How can filmmakers get through the arduous process of clearing and gaining licensing rights to use copyrighted material in a project? Earlier this week, a DOC NYC Masterclass on Music Rights tackled the topic with experts in the music rights and licensing field, including Doug Bernheim, a music supervisor; Chris Hajian, a composer; Aileen Atkins, former SVP and GC of Napster and CinemaNow; Jonathan Finegold, owner of Fine Gold Music, a licensing and publishing company; and moderated by Andrea Connistraci, a transactional attorney.
Here are some highlights from the Masterclass:
Don’t get music rights right away, but don’t wait until the end.
Err on the side of generous with your music budget.
You have to pay master rights and publisher rights, a.k.a. sync rights, for every song. That means that every single writer on any given song needs to approve its use in your film, which can be costly, both time- and money-wise. Also, ask for the same fee across the boards when negotiating with third parties, i.e. if David Bowie lets you use “Modern Love” for X amount of dollars, ask everyone else who isn’t David Bowie if they could use his price as a standard in this instance. Who thinks they deserve to charge more than David Bowie?
A score is often better than a soundtrack.
Hiring a composer to pen original music for your film is both financially savvier and creatively more rewarding, as the music is unique to your film, and viewers will have no pre-conceived emotional attachment to any of the music.
Most importantly, hire an expert.
Music licensing is tricky, and you really should hire an expert if you have any questions. This was emphasized strongly by all members of the panel, all of whom have seen films get into trouble when music rights muck up the works unexpectedly, something that could have easily been remedied by an expert.