APM Music is one of the world’s leading providers of music for visual media, and Adam Taylor has been running the company for over twenty years. Given my recent talks with Epidemic Sound and Artlist, it made sense for me to reach out with an interview request, and Adam was kind enough to oblige. Below you can read about APM’s history, their work in the production space and how newer royalty-free models have affected the landscape of production music.
– Hi Adam. Pleasure to be speaking with you. Prior to joining APM in the 2000s, it seems you worked in the corporate world. Can you tell me about that?
Sure. I got started in my family’s business, Caswell-Massey, which is the oldest chemist and perfume company in the US; it was founded in 1752 in Newport, Rhode Island. My uncle started working for Caswell in 1916 and partnered with my father to buy the business in 1936. I joined the company after college and moved up the organization from the store to being appointed President/CEO. We made our own products, including formulas for soaps and colognes such as Number Six, which was designed at the request of George Washington; Caswell still sells it today. We also represented many well-known European personal care products in the US. It was a lot of fun, and I ran the company for about ten years until we sold it in 1989, after which I transitioned to the entertainment business for some years before returning to consumer products. All of that led to a point where I got offered the President position at APM.
– What events led to you being afforded that role?
I hadn’t heard of the company at the time, but a friend of mine was in the music business and sat on APM’s board. They were looking for a new President, so I sent them my resumé and came in for a series of interviews. I was lucky enough to be offered the position and started in June of 2001.
– What was the extent of your music background until then?
I had been in the entertainment business, so I knew about TV and film programming. On the music side, I knew a lot about contemporary genres like pop and rock, and I also knew a lot of people in the music industry through living in New York. That was pretty much it – I knew little about music rights, so I had to do a lot of research to become familiar with it.
– Was there a particular reason the board hired you given your lack of experience with music rights?
I actually asked the board, “Why don’t you hire someone from the music business? “, and they said, “We don’t want someone from the music business “. I think they were looking for a person with the skills to run a business where intellectual property and marketing was the focus. APM was under the publishing arms of EMI and Zomba at the time, but record labels don’t work the same as publishing companies – the latter is an asset-based business that’s about long-term annuity, which requires a different approach. I think it lent itself to the skills I’d acquired in running my family business and later working with media companies, and that’s likely why I was chosen.
– Got it. You’re also chair of the Production Music Association (PMA). Tell me about that.
I’ve been on the PMA board since joining APM, and I’ve been the chair for about six years. The PMA has three parts to its mission: firstly, we educate people about library music and make sure that composers are exposed to the skills and technologies that’ll help them. Secondly, we aim to protect the value of music – we believe music should be paid for just like any other production asset, so we don’t advocate the sync-free models. We’re big on performance revenue and PROs, which we believe protects the composer’s long-term income streams. The third focus is on creating community, which I think we’ve done quite successfully. This work centers on the Production Music Conference that occurs every fall, and prior to the pandemic we had 700 – 800 people come in from around the world. Last year, we did a hybrid conference with about 250 people attending in-person and the rest tuning in online. We’re doing a hybrid event again this year, and we’re expecting attendees to be close to pre-pandemic levels.
– Let’s talk about APM as a company. For starters, what can you tell me about its history?
APM Music was founded in 1983. Our founding libraries were KPM and Bruton, which were owned by EMI and ATV respectively. They were represented in the US by Emil Ascher, but they weren’t happy with that relationship, so rather than set up two separate companies, they decided to jointly create APM to represent their libraries. Over time, EMI added in many of its libraries, and additional ones came in via acquisitions. Today, we’re 50% owned by Sony Music Publishing and 50% by Universal Music Publishing, so we have material from both companies, as well as many third-party libraries. We also exclusively represent the music of the NFL, MLB, Discovery network and others, meaning work to procure media syncs licenses for that content in the US and Canada.
– Since Universal and Sony are presumed to be competitors, how does the ownership configuration affect APM operationally?
