The Internet has always seemed a bit like the Wild West, and never more so than now, during the COVID-19 pandemic. With live performances temporarily halted for an unspecified period of time, more and more performers are getting their acts together and taking them online. But just because it feels like there are no rules right now doesn’t mean that it’s true.
Case in point: Songs still have licensing agreements. So you want to film yourself singing “Meadowlark” and share it with your followers? Make sure you have the rights, first. Enter Deborah Mannis-Gardner, owner and president of DMG Clearances, Inc.
“This person sat down wrote this song, this is their job, this is their way of making money and surviving,” she points out. “And if they’re not being compensated for the use of their song, how can they write new music? Music is so important to us emotionally, it’s getting us through this—but if we want to keep the music going, we have to compensate those [creators] for using the music.”
Mannis-Gardner’s job is to clear all the licenses required to let performers and producers share their gifts. Known as the "Queen of Sample Clearance," Mannis-Gardner recently worked on both the Grand Rights music licensing for Hamilton and then expanding those rights to include the Synchronization Rights for the upcoming movie on Disney+.
But her advice extends from major projects like Hamilton straight to how performers with time on their hands can best share their talents online without setting off any red flags in terms of music rights.
“It’s across the board on all social platforms,” she says of singers posting videos. “I have several computers and my tablet and my phone all going at the same time, continuously checking things. These platforms keep increasing—it’s Facebook, it’s SnapChat, TikTok. I think we’ve all settled into the pandemic with our jobs, at least in the music industry, getting products out there and licensing down. In the beginning, everyone was like, ‘What are we going to do?’ Now it’s business as usual, and people have to clear things.
“So if you’re in Mean Girls and you want to sing [a song from the show] and put it online, it could in essence be pulled out without consent,” she continues. “But if you’re a member of the cast, I’d reach out to someone and make sure it’s OK.”
YouTube luckily has many permissions already in place with publishers, even before the pandemic. But the extended availability on social media and other sites means that everything still needs to be cleared for it to remain up.
And there are many different kinds of rights. What you hear in a commercial? That’s a synchronization right, when audio is synced to a visual. Music performed live on stage falls under grand rights. And Mannis-Gardner is here to flag any misuses or missteps—and help you resolve it so that everyone wins.
“We have to keep the music going,” she says. “And anything that’s out there, we have to make sure that it keeps earning revenue so people can keep enjoying it.”