Clearance Administrator

  • Clearance Administrator

Vanilla Ice wasn’t fooling anyone when he tried to convince a judge that a synthesized snare drum hit was enough to differentiate the “Ice Ice Baby” bassline from “Under Pressure.” A little haggling from a savvy clearance administrator and a willingness to attribute credit to Queen and David Bowie could have saved Robert Van Winkle and his label the “undisclosed amount” paid out of court to settle the dispute.


Duties

The clearance administrator is responsible for clearing (obtaining permission to use) songs or samples of songs from record labels, publishers, songwriters, and artists. This can be a complex and time-consuming process that requires considerable research through rights organizations like BMI, SESAC, ASCAP and the Harry Fox Agency, following the trail of ownership from the songwriter through each entity to which he or she may have sold or signed away the rights. The administrator is consequently tasked with negotiating agreements and rates for use and preparing documentation with respect to credits and source material. On all label releases that use licensed material, this person will collaborate with A&R administration, marketing, and other relevant departments to ensure proper use as dictated by the agreements. Assets like advertising copy, the album jacket, or press releases must get the approval of the clearance administrator, who checks to see that appropriate credits are listed, the names are in the right order, and that any other contract caveats are met. He or she is responsible for distributing pertinent clearance information to each department and monitoring royalty rate budgets.

Skills & Education

This career requires a bachelor’s degree in music business, mass communications, or a related field. Considerable coursework in copyright law, licensing, and music publishing is necessary. A clearance administrator must be proficient in Excel and other reporting spreadsheet software and have strong skills in negotiating, research, and communication. This job demands that you have a solid understanding of how the music business and PROs function, as well as the ability to manage heavy workflows under strict deadlines. You must be analytical, a creative problem-solver, and have a keen eye for detail.

What to Expect

This is not an easy gig, but perhaps one of the most difficult in the music business. In some cases tracking down the rights-holder is the most challenging task; in other cases convincing the owner (or owners) that your project is worthy of their material is the toughest chore. Clearing rights isn’t like going shopping on iTunes—just because you have the money doesn’t mean you get the product. Songwriters are protective of their creations, and music publishers are protective of their bottom line. Some artists have severely overvalued their work, while others are simply insistent on keeping their legacy locked up. The clearance administrator is part sleuth and part snake charmer; first, they must find their treasure, then they must creatively negotiate and smooth-talk it out of the clutches of gatekeeper—for the right price. Hip-hop is an especially tricky genre—that late-night brainstorm in the studio to build a song around some obscure break will require your lightning-quick work to get the sample cleared before the owner realizes that they have you over a barrel. Experience working in a PRO or music publishing house—or encyclopedic knowledge of music history—is valuable to navigating this problematic terrain.

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