Despite having a board consisting of members of Sony and Universal, APM runs as an independent company. The fact that there’s competition doesn’t bother me – it actually keeps us on our toes and we’ve done well as a result. The folks at Sony and Universal are very smart people who understand this business, and I never worry that inside knowledge about APM will leak to rival libraries. The situation actually empowers us since we don’t need to raise money or participate in the capital markets, which leaves us more time to focus on what we’re good at.
– How much music does APM have in its catalog?
APM’s library has just over 300,000 original titles, along with different versions of each track, all of which totals over one million individual recordings. Our mission is to have every style of music to satisfy any need, and since cultural influences change with time, we’re constantly enhancing our collection with new music.
– Even with such a large library, is there any concern that APM might one day run out of music to serve its clients? Especially given the recent growth in online content creation?
No. We have an unrivaled network of libraries and composers around the world, so there’s no shortage of content. We’re often contacted by libraries who want us to represent them in North America, but we have to turn many of them down because there’s only so much content we can bring in.
We also have an advantage in certain niche genres that other companies can’t compete in. For example, we have an unrivaled collection of archival music going back to the early 20th century, including the largest collection of Italian archival library music in the US. This includes music from Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and others. We have a lot of irreplaceable French and British archival libraries, including the legendary KPM and Bruton libraries and an enormous classical collection which includes one of the only classical collections that offers stems. The recordings were done in separate rooms so there’s no bleed, which is very rare. We have music from almost every country of the world and we are just bringing in a new fantastic
We have music from almost every country of the world and are bringing in a fantastic library from Transylvania, plus we have libraries from Turkey, China, Japan and South Africa. We’re also starting a new library called “Kinetic – The Artist Collective”, which consists of music from authentic indie artists, as opposed to people writing library music under the “indie” genre.
– Let’s talk about the size of your catalog. I’ve interviewed former staff members from Universal Production Music who shared their opinions on the production music space. One comment was that APM’s size might be counterproductive to the industry. To cite a quote, “…one of the main threats is an aggregator company like APM Music. They’re made up of thousands of sub-labels, and someone told me their catalog is four times bigger than Universal’s…only financial companies in London or New York can pursue that level of growth, and even if a publisher were able to buy up enough labels to overtake APM, there aren’t enough clients in the marketplace to consume all that music “. What are your thoughts on that?
I think there’s some factual errors in the statement. Firstly, we have 50 suppliers of music, some of whom have a variety of sub-libraries. These total less than 200, not thousands. If a supplier decides to create a sub-label, that’s up to them. Two of our key libraries are Bruton and Kosinus, each of whom have a dozen sub-labels that divide their content into various niches – I don’t see anything wrong with that. If you go into the health section of a bookstore, you’ll have books on diet, nutrition, cooking and psychology, among other things. So I don’t see any issue with having multiple sub-labels.
Our interest is not in growing the size of the catalog just for the sake of it. Quality is the most important thing for us. I’ve dropped libraries from our roster that I didn’t think were holding up their side of the quality equation. But in terms of our growth, libraries are constantly producing content, and since new genres emerge, we need to keep up with those developments. As much content as we have, we’re constantly hit up by clients who say, “I ran through all of your music in such and such genre. Can you produce more? “. So we go to our libraries and say we need more, which results in an influx of new material. It’s not about growing our catalog as much as satisfying the needs of our clients.
– What about your legacy content from years back? Does that still get used?
For certain kinds of programming, yes it does. We have music that’s representative of the 19th century which gets a lot of sync placements with Bridgerton, the Netflix show. Aside from that, older content continues to generate performance revenue, so if I drop that music just for the sake of shrinking APM’s catalog, then I’m giving up that income. For example, we still get performance revenue every quarter from our music being in the “Adventures of Superman“, which ran from 1952 to 1964; most of the music in that show is ours. We also get paid from “Spider Man“, the cartoon series from 1967. Other than the theme song, most of the music was ours – over 200 individual APM songs were used in that show, and they generate performance revenue every quarter because the show still airs.
