Music for Movies made easy

So you shot the picture and cut a particular scene to a piece of music from one of your CDs at home. You sold the picture and the broadcaster wants the music agreements – WHAT? You frantically email the artist’s manager in New York – no one cares, eventually you get in touch with a local record label who represents the artist locally and they want $20 000 for the rights – that’s more than the broadcaster is paying you for local broadcast – that can’t be right? Can it? Sound familiar?

Often a director will shoot a scene or series of scenes with a specific piece of music in mind. The music either creates or enhances the mood that they are trying to convey to the audience. Without that particular piece of music the scene has less impact than it could have. So now the picture’s in the can and the Producer is tasked with securing the rights to that particular piece of music.

The first thing to know when licensing a piece of music is that there are 2 separate but equally important rights that need to be secured;

  1. The master recording right – owned by the record label
  2. The copyright – owned/controlled by the music publisher

The first source of information for the producer would then be the CD sleeve – see who the record company and publisher are and send them a clearance request. The request sets out clearly the nature of the picture, the usage of the particular piece of music and the rights that are required. Most international record labels and publishers are represented by a record label or company locally – so don’t waste time looking for the international website and trying to get someone via email or telephone – call the local record industry association RISA (Record Industry Association of South Africa – it’s in the phonebook) or the local publisher’s association – NORM (National Organisation for Reproduction Rights in Music Limited – ditto) and they will send you in the right direction.

At this point it is important to deal with the “old producers big fish” stories – have you heard one of them? If the piece of music is shorter than 10 seconds you don’t require a license; if you only use the music and not the lyrics you pay half the price; music is cheaper if you get it from the band directly. Well, in short, all music has rights that need to be dealt with – regardless of the length, instrumentation or quality. If you don’t have all your agreements in place prior to the exhibition or broadcast of the picture, the cost is likely to escalate exponentially over the length of time it takes to get them in place – well what would you do if you had a whale on the end of your hook? Swap it for a trout? Didn’t think so.

The fee for using the music is dependent on a number of factors; The fame of the performing artist, the fame of the song itself, the media, territory and term for which clearance is required, and the goodwill between the producer and the record label/publisher. There is no set fee or industry standard for any use – if that’s what you are looking for go to a music library. Fees can also be set in any currency.

If a producer is doing their job well, the music will not only be a part of the budget prior to the start of shooting, but some of the negotiations will have been concluded long before any music is striped to tape. There are 3 main routes a producer could take (or a combination of these options);

1) Commissioned Music – the producer pays for the Master Recording and therefore owns the tape. An agreement is reached with the Composer/s to buy out or license their rights for use with the picture. Pros – You own the music and can exploit it any way you want. You paid for it so get it right. Cons – it’s an expensive process and music is not your core business so why get involved in the first place?
2) Commercial Music – the producer licenses via a synchronization agreement the use of both the master and copyright from a record label and publisher of a particular piece of music. Pros – You heard the song, you like the song, it works with the picture, the audience has maybe heard it before and it sets the mood you need. Cons – it is expensive, it is a lot of running around – especially if there are a number of songs required and each song may have a number of different owners. International clearances take a long time and you didn’t budget up-front for a music supervisor.
3) Library Music – the producer auditions a piece of music from a library CD with the picture, likes the way it works and then contacts NORM for a license. Pros – Simple, cost effective and you know what you are in for with the budget. Cons – library music is non-exclusive so your picture could sound exactly like the other one that won the award. Hey you can’t have everything!

So that doesn’t sound too bad – care to try? One particular song that we did a deal with a local broadcaster for had 2 record labels (one local and one international) and 3 publishers (all represented locally). And that was 1 piece of music.

Another consideration is that you may be able to use the blanket license in place between NORM and the various broadcasters. Important to remember is;

  1. The blanket license only covers the Copyright – and not the master recording right. This permission must be obtained separately from the record company concerned.
  2. The blanket license covers local broadcast only – so international sale, DVD rights and many other specific rights that you may need are not included and would have to be licensed from each of the publishers.

My advice to any director or producer is to hire the services of a competent music supervisor; firstly to set a realistic budget for music for the picture, and secondly to have someone else to run around and find music to suit a particular scene or mood, and thirdly for the expertise in negotiating with the record labels and producers and finalizing the agreements necessary for the safe use of any pieces of music.

Publishers and Record labels love to have their music used in films and television programming. Film Producers love using music in their pictures. It is a natural synergy and can be a pleasant experience – Good luck with your upcoming picture.

by David Alexander (Sheer Publishing)