Television Composers


by Donald Passman

Television composers live in a different world from the film composers. The time to compose and deliver is shorter because, as I'm sure you know, television programs are knocked out like pancakes right before they go on the air. Also, the budgets to produce TV shows are substantially lower than those for motion pictures, and so the music budgets (being a piece of this smaller pie) get squashed down along with everything else. Thus, the composer's fees and the money available for recording costs are much less than for theatrical films.

The good news is that, even though the fees are low, the performance monies generated by television programs can be substantial—much more than for films—because programs may be shown over and over, forever. And remember, you get performance monies each time your music is played on television.

Background Score

Because of the short time frame and lower budgets, television music is tailor-made for electronic score packages (the folks who get an all-in amount that includes both their fee and the recording costs). And, in fact, most television deals are packages. Typical package fees (which include recording costs) are around $5,000 to $7,500 for a half-hour television episode, $10,000 to $17,500 for a one-hour program, and $20,000 to $45,000 for a two-hour movie of the week.

If the deal is done on a fee basis (meaning that the television production company pays the recording costs and the composer gets a separate fee), look for about $1,500 to $4,500 for half-hours, $3,500 to $5,750 for one-hours and $17,000 to $35,000 for two-hour movies. Often, but not always, orchestration fees are on top of these fees, and if so, the orchestration costs are capped, generally between $2,000 and $5,000. Orchestrations are always Included in package fees.

If you want to give somebody a good chuckle, just ask the TV people if you can have a piece of the publishing. In the television industry, the producer's commandment to hold on to publishing is not just carved in stone--it's tattooed across their foreheads!

The other deal points to raise are the payment schedule (usually 50% on commencement of services and 50% on completion), songwriter and record royalties, which are the same as motion picture composers', and credit (you want main title, separate card, which you can probably get for two-hour movies, but you'll probably have to settle for end-title crawl on half-hours and one-hours.

TV Themes

Composers sometimes just write the main title theme for a television show. Fees for this can be around $30,000 for very well-known writers and about $10,000 to $20, 000 for lesser-known writers. If the song has lyrics, the fees are split with the lyricist. And don't forget the huge performance monies that may come rolling in.

Sometimes, TV themes are done as a package, meaning that the amount includes both the fee and the recording costs. In this case, a typical price is in the range of $15,000 to $30,000, sometimes up to $100,000-plus for a superstar.

If you're a big name or a firmly established composer, themes are the one place you can sometimes get a piece of the publishing. If you do, it is 25% to 50%, maximum, and all the considerations that apply to splitting publishing on songs apply.

Donald Passman is a Los Angeles-based music attorney with the firm of Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown. Specializing in music business law for over 20 years, his clients include major publishers, record companies, film companies, managers, producers, songwriters, and artists such as REM, Janet Jackson, Quincy Jones, Tina Turner and Green Day. On a regular basis, we will be excerpting from Mr. Passman's best-selling book, "All You Need To Know About The Music Business."




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