conventions go to festivals and network our asses off. I’m an introvert so I know the difficulty but if we don’t then the only place we have to turn is to a crook and let him take everything we’ve worked all these years for. KNOW YOUR WORTH! I was just about to submit some music to them but after i felt like I was being pushed to give away my rights I changed my mind. I think Ill just take my own advice and network more because I know as a producer I’m worth more to them than they are to me, look at the royalty splits they get more than we do! Utterly Ridiculous!