– Another quote from talking to former UPM staff was, “There’s basically two ways of doing business in the production music world: You can either be opportunistic by prioritizing the size of your catalog, or you can focus on real market needs. In the first case, you would leverage a big catalog to cover as many customers as possible, but with the second you would figure out what your clients actually need and cater to them directly“. Thoughts?
In terms of leveraging the size of our catalog, it’s one of the value propositions that’s attractive to clients. It means they can get any kind of music they want from us, so I don’t see that as negative or being in opposition to producing niche music. APM has made an effort to create a broad catalog, which is why we have hip-hop libraries, trailer libraries, sports music libraries and more. We just launched a gospel library from the early 60s which was recorded in a church and includes stems. It’s a first of its kind in our industry. We also brought in an Italian avant-garde library that was made in the early 60s and had never before been available in the US market. So we cover a lot of ground with our catalog, and we’ve seen very little erosion in our pricing despite onboarding more music. We’ve been able to hold the line on price because we continue to add value to our clients.
– How does APM manage its relationships with the larger media networks? Do you reach out directly to their Music Supervisors, or are they actively soliciting music from you?
Both. People know the quality of APM’s collection, and they know our composers make money from the use of their music. They also know the quality of our search engine and the results it produces. So it’s a combination of great music, great customer service, great website and flexible pricing. We’re a comprehensive library and our job is to understand what clients need and make sure we have the most appropriate music for them.
– How many syncs does APM do per month?
I don’t know exactly how many, but if you include all our blanket agreements, it’s in the hundreds of thousands, if not more.
– What are APM’s top three most successful libraries in terms of licensing frequency?
That would be KPM, Bruton and Sonoton. The latter is a family-owned library run by a couple based in Germany and Austria who are brilliant at this business.
– In 2013, I heard that 70% of APM’s revenue came from 30% of the catalog. Does that split still exist today?
No, I don’t think so. It’s a flatter curve than that, which represents a much broader use of our music than a 70/30 would imply. I’d say 80% of our syncs occur across 50% – 60% of the catalog. Because of the growth in media programming in the last decade, a broader set of genres are needed by the marketplace, which leads to more music being used from our catalog.
– In previous interviews, you’ve spoken on how APM’s prices differ for placing music into TV/film versus one-time needle drops. Can you elaborate on that?
Most of our TV and film licensing are needle-drop licenses. All of the TV and film networks have established rates that they’re willing to pay for music from library labels, and we fit into that just like everyone else. We’re comfortable with the rates the networks offer and we feel they allow us to both make money and compensate our composers.
– A decade ago, you mentioned that rates for high-profile trailer placements could cost in the thousands. Is that still the case?
APM’s rates are on the lower end for trailer music because a lot of custom trailer houses charge much more when we do. Some of their rates are quite astounding, but we’ve actually become a secret weapon for film companies because of how moderate our prices are, whilst delivering a high level of quality.
– I believe APM charges different rates for film syncs depending on what the movie budget is. Is that right?
Yes, that’s right. We’re just trying to get fair value for the composers and for ourselves, so we take into account the client’s ability to pay and what the potential exposure would be. If someone is making a $200 million feature film, the price of the sync should reflect that. Conversely, you wouldn’t expect someone who’s doing a million-dollar film to pay the same amount. Personally, I’d like to see more indie films get made, and not just the dozen franchise movies that major studios put out each year. We like to encourage individual creators to make their projects happen, so we offer a pricing structure that enables them to get high-quality music into their productions.
– You said once in a past interview that APM grows every year and has been profitable since it was founded. How do you balance making profit versus growing the company?
