Film & TV Directory

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Film & Television

The Importance of Licensing

One of the most financially lucrative aspects of an artist’s career comes from the licensing of songs, and licensing resulting from placements in films and television shows is one of the most popular ways to create licensing income. Directors of films, television shows, video games and commercials rely heavily on music to enhance the emotion they are attempting to convey with visuals and acting performances. Sometimes this is done with a well-known song from one of the world’s largest music artists, and other times self-released music from an unknown musician can make or break a scene. Whether you are a songwriter, composer, performer or some combination of the three, licensing to film and TV not only can provide income to compensate your creativity, but also provide the needed exposure that can sustain your career.

How Film and Television Licensing Works

In general, there are three types of music licensing fees that apply to music used in film and television:

1. Synchronization (Sync) License Fee
2. Master Use License Fee
3. Public Performance Royalty

The first two are paid up front for the right to use the song. While the Sync Fees pays for the right to use actual song, the master use fee pays for the right to use the recording of the song. Therefore, these are often paid to different parties. This seems obvious if the recording is of a band recording a cover version of another artist’s song, but this can also apply to an artist with a record label that owns the recording of his or her own song.

The Public Performance Royalty comes into play after the television show or commercial is broadcast, and is paid on the basis of how often the song is broadcast. For successful shows that have long syndication runs, this is often the most lucrative fee. However, there are two important notes about the Public Performance Royalty:

1. Films broadcast in theaters do not pay performance royalties, and
2. None of the three fees apply to home video distribution

In the case of a television show released on DVD (or other home video format), historically the rights must be renegotiated for the music to continue to be used.

How to Get Your Music Licensed

Typically, a film or television show will have a Music Supervisor in charge of selecting music for and incorporating the songs effectively into the existing scenes (or working scenes around a piece of music). Naturally, the way to get your music licensed is to get your songs into the hands of a Music Supervisor working on a project that your music would enhance.

Obviously, the actuality of the situation is almost never that easy. Unless you already know Music Supervisors or other contacts in the industry—which is an extremely low percentage of artists—then you will have to use other methods to get your music into their hands.

There are many licensing companies out there that specialize in doing exactly that. Some companies work on film and television licensing exclusively, while others work in a wide variety of facets in the music industry. Research is key when selecting which companies to contact. Many companies focus on specific genres, while others only work with specific movie studios (or television studios, or commercial ad agencies), while some have a more broad range. The best advice is to diligently look into what companies work with artists like you and are likely to make good use of your music. And be polite but persistent with different companies until you find the best fit for your songs—and they will find the best fit for those same songs on film and television.