Filmmaking / Directing : Getting the musical rights? by G.R. Barnett

G.R. Barnett

Getting the musical rights?

I don't know if I posted this in the right place or not, if I didn't feel free to move it to the correct area. I apologize in advance. how does one go about getting the musical rights to use a particular song in a trailer? Or should I just commision a youtube cover artist now? I need an idiotproof way to do this. It seems there are tons of resources for this for UK filmmakers but US filmmakers are kind of left in the dark when it comes to these things. (Trust me I've been googling way before I asked here) and I just shot off an email to the publisher themselves but I have a feeling I'm going to be laughed off the map. So... what do I do?

D Marcus

Are you asking how to get the rights for free? You might be unsuccessful but contacting the publisher is the proper method. You can also contact ASCAP's Clearance Express and the National Music Publishers' Association.

G.R. Barnett

Hahaha noooo not how to get the rights for free but I was wondering what sort of form I'd have to fill out and how much $$ I'd have to pay. That was all.

D Marcus

I apologize for not understanding that you were asking about what sort of forms you need to fill out. Your original post was nuclear about that. Okay, how one goes about getting the rights to music is contacting the publisher. The idiot proof way is to use the ASCAP web site. There is also BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.). Publishers are in the business of licensing their music so you won't be laughed off the map by asking how much they charge for musical rights. Even if you use a cover version you need permission from the original owner of the music.

G.R. Barnett

Thanks, I did contact the original publisher but so far no word. :(

Regina Lee

D Marcus is on it! In terms of costs, they could ask for $1 or over $1 million. No joke. Or they could say the rights owner is passing on the request.

G.R. Barnett

Well, they actually did contact me back and gave me a form to fill out and said they could get me a price quote so right now I'm kind of stoked. I hope they say yes, ultimately!!

D Marcus

Isn't it nice that you weren't laughed off the map?

G.R. Barnett

LOL yes, yes it is.

Amanda Toney

hi G.R., we're going to have a class coming up on this exact topic - stay tuned!

G.R. Barnett

Thanks, Shannon!

Timothy Andrew Edwards

To simplify the explanation (we'll leave the nite and bolts for the webinar Shannon mentioned) you need two rights cleared, not just one. Publishing (think of the song itself as it exists on a piece if sheet music) and a separate license for the recording (the. master). Good luck!

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Sorry for the spelling errors! Typing fast on an iPhone! :-)

G.R. Barnett

I got back to this guy on the 6th roughly about 4 days after he got back to me with the price quote sheet and he still hasn't gotten back to me. I realize the music biz is a busy industry but I mean certainly he could've given me a yay or nay by now? I'm getting worried. (I've also called and left a voicemail. Now I don't know what to do.)

Timothy Andrew Edwards

What's the song?

Shaun O'Banion

Quick story: On my first feature, the screenwriter had written a scene in which two characters, one of whom is noodling around with a guitar, talk about the rather morbid topic of suicide... the one playing guitar, to remove the pressure, riffs Tom Petty's "Freefallin'" and that's the button on the scene. Just the chorus. About as much as Tom Cruise sang in JERRY MAGUIRE... "And I'm freeeeeeee... Freefallin'" And we're out. Cut to the next scene. The real song didn't come in, it didn't play out over the next scene. Just four words sung by our actor with, maybe, one chord played on the guitar. Guess how much we were quoted... $5,000? $10,000 maybe? $40,000? Keep going... $50,000? ... ... ... ... Try $75,000. Seventy-five thousand dollars for four words. Suffice to say that the scene changed. In the end, the button our writer came up with was much better than having the character sing the chorus to "Freefallin'" and got a big laugh in every screening. Thanks, Tom Petty! In all seriousness though, stay on them is my advice if you can't imagine the scene any other way... but if it's a well-known song by a well-known band or singer, expect to be priced out on your indie budget. By the same coin, we were able to secure a Joshua Radin song for that same film because he hadn't blown up from GARDEN STATE just yet... so you can find really good indie people who may have a track that fits even better! What you may want to also consider is a "Festival License." This gets you, for what's usually a MUCH smaller cost, the ability to use the song on your festival run but it ALSO means that if you get a distributor they'll have to come up with the money for the rights if they want to keep the cue in the film (which they won't be happy about and may deduct the cost from you) and, if they won't cover the fee, will expect you to pay for it OR expect you to find an alternate song and replace the expensive one - which ultimately costs you money when you have to re-mix whatever reel the cue gets dropped into. If your project is a short, just get the festival license and don't worry about it since the odds of selling a short are minimal... but for a feature, be prepared to spend either way or find a suitable alternative. Good luck!

Shaun O'Banion

Just realized that you were asking about using a song for a trailer... that's a bit of a different situation to what I wrote about in my previous response but, in the end, it's still comes down to the rights, your budget and what is worth it to you. Utilizing a cover, say, of something like The Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter" won't change the fact that you'll have to pay the publishing side. Anyway. Sorry for my confusion.