We strive to balance profit with the amount of investment needed to grow the business, so there’ll be less profit in years when we’re investing in the future. At other times, we’ll opt for higher profits and slow down on investing. For example, areas like website development and cloud services cost a lot of money. If APM is growing, it means more music is coming in and more people are using our website, which means we need more APIs, infrastructure, and data analysis. All of that has to scale, so we build out our systems to handle the new workload. For example, hundreds of millions of lines of data from YouTube have to be pulled into our system each quarter so we can pay our composers based on the usage. Not to mention pulling in data from other sources like TikTok and others. So we continue to invest, and that’s the key that allows APM to respond to new opportunities.
We made those ourselves, though they’re very small – the total number of tracks is just a few thousand. We also made Endgame, which is a sports-rock library that started off as a video game one, and we have Sonic Elixir, which started off as a film score library and morphed into a mixture of things. There’s also Kinetic, which I mentioned before. Our own material is only about 1% – 2% of our collection, as we prefer to rely on the music brought in from external libraries.
– Can you elaborate on the Endgame library and why it went from video games to sports music?
APM is one of the major suppliers of library music for video games, and perhaps the largest. We also have relationships with many of the great video game composers, which is what led us to create the Endgame library. You had to be a prominent video game composer to be considered for inclusion, and it performed very well over time. We eventually decided to morph it into a sports-rock oriented library since we do a lot of licensing into sports and felt it was a good niche to have.
– Back in the 2000s, APM operated using an honor system where free CDs were mailed out to clients and they were expected to pay if they used your music. Is that still how you operate?
That’s pretty much the library model, which is very different than in e-commerce where you pay for music prior to download. There are two sides to it: if a client negotiates and signs a blanket agreement with us, then they pay upfront, but if it’s a needle-drop deal, we expect them to report their usage of the track. We use the latest audio recognition systems to make sure we get paid, so it’s not uncommon to come across people who use our music without licensing it. It could be inadvertent, but that’s not always the case.
– What kind of audio recognition systems are you using?
The three major ones are Soundmouse, Tunesat and BMAT. We use all three for different purposes, but mainly to understand where our music is being used, to ensure we’re getting the right kind of performance payments, and to ensure that clients have sync licenses in place. We also use them to understand who’s using our music so we gain insight into what content to produce in the future.
– How does APM operate in regards to upfront composer fees? Do the labels you represent determine their own compensation scheme for the artists, or do you have a mandate?
We don’t have a mandate, so the payment of fees varies from library to library. If they really want a certain composer or if the production costs are considerable, then it could happen. APM generally only works with libraries that pay their composers a share of a sync. Composers who just accept upfront fees and forfeit their backend revenue by doing a performance buyout or by not being affiliated with a PRO, are making a foolish choice in my opinion. It means they’re missing out on a revenue stream for the rest of their lives, and are effectively acting as a worker bee for that library.
– Due to the growth in the UGC space, companies like Epidemic Sound and Artlist have had great success with their royalty-free models. Part of their argument is that upfront fees allow composers to make guaranteed money and be compensated irrespective of whether the music gets synced or not. What are your thoughts on this?
Sure, composers who aren’t affiliated with PROs can earn an upfront fee when working with some of these companies, though I’ve heard it’s not much. But if they’re not getting performance revenue, then once their music stops being utilized in programming, there’s no additional income stream and the library will have little incentive to continue representing the track. The composer then gets left with a track that’s generating absolutely nothing. So in the long term, I don’t think it’s a good model for composers. The performance revenue model exists for a reason: to protect the value of music and the income stream that a composer can get over a lifetime. I know it’s hard to make a living, and I understand why a composer would be attracted to an upfront fee, but there are other options I wish people would consider more.
There will always be new models that are disruptive, but in comparison to APM, I think the balance of power in these royalty-free structures leans much more towards the library than the composer. With us, composers are truly participating in the value of their music in perpetuity. We have a vested interest in retaining those tracks in our library because if we place them into productions, it generates performance revenue that pays us as the publisher. Music is fortunate enough to be the only art form in the US that creates residual income, so it’s a shame that some composers overlook it. There are even more potential revenue streams internationally through moral rights and neighboring rights, but unfortunately, these aren’t enshrined in US copyright law.
