Working with music in and out of film production

Keeping detailed records is vital

Keeping detailed records is vital

I’m a musician first and foremost …

My training in the field of music publishing and copyright began years before I’d ever thought of having a job – when I first started to buy records. As a young musician with a taste for sheet music and 45 rpm singles, the listing of composers and publishers were a matter of great interest. In my first job as a Music Librarian for the BBC, I was regularly asked for the very same kind of details by producers for their Programme Returns. My knowledge and interest quickly spread to more detailed discographical details i.e. the background on the writers and recording artists, ‘cover’ versions, chart information, dates and the names of key musicians who played on the tracks, etc. This simply came from a desire to know, with each composition, what elements comprised the whole. It became elementary that the song or instrumental began with a basic framework uniquely created by the composer.

When I moved into music publishing, I therefore had an innate ability to know how to promote a song in the right direction and to negotiate a fair rate for a writer’s contract, a sub-publishing deal or synchronisation licence.

And when it came to the inclusion of music in any media, a protective instinct came into play, with a desire to ensure due respect and attention for what had been created. As a result, on the subject of budget scrutinisation, I tended to question any cuts in music. If they want good music, I asked, why don’t they pay a good price for it ? A reasonable question, I thought.

… but I’ve learnt when music shouldn’t come first

However, it was a discussion with Barry Kimm, at the time she was Senior Industrial Relations Officer for PACT (Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television), that belatedly caused me to adopt a new perspective on the role of music in production. What I hadn’t considered was that a small loss in the music area might become a gain in another area. This could mean an extra camera, better set design, improved technical quality and so on, all or any of which at the end of the day could result in an improved product, with increased saleability.

Performing a concert or making a record is one thing but when the music is not an end in itself, when it is there to enhance visuals, when the audience is paying for multimedia entertainment rather than music alone, then it must be treated on a different level. However wonderful, emotive, exhilarating or even therapeutic music may be, overemphasising its station will give rise to a distortion of the overall picture, so to speak.

Getting a fair price for the rights you want is harder than ever

Notwithstanding this, music nowadays has attained a high profile with increased media awareness and more outlets than ever before. There’s more variety, there’s more volume and greater accessibility. It is available in more formats (downloads, streaming, CDs, mp3s, mp4s, Mini-Disc and still as vinyl including re-mastered albums) and it crops up throughout our daily lives via computer games, karaoke, mobile phones as well as down the phone (music on hold) – and even in the loo! It necessarily follows that copyright owners want to protect their interests and are becoming ever more fastidious about giving permissions (often due to increased awareness of moral rights). The process of clearing rights for the music user is becoming more complex and can be cumulatively more expensive.

Ironically, the general cost of music appears to have increased at a time when budgets are being cut. At the same time the public has a level of expectation, is not fobbed off easily and is quick to complain if what it sees or hears is not up to par. In the independent television production sector, with belts being tightened all round, it is more pertinent now than ever that music should be readily available at a price that is right for the market.

When clearing rights, be clear about what you want, use the right channels and the rest should follow

One of my primary aims during my time at PACT was to smooth the way through the quagmire of clearing music rights. By encouraging closer liaison with the various industry bodies, by informative workshops and through dialogue with individual members, what appeared to be complicated scenarios starting to become unclogged through logical and trouble free processes and procedures.

However, no two productions are the same and inevitably new questions arise: does this fall under a blanket agreement, what about musicians’ re-use fees, will it be difficult to clear a Madonna recording, is music from Turkey protected under copyright ? If you go through the right channels with clear and concise information on what rights you require, then most of the time, the process should be trouble free.

And remember, as producer you are ultimately in control

Nevertheless, television and film are powerful media and so remember that as a producer you are in the driving seat. If the price isn’t right, be prepared to use an alternative. There is always a choice, if you think about it.

My original premise that music should have a special and pecuniary value and, in particular the song, due to its unique blend of words, melody, harmony and
rhythm still stands. This, however, does not mean that the performers of the works necessarily should expect the same level of recompense. A performance can be dramatically enhanced through skillful and sensitive musicianship but there must be a limit to the interpreter’s value. Re-use fees for commercial recordings need careful examination and it’s important that we question the basis for demands in this area and whether or not the monies actually go to the rightful recipients. Once again, there is always a choice so be prepared to make that decision, especially if licensors are not prepared to negotiate.

In the final analysis, it is you who really knows how you want to operate. Having said that, most of us prefer to have counsel and Musicalities can be there to advise on how best to proceed. A little advice can go a long way towards your final production so just give us a call on 01276 474181 or email: to see how we can help.

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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