What Do I Need to Know to Get Paid? (Including Contracts):
Q: What’s a fair or standard deal?
A: The standard composer deal is that you agree to sell the copyright to your music to the studio or production company in exchange for the ability to collect 100% of the writer’s share of performance royalties (backend royalties), which you can collect through ASCAP, BMI, SESAC or GMR. These organizations can point you in the right direction.
Q: What if I am only offered a complete buyout?
A: Most of the time, if you let the studio or production company know that you understand what the standard deal is, and that you insist on these terms, they will give it to you. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it – be your strongest advocate.
Q: What if they offer me a lot more money (double or triple) in the composer package fee to accept the complete buyout?
A: It happens a lot. You could get a little more money upfront, but you give up the chance to make hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars if your work and the show, film, or project are successful. It is 100% your choice. But it’s important to remember that if you take the buyout now, it may be expected for the next project now that you’ve set precedent.
Q: What if they say no? Where can I go for help?
A: Sometimes the producer or the showrunner of a film, show or other project can help you if you ask for it. Let them know that you’re not being offered a standard deal. Very often, they are willing to speak up to help. They want the best music for their project.
Q: What is a PRO and what does it do?
A: “PRO” stands for “Performing Rights Organization,” and a PRO is an entity that helps songwriters and composers track and collect the performance royalties to which they are due. They are also an excellent resource for information when you have questions about your royalties. The three most well-known PROs in the United States are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.
Q: How do I register my works with my PRO?
A: It’s actually the responsibility of your publisher to register your works. But, if you want to check that this has been done properly, you can go to the website of your PROs to register works, or if you have questions, contact their member services.
Q: What is a cue sheet?
A: A cue sheet is a document that proves that your works were played on a network, streaming service, or on the radio. A work must be registered and be noted on a cue sheet that is sent to your PRO in order for you to be paid your performance royalties.
The Hazards of a Buyout
Q: What is a Buyout?
A: A Buyout it an agreement in which a composer agrees to forgo their rights to royalty payments, typically in favor of a larger lump sum payment up front.
Q: Why do buyouts determine whether I get a gig or have a career?
A: In short, you lose every source of income and continuing royalties, upon which composers and songwriters have relied for over 100 years. These backend royalties range from thousands of dollars to millions of dollars for a single composition or score. That’s what you are potentially giving up.
As music budgets have gone down in a tough economy, more and more music creators rely on the backend royalties to stay in business.
Q: What are performance royalties?
A: For nearly 100 years, composer and songwriter contracts have always included an initial composing or package fee and work-for-hire language that states that someone else owns your work in exchange for– most importantly– a guarantee of continuing “backend royalties” for the use of the music you’ve written. These are called public performance royalties. It’s this guarantee that represents the primary way composers are able to earn a living.
Q: How much are performance royalties worth?
A: “The largest source of continuing royalty income for most score composers are the performance payments received from ASCAP. BMI, SESAC and GMR.”
“3 seasons of a successful drama can earn from the composer of the score in excess of $500,000. in network, cable, streaming service and foreign country earnings.”
“Motion picture composers can and have earned in excess of $500,000 in television and foreign country theatrical royalties for a single successful film over its full term of copyright.”
“The top foreign countries for composer royalties are the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Japan, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands, among others. 70% of all foreign royalties come from the EU.”
Total writer and publisher income from all sources for a successful movie or television song: $2,185,200.” o Above quotes are excerpts from Todd and Jeff Brabec’s “Music, Money and Success: the Insider’s Guide to Making Money in the Music Business.” See the below link to read more and see some more examples of potential revenue for your work: https://yourmusicyourfuture.com/composer-compensation/
The Society of Composers and Lyricists is an excellent organization to check out for support on creative and business aspects of our industry. The SCL is committed to advancing the interests of composers and lyricists working in visual media, including film, television, theater, video games and beyond. They offer some incredible services such as a mentorship program and educational seminars on a wide range of topics for media composers.
If you need 1:1 assistance, your PRO can also be a fantastic resource for you to get more information on the process by which you collect royalties, register your works, or how to work with copyrights and the various types of licensing.
We also highly recommend that you get involved with our Facebook group, where you can connect with other composers about all of these topics discussed here, share and receive advice, and learn about YMYF’s upcoming news and events.
For those songwriters and composers based in New York, the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts can be an incredible resource for legal aid or counsel. Not only can you apply to be connected with an entertainment attorney for a pro-bono consultation, but you may also end up qualifying to work with a volunteer attorney for complex matters and mediation services. They also offer a multitude of online classes/talks and in-house workshops.
If you aren’t NY based, and not looking to spend money on an attorney, feel free to check out the Webinar we just did with Tal Dickstein and the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Tal was kind enough to give us a wealth of information on everything from copyrights to contracts to licenses to infringement.
Additional Resources for Songwriters:
If you’re a songwriter, one organization that you might want to know about that does fantastic work is the Songwriters of North America (SONA). SONA is a grassroots advocacy organization which was founded in January, 2015, by songwriting partners Michelle Lewis (YMYF Supporter) and Kay Hanley in response to the abysmal licensing rates being paid to songwriters by music streaming companies.
Also for songwriters, the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) can be an invaluable resource. The MLC strives to ensure songwriters, composers, lyricists, and music publishers receive their mechanical royalties from streaming and download services in the U.S. accurately and on time. They also have some great educational resources on licensing available to members.
Since then, Lewis and Hanley have assembled some of the most fiercely passionate and hardworking people from all corners of the songwriting world to educate, strategize and mobilize. They offer some fantastic educational resources on the staples of our industry, such as this webinar on Neighboring Rights.
Indie Artist Resource (songwriter)