I’d like to add two additional things. Even though the libraries you mention state that they’re “royalty-free” around the world, that isn’t actually the case. Many composers who are affiliated with PROs write for these libraries under a pseudonym which still leaves a potential liability for the client using the music. Additionally, you mention that these companies have had great success. In looking at their financial statements, I’m not sure I’d call losing money a success. APM has been profitable for 40 years and we don’t need to lose money in order to gain and retain marketshare.
– What competitive advantage does APM have over the newer royalty-free libraries? Why would a YouTuber pay $50 to license one track from APM when they could sign up for a $10 subscription with another company?
Firstly, we work with a lot of third-party companies who offer our material to UGC creators, so APM’s music gets used in videos and podcasts all over the place – most people just don’t know it. The sheer number of videos that are made using our music far exceeds our yearly sync placements in professional productions. We’re talking in the high millions.
In terms of what makes APM unique, a lot of money and effort has been invested in the creation of the music we represent – literally hundreds of millions of dollars. One of our albums could cost $50,000 – $100,000 to produce, which is something many of these other libraries can’t duplicate. I’m not saying they don’t have good content, but I think different models have their role in the marketplace. These companies have been clever in identifying gaps in the market to fill, but some of them have a negative and unacknowledged impact on their composers, which I think is unfortunate.
– Have there been instances where APM has worked alongside UGC creators to bring added value to their work?
Yes there are. As an example, we have a track in our Bruton library called “Tomfoolery” that was written by David Snell, a great composer who passed away in 1967. The track was featured in SpongeBob SquarePants since we’ve provided most of the music for that series. In 2020, a kid from the East Coast named Dante 9k remixed the track and used it in his own SpongeBob video that went viral on TikTok; it currently has over 6 million videos on there. There’s even YouTube videos unconnected to Dante that have used his remix, leading to over 200 million views in total. If you add it up across all platforms, the remix has billions of listens, so we reached out and did a deal with Dante so he could benefit financially even though he didn’t own the actual IP. We just wanted him to be able to participate, and those kinds of things are incredible opportunities to empower the creator economy.
– There’s a sense that APM is a legacy name in library music, rather than being a disruptor per se. How has that reputation affected your business in the last ten years when you have competing libraries popping up?
I don’t think that’s true. Our growth has certainly not been hindered. If you listen to our music, you’ll see that it’s not legacy-oriented in terms of our creativity. We release around 40,000 – 50,000 new recordings every year, so there’s thousands of songwriters and composers who make their living daily from APM, and we’re always attracting new people. Composers get an ongoing share of not just writer’s revenue but also the sync revenue for 99% of our music, and we’ve been able to attract high-caliber composers because of that. So we’re very much on the cusp of what’s needed in the library space.
There will always be disruptors, and some of the companies you previously mentioned are certainly in that category. I can’t say that we haven’t lost deals to some of them, but stuff like that happens. We’ve always had disruptors who came and went, though I’m not saying that today’s royalty-free companies won’t be here in the future – I believe they will be, assuming they can figure out how to make a profit. But I also think some of their models have devalued the revenue streams for songwriters and composers, even if they have arguments for why that isn’t the case.
– Wrapping up, I’d like to ask about PROs. In the last decade, there’s been complaints that they’re slow to pay and don’t have an efficient way of detecting music usage in their respective territories. Have you found that to be true?
I don’t think PROs are slow to pay. It’s more an issue of what methodologies they use. In the US, payments for broadcast and streaming are either derived from a survey or a sample model. Big networks like Netflix tend to use surveys where they take note of each music usage, so they’re expected to pay for every broadcast of those tracks. But the sheer quantity of usages across TV networks, local stations and online streaming is too much to keep account of with a survey, which is why the PROs developed their sample methodologies. In this case, media companies pay negotiated fees to the PROs, who in turn pay their composers and songwriters.
