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Music publisher reaps profits from digital fight songs

Florida football fans can buy pens, ties, bottle openers, pizza cutters, stuffed animals and even a car horn that play the Gators' fight song, and a New York company is humming the tune all the way to the bank.

In an unusual mix of athletics and consumer electronics, college sports fans are helping boost the bottom line for a Manhattan-based music publisher that's selling rights to fight songs for use in an array of new products.

Analysts say the boom is part of a major trend in the music industry, where publishing companies are reaping the benefits of the digital music that's become the soundtrack to life thanks to microprocessors and streaming sound.

"Recorded music is becoming a ubiquitous feature. I think we have not even begun to witness the top of this yet," said Aram Sinnreich of Radar Research, a consulting firm in Los Angeles.

Carlin America Inc. purchased the rights to the fight songs of Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana State and about 95 other universities when it acquired another publishing company in 1999.

Now it's making about $100,000 annually selling rights to fight songs played by all sorts of gadgets for fans. While schools make money licensing their names and slogans for products like T-shirts, they generally don't profit from their own fight songs.

A few pennies of the price of each licensed product go to Carlin America.

Cell phone ring tones and video games are huge, said Bob Golden, vice president of marketing at Carlin America.

"This is quite a big business all of a sudden, and no one had any idea," said Golden.

The University of Florida's song, The Orange and the Blue, is a top seller, he said. Gator fans can buy an orange-clad Santa Claus, as well as other novelty items, that play the Florida fight song from the Gator Shop, a store in Gainesville.

For years, fans heard the fight song of their favorite school mainly at football or basketball games. There were occasional recordings but not much more, and schools that have entire departments overseeing licensing agreements paid little or no attention to music.

That void is filled by publishing companies, which own rights to the fight songs and other tunes and make money by licensing them for commercial uses including products, thanks to new consumer technologies like computer chips.

Sinnreich said firm numbers are hard to come by, but business-to-business music licensing has become a vital, multibillion-dollar segment of the music industry.

"This period is a windfall for publishers because of all the new ways to use music," said the analyst, who also teaches at New York University.

Golden said his company relies on the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers — ASCAP — and similar organizations to police the use of its music.

Carlin America, acting through a subsidiary, Bro 'N Sis Music Inc., requires commercial users to purchase licenses for commercial uses including advertising campaigns, movie or TV soundtracks and novelty items. Prices vary, but the company said the average license fee is 10 percent to 12 percent of the cost of a ring tone.

Golden said the business has become an "economically huge" benefit of Carlin America's purchase of Paxwin/Paxton Music Inc., another music publisher, nine years ago.

Music publisher reaps profits from digital fight songs 03/30/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 10:56am]
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