Goodnight Kiss Music
The cold-cash facts about music licensing.
by The G-Man
NARIP.com and Immedia Wire Service
meets licensing, there's money to be made. How much
money? "I have synched quite a few thousand songs into productions
over the years," states Peter Jansson of Janssongs, Inc., "and
have charged anywhere between US$1.00 and US$250,000 for each
That's correct: he said a quarter of a million dollars. And there
are a great many places to earn money from music. For example,
there are more TV shows on more cable channels than ever before.
There are oodles of commercials. There are tons of electronic
games and toys. There are corporate video productions galore.
There are big movies, little movies, and direct-to-DVD movies.
And they all are potential places to put your music, if the rights
can be cleared.
Goldmine or Minefield.
The world of music clearance can be a goldmine or a minefield.
We heard about the quarter-million-buck goldmine. "Having said
that," Jansson adds, "I think an average fee is usually between
US$4,000 - $6,000 per side (i.e. Master & Synch). It depends
on how badly they want to use the song and how big a hit it was."
Those two words, "Master" and "Synch" indicate part of the problem
for the average singer/songwriter who hopes to have a song appear
on a soundtrack. Before you can start earning money, there's
a lot to know.
The facts are so important that NARIP, the National Association
of Record Industry Professionals, has Stacey Powells lead workshops
on the topic.
A Little Tech Talk.
Music can be used in four broad categories under copyright law:
Adaptation, Recording, Reproduction, and Public Performance.
Depending on where and how someone is going to use a song, there
are mechanical rights and synchronization rights that have to
be negotiated, and the various parties involved may include the
songwriter, publisher, and record company, usually holder of
the master rights.
Well, that last part doesn't sound so complicated. Oh really?
Consider that there may be multiple songwriters, each with their
own publisher for their share of the song. Song copyrights are
held by music publishers (which may be the artist, but more often
is a third party), while sound recordings (the masters) are controlled
by record companies (which also may be the artist, come to think
The Facts of the Matter.
So what, exactly, is "Music Clearance"? Simple: getting permission
from rights holders to use music in your production. But what
rights? The song's copyright is held by the writers (or the estate
of the artists, or whoever was sold the rights). The master recording
is held by whoever controls the recorded version of the song.
Ah, but which version of the song? The one the singer/songwriter
recorded? The one recorded with Russian lyrics? The jazz instrumental?
The one recorded by the metal-reggae band?
Consider this: you can get permission from the publisher without
permission from the record company -- if you record a new version
of the song. But without the publisher's permission, the master
recording license does you no good at all.
The field is very competitive. Don Grierson, former head of A&R
at Epic/Sony, Capitol Records, and EMI-America, and often a music
supervisor, consultant, and executive producer, notes that "nearly
everyone in the music industry seems to be aiming at the film/TV
and commercial licensing markets. There is intense competition.
It can come down to relationships on some occasions, but often
it is determined by the ease with which you can obtain the clearance."
Negotiating the Fees
Janssongs' Peter Jansson quickly lists some of the variables:
"When it comes to Synch Licensing, there are a number of factors
that determine what the fee is going to be, such as: Territory
(USA? World? Provincial?), Media (Theatrical only? Radio? Television?
DVD/Video? New technology?), Usage (Featured Instrumental/On
Camera? Background Instrumental? Background/Vocal?), Length (Entire
composition? 30 seconds or part thereof?), Version (re-record
or original recording), to name just a few."
But even once you have sorted out who owns what and where something
is going to be used, there's the legal terminology, with contracts
likely to contain such phrases as "World excluding the BRT's,"
"Rear Window," "now known or hereafter devised," "MFN," "Pro
Rata Share," "Third Party Payments," and even "Audit."
True, you don't need to know all of these things if you're a
songwriter, recording artist, manager, agent, record executive,
film/TV production professional, or advertising agency executive.
But the more you know, the better. Not only will you be more
comfortable with the business side of the music business, you'll
be in a better position to guide a career -- your own or your
clients' -- to more rewarding choices.
"Just knowing a little about these topics allows you to follow
the conversations these clearance guys have with my clients and
all their other representatives," says one manager of several
musical acts. "And knowing a little can help a lot."
Sometimes you learn by doing. "The very first time I licensed
a song on my own," says Marc Ferrari of MasterSource Music Catalog,
"I never got paid for the license. The production company released
the movie (Son of Darkness 2) then went bankrupt. What a way
to start a business!! I have had better luck with nearly 1,600
licenses since then!"
