ascap music licensing notes 23 the good soldier

The Good Soldier – Notes 23 – Music Licensing (& what I’ve learned so far)

I am in the midst of yet another educational opportunity. Little did I know at the outset of this project, the nuances of music licensing for film. Sure, I knew a few things – generalities really – but what I am experiencing now is a crash-course in “How To License Music For Film.”

The Good Soldier has an original score (beautifully composed by Anne-Vale Brittan, I might add) that I have permission to use, so there is no issue there. In fact, I will say up-front that creating your own music or finding/hiring someone outright to do an original piece is probably easier than all this licensing stuff. But even that has it’s host of issues.

There are two songs in the film, both from the 1940s, and both require licensing. At first when I downloaded them from (my favorite website), I thought – AWESOME – free music! Wrong. Just because they were found for free does not necessarily make them free. Be careful in making those kind of assumptions.

I want this post to serve as a primer, of sorts, to those trying to do the same thing I am doing; license music for film festivals and possible distribution. Please keep in mind that this is something I am going through right now and I am still learning – so there may be some adjustments made to the post later depending on what happens.

There were some things that I was forewarned about early on: 1) the music industry has been known to take their time – your deadlines are not their deadlines. To a large extent I have found this to be true – with one exception, which I will get to later. 2) Customer service (i.e. being nice) is not what the music industry is known for – so don’t be surprised if people get pissy with you. 3) Don’t expect to get ANYTHING for free – if you think something is public domain – you’re probably wrong – in fact, you probably owe someone money for the song you are about to use and you just don’t know it. Do your research, make some calls, find out what you don’t know and you’ll be better off for it. Information is out there you just have to be willing to learn about it.

Here’s the deal with public domain – “There are no sound recordings in the Public Domain in the USA. If you need a music recording – even a recording of a public domain song – you will either have to record it yourself or license a Royalty Free Music recording.” (Source: Public Domain Info Project)

So where do you begin?
Take a song, any song. If you have the album you already have a lot of information about it. There are two things you need to know: who the publisher is (or sometimes songwriter) and who did the recording. The publisher/songwriter and performer can be looked up on the ASCAP website using their ACE search tool. If you can’t find it there you may look at SESAC or BMI. On the ASCAP website (which is where I found my film’s songs) it will give you the contact information of the publisher. Use this information to contact the publisher by phone or find them on the internet and contact them through their online form or email. Publishers want things in writing so even if you call them they will still ask you to submit a form in writing to them.

If you know the recording company – great – you’re one step ahead of where I am. I am still searching for the original recording of both of my songs. I think they are owned now by Sony-BMG (which purchased the original Columbia recordings) – but I don’t know for sure yet. You will need to contact the record company too, same as the publishing company.

Who am I paying for the licensing?
You pay the publisher for the song rights and the record company for the recording rights. Here’s another kicker: music publishers and record companies act on a “most favored nations basis”. Let’s say you strike a deal with the publisher for $500 for synch rights, worldwide, for festivals. Then you contact the record company and they want to charge you $750 – well, under the most favored nations clause the publisher will raise their price to $750 to match the record company. If my hunch is right, the price always moves up, not down.

What are the licensing terms?
Terms of the license are based on a number of things: how you intend to use the song in the film, where you use the song, how many times, the duration of the song. It’s also based on if you want the film to tour in the US or take it to international festivals. Price seems to double if you are going worldwide. It’s also based on the popularity of the song, how it’s been used in the past, and how the song fits with the film. And probably a number of other things they don’t tell us about. If you intend to distribute (sell) the film they’ll want to know how many copies you are going to produce and where (territory) you will be selling them. Then there is an up-front payment based on the number of copies produced.

What do the record companies and publishers need to know about your film?
Just about everything. The title, the story, the duration and how the song fits in with it. If you are using a song on the opening credits or the end credits, expect to pay more.

All this is great info but why would I pay for music?
Because I’ve heard stories of a person sitting in the audience at a film festival, they hear a song on the film and realize – that’s their Great Uncle’s song! And they wonder if Uncle So-And-So knows that his song is in a movie so they give him a call. And amazingly, he had no idea that his song was in that movie – no one ever told him or received permission. And that’s too bad because, by the way, the movie sucked and it really misrepresented the song. So he decides to call up his record company and take action. Next thing you know you’ve paid an attorney $25K for services and reached a settlement.

