I have been involved in over 10,000 composer deals. And there are some basic concepts behind them all which I would like to share.
I believe the current AFM attempts to negotiate the best deal for their members regarding streaming services can offer a common reference to gather insights around trying to get more of what you want out of a negotiation.
IDENTIFY AND SELL YOUR GREATEST VIRTUE.
In my opinion, a key to bolstering negotiating leverage is distinguishing what differentiates your services to comparable options. There are lots of composers out there.
- What of value to the buyer distinguishes you from those other option?
- What sets you apart?
- Your music?
- Your relationships?
- Demand for your services?
- Your reputation?
- Your pricing?
- Your experience?
- Having a strong team?
- A great attitude?
- Delivering a quick turnaround?
- Something else?
- Know what you are putting forward as your main selling point.
In the example of the AFM, the primary unique attraction of using their services is probably CONVENIENCE.
Producers are aware of what their options are for other musicians’ services. Lower pricing is readily available elsewhere. High quality is available elsewhere (especially via the British Musicians Union). I believe the CONVENIENCE for a Los Angeles-based production to record quality music in Los Angeles is a very real, genuine and unique advantage.
In my opinion the AFM’s strongest negotiating position is highlighting what makes them unique and desirable above other musician options. For a composer, your greatest strength in a deal is favorably setting yourself apart from their other composer options. As a composer, when making a deal, really look at yourself through the filter of knowing and selling your strongest virtue.
EXPANDING ON YOUR STRENGTH
Once you have identified your strength, build upon it. As a composer if your prime virtue is the relationship with the filmmaker, lean into that. If it is having a strong team, make that a focal point. Once you connect with the other side about the perception of your unique virtue, capitalize on that.
In the example of the AFM, they could build on their theme of “convenience” and make that a strong hallmark of their services.
Offer positive, high quality, local, customer-friendly, simple-to-use experiences to their buyers. Make the AFM synonymous with convenience. Composers can make better deals for themselves when they identify, proclaim, build upon and over deliver on the perception of their unique strengths.
COMPARE APPLES TO APPLES. THEY CERTAINLY WILL.
Don’t count other people’s budgets. And don’t make unrelated comparisons. Bringing up the finances of other departments almost always falls on deaf ears. If you are making a composing deal stay talking about composing… not how much they are spending on craft services.
In the case of the AFM, producers are comparing session musicians to other session musicians, not actors, writers or cinematographers. Attempts at comparisons to anyone who is not providing musician services does not really bolster musicians’ negotiating leverage and arguments, in my opinion. As a composer, when you are making a composing deal, stay in that lane.
YOU GOTTA KNOW YOUR CLIENTS
The starting point of all negotiations is knowing and understanding your customers. That primarily comes about through research and via your relationships. Don’t head into the deal without knowing who you are dealing with. That puts you at a huge disadvantage.
In the case of the AFM streaming deal making, it is happening primarily involving people in the entertainment industry. SAG, DGA and WGA are overwhelmingly media focused unions. Their top members have huge, ongoing, interdependent relationships with the producers and the studios. The AFM simply does not. Very little of their membership are involved in media recording nor do they have those sort of key relationships.
Hollywood is a town of relationships. Negotiations often hinge on the nature of those relationships. In my opinion, the AFM needs to pave the way to great relationships of their own with the studios prior to the stepping up to the negotiating table. There is no substitute to you and/or your reps to having strong relationships with the people across the table.
Secondhand relationships of mutual third parties can be mildly helpful, but those surrogate relationships of others (like composers vouching for musicians) is not nearly the same as forging your own. As a composer, remember relationships are frequently EVERYTHING.
YOU GOTTA KNOW THE TERRITORY
When making a deal, understand the culture and climate you are entering. Try exploring the people and project you for which are making a deal. That means really understanding the lay of the land and the culture and priorities of the people on the other side. For the AFM it would be great for them to understand the range of mindsets of studios and producers producers.
To their advantage, Hollywood is largely a liberal place. Play into that. There is definitely a way to foster a spirit that touches a positive feeling of Union brother/sisterhood.
As a composer understand the true attitudes and views of those you are dealing with. It is within that landscape your deal is going to be made.
MAKE REAL FINANCIAL POINTS
Don’t try to interject financial concepts that are largely irrelevant to your negotiation. If something is going to cost them more money, own up to it. Don’t dance around it with false equivalencies.
In this AFM example, it is almost meaningless to bring up that SAG singers get streaming residuals. From a negotiation point of view, SAG singers are pretty much riding the coattails of huge SAG stars that get projects greenlit and SAG casts that make up production and are needed to be on the set. And SAG singers have the extreme advantage that their services on a score do not cost the producers any addition residual payments. Those payments were already paid to the overall SAG residuals and its just up to SAG to divvy up their residuals to include those singers.
Residual payments to AFM musicians would be an addition cost to the producers past their current obligations. They know that. So don’t make a false comparison that ignores those realities.
If you are aiming for residuals, present what is uniquely valuable to the studios to make it worth it to them to pay those residuals to obtain (such as convenience). Present why that is better for them instead of using other musician options that come without those costs. As a composer, stick to real financial points.
SKIP SUCCESS SHAMING
“You’re rich” is a lousy argument when trying to make a deal. The person on the other side is probably proud of their financial success and probably doesn’t feel you are somehow entitled to a better deal because of it. Present the value of your unique services. That is your strongest leverage.
TAKE EMOTIONS OUT OF DEALMAKING
To the folks on the other side, it’s just business. They are going treat it that way, you should, too. Your deal is going be made on its business virtues not on emotional ones.
Leave out the moral outrage, indignation, sense of personal effrontery, personal insult, entitlement, grievances and all other characteristics of personal emotions. Yours just one of many, many production deals the other side is handling.
It is called “business affairs” and not “emotional support therapy” for a reason. If passionate outrage was going to sway producers, the AFM would have had incredible success in negotiating long ago. But it hasn’t, because that is not likely the place the other side is using to address it. To them, it is probably just business.
A rookie composer mistake in dealmaking is applying their emotions to a business situation.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THIS?