The Ten Commandments of Music Rights in Film from ThinkSync Music

Posted February 25th, 2013 by Xenia

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I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that I am a complete rookie when it comes to putting music in films. I find it mind-boggling. In fact, I usually ignore the matter until the very last stage of production when I have pretty much no budget left. I then remember that getting the rights to the music I want usually involves paying a lot more people than just the artist.

ThinkSync Music provides music services for film, TV, commercials, games and many more areas of the media industry. Here they have bestowed unto us The Ten Commandments of Music Rights in Film, outlining how to get the music you want into your films with a trick of the trade or two thrown in.

1. Who do I contact to use a piece of music in my film?

The people to speak to would be the rights owners – if there is a record and/or publishing company involved, contact them first. Somewhere along the line the artist will have to give approval but they aren’t the first port of call.

2. Library music is the cheapest option (if your aren’t friends with a composer)

‘Library Music’ is the easiest type of music to use. It’s recorded by specialised companies specifically for film and TV use. It’s normally classified by genre, stored on a searchable website and is useful for background music in just about every scenario. Library Music isn’t free but it is relatively low cost compared to known songs.

3. What if I’m interested in a song by a particular artist?

If this is the case, you will need to get two sets of rights.

a. The copyright in the recording, often called the Master Right, belongs to the record company or if there isn’t one, the artist    will control this.

b. The copyright in the underlying composition is controlled by the writer or their publisher.

4. Where do I find out who owns the copyright in the recording?

You can find this on the label or packaging, where there would be two credits. Look out for the P in a circle for the copyright owner of the sound recording who you should contact about the Master Rights. The Publishing rights should be listed too – see point 6 below

5. Who should I approach to use the right in the recording?

The record company that originally released the recording is (usually) the rights owner and would be able to grant permission to use the recording in film or TV.

6. Then who owns the copyright in the compositions?

The publisher which is usually indicated by the line Published by… (The P and C in a circle both relate to the recording not the composition). Remember songs can be written by more than one writer who don’t have to have the same publisher. You have to contact all the publishers concerned.

This Publisher represents the writer of the music, if the writer is unpublished – usually indicated by the words ‘copyright control’ then you should contact them directly.

If you don’t have the original record you can check which record company released it on the PPL website and find the publishing information on the PRS for Music website.

7. So how much will it all cost?!

There are many variables such as how many tracks you want to use and how well known the titles are. However, for independent films that use the average amount of sourced music you should allow 10-15% of the total production budget for music fees. It can cost less but don’t count on it if you have strong views on the music you want. Film makers that only start thinking about the music at the end, (when they’ve often already gone over budget), may be in for a shock.

8. Will where I place the music in my film affect its cost?

Not every piece music used in a film is equal. For example music used in the opening and closing credits is thought more important than music used in the body of the film and the rights owners will take this into account when determining their fees.

9. Isn’t there a simpler way to approach music rights? It seems very complicated?

If you definitely want certain pieces music in your film, then plan it from the start of the production. Once the film is locked, if you haven’t fully cleared the rights you’ve given control to someone else and that can be expensive.

Some labels and publishers, offer a low or gratis license for non commercial exploitation making it possible for filmmakers to use music at no cost for film festivals or free screenings. Beware though, if a film gets picked up by a distributor or broadcast you’ll have to use a pre-negotiated fee or go back to the rights owners and be very very nice.

Remember you can always hit the library music companies when costs skyrocket.

10. Is there anyone who can just… do this for me?

You can contact rights clearance people who can take care of all of this for you. At ThinkSync Music, ( they offer this service and tailor to all levels from shorts and promos through to feature films.

I hope this has remedied any music rights headaches you may have though admittedly, this blog is just touching the tip of the colossal iceberg that is music rights and film.

If you’re looking for more information, then I strongly suggest you check out where they delve even deeper into these matters in their FAQ section. ThinkSync Music have a music supervision arm that works closely with the Directors and Producers, they also have a clearance department that can handle all the paperwork tied in with music rights.

  1. Sam Seal

    You could always (gasp) ask musicians to make it for you!

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