That’s just one reason. There are others. Bottom line is you are breaking the law if you don’t license music appropriately and risk getting sued big-time.

As far as where I am in the process, I’ve heard from the publisher of one song and received a quote – $250 for one year of licensing within the US for festivals. I’ve had great luck with this particular publisher and they (the company) has been very responsive and helpful. They responded quickly to my inquiry and appear willing to work with me.

I am waiting to hear back from the record company and see what their price is going to be – I’m guessing the $250 range per song. I am also waiting for Warner-Chappell music to call me back with an estimate on the other song. In all, I’m guessing that it’s going to cost me somewhere around $1000 in total to use the songs in the film (for one year in festivals). My experience thus far has been good.

Yes, I had an initial sticker shock.

You always come back to the question: is it worth it? And what are my alternatives?
That’s really a question that you have to weigh for yourself and your project. In terms of this film, I feel it is worth it. Music licensing is something I completely overlooked in my initial film budget – but it was one of those variable that I didn’t know how to quantify so I cast it to the back of my mind, at the time. In the future, I will be better prepared and anticipate the licensing issue.

There are alternatives to licensing the two songs: I could choose to not use the songs at all or I could work the original score into other sections of the film. But the songs are genuine 1940s pieces and they add an authentic element to the film that I really want – I feel that progress the story and the tone. So for me, it is important enough to accept the cost and include them.

On an editorial note, I don’t think many individual filmmakers understand the ins-and-outs of the music industry and licensing. It’s not something we want to deal with or think about. Furthermore, the music industry as a whole makes it difficult to license films. If there were a central clearing-house that was sort of a one-stop-shop it would be much easier and I think filmmakers would be more likely to follow through on licensing. Unfortunately, it is difficult to follow the rules because it’s not clear what they are, communication with the publishers/record companies is lacking, and every company seems to have their own protocol.

Hopefully, this post has been helpful to someone out there in the same boat as I.

Here are some helpful links to get you going:
All Music
Sound Exchange
Public Domain Information Project

goal achieved notes 22 sundance the good soldier

The Good Soldier – Notes 22 – GOAL ACHIEVED – Submitted to Sundance

Let’s go back to November, 2008 when I posted this. At that time this was nothing more than an idea. That’s it. An idea. I came up with this wild idea to write and produce a film with the ultimate goal of submitting it to Sundance by the deadline for the 2010 exhibition. Yesterday, that goal became a reality when the film was received by Sundance on the final day for short film submissions.

The amount of money I spent pursuing this dream was nothing compared to what I gained from the experience. This was my film school.

People ask me, “Where did you come up with the idea to make a movie?” I don’t know how to answer this. It’s always been there. It’s just something that I have always wanted to do. Those of you who are climbers understand this drive in terms of climbing: what makes you want to climb? It’s just desire. What more can explain it?

I learned more about the process of filmmaking, creating, directing, and cinematography than I have in all of the books and articles I’ve read and classes/seminars I’ve attended. There is no education like experience.

I have to thank everyone that has so generously dedicated their time, their resources, their advice, their insight, their knowledge and their energy into this project. I am indebted to you all and look forward to helping you with your creative endeavors. I sincerely thank you – you deserve an enormous amount of credit for everything you’ve done and I hope that, in some way, this film, this experience, is a means to propel you in the direction of your own goals.

For those of you out there considering making your own movie – either in film or video (I’ve made clear that there is a difference, right?) – I hope that this online journal has provided some idea of what the process is like. I know when I started searching online for information about the day-to-day activities that occur in the making of a film i found it difficult to find much online. Most sites and books cover the bigger picture of shooting a movie – and those are great, as well as necessary – but sometimes you want more on-the-ground nitty-gritty information about what it’s really like and what you can expect. Undoubtedly, every project is going to be slightly different in terms of the experience – this was just my experience – but maybe knowing my experience will make it less like driving in fog when you head out on the road to make your own film (sorry for the corny metaphor).

All of that said….let’s move on.
This is only the beginning. I want people to see this thing!

