The idea of publishing copyright-free music would probably seem absurd to most people in the music industry.
The goal is at least to try to make money from all uses of music, right? NoCopyrightSounds (NCS) would disagree.
The label, based in Preston, UK and now 10 years old, allows video creators on platforms like YouTube and Twitch to use anything from their catalog for free, with a small request for credit.
As a result, NCS has music in 150 million videos, which have generated 550 billion views, and its catalog has around 120 million streams per month.
The premise behind the unconventional model is that NCS credit consists of millions of videos (although not all 150 million are credited), which then have a chance to turn into paid streams, generating revenue for both the artist and the label.
This approach is suitable for emerging talent most in need of promotion and NCS does not (yet) have a plethora of known signings. Names that have released music on the predominantly electronic label include Lost Sky, Elektronomia, Koven, Curbi, JPB, Cartoon, and Deaf Kev.
That said, NCS signed Alan Walker’s contract. Disappear which has been redesigned (as Washed out and released via Sea Recordings) and reached number 1 in countries around the world.
The label also looked into artist development territory and last year released their artist-led debut album from German duo Unknown Brain.
The signing services offered by the team of seven are full service, covering distribution, pitching, timing, marketing, promotion, royalties / publication and accounting.
NCS was founded by Billy Woodford in 2011, who struggled to find royalty-free music for his gaming videos on YouTube. He started a YouTube channel to meet this need for other creators, uploading all the royalty-free music he could find.
After a while, Woodford realized he had to sign the music so NCS could guarantee it was free to use and the label was born.
Today, NCS’s YouTube channel has over 31 million subscribers. Artists that come out through the label are on 50/50 deals, which also cover editing and are often for a single single.
The label typically releases three new tracks per week and has enjoyed a 15% increase in streams and views during the pandemic – reportedly due to increased content consumption and music listening as people are more at home.
Here, we chat with label manager Pete Torrington and GM Dan Lee about NCS’s business model, music copyright, and their future plans and ambitions.
The commercial music industry has not always been supportive of YouTube in particular, or overly enthusiastic about using unlicensed music in user-generated content. Is there anything this side of the business could learn from your approach?
Dan: TikTok has completely changed the music industry, whether for the better or not. You can use pretty much any song in your TikTok video and we have the same approach with YouTube and I think it should be. [across the business]. But you should be able to monetize this as a creator as well.
With the big labels their main goal is to generate income and they can invest a million dollars in a marketing campaign. So they don’t necessarily need that exposure on YouTube, which is something we’re looking at heavily. Over the past 10 years we’ve had a lot of people in the more traditional industry disagreeing with our approach, but I think it’s all going in the same direction now.
“Over the past 10 years we’ve had a lot of people in the more traditional industry disagreeing with our approach, but it’s all headed in the same direction now.”
Dan lee, ncs
rock: UGC now dominates the campaigns – it’s so focused on “Oh we have to get this track trending on TikTok or we want you to use YouTube Shorts”. For Ed Sheeran’s latest campaign, he posted short clips from the album to YouTube to encourage people to use it for their own creations. A marketing or promotion strategy will now feature TikTok, YouTube Shorts, and Instagram Reels, and then you have ByteDance in China and all that stuff.
When the track is available, it’s about what fans and creators can do with it to put their own stamp on it. It’s a really exciting time to see all of these unique ways that people can use and edit content.
What is the line between songs used for free and the resulting promotion and outright exploitation?
Dan: I don’t know if this is really unfair to someone. An integral part of what we ask when a content creator uses our music is that they credit it. I would appreciate it if artists would use their music all the time but never get credit or money for it, I understand that. Maybe that is where the line is – if you are using the music, you have to at least thank the original creator of that music.
Our policy is that if you are an independent content creator, you can use music for free on YouTube and Twitch. But if you’re a company like Samsung, or whatever, and want to use our music, we’ll do a commercial license. There must be some way to follow this [difference] but I don’t know how you could systematize it.
Would you make any changes to the current music copyright framework?
Dan: You can sign up with a distributor and distribute just about any track you want, even if you don’t own it. The problem you run into then is that you get people handing out pieces they don’t have for a quick puncture. A copyright claim will arise because someone stole our song and then we have to deal with it.
When we go to the distributor and say to them, “You authorized the distribution of this track to which you have no rights, nor the artist who distributed it”, they take the blame and say, “Well, we are only the distributor, it is the artist who is infringed. This framework, which means anyone can take something and make it appear as if they own it, has to change.
“The framework that means anyone can take something and make it appear as if they own it, has to change. “
rock: This problem can cause havoc. A typical NCS version will be used in 150,000 or 250,000 videos by the creators within a fortnight of its release, if not more if it’s a popular track. If someone downloads it and claims ownership of it, our complaints channel gets flooded. We have a community of 100,000 to 200,000 to half a million of a million content creators who are like, “Hey, we use this music because we love it and as long as it’s copyright free. . “
So we have to go out there and try to mitigate the damage. We would like something to change that would allow us to address these issues more easily and quickly, instead of doing a lot more investigative work.
Dan: It shows proof of ownership and maybe with things like blockchain you’ll be able to prove where the original source came from and who the original owner is. There is some kind of technology that could definitely be built.
Is there anything else you would like to change in the music industry?
rock: When we did our first album campaign in 2019, as part of that, we reached out to many published artists to explain our model and the benefits of dating us. There’s always a sticking point when it comes to editing and we talked to a guy and he said royalty free music is a race to the bottom.
We understand that this is an old school mentality and that what we are doing is not traditional which is unique. But when you hear the term “royalty free music” there is always a stigma attached to the fact that this is shoddy, cheap, mass market music.
Our goal has always been to remove that stigma because some incredibly talented people have released music with us from all over the world and some of the tracks that have signed with us have been hugely commercial success, while still having that element free to. really strong right.
This is what bothers me sometimes – I understand that someone can doubt free music a little bit, but at the end of the day it’s royalty free to allow people to experience and create. their own creations from the song, thus supporting their livelihood as well as that of the artist.
What are your ambitions and future projects for NoCopyrightSounds?
rock: We also want to have the traditional model of artistic career development. We’ve done this with artists like Unknown Brain, who we’ve worked with long term, but we want to be able to have some big name artists who are signed with NCS and whom we help fund and support with album deals. and EP and encourage them to develop in the live industry.
We want the artists we work with to come to us for everything, not just music, but touring, merchandise and branding as well. We want to be a full service label that empowers people to achieve their creative goals.
Dan: Also, we launched a brand about a year ago called NCS Arcade and it’s getting a bit more educational and informative for emerging artists. Through it, we present our artists and their way of working with tutorials and interviews on the paths of the artists. We have found that emerging artists who want to work with us see this as a great resource and we want to develop it and empower creators in any way we can.
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