Producing Movies? Produce Your Own Music, Too

June 12, 2015

Aside from writing up a comprehensive film business plan, acquiring the rights to music is often the one job that filmmakers dread the most.

And it’s not difficult to understand why. One of the first things you learn in producing school 101 is that you can’t simply throw anything you like on Spotify into the final mix, and that going about rights acquisition can be a lengthy, tedious and not to mention expensive process.

But there is a way to take the sting out of its tail, and even maximize the profit you stand to make from movie production. Today, we’re going to argue the case for becoming your own music publisher – but to put it in context, let’s first look at:

How to Buy Music For Your Film: The Traditional Way

Let’s say you want to use a track from a mid-level rock band in the background of a bar scene. Even if it’s only for half a minute, you still need to seek down and contact the license holder – often an arduous task in and of itself – and negotiate how much it’ll cost.

But not only is the price hugely variable, but the type of license you need is also wide-ranging. If you only purchase the Festival Use License but the movie then takes off and you want to distribute it, you’ll have fun either going back to negotiate for a Master Use License, or else having to re-edit the movie to replace the score.

It can also be fun having the licence holder come back to you asking for more money, because you originally stated the movie would only see low-level US theatre distribution but then ends up going global and selling well on DVD.

Oh, and don’t let the term ‘Master Use’ lull you into a false sense of security. you’ll probably also need the Synchronization Licence, too. All this is done through the music label…

… or the publisher.

Or both.

In most cases, you’ll have to pay two separate entities for the multiple licenses of one track.

How much will this cost? If only there was a standard answer, but expect to pay about $2,000 to $10,000 for every track you want to use (and note that’s the most ballpark-iest of ballpark figures.)

Getting all of this right is as much of a minefield as it sounds, and the penalty for getting it wrong – even through a genuine mistake or via factors outside of your control – can be a near-production killing lawsuit.

All in all, any alternative to the above sounds attractive…

Be Your Own Music Publisher

If you want to cut through the hassle of endlessly negotiating with music publishers, it might be worth considering the old adage “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Instead of pouring exhorbitant amounts of money into limited use licenses, you may find the money better spent in hiring a producer to create original music. The benefits here are numerous:

– Greater creative control over the soundtrack of your movie

– As the publisher, you will retain most if not all of the ownership rights (depending on the deal you strike up with the composer or artists; see below on Composer Agreements)

– Ownership of rights means that you get to license to other people, and that can be immensely lucrative (much in the same way that it can be very expensive on the other side of the fence.)

So although getting started comes with some overheads, it can pay dividends in the long run.

How to Set Up A Music Production Company

Thankfully, this is a lot easier than it might sound: simply give ASCAP a call and they’ll walk you through the process of getting registered.

From there, you can approach artists or composers and seek what’s known as a Composer Agreement – essentially, who ultimately retains ownership over the final score. Usually, you’ll pay the musician an upfront fee as the producer, though if you’re unable to offer a desirable amount it’s not uncommon to trade some proportion of ownership back and forth until a deal  is made.

As you can imagine, starting a production company comes with its own learning curve but for the most part ASCAP will be able to help you put your best foot forward.

More importantly than anything, make sure you start small. Really, you’re in the best position to do this as someone working in film production, not to mention that there are even more benefits for you to reap as a filmmaker in need of compelling music.