University of Alabama Bookstore manager Hal Thurmond poses in the store with merchandise that plays Alabama’s fight song Wednesday, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.AP Photo
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama football fans can buy pens, ties, video games, phones and socks that play the Crimson Tide’s 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, in which 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 Los Angeles-based consulting firm.
Carlin America Inc. purchased the rights to the fight songs of Alabama, Florida, 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.
Cell phone ring tones and video games are huge, said Bob Golden, vice president of marketing at Carlin America. But the shelves of a shop catering to Alabama fans show just how far the business can go.
Located on a street named for the late coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, Alabama Bookstore Inc. sells all sorts of gizmos embedded with chips that play “Yea, Alabama” at the push of a button.
“We’ve had bottle openers that play it, stuffed elephants, door chimes, house phones and key chains,” said manager Hal Thurmond.
A few pennies of the price of each licensed product go to Carlin America.
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.
Ken Ozello, director of the University of Alabama’s marching band, said schools are free to use their fight songs without paying any fees. Sometimes, he said, old or unauthorized recordings of school music show up in CDs, commercials or consumer products.
“A lot of times when people use really antiquated recordings of these songs it’s because they didn’t want to go through the proper channels” and pay for the music, he said.
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.
“We never made a conscious decision to buy (the college catalog), but now that we’ve got it we are just thrilled to be able to exploit it,” said Golden. “It may be one of the more fruitful areas of a music industry that is in the toilet in so many ways.”