One of the most important characters in any film or TV series is its score. This music sets the mood, tells us how to feel, and can make any otherwise silent picture very expressive.

One of the many ways that musicians can earn a living is by scoring films or TV series . . . or video games, or YouTube series . . .

As an entertainment lawyer who represents both musicians and film/TV producers, I often prepare composer agreements for producers, and review them for musicians.

Here are some concepts to keep in mind if you’re presented with an opportunity to score, and more importantly, some words of wisdom from three talented musicians with relevant experience.

Delivery

It’s important to be on the same page with the producer about what she wants you to provide. Oftentimes this is described in the context of how many minutes of score you will create. Also, for a series, how many episodes will there be? Are you to provide a theme song? Does it need words? Once you and the producer have agreed on the work’s scope, you can better ensure that the price is appropriate, and the delivery timelines are manageable.

Rights

It’s usually reasonable that you assign the score’s masters to the producer, and grant the producer an exclusive license to use the score’s compositions, in order that the producer can exploit the film or series, in all media (now known or later invented), throughout the world, forever, without anyone else using the same music for a different production.

What you should retain is the writer’s share of performance rights royalties. A question is whether, or to what extent, the producer will own the publisher’s share of performance rights royalties. If you’re paid less than you think you should be paid, one way to try to get more value is to retain both 100% of the writer’s share of performance rights royalties and 100% of the publisher’s share of performance rights royalties. Therefore, once the production is exhibited, ideally throughout the world, the money SOCAN receives with respect to the score is paid fully to you, as opposed to being divided between you and the producer. As noted below, this shouldn’t generally be used as a substitute for up-front payment if you can avoid it.

Payment Schedule

When are you being paid the up-front fees? Seek clarification if there isn’t clarity. If the final payment is due on delivery and acceptance by the producer, ensure that the producer’s use of the work is deemed acceptance, in order that there isn’t a situation whereby your work is being used, yet full payment has not been triggered.

Ensuring You Get Paid

While there may not be a completely foolproof way to ensure you’re paid in full, providing that the grant of rights is contingent upon payment is a useful tool.

Changes, Changes, Changes

How many times may the producer request changes? Seriously, how many times? Try to limit changes so you don’t need to spend more days, weeks, or months than you anticipated.

Credit

What credit do you want? Music by Byron Pascoe? Composed by Byron Pascoe? Perhaps anything so long as it’s your name instead of mine. Ensure the credit you want is included in the agreement.

Soundtrack

While soundtracks generally aren’t as big anymore, how are you compensated if there’s a soundtrack? If you’re not sure, ask the producer, and ensure the details are in the agreement.

Trailer

Check to see if the agreement allows the producer to use your score in the trailