Getting music rights?

(Travis Grossi) #1

I’m working on getting the music rights to two songs we used in our pilot - one is a Rufus Wainwright track that we’re covering and use over the opening and closing credits, and the other is 10 seconds of a song from Les Miserables (the instrumental end of “One Day More” for my musical theater peeps) that I stupidly wrote into the script - it plays on the car radio as part of a joke.

I contacted this company who came back with an estimated quote of “$500-$2000 per piece of music for one year worldwide film festival rights and anywhere from $5,000 - $10,000 per piece of music for worldwide all media rights in perpetuity.” These numbers terrified me, because I was hoping for closer to $5 :slight_smile:

I emailed the publishers directly (found them on ascap) over a week ago but haven’t heard back. Does anyone have experience with clearing songs for their series with a small budget? I know there’s tons of copyright free music we can use, and I can take out the Rufus Wainwright song easily but removing the Les Mis bit would involve reshooting the scene, which I’d love to avoid if possible (yes, I know. this is why you don’t write songs you haven’t cleared into the script - add that to the long list of things I learned after shooting).

Would love to hear your experiences with using copyrighted music!

(Bri Castellini) #2

@Frankvleone? @hermdelica? @gmcalpin? @avincie? Not sure who to tag in this one but these are all smart folk so I’m sure we can help :slight_smile:

(Arthur Vincie) #3

My advice given your budget is to find a composer, play them the Rufus song, and ask them to either (a) write something that sounds similar to what you’re looking for; (b) see if they have something in their catalog they can license for you. You have better things to spend your money on.

In terms of the Les Mis song, here are some things I could think of (in ascending order of difficulty):

  • Did you record the scene WITH the song playing? If yes, then it’s on the production dialog track.

  • Re-edit the scene using off-camera takes (so basically during those ten seconds you’re seeing reaction shots). You can then replace the dialog with “clean” takes (if you have them without the music)

  • ADR the scene. A little pricier but there are cheaper ways to do this.

  • Talk to a sound designer, ask for his/her professional opinion. There may be a way to slice it out but leave the dialog intact (I doubt it but if it’s not over dialog, then you have a better chance - then you can replace the emptiness with room tone, and find some copyright-free music to fill in).

(Travis Grossi) #4

We recorded the scene without the music playing, but the dialogue doesn’t make much sense without including the song, as it references it multiple times and is basically the whole crux of the scene (rookie mistake, clearly).

So those quotes of $2-10K are accurate? Does anyone ever have luck with music publishers feeling pity on poor webseries makers and allowing use of their songs for less?

(Gordon McAlpin) #5

So far, I’ve never used copyrighted music (er, in the sense of like a pop song or whatever). But I have used a composer for the Multiplex 10 pilot (Tangelene Bolton, who was amazing and score the 12-minute short for roughly $200 per minute, which is pretty reasonable for original music). I did provide a temp score comprised of copyrighted music for her to refer to (but not copy too closely).

I have licensed stock music from Pond5 and a handful of musicians directly, which I suppose is copyrighted. These were usually for $25–50 a pop. $5 for a well-known song is… well… um. Well, probably never going to happen. I’ve only ever seen SOUND EFFECTS for $5!

I’ve found that sometimes Pond5’s music is cheaper elsewhere, if you can find it, but they have a good selection, and it’s convenient. I found the cue for this video — — by searching “Avengers music” :smiley: and “Superhero movie music” and I think it worked well.

(Jonathan Hardesty) #6

I’ve used both Pond5 and its expensive competitor Premium Beat and they can get pretty close in musical styling for what you want. For Flagon I had my composer friend work on the soundtrack and in exchange I paid to have the album put onto CD Baby, which then pushed it to Spotify, itunes, google play, etc. For S2 I plan to do the same thing and actually pay him a modest fee for his music, especially since he knocked it out of the park.

Unfortunately, with both the Rufus song and the Les Mis music, you have to pay the rights to not just the song, but to the performers of that particular instance of the song. You COULD, theoretically, try and get the rights to song minus the performance and have someone you know perform it instead. Cheaper, although not that much cheaper, and you’re still bound by whatever their restrictions are on distribution. I might be wrong on that, so someone please correct me if I’m mistaken.

(Arthur Vincie) #7

You can try to negotiate. I’ve never had much luck. The publishers know they have a product that you want, and think you have no leverage.

The music quote sounds somewhat accurate, though probably a touch high. Generally the more popular it is the harder it is.

I would try like hell to make the scene work with different music. Perhaps start by trying some lyrics out for an original song, that would still tie the dialog together (like reverse-engineering it).

There is one trick you could try: music rights in films are actually two sets of rights, usually licensed together:

  • The SYNCHRONIZATION rights - this is the right to use the underlying composition (the sheet music if you will) in your film
  • The MASTER RECORDING rights - the right to use a PARTICULAR recording of a piece of music in your film

Obviously, these are usually licensed together - you can’t license the master without the sync, unless the underyling composition is in the public domain (so if you want Bach in your film, you’re only paying for a particular performance of a Bach piece).

However, you can try to license the sync rights and then hire a musician to play a version of the song (you’d then have to pay the musician). And of course the “cover tune” would not necessarily sound like anything from the film.

I don’t honestly know if at the end of the day it would save you a ton of money, since you’d still have to pay a musician to recreate the score, and sometimes the publisher will refuse anyway. Who owns the rights to these things can get confusing also (typically the record company owns the master rights, the publisher owns the sync rights. Really rich musicians try to buy their masters and sync rights back - like Prince; most can’t afford to. When a record company goes bankrupt, sometimes their master rights are auctioned off to other companies, or to another entity altogether).

(Kyla) #8

okay I’m gonna jump off of this… fair warning I have no idea how to do anything with music rights but! if you get the sync rights, you can download a free composition program (like musescore, which is the love of my life) and find the sheet music online. then, just plug those notes into the program and you’re good to go without having to pay a musician! probably! this is definitely using a loophole and idk if the loophole is valid but it might be!

(Travis Grossi) #9

Thank you guys SO much for all the responses and resources - I’m talking to that rights clearance company this morning to see about getting the Les Mis snippet and maybe just the sync rights to the Rufus Wainwright song. If that doesn’t work I’ll look at creative editing and a possible reshoot, which is a bummer buuuuut the good news is I’m learning all the things for next time :slight_smile:

(Kate Caplis) #10

Actually the price seems a bit light. I have purchased rights from Killer Tracks- with an audience size of about 10,000 and it was $3K, 4K. This may be different since you are getting permission to do the cover of the song and not the actual song — and so not paying more $ for performance but rather the permission for it to be performed and be apart of your series.

As to Les Mis, you will need to reshoot the scene or you could add a scene that sets up the reason why they reference the song? Maybe as they enter the car?

Even a song that is hummed by a character such as “Happy Birthday” needs licensing-- more on that here.

And you are not alone. “China Beach” which was a successful series in the late 80s could not go to DVD because they did not have the rights secured. Took them years to settle that…more here

If shooting the LES MIS scene is cheaper then licensing, reshoot the scene. If not, get the licensing. And if it’s easier to replace the music for the credit roll, their are so many sites now that provide stock music, (but unfortunately few for 5$ :frowning:

Lastly, I don’t know if anyone mentioned SOUNDCLOUD. You can contact the artists direct and ask for permission for your series. I have done that for a few projects, and know of some independent filmmakers that found music that way. Might save you some money…
Some other low cost sites that are either subscription or pay for royalty free:,, to name a few…