How to Get Music for Your Film with Jim McKay
by Amanda N. Nanawa
You’re on set. You’re shooting a golden shot and a song begins humming in
your head. You’re thinking, “Yeah. That song will fit perfectly in this
scene.” Suddenly you’re in post-production, you’re on the phone talking to
the music publisher and suddenly reality strikes. You can’t get the track
because it costs ten times more than your dolly rental.
A music supervisor is generally overlooked by first-time filmmakers. Their
services are usually rendered during post-production; when the film is
ready to go to the festival circuit or while the film is in production
(although the latter is very rare). What is a music supervisor to a
director or a director to a music supervisor?
Jim McKay, director of “Girls Town“, talks about his experience on
developing the soundtrack.
indieWIRE: Were the artists presently on the soundtrack what you had in mind?
Jim McKay: Very, very close to a rough cut. Part of our deal was I had
complete, creative control of what the tracks were. I certainly would never
make a deal with a label that said otherwise.
iW: Did you have a particular label you wanted to work with or you were
just open to any label who was willing to give a deal?
McKay: Definitely we wanted to get the best deal possible in terms of both
money and creative control. Mercury (Records) ended up making the best
offer up front. There were other labels I was interested in working with
but their offers weren’t as good or didn’t come in at all. It’s important,
I guess, to realize that the offer you get may not be carried through.
iW: How expensive was it to have the album released by Mercury Records?
McKay: We didn’t really make that much money off of the record, per se.
When we finished our film, we had no money from our film budget for music.
If we had no soundtrack deal at all, then I would have to get music for
free; which would’ve meant that I would’ve had maybe one artist do ten
tracks of music somehow or had it be more score or whatever. And then, when
we actually had money, then I could afford to go after songs and material
that would cost more.
There were two benefits to doing a soundtrack record. One, you don’t use
film production money to pay for licensing. You use the money you get from
an advance to pay for licensing. And a second thing is that you have
another piece of the film that can help people see the movie. If you have a
video for your film, you have a free advertisement playing on television.
That’s invaluable. You can’t match that kind of advertising with a small
film distribution company.
The record label ended up reneging on a lot of their marketing promises. We
didn’t have posters for the record. They didn’t put out a single after all.
They didn’t put out a video after all.
It’s a huge, huge headache. Doing the record, putting together the record,
and dealing with the record label was by far the worst, most frustrating
iW: And what is your experience with a music supervisor?
McKay: A music supervisor can be incredibly creatively involved or can
simply make calls for you with licenses. Some music supervisors spend more
time on actually doing the licensing stuff as opposed to your lawyer doing
it. Important things to look for in a supervisor are people who get your
work in creatively, are in sync with you, and also people who have good
contacts because that’s a major thing. They should be involved in getting
your record deal as well.
iW: If you use a scratch soundtrack during festival screening, should the
filmmaker pay the royalties before or after the film has been picked up by
McKay: You’re theoretically responsible to pay licensing fees for
soundtrack songs. Usually, they’re at a much lower cost. You get it just
for festival screenings. It’s not unheard of that filmmakers show films at
festivals without having cleared the music. A lot depends on whom you’re
iW: What do you mean by getting music for free?
McKay: A lot of artists don’t own their publishing or licenses. There’s all
different aspects — masters, master use and also sync use. Some of them
can be waved completely, some the artist doesn’t control. The absolute,
number one most important thing to me is, “are you making creative choices
that effect your film because of the soundtrack?” And that to me is the
number one place to draw the line.
The filmmaker should go in with a lot of ideas of their own and make it
clear to the record label who is in control. I could very easily say
“there’s 12 tracks in the film right now. These eight tracks; I want these
exact tracks that I have in the film. So that means we have four openings
for new songs. I’ll welcome your input into those openings but here’s what
I’ve been thinking about…” You want to make it clear in the end that you
are making these decisions.