LICENSING A WELL KNOWN SONG... HOW DOES IT WORK, IN A NUTSHELL?

All songs that are under copyright (which most contemporary songs are) need to be cleared by the owners of the rights.  There are two sets of rights to clear, the publishing rights – on behalf of the songwriters, and the sound recording, or “master” rights – on behalf of the performing artists.  You will need to negotiate with the applicable rights holders, who are usually music publishers and record companies, but sometimes estates, managers or other companies.  Sometimes, there will be multiple companies that have rights and will all need to be involved.
 
The time it takes to clear a song is unpredictable.  It can be as quick as a couple of days, or as long as several months.  And remember that any song request might also be denied, for all sorts of reasons, so you can’t assume that when you request a song, that it will always be approved quickly or cheaply.  I advise clients to allow a good amount of time for negotiations and clearances on all projects, and always request any songs that are to be performed on camera well before your shoot.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO USE A SONG IN A FILM?

There is no set fee for licensing music.  It very much depends on the song, the project, and what rights, term and territory you need to secure.  It usually will start at around $500 for very small projects with limited media and terms, but can easily run into the tens of thousands for bigger songs, and bigger projects.  Most of the time, licensors are unwilling to grant gratis licenses even for very small budget projects.

HOW LONG DOES THE COPYRIGHT PERIOD LAST?

It varies around the world, but a song is usually protected for the life of the composer plus 50 to 70+  years thereafter. In Australia, it’s now 70 years after the death of the writer. If a song has been written by more than one person, the copyright period exists until 70 years after the death of the longest living composer.

CAN I USE JUST A FEW BARS OF A SONG IN MY FILM OR DOCUMENTARY WITHOUT HAVING TO CLEAR IT?

Unfortunately, no. There is no minimum duration that may be used for copyrighted songs.  Even if you only use two seconds of a song, you will need to clear it for your film, television or theatrical production.

HOW CAN I GET MY SONG PLACED IN A FILM?

There are a lot of very talented people writing beautiful songs, and hoping to place them in films these days.  Often, producers, directors or scriptwriters already know what songs they want to use, but sometimes they will look for up and coming songs. While my business does not represent writers or catalogues to pitch into to film projects, there are some companies and agents who do this.  My best advice is to network with as many creative people as you can, and let everyone you know hear your good quality demos and recordings.  Good luck!

HOW CAN I BECOME A MUSIC SUPERVISOR?

Music licensing and supervision is a fairly unusual job.  You need to be familiar with a broad range of music genres, have lots of great contacts around the world, and have an understanding of the way intellectual copyright works in creative projects.  There is a lot of administrative work, in negotiating fees, conditions and budgets, untangling disputes, hunting down rights holders, handling detailed contracts and agreements and more.  If you can work with a licensing company or department, or in a TV, film or production company, you can experience the day to day necessities from the ground up.