Negotiating Deals
for Hit Songs in Movies

by Jeffrey & Todd Brabec

part one  |  part two  |  part three

Screen Credit

Virtually all motion picture producers will give screen credit for the use of preexisting songs in motion pictures. This credit is almost always included during the crawl at the end of the film. In many cases, the publisher is not mentioned; the film producer usually affords credit only to the title of the song, the writers, and, if a preexisting master recording is used, the name of the record company and the recordingartist. Additionally, if a new version is made by a recording artist for release on a soundtrack album, the credits will include such information.

If the song in the film contains a sample, the writers of the sampled song will also be mentioned. In a field where credit provisions are important, it is vital to provide for a correct line credit in the license itself so that the proper information on the screen is assured.

Music Cue Sheets and Their Importance

After a motion picture has been produced and a final version has been edited, the producer will prepare a music cue sheet that lists all the music used in the film, including how each song was used, its timing in seconds, the identity of the writers and music publishers and their performing rights affiliation, and if preexisting master recordings have been used, the identity of recording artists and record companies. Considering the amount of music used in most films, this cue sheet is usually completed within 30 days after theatrical release, but depending on the producer and available staff, it can be longer. Some music cue sheets contain specific scene explanations and dialogue details, but most contain only chronological information on the titles, writers, publishers, performance right affiliation (ASCAP, BMI, etc.), master recording information (Warner Bros., Arista, Virgin, Universal, Interscope, etc.), timing (20 seconds, 2 minutes, etc.) and generic usage (visual vocal, background music, etc.). At the fringe of the industry are low-budget companies that do not even bother to type a cue sheet and others that do not even know what a music cue sheet is and it is imperative to make sure that a cue sheet is prepared.

In many cases, the music cue sheet acts as a summary of what the motion picture is about in chronological order. As to some films, the cue sheet is a capsulation of the plot. A primary example is Titanic; the motion picture which grossed more money than any other film in the history of the industry. The following is a partial summary of extracts from the music cue sheet for Titanic which show how the specific per scene background music designations illustrate what is happening in the film.

On occasion, producers of documentaries, lower-budget films, or films that have substantially exceeded their production budgets at the time music is being selected will ask a publisher to reduce its up-front synch fee for a song and, in return, guarantee an additional payment at some time in the future if the motion picture turns a profit or exceeds a certain agreed-upon gross or net dollar plateau.

Excerpted from the book "Music, Money and Success" by Schirmer Book. Reprinted by permission from the authors.

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