I’m working on more film festival submissions. And I’m working on securing music rights for a couple of songs in the film. After that is settled I will begin showing the film locally and (hopefully) some indie-distribution. My goal was never to make money on the film – but I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to pay myself back for my efforts! Plus, it could mean the chance to make another film. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves….

editing film score notes 21 sundance the good soldier

The Good Soldier – Notes 21 – Music Score, More Editing, and Sundance

At this point I’m really too tired to write anything. But you can tell by the title of this post that a lot is going on. I’ve been working on the film nearly all day every day this week. We recorded the score on Thursday night. It adds an entirely new dimension to the film. It’s amazing.

I am holding a private test screening for a few people. This should help me get an idea of the type of reactions the film generates. After that I may make more changes before the next festival submission.

The deadline for Sundance is Monday and it looks now that I WILL have it there on time.

More later…

film score notes 20 rough cut

The Good Soldier – Notes 20 – Rough Cut Complete

Spent hours yesterday staring at the computer screen, editing like mad. The result is a finished rough cut of the film. It checks in at 26:56. A rough cut is basically what it sounds like; it’s an assembled version of the film from start to finish. The dialogue is present but lacks polish, there are no titles, no credits, most of the sound f/x and the music/score are missing, and very little audio mixing. So why is this meaningful at all? Because all the major shots are there and the story is told from beginning to end. It gives me (and others) and good working copy of the film from which to complete the remaining elements.

This morning I met with Anne-Vale, the woman composing and overseeing the creation of the score for the film. I presented her with the rough cut and she will use this to complete the musical elements.

The actual score will be recorded on Thursday, 9/17 and I will be there. Can’t wait to experience that part of the process.

So the work that remains includes creating and adding sound f/x, adding the score, mixing the audio, doing some further editing and rearranging to cut some time out of the film (I’d like to get it below the 25 minute mark), and adding titles and credits. I also have a bit of additional ADR work which means a brief session in the studio again. Finally, I need to burn it to DVD and prepare the submission forms.

More good news – caught a break in terms of the Sundance deadline. Apparently, I was looking at the deadline schedule for 2009 instead of the 2010 festival. It is actually on Monday, 9/21. This opens up a small doorway for me to have the film there by the deadline.

So the plan is to hammer away at editing this week – get everything in place and polished. Get the score on Thursday evening. Add it on Friday. Maybe do some more fixing up on Friday and even Saturday. Have a test viewing on Saturday. Any additional corrections on Sunday along with burning the disc. Submit it same-day-air to LA on the final deadline date on Monday.

editing final cut pro notes 19 the good soldier

The Good Soldier – Notes 19 – Still Editing

This is what editing in Final Cut Pro looks like.

Today I made amazing progress. I edited footage from the end of scene 12 up through scene 28, that’s out of a total of 33 scenes. Some scenes are longer than others – technically speaking – some are more sequences than scenes. Number 33 is the longest and most involved because it contains so many different elements.

I have synced together a good portion of the dialog along with the footage, it makes it easier to select the best takes and get a feel for the story. The sound quality is going to need some additional work in terms of mixing and layering in sound f/x and music. But I am getting closer with each step. It’s beginning to look like an actual film!

The first deadline and my original goal (to submit to Sundance for 2010) is quickly approaching – it’s Sept 19. I think I can have the film cut by then but the score is another story. There’s some issues with reserving recording space that may or may not work out. I’m at the point now where I can see that this project IS going to get done. Now it’s just a matter of, will it be done this month or next month?

The next big festival that I am planning on entering is Slamdance. It runs the same time as Sundance (and also in Park City, UT) but their regular deadline is Sept 30 and then their late entry deadline is Oct 30. So I’m confident that I can hit the Oct one at the latest and maybe even the Sept one. Another thing: in my research of the two festivals I think Slamdance may be the better festival for this film and for me. It is geared for new filmmakers, they accept more shorts, and generally speaking, it seems like a way more laid-back festival and perhaps a better first-time festival experience. I probably have a better shot at getting it accepted at Slamdance too.

So does that mean I’m giving up on Sundance? Well, not really. We’ll just see how it goes – if it gets done in time, it gets done in time, if not, so be it.