Last week we posted our Top 10 songs in movie scenes to celebrate the music that makes a good scene great. Every filmmaker knows the thrill of finding that perfect song for a scene. But the next step is the daunting part: now that you’ve fallen in love with the song, how do you figure out how to clear it for use?
We turned to our friends at Brave Noise Legal, a San Francisco-based entertainment law firm, to shed some light on music licensing and get some helpful hints for a painless licensing process. Here’s what they had to say.
Are You Sure You Want That Song in Your Film?
By Nicole Tahtouh, Brave Noise Legal (www.bravenoiselegal.com)
The world of copyrights and music licensing can seem like the Wild West when you are trying to determine whether you can include a certain song in your ﬁlm. Here are five important things to understand about licensing music before you put a song in your film:
There is a common misconception that you must register a work in order for the work to be copyrighted federal ofﬁce, similar to the process of getting a patent or trademark. Not so. Original creative expression is copyrighted the moment it is ﬁxed in a tangible medium. The doodle that you’ve sketched in the margin of your notepad while reading this post may be copyrighted, no registration necessary.
Breaking Down Music Rights
There are two sets of rights to address when dealing with music copyrights: the rights associated with the composition and those associated with the master recording.
The composition is the actual music. It covers elements like lyrics, sheet music,song structure and all the things that make a song a song. Music publishing companies or songwriters typically control the rights to compositions, typically known as publishing rights. If you wish to use a song, whether on-screen in a karaoke scene or as background music, you’ll need a license for the publishing rights.
Likewise, the master recording is a particular recording of the composition, which is usually controlled by record labels. If you wish to use a particular recording of a song (as opposed to your own recording), a master license is needed.
When Should I Clear Music?
If there is a risk falling in love with a particular song in a particular cut, or if the script itself references the lyrics or includes an on-screen performance of the song, you should consider getting these licenses at the pre-production stage of ﬁlming. There is a chance that you may not be able to use the song you intended, and you don’t want to go back to the drawing board after you’ve already shot the scene and edited it with the unlicensed song clip.
Who Owns The Music Rights?
In order to license music, you need to determine who owns the rights to the composition and master recording. Sometimes songs are controlled by a single independent artist, but in the case of pop music or hip-hop, there are often several publishers and songwriters who own or administer fractional percentages of the publishing rights. Likewise, though it is less common, more than one record company may own the master rights – for example, one label might have the rights to North America and Canada, and another label may have the rights in the rest of the world. If you see that a major publishing or record company owns the rights to a song, you should prepare for clearance and budget accordingly. Licensing this type of music isn’t impossible, but you should expect the fees to scale accordingly.
How Does The Licensing Process Work?
Once you have identiﬁed the rights holders, you move forward to clear the song you intend to use. Music clearance is a two-step process that involves back and forth negotiation, which often takes place in writing. (As formal clearance request forms are exchanged between the two parties during negotiation, bear in mind that these are not ﬁnal contracts.)
Licensing music takes time and can sometimes take more of your budget than you’d like. But for the right song, it may be worth it. Take these tips to heart when selecting your music, and be sure to research the rights before you shoot, and you can steer your production through the process with relative ease… and have a killer soundtrack too.