Don Grierson, when acting as a music supervisor for motion pictures,
says "Those who represent songs often call me and ask 'What are
you looking for?' and it's amazing how rapidly that can change.
The music requirements for any given project, or even any given
scene in a film, can change depending on the director, the producer,
etc. And whatever mood is being established in the scene may
change in postproduction, requiring a change in the music."
Mistakes to Avoid.
Where people are involved, there can be errors. "Publishing and
record companies sell and sublease and assign rights, some of
which they did
not own to begin with," points out Janet Fisher of Goodnight
Kiss Music. She quickly lists a few more potential problems:
"New companies file new
cue sheets and suddenly a song is attributed to the wrong writer,
a title is changed, a publisher forgotten; or sometimes a copyright
holder just stops filing all paper work, including change of
One indie artist who has had several compositions in TV shows
says, "Being an indie artist can be a huge advantage. Music supervisors
are always looking for quality master recordings. An indie artist
can sign off on a master synch music license in a day. Time is
always an issue, and TV supervisors love indie artists because
of the lack of major label red tape which often leaves them without
clearance in time."
Goodnight Kiss' Fisher agrees: "Obviously dealing with an indie
catalogue is going to be more affordable, and easier to work
with. The large entities are not as hungry as the small, and
our songs are no more than once-removed from the source."
Another who agrees is music supervisor Frankie Pine, who has
worked on all the Steven Soderburgh film and TV projects in the
past decade. "I have had at least one indie recording in every
film," she states, "and it is often much easier to get them to
sign off on an agreement. In a business that is so time-intensive,
that is a real plus."
Musician vs. Music Supervisor.
Nancy Luca is a musician who plays so often on both coasts, she
has an L.A. band, a New York band, and a Florida band, and does
session guitar work (her solos were on two Heineken commercials
during the Super Bowl broadcast). She observes that "There are
people who make a lot of money writing music for television that
'sounds like' other artists. It would be great if they would
use the real artists like me who have great songs but no break
with a big label. I am for licensing just to let people hear
the real music -- the stuff that was written with heart and mind,
not just for a paycheck."
Joel C. High, Vice President of music and soundtracks for Lions
Gate Entertainment, displays the excitement that many of us have
for making music work with images. "We often have directors who
are greatly inspired by music and who may be passionate about
acquiring a song that wouldn't normally fit in the budget of
that film or television project. That's when we, as music supervisors,
have to try to bring that same fervor to the negotiating process.
We try to go to bat for our filmmakers in such a way that it
benefits the picture and gives the best possible exposure for
the musical artist. We want to get the absolutely perfect music
for the scene and often the only way that can happen is by getting
the recording artist to see the merits of having their song in
a film â to consider the way their song is used so they will
see benefits beyond just the financial one."
A Director of Copyright and Licensing at a major independent
publishing company had this to say: "Obviously, licensing music
in film/TV is a wonderful way to get exposure, although for new
artists, it will probably not be lucrative. And of course, there
are things writers/artists should take into consideration when
someone requests to use their music: Avoid giving broad rights
away for free! This sets a bad precedent in the community, especially
for new artists/writers, and it de-values their work."
Did this person have any ideas for working out a compromise?
Certainly: "If a writer is eager to be involved in a project,
and the producer wants the use for FREE, here are a few suggestions
when negotiating. First, try and reduce the terms (e.g. instead
of perpetuity, reduce the term to 10 years; instead of all media,
reduce to all TV or theatrical only; and instead of worldwide
rights, try and reduce to U.S. only). If the producer is not
agreeable to this, then the writer should request some sort of
'step deal.' Very little money (if any) is paid up front, but
should the production be successful, they are obligated to compensate
the writer at certain 'milestones'." The feeling is that "if
the producer starts making money, so should the writers of the
musical works involved."
Music supervisors Frankie Pine and P.J. Bloom have the best piece
of advice for artists placing music: "When you get the call,
say Thank You!" says Bloom. "There are so many people trying
to get songs into soundtracks, that it is important to get in
the door and create a relationships."
The Bottom Line.
Fisher has a lovely metaphorical summary for this story: "Like
any part of the music business, licensing can be feast or famine,
goldmine or plain old shaft -- but like any part of any business,
the best protection resides in employing those with experience
and integrity. If I were looking for a goldmine, I'd find an
experienced miner who had found gold before."
-The G-Man is on iTunes and at gmanmusic.com.
URLs of principals in this story include: