I’m so pleased to be invited to do this blog for IFP. Rather than listen to me pontificate about music in film month after month, I think it would be more meaningful to use this as a platform to gather useful information for you. I’ll do this in the form of a monthly Q&A with the most talented and knowledgeable people in the film music business.
If you have music questions tickling your brain, please email them to IFP for inclusion in next month’s post. Please put ‘Music Blog Question’ in the subject line.
I figured I’d start with the basics about music licensing and there is nobody who knows more about this or is better at it than music clearance and licensing expert Jill Meyers. Jill is based in Los Angeles and her many credits include Good Will Hunting, Lost in Translation, W., and Milk. Here we go……
DRR: What licenses do I need to obtain for use of songs in an indie film?
JM: A Synchronization License for the use of the underlying song, and a master use license for the use of a recording.
DRR: What is the difference between a song and a recording?
JM: A song is what the writers write and a recording is the performance of a song, it is the tangible record. Example, Lennon and McCartney wrote the song “Yesterday”, any time you would use that song you would have to license it. There are many, many recordings of that song, The Beatles and others. In addition to licensing the song from its publisher, you would have to license the particular recording you use.
DRR: How do I find out who owns a particular song and a particular recording?
JM: To find out who owns a particular song look on the BMI and ASCAP websites (although they won’t tell you who owns foreign rights, if a third party in fact does have rights outside the US, you need to ask the US publisher that question). To find out who owns a particular recording first try AllMusic.com (and if you have a CD the label will tell you).
DRR: Do I always have to pay for a song use even if the duration of the use is just a couple seconds long? Is there a rule in place that allows me to use a few bars of a song/a few seconds of a song for free?
JM: Yes you have to pay unless it is in the public domain, and there are not many songs in the public domain.
DRR: What information do I need to have in order to clear and license songs for the film? ie. Budget of film, timing of use etc.…
JM: You will need to supply a synopsis of the movie and a scene description, including timing (and if over the credits must include that information). You will frequently also be asked what the picture budget is, the music budget, and the cast/director so if you have that information handy you should put in your request.
DRR: How long does it take to clear and license a song? How much time should I anticipate? ie if my film is playing at Sundance in January, when should I begin the licensing process?
JM: If you are licensing it yourself probably two to four months because your request will go to the bottom of the pile. If you hire a professional it will probably take two weeks to two months. For Sundance I would try to start by August if possible, just in case.
DRR: Is there a standard price range? Will the publishers and labels work with me, i.e., be flexible, provide licensing options? Or is there just one set fee and that’s it?
JM: Big songs and recordings are more money . Some publishers, artists, and labels will work with you, others won’t. You can always try to get “step” deals, which is a certain amount up front and then additional payments when certain plateaus are reached (e.g. [additional fees for] TV distribution, video distribution, certain levels of gross box office theatrical receipts).
DRR: If I get a festival license can I get options for when I get theatrical distribution?
JM: Most publishers and labels will agree to grant options, others won’t.
DRR: Will the band or songwriter actually hear about my project from the publisher(s) and label and decide on the use? Or, will that decision only be made by the publisher and label involved? In other words, does it behoove me to go to the artist directly?
JM: Some writers and artists provide that they get approval rights in their agreements with their respective publishers and labels; for those, they or their managers will hear about the project. Others do not require approval so they may not hear about it. I would not approach and artist or manager if I did not know them.
DRR: If I don’t clear and license my music, will I get in trouble? Am I given a get out of jail free card so to speak until I secure a distributor for my film?
JM: You can get in trouble because it is copyright infringement and if nothing else, a publisher or label could enjoin your film.