Music can make or destroy your film.
And I’m not talking about a bad score or a cheesy tune. No, I’m talking about music rights. You only need one unclear copyright and you can say goodbye to your distribution deal or being shown at film festivals. No one will touch your film until the copyright in question is cleared.
As a filmmaker it is your responsibility to clear music rights. You cannot expect a distributor or film festival to do it for you and if you are a new filmmaker it is highly likely you will have to do it yourself.
Unfortunately music is not always straightforward to clear and, more often than not, you may have to change your plans. But there are actually things you can do to simplify the process and make sure you deliver the music fully cleared. Here are 5 tips to help you get started.
Tip 1: Know your copyrights!
If you don’t know the difference between a sound recording and a composition, find out! Music licensing is much easier once you understand the basics of how music copyright works.
Tip 2: Do your research!
Research, research, research…. Not everything is straightforward and the mergers and acquisitions that have taken place in the music industry recently have muddled things even further. Ask questions, speak to collection agencies (PRS for Music, PPL), record labels and music publishers: in short do your research!
Forewarned is forearmed and the more you know about what you are trying to clear, the more power you will have when it comes to negotiating. Your research may also unearth problems around the clearance of a specific track, which may make you think you need to go for plan B even before you have sent that first music clearance request.
Tip 3: Have a plan B!
Unfortunately and for many reasons, you may not be able to clear the track that you really want. So come up with alternatives early on. There are approximately 9000 record labels in the UK and several hundred production libraries so surely there must be something out there that you can use….
Bonus tip: avoid writing a track in the script and making it central to the plot or a character. Once again, you may not be able to clear it.
Tip 4: Budget
Regardless of whether you are clearing commercial music via synchronisation licences or commissioning a composer to write a score, you will need to pay for whatever music you want to use. The rule is 10% of the total film budget should go to music but even if you can't stretch that far, remember to put some money aside. There are ways to reduce the music costs and I’ll show you how on Monday but one thing is sure, you can’t get music for free.
Tip 5: Avoid film soundtracks
Film soundtracks have become very popular. They are used constantly on shows like Top Gear and on TV commercials, yet you should avoid using them altogether. Firstly most film scores are the property of film companies, which often make them unclearable. Second, they are very expensive to clear (think thousands rather than hundreds) even if you only use a few seconds. So unless you have a lot of money in your music budget, you are better off using something else.
One option is to hire a composer. A composer is not only much better value for money for you as he will write the music for your whole movie rather than just a scene but you will also have something original which you will own the rights to. Rights of course which could be exploited and bring an additional source of revenue from your film…