Writing & Licensing Songs for Film & TV Episode 7: Show Me the MONEY! Part 1: Types of deals with Casey Hurowitz
Hi! While Michelle has her toes in the sand and a drink in her hand for some much needed down time, I have the pleasure of writing this guest blog. Thanks for the opportunity, Michelle! My name's Charles P. Hurowitz (better known as “Casey”), and I'm a friend and colleague of Michelle's through Taxi, the independent A&R company that we both use. If you’d like, you can read about me and hear songs I’ve written or co-written at www.caseysongs.com and www.soundcloud.com/caseyh.
Let me share with you some information from the business side of writing music for Film/TV. A very large percentage of all music used in Film/TV comes from production music libraries (I’ll just call them “music libraries”) so I’ll focus there. Understanding all the terminology, types of contracts, etc. can be a real challenge at times, especially for those just getting started.
For discussion purposes, “Film/TV” can mean any application involving synchronizing music to video including movies, TV, advertising, Internet, etc.
Well, here goes…
What is a music library?
A music library is basically a music publisher that focuses only on Film/TV placements (i.e. not artist cuts). They become your agent to pitch your music to Film/TV music supervisors and other decision makers and often perform administrative duties such as registrations and royalty collection. When you place your music with a library, you give them permission to sign a wide variety of licenses on your behalf. That’s a good thing! They can quickly and with no hassles sign a deal for a movie or TV show to use your song because the music is what’s known as “pre-cleared.”
In most cases, all income between composer and library is split 50/50.
There are many different types of music libraries and contract terms. Keep in mind that there is no absolute right or wrong type of deal, every deal has to be evaluated according to a composer’s specific situation, comfort, and goals. Here are some of the most common contract types:
An exclusive contract allows only that library to pitch the music you sign with them. In some cases, it also involves assignment of your copyright. For the term of the contract, the library has sole control over what happens with your tracks. Now that can sound very scary but there can be situations whereby a library that represents tracks exclusively can open doors that couldn’t be opened otherwise.
Sometimes the term of the contract is finite such as 3 or 5 years. Other times it is “in perpetuity” which is the fancy legal way of saying “forever”.
Advantageous to the composer is a “Reversion Clause” which states that if the library does not secure a placement within some time period (e.g. 2, 3, 5 years), all rights revert back to the composer.
Deciding whether to sign an exclusive, especially if there is no upfront money and it is in perpetuity with no reversion, is one of the toughest decisions for a composer. Lots of factors need to be weighed. What is the track record of the library as far as securing placements? How prolific are you as a composer? Are these your “babies” or do you feel you could write 10 more just as good with relative ease? How risk aversive are you?
Non-Exclusive With Re-Title
Many libraries will pitch your tracks on a completely non-exclusive basis which means you can still do whatever you want as far as pitching elsewhere including other non-exclusive libraries.
In order to distinguish performance royalties generated by a non-exclusive library’s efforts from those generated by other libraries or entities, re-titling is used. Let’s say you sign a song called “The River Of Tears” with Happy Face Music Library. They may re-title it as “Flood Of Tears” or “HFML The River Of Tears”. Then they will register it with your PRO under that re-title with themselves as the publisher. Another non-exclusive re-title library may sign the song and re-title it “Crying A River” and register it that way. When a track is used on a TV show, the production company files a “cue sheet” with the PRO’s (e.g. ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc.) listing all titles, cue lengths, writers, and publishers. The different titles uniquely identify which publisher made the placement, allowing the correct publisher to be paid their share. The writer always gets their share.
This is great, isn’t it? You can put the same song in lots of libraries. Well not so fast. Although you CAN do that, there are definite pros and cons and re-titling is one of the most hotly debated subjects in the music library world. Some think this practice of composers putting the same tracks in many libraries has driven prices down and become a nuisance for music supervisors who get tired of receiving media from multiple sources with the same tracks. We have seen some TV networks or production companies begin to only accept music from exclusive libraries. On the other hand, many composers feel the exclusive deal, especially with no money upfront, is too restrictive. And despite predictions that re-titling will become a banned practice, non-exclusive libraries are still making lots of placements.
Exclusive with Respect to Film/TV Only
This is the same as an exclusive contract but the exclusivity applies only to pitching the songs to Film/TV. The composer has total freedom to pitch the songs for artist cuts, release on his/her own CDs, iTunes, etc. This makes a lot of sense if you are an artist working on your own career and want to pitch your music to film/TV in parallel to seeking Film/TV placements. Or maybe you want to pitch songs for artist cuts and still have options open for Film/TV.
Exclusive with Respect to Other Music Libraries
Sometimes called a “semi-exclusive” deal, this type of deal only has exclusivity as far as placing the same tracks in other music libraries. You can still pitch the tracks directly to music supervisors, ad agency executives, or anyone needing music as long as it’s not a music library.
Summing it all up
One of the best ways to place your music in Film/TV is through music libraries. As you can see, there are different types of music library deals. Understanding what they mean, the pros and cons, and balancing it all with your own situation will help you move forward in the music library world.
PS Casey’s Extra Tips
Tip 1: To pitch tracks for Film/TV, you must own 100% of the rights to the composition and the master recording. If you hired any musicians or vocalists to work on your project, you need to have each of them sign a Work For Hire/Musician’s Release agreement. This agreement would state (paraphrasing, not legal language) that they performed the work as work-for-hire and have no future claims to any payments or royalties and you maintain all rights to the master and composition.
Tip 2: Google is your friend. Search for “production music libraries” and you’ll find tons of good information right there on the word wide web. Of course, always be careful about the source. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t make it true.”
Tip 3: Recommended resources:
http://thebusinessofmusiclicensing.com/ (eBook for purchase)
Thanks for reading and good luck!
Michelle Lockey is a multi-award winning singer-songwriter sharing the knowledge she has learned over the years writing for Film & TV.
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