7 Mar

Shark Week Anecdote

I’m Joel Beckerman and I’m one of the founders of Your Music Your Future. The primary mission of YMYF is to educate music creators about their options when it comes to compensation and the ramifications of those choices. To that end, let me share some of the formative experiences of my composing career.

So let’s talk about composer royalties, putting trust in the universe, and in Discovery’s Shark Week.

With every project, composers have the option to negotiate for a deal that pays ongoing royalties, or a one-time upfront “buyout” fee. In the competitive TV and film industries, composers are often pushed to take buyout deals. Everyone needs to choose for themselves. But my experience is that forgoing the rights to royalty payments can mean the loss of thousands or even millions of dollars in the long run.

Because here’s the thing: you never know what project is going to be a surprise hit. And being the composer for a breakout TV series or small-budget movie that goes big can help support you and your family for life.

Personally, I’ve worked on 50 television specials and shows in my career, yet most of the money I’ve made comes from performance royalties for maybe seven or eight projects. I could never tell which ones would hit. A few were total surprises to me.

One year, I did some work for a few shows for Shark Week on DiscoveryChannel, writing music for low budget series with low expectations. My deal specified that I would be paid royalties for every “performance” of these series, even though I had no idea if the shows would run more than once or twice. Turns out, a couple of the series I wrote for are still playing internationally. The royalties deals I struck with Discovery years ago are still helping to support me today.

Look—when you’re just starting out, it can be scary to ask for more than the deal you’re offered. I know, I’ve been there. But as the great composer Carter Burwell said in his YMYF webinar, “When you get the contract, that’s the beginning of the negotiation, not the end.” Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Seek out the composer in your network, or the attorney who’s a family friend. And of course, the YMYF community is always here for you.

My main message today is this: composers that create lots of music for lots of different projects, commit primarily to deals with backend royalties, and put their trust in the universe will be rewarded.

So get out there and write! The Your Music, Your Future community has your back.

– Joel Beckerman

Thanks for being part of our community! – The Your Music, Your Future Team