The best production you've ever created is in the can. It's time to match your masterpiece with an equally impressive musical soundtrack. But where to start? It's time to dispel the myth that music licensing is complex or expensive and to understand what options are available to you.
Firstly, let's get one thing straight. Music, a bit like lunch, isn't free - we all have to eat and drink. You already know about the value of music and how it supports and underpins your work. Like you, songwriters and composers deserve to be paid for their work. Rather than persuading a songwriter to lend their creativity to your masterpiece over an ale or two in the Dog & Trumpet, there’s fortunately a much easier way. You just need a licence – and that depends on the kind of music you are intending to use.
Commercial music covers any music that has had a ‘commercial’ release - anything you can hear on the radio, listen to on CD or buy as a download.
What you need to remember with commercial music is that you can't use it in your production unless you have permission - this is called ‘prior approval’.
Help is on hand. The PRS for Music and MCPS Licensing Teams (both part of the PRS for Music group) can negotiate this deal on your behalf if the music copyright owners have authorised them to do so, or they can tell you who to contact should you need to go down the route of direct negotiation.
“The clearance process can sometimes be lengthy, sometimes expensive,” says Paul Clements, MCPS Licensing Director. “You risk not being granted permission if the songwriter is unhappy for his creativity to be used in the way you propose. Much depends on the song, the composer, the context of the use and the budget available.”
Another word of caution: the person who owns the sound recording will also need to give their consent for you to use a particular track.
Don’t worry; there’s a musical Plan B, Plan C and Plan D.
A bespoke musical composition that ties in perfectly with your production might be the top choice for many film, video or programme makers but how many of us personally know world-class songwriters or composers?
If you are lucky enough to be able to commission music directly with the composer and negotiate a fee for your exclusive use of the music – congratulations, I’m jealous. If not; worry not, there are still Plans C and D to consider.
ROYALTY-FREE or COPYRIGHT-FREE
Royalty-free or copyright-free is an unusual concept. “If it's free of any royalty payments, is the originator of the music truly getting paid for their work or only a fraction of their earning potential?” demands Graham Edwards, MCPS Head of New Business. Rumour has it that songwriters generally tend to receive a fairly low one-off fee from a third party who in turn licenses the songwriter’s music wherever, whenever.
“Some companies offer a ‘subscription model’ where you pay a fee to use a limitless supply of repertoire – but in our experience they don’t have a great deal of variety,” adds Edwards.
Bottom line: there is a place for royalty-free, copyright-free and the subscription model music services but if you’re a professional filmmaker you will probably be looking for a better quality solution.
It’s widely acknowledged that MCPS production music is a suitable and affordable option right across the board, including for those with low budgets.
Previously, production music (also known as 'library' music) was considered the poor cousin of commercial music. In recent years, however, production music libraries have invested heavily in improving both the quality of their offerings and their customer service.
“There was once a clear division between commercial and library music but today the quality of library music matches commercial music,” believes Alex Black, General Manager of Boosey & Hawkes Production Music. Indeed, production music from MCPS-affiliated libraries has recently been supplied to Hollywood blockbusters such as The Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk and even that rather furry superhero – Kung Fu Panda.
MCPS represents 160+ production music libraries including their 300,000+ tracks and sound effects. “If you can't find a suitable piece of music from that collection, then it doesn’t exist. You might want to commission or write your own music!” explains Clements.
Many of the MCPS libraries have live hubs where it’s possible to chat online, in real time, with music consultants.
“Many [libraries] have websites where you can type in any genre, mood, style or theme and be instantly matched with an appropriate array of musical options. Think of a dating site that actually works,” says Edwards.
Cutting to the chase; the cost. MCPS publishes an annual rate card which sets the pricing tariff for the year. All MCPS-affiliated libraries offer the same cost for the same licensing options, depending upon the style and nature of the production; from corporate videos to TV programmes.
At the moment, independent production companies can opt for TV deals to cover unlimited use of production music from £35 per 30 seconds, £350 per programme (with no running time restriction) and annual deals from £4,900. All of these deals can be licensed on an ‘all media’ basis. For music in a corporate or training video, you should budget for £35 per 30 seconds. If all cues are rolled together, there is a new aggregated cost of £250 per production, including online usage, unlimited copies plus worldwide rights in perpetuity.
“We can also deliver blanket agreements, pre-cleared for any type of usage, so you don’t have to cut through loads of red tape each time,” says Edwards.
“True, it isn't as cheap as royalty-free or copyright-free, but it’s affordable, flexible and versatile.”