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How Is Music Chosen For Feature Films?

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Today music has become an essential part of the film making process. In fact, music has become one of the primary factors in determining if a feature film is going to do well at the box office or not. But how is the music chosen for a feature film?

Today producers, a directors, agents, songwriters and composers all want to be involved in choosing the music you hear at the movies. Ultimately, however, the final decision rests with the producer — who is strongly influenced by his or her director. They are responsible for the final decision of which music will be used.

Movie music falls into three basic categories.

The first category is the underscore, or background music. Think of the haunting James Horner score for “Titanic,” John Williams’ lilting music for “ET” or Randy Newman’s whimsical score “Toy Story.”

The second category is specific songs used in the film. Sometimes producers decide on using preexisting songs that fit the mood of their film. A good example is the song “Hungry Heart” from Bruce Springsteen that was used in “The Perfect Storm” or the song “American Woman” by The Guess Who in the academy award winning “American Beauty.”

The third category is songs written specifically for a film. An example is the song “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Phil Collins who wrote it for the Disney film “Tarzan.”

Each of these categories involve very different negotiations. There are specific contracts for each category and royalties paid on the back end can vary widely.

Most strive to find music that will create a mood. Perhaps they are seeking music that will create the flavor of a certain period of place. Songs are often inserted in specific scenes to make the audience cry. Some songs are meant to elicit other emotions such as fear, excitement, sorrow or happiness.

Successful soundtracks add public interest to a film. Who doesn’t remember such monster soundtracks as “Saturday Night Fever” or “The Big Chill?” Film soundtracks have been among the best selling albums of all time.

Many times the songs that play while the opening credits are run are used by the producer and director to set the theme of the film. They infuse the film with a certain ambiance. As a result, these songs are frequently considered more important to the success of the film than other music used in the background.

Similarly, music used at the end of the film while the credits are rolling are important to the audience remembering the film. Today, more and more, multiple songs run over the end credits. This is done many times to allow additional songs to be included on the film’s soundtrack album.

A film producer who desires to include an existing song in his film has to first be granted the rights from the music publisher. After negotiations a fee agreement is reached. The fees collected by the music publisher are then shared with the songwriter and artists who perform the song. The music publisher agrees to a broad rights license or a synchronization agreement which grants the film studio the rights to use the song in the film which will be distributed to theaters worldwide. The film producers may also sell the film to television. They may also include the song in theatrical trailers and in promoting the film over radio, TV and Internet.

Much goes into choosing the music for major motion pictures. But what a wonderful thing it is to sit in the movie theater and hear the lilting theme of “Dr. Zhivago”, the snappy tunes of “Flashdance” or the beautiful voice of a young Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Truly movie soundtracks have become an important part of the soundtracks of our lives.

Why Producers Need Music Licensing Agreements

Licensing,Production,Synch No Comments

If you are producer who develops and distributes television shows, feature films or documentaries, you better make sure you have your music license agreements in place. There are a few reasons for this, but before we get to that lets just be clear what music licensing is all about.

Music Licensing

As a producer, this type of license gives you the right to use someone else’s copyrighted music. As an example, you might use a service like Pond5 to get music for your television show or movie. In this particular case you are allowed to use the music for a nominal fee. The fee normally covers “all media, worldwide”.

In other circumstances, you may have to pay licensing revenues for a song through BMI or ASCAP. Licensing for this type of music is generally expensive.

What If You Don’t Get A Music License?

If you like to live dangerously, then don’t get a license. However, it is tantamount to playing Russian roulette. Why you may ask? It is a simple answer. If the people who wrote the song or created the track find out you are using their music for free (read stolen), they will sue you for damages. That can be very expensive. Even if your E&O insurance pays for the damages, it may be harder for you to get insurance the next time.

Songwriters, composers and music publishers deserve to be paid for their hard work. It is a talent that requires skill. So, as a producer it imperative that you have a license to use any and all music in your movies and shows.

Another very important reason a producer needs music licensing is a thing called “Chain of Title” documentation. In this particular case, these documents evidence proof of payment with any transfer of rights.

What does this mean to you the producer? It means whether you are delivering your television show to a network or your movie to a distributor they are going to have some legalese in the contract that is going to hold you accountable for all music licensing.

Most agreements will require: a copy of your fully executed music licenses covering your different musical compositions featured in your movie or TV show. The minimum term for any music license is perpetuity for worldwide free and pay TV, home video and DVD, theatrical and non-theatrical and internet usage. Proof of payment via cancelled check or wire transfer. If any composition or recording is asserted to be in the Public Domain, proof of such should be provided.

So, as a producer it is better to be safe than sorry. Do yourself a favor and just get a license to use music in your productions.

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