When a producer wants to use an existing musical composition in a network television program or weekly series, permission must, with few exceptions, be secured from the music publisher who owns the song. The producer or music supervisor of the show will decide what song they want to use in the program and the scene in which it will appear, how the song will be used (e.g., background vocal or instrumental, sung by a character on camera, over the opening or ending credits), and the media needed (e.g., free television, pay television, subscription television, pay-per-view, or basic cable).
The producer or its "music clearance" representative will then contact the publisher of the composition, describe the context of the program and particular scene in which the song will be used; ask for a specified period of time to use the song in the program (usually from 5 years to life of copyright), negotiate a fee, and then sign what is known in the television business as a "synchronization license."
In most cases, the "synch license" is signed after the first broadcast of the program, but the negotiations and securing of permission to use a song virtually always occur prior to putting the song in the program or, at the latest, prior to the initial broadcast date.
Many television programs secure price quotations from music publishers for the use of songs either during the scriptwriting stages of a project or immediately after a final script for an episode has been approved. Some weekly series, however, clear music while scenes are being shot or, because of impromptu ad-libs during taping, last-minute additions, or editing delays, a few days prior to actual broadcast and sometimes even after the airing.
Fees depend on a number of factors, including the music budget for the program, whether the song is a well-known standard or current hit as opposed to a new song in need of exposure, the song's importance to the series episode and the particular scene in which it is performed, the number of times it is used in the program and the manner of the use (e.g., background music from a jukebox or sung by a character on camera), and the song's remaining copyright life.
In addition to the length of the term of the license, the actual timing of the song's use is also important in negotiating a fee. For example, if the duration of the song used in the program is less than a full or substantial usage (30 seconds or less), then the fees charged by many publishers may be reduced. But if the song is a recognizable hit or standard and the use is important to the context of a particular scene (such as a main character singing the song on camera or a background mood use that is essential to the plot of the episode or series), there usually is no reduction in the synchronization fee even if only 15 to 30 seconds are actually used.
Under a free television synchronization license, the music publisher gives a series producer the right to include a musical composition in a particular television program and to sell that program to any station in the world without any further payment. For example, the series can be sold to a television network for early-morning, primetime or late-night airing and unlimited repeats, to syndication, or on a station-by-station basis during the term of the license, with the only conditions being that the television stations showing the series do not charge their viewers a fee to watch the program and that they have a valid performance license, which permits them to broadcast the music contained in the episode or series.
As to network series, many producers will ask for an "all television" synchronization license, usually for the life of copyright of the composition being used. Since this type of license is all-encompassing, fees for the use of known songs in major series usually range from $6,000 to over $10,000 for synchronization rights; fees which do not cover any home video option rights.