WHAT A PERFORMANCE! (or how not to use music in film)

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin ….

Jude and Judy are mates who are both into audio recording, like it’s what they love – try and tell ’em they are wasting their time and you might get a mouthful!

Jude is the audio & recording techie whilst Judy is into sound & music mixing (she’s also an EDM DJ at weekends).

Jude helps Judy by introducing her to the latest gizmos for her mixing and mash-ups and Judy plays Jude’s favourite tracks when he comes along to one of her stonking Friday nights at Bunk Off, a ‘pop up’ night club in the Mendips – there’s hours of re-mixes of their favourite dance/hip hop/rap and US chart hits.

A hip film maker Barney with plenty of dosh from his mother’s fashion design business takes a drive out from Bath to somewhere near Frome and, after a couple of beers in a noisy pub, hears about Bunk Off. After cajoling a slightly inebriated local with beers and chasers, finds out where the place is.

He parks up way down the road and walks up the hill to where there appears to be nothing going on. Then he sees some lights, makes his way down a footpath using his phone for a torch, and then sees what looks like a trap door. He lifts it up and then the noise is dinning. A girl dressed up like Pippa Longstocking with hair as outrageous asked, “Can I Help”. Barney says I am looking for DJs for some new happening film projects. She mumbled something like “alright’, sniggered and told him to be careful coming up the steps. Once he had reached the sawdust ridden floor, a young guy gesticulated to suggest that he should show his wrist! He gave him a rubber stamp with a rather odd logo and said nothing.

Barney thought that the whole thing was a bit weird with people chatting, laughing, dancing, leaning against the wall, looking at Judy and being mesmerised by the whole event. Barney didn’t stay long but handed his card to Judy, saying loudly “Call me!”.

Judy told Jude about the encounter and they called and arranged a meeting at Barney’s place in Bath. Barney told them about the project and they both said they were up for it and when do they start. Barney offered a daily rate of £500 between them, gave them a 2 page contract which they signed and off they went to create sound and music for the film , incidentally tentatively entitled “What A Performance”. It was a fast moving short film with flash ups of actors, singers, guitarists, drummers, DJs, contortionists, street acrobats and sports men & women.

Jude and Judy put together using their combined skills a massive sound track that, in the playback studio, blew Barney away. Barney immediately told his Production Manager to arrange for the film to have a final mix and have it ready for delivery. A week later, Barney submitted the film for the Smashdance Film Festival taking place in Outer Mongolia, March 2018.

In reading the terms and conditions, he decided to pass the details to his lawyer, in particular the wording: “Entrants represent and warrant to the Festival that the Film and all parts thereof are original; that the Film does not contravene the rights of any person or entity and that entrants own or control the Film and all parts thereof and have the sole authority to submit the Film to the Festival.”

Barney’s lawyer asked Barney if he had acquired consents from the performers in his film. Barney said they were only quick flash ups often for only a second and that the clips were taken from YouTube – which is for everyone? The lawyer then asked about the sound and music score; Barney said that Jude and Judy had signed a consent form granting all necessary rights. The lawyer then asked if Jude and Judy had composed the music themselves. Barney said, no, it was a mash-up of samples taken from various dance tracks by people such as David Guetta, Skrillex, Zedd and Afrojack.

Now, it was getting worrying as, whilst the composers had signed an agreement probably indemnifying Barney against any claims, they probably wouldn’t have the money to compensate him.

Barney took up the issue with Jude and Judy who said they don’t have a problem with their ‘live gigs’. Barney reminded them that live gigs are covered by the venue’s PRS and PPL licences – even he knew that! Those licences however, he remembered, do not cover the ‘copying’ or synchronising the music with visual images, particularly in this case, his film!

Further, even if the record companies can contractually grant the featured artists’ rights, any non-contracted musicians i.e. session players may require clearance and approval in respect of their re-used performances.

Then Jude and Judy asked Barney how he got permission for all the clips in his film and, looking a little awkward, he said that they were only short extracts and OK as they were from YouTube. Even Jude and Judy knew that clips from YouTube need permission for re-use in other audio-visual productions.

None of them had allowed for extra money for all this so, fortunately, when they called Musicalities they were advised that, as long as they didn’t mind non-commercial music and music that was specially recorded and produced for use in audio-visual media, there are bundles of so called Production (Library) Music that is pre-cleared covering the composers, the recordings and all the performers including some who are actually DJs themselves – and at only a few hundred pounds.

The key here is use of commercial material for private use and bona fide courses of study is covered under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act; however, commercial use and public performance of copyright material requires consents from all those involved. Can you afford it? If not, use commissioned original scored music, library music – or even no music!

Not sure what you need to do for your project? Contact Musicalities for the low down.

© 2017 Ivan Chandler, Musicalities Ltd. All Rights Reserved

What do you think?


“Ivan was extremely skillful in guiding us through the process of acquiring music rights for our digital programme. From start to finish he advised us promptly and clearly on the steps in the process to clear each of our chosen tracks and acquired the clearances we needed in the very tight timeline we had. I would thoroughly recommend his services.”

Niamh Dilworth, Senior Producer, Unicorn Theatre

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