Personally, I believe PRO’s protect the long-term interests of composers and songwriters, but I also believe they have more work to do in adjusting to the modern world. We’re in the era of micro-processing and audio recognition, so by using the latest technologies to detect music usages, they can more fairly pay composers on a regular basis. In certain international territories, they’re already using audio recognition as their primary way of detection, which I think is better than relying on the imperfections of cue sheets, even if custom cues are needed for things like live shows.
– What would you say is the single biggest problem that PROs need to address?
I’d say it’s the creation of a worldwide performance license so you don’t have to negotiate with 50+ different societies. I’ve pressed societies both in the US and abroad about this. There’s been some progress, but it hasn’t been quick as it should’ve been due to how territorial the PROs can be. I think some of these royalty-free models were able to come up because of that, so I encourage all PROs to come up with a model that the industry can plug into irrespective of location. Based on what the sync usage is, it should cost X amount of dollars so the license can be granted automatically; media creators shouldn’t have to negotiate with a bunch of different societies to have their content performed across the world.
– As a final question, can you tell me about the following libraries:
KPM: KPM is one of our founding libraries from the late 40s. It’s the world’s most well-known library and helped define the sound of television for close to 30 years before being bought by EMI in 1976. It was created through a merger of two companies: Keith Prowse Music and Maurice Music, which then became “Keith Prowse, Maurice” or “KPM”. In the 60s, one of the heads of the company, Robin Phillips, brought in amazing composers like Alan Hawkshaw, Keith Mansfield, Brian Bennett, David Snell and Johnny Pearson. Johnny Pearson wrote the Monday Night Football team and Keith Mansfield wrote “Funky Fanfare“, which has been used to open Tarantino movies. Other themes from KPM are used for The People’s Court, Wimbledon, The US Open and This Week In Baseball. Additionally, KPM’s material is probably the most sampled music ever, and we’ve done deals with everybody from 2pac and Nas to Jay Z and Drake. We just did a deal with Dr. Dre for a track he put into Grand Theft Auto, and we recently did something with Beck as well. KPM is also one of the biggest producers of contemporary music today, so it’s a very active library with both new material and older archival stuff that still gets licensed.
Cezame: Cezame is a French label created by Frédéric Leibovitz, a veteran library owner who’s been in the business for 40 – 50 years. He’s the co-founder of the Kosinus library, which is owned by Universal and represented by APM. He also founded Koka Media. He knows his stuff and the quality of his content is superb, so we’re very proud to represent it.
MLB Library: It’s a very small library, but we have a strong relationship with Major League Baseball. It started over 40 years ago with This Week In Baseball, a weekly program that recapped current events when baseball was the number one sport in the US. They had an opening and closing theme, both of which were from KPM, and that’s what started our relationship. We license our music to the league, the network, and nearly all of their teams through direct deals. I eventually approached them about creating an MLB-branded library, so we wrote most of that music and the league contributed the rest. It’s a small collection that’s relatively static at the moment, but they’re great people to work with and it’s a great partnership.
Regarding the Monday Night Football theme, it’s owned by KPM and was written in the late 60s by Johnny Pearson as a corporate-use track. Football was never the intention for it, but it got used for a British show called “Superstars”, which led to a producer at ABC hearing it. He wasn’t happy with the existing theme for Monday Night Football and decided to replace it. The rest is history, and it’s become the most well-known sports theme in the United States.
On a separate note, we also represent the music of the NFL, and have done so for over 25 years.
– Thanks for talking to me Adam. It’s been a great learning experience. What’s next for you and APM?
We’ll strive to always be better at what we do, identifying and designing attractive offerings for emerging markets while protecting our core businesses. We are also focusing on the creator economy, the collector economy and of course the metaverse. As the head of the company, I want to make sure the work my staff does helps to give their life value and meaning, so we’re continuously trying to build community internally. We also want to hear from our customers about what we can do to help them further. So that’s the focus moving forward.