G.R. Barnett

Well could a festival license still cover the use for the trailer? I plan on calling again tomorrow and seeing if I can get in touch with this person. I might end up going indie though because if its $75K then that is way way way beyond my indie budget.

Regina Lee

I'm not a song licensing expert, but I believe trailer usage, as a marketing instrument, would typically not fall within a festival license. I look forward to the experts weighing in!

G.R. Barnett

Well does anyone have a ballpark figure on how much those generally cost?

Regina Lee

Pro Timothy Andrew Edwards asked for the song title, which would help one of the music pros guess-timate. Impossible to say when they don't know if it's a Beatles song or Joe Schmoe's song.

G.R. Barnett

I actually PM'd him with the song title so lol I guess it's a patience thing ;) Not my strongsuit. ^_^;;;

Regina Lee

LOL! Same here!

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Hi! Crazy weekend! Okay. Is it a trailer to be played at festivals only? Or will it go on the web? TV? Theaters? If it is strictly festival use only you can get a festival license. Is there an actual feature that it will be promoting or is it just in trailer/short form right now?

Timothy Andrew Edwards

If it is truly a trailer (advertising) to promote a feature then the breakdown will usually look like web/tv/theatre local/regional/domestic/international. All of these things will determine pricing. Remember, you will have to get a license for the master (the recording) and a license from the publisher (the owner/controller of the song). Think of it like this... the publisher has rights to the actual song as you might see it written down on paper and the record label/master/recording owner has rights to that recorded version of the above mentioned song. :-)

G.R. Barnett

Right now its just a trailer and it probably won't be ready for another year or so I just wanted to get a ballpark figure of what I'd be paying for the license. I would eventually like to put it up on my youtube channel as well and also it is eventually going to be a feature but that won't be for awhile. Right now I just wanted to get some kind of pricing so in case I did some crowdfunding I'd know what kind of goals to set. -GRB

Timothy Andrew Edwards

From my understanding of what you are saying, you want to use the music for internet purposes only, not theatrical, not festivals, not tv, correct? Let's not discuss future plans just what you want to do now because that is what they are going to ask you about.

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Ask for a price for internet only, then ask if you can lock in numbers for future deals should that happen, for a festival license for trailer and feature (should you need it) and also for domestic distribution and international distribution (such as DVD, onDemand formats). That way you lock in your prices now. Did you say your trailer won't be done for a year?

Shaun O'Banion

Timothy is giving solid advice. As for festival licensing? Again, all depends on the artist, but the lowest I've ever heard of was around $400 bucks. That was for a burgeoning artist, not somebody with major airplay.

G.R. Barnett

No, what I wanted was to put the trailer in a few trailer festivals, then put it up on my youtube channel later when I was finished putting it in festivals, I'm sorry, I wasn't clear. But I will ask about internet pricing first and then ask about a festival license. Thank you for your input. :) Yes, my trailer won't be done for a year, it is an animated trailer and those take time. I know you're probably wondering why I'm worrying about it now but I just don't want to do all of this work and then be left without a song. Thank you Shaun for that ballpark price. The song I want is around 8 years old and from what I can tell is not that popular a song, it's not mainstream by any means, that doesn't mean it comes cheap though, I understand that. I'm just wondering what to aim for in terms of monetary expense.

Timothy Andrew Edwards

My guess is they'll want 1-2K per license (x2) for internet and 3-6K for festival licensing. Its a small label but established. They'll also want to know what your trailer is all about as this is clearly a Christian song (any publisher/master rights holder will ask about the content). They may deny it flat out if they think it could be damaging to the song/artist. Go in low with your offer so you can work your way up without "sticker shock". Also, when it comes down to it, ask for it "in perpetuity" (forever) and for all territories (international). You may not get these but it may be a good point to negotiate your price down if you don't need those things. It's great you are considering all of these things now. See if you can lock the price in now. That way you can freely animate to the music cut. If you can't get this song, contact me. I have a small roster of artists that can write and record something that will provide the same feeling the original song gives you without infringing the original copyright. Tough to do but it can be done. Good luck!

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Remember, there are no set price lists so my guesses are based on the artist/song/popularity/etc.

G.R. Barnett

Eeee thank you Timothy!! :D By the end of the day I will have a quote from the music company. I finally got in touch with them and they are working on it so hopefully by the end of the day I will have something, I will DEFINITELY let you know either way. :D -GRB

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Make SURE it includes publishing AND master rights. I hope it will be lower for you than what my guesstimates were. PM me.

Shaun O'Banion

Let us know how it shakes out!

D Marcus

Timothy, since G.R. is using the song in a trailer why would she need the publishing rights? Doesn't the owner of the song retain the publishing rights?

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Whether the publisher and the master owner are one in the same, or not, both rights have to be cleared. Writers sell publishing rights all the time to publishers.

Timothy Andrew Edwards

And the master recording right may have nothing to do with the writer's as well.

D Marcus

That doesn't answer my question. Why would someone need publishing rights to use a song in a trailer?

Timothy Andrew Edwards

I did answer your question but I will frame it differently. There are two rights that HAVE to be cleared (actually there are more but generally speaking there are two). Those right are for the song (publishing) and the master (a recorded version of that song). Period. Paul McCartney writes "Yesterday". He sells/assigns his publishing rights to "Northern Songs". When he wrote it, he controlled it all but selling/assigning publishing to a third party gives them the right to exploit it and the ownership/control of his former copyright so for every dollar that comes in, the publisher gets 50 cents of every dollar from the income stream from publishing and the writer, McCartney, gets 50 cents of every dollar from the income stream from his writer's share. Publishers control and exploit the song. If a writer self-publishes, that writer controls the song. Now, Frank Sinatra wants to record McCartney's song "Yesterday". This is a brand new version of the song so his "master" (the recording) is owned by, let's say, Capitol Records. The label invested money in the recording, developing the artist, obtaining the license, attorney's fees, etc so they have ownership of the master (recording). Now, you come along almost 50 years later and want to use Sinatra's version of "Yesterday" in your trailer. Capitol Records owns and controls the master (THAT PARTICULAR RECORDED VERSION OF THE SONG) but they don't own the actual song, the publisher does. Therefore, the label is licensing THAT version of their recording, not the song per se. You still need clearance from the publisher because they own/control the rights to the actual song. Publishers can also deny usage of anything in their catalog to film makers because it's synced to picture and they may think your trailer/film content devalues the song. Therefore, a license is needed from the publisher and a separate license is needed from the master (recording) owner. Even if the writer owns their own publishing and master recording you still need to have both of those rights cleared on paper. People don't realize or understand the complexities of music supervision and end up getting sued. Make sense?

Timothy Andrew Edwards

D Marcus asked "Timothy, since G.R. is using the song in a trailer why would she need the publishing rights? Doesn't the owner of the song retain the publishing rights?" There are two different types of ownership. One is publishing (the actual song/lyrics) the other is ownership of the master/recording. Because there are two owners (not joint owners, these are two separate assets) you need to cover licenses/permissions. One example: the owner of the sound recording may have the publishing rights so it would become a "one stop shop". But the agreement STILL needs to reflect that both types of licenses are covered.. Make sense?

Timothy Andrew Edwards

...and the owner of the song IS the publisher. Not necessarily the writer, but the "owner". This person MAY also be the "owner" of the master/recording. Historically, this is rarely the case. Additionally, searching ASCAP is a good recommendation but it is only one of three domestic performing rights societies so you may also have to search BMI and SESAC to find pub info.

G.R. Barnett

Loud and clear, Tim, loud and clear. :) I want to thank you for being such a big help in all this. :) -GRB

D Marcus

I guess I'm not asking the question properly. Does a filmmaker need the publishing rights to a song in order to use a recording of the song in a trailer or movie? Wouldn't the master rights and Sync rights be enough to use a recording of the song? I didn't think the filmmaker needs to own the song - just the rights to use a recording of the song. Am I wrong in that?

Timothy Andrew Edwards

The filmmaker does not need to own the publishing rights. That was never said or implied. They do, however, need a "license" to use the song which was the word I used repeatedly. "Sync" is related to publishing so I think there was a loss in communication due to terms. :) Since I used Paul McCartney as an example earlier, here is a FAQ directly from his company's site (when they say "copyright" they are referring to the song/asset and the owner refers to publisher): "Q: What is the difference between licensing the Master vs licensing the Copyright and why do I need both? A: When you think of a song, you're usually thinking of two things: The song itself, consisting of the words and melody; but in your mind you are probably hearing your favorite recording of that song too. The term used for the recording is the "master" or the "master recording." The "song" is referred to as the "copyright" or "intellectual property." Often, you want to license not just the song but also a particular recording of the song. For synchronization licensing of a song and recording, the owner or publisher of the song (or "copyright") must approve the use for commercial purposes. Then the owner of the recording has to decide if they want their master to be used for commercial purposes. The song and the master recording are not always owned by the same person or company, so in such cases both owners must agree." Does that help?

Timothy Andrew Edwards

"Remember, you will have to get a license for the master (the recording) and a license from the publisher (the owner/controller of the song)." That was from one of my earliest posts so I am confused as to why a question of actual ownership even came into play?

D Marcus

I apologize Mr. Edwards. I am unfamiliar with music rights so I asked a question. I did not accuse you of anything. I am just a curious person looking to learn a little. I won't ask you any more questions.

Timothy Andrew Edwards

Well, that can be a downside of posting/texting; there is always that chance of being misinterpreted. i never felt accused so i don't understand where that is coming from. No need to apologize and I am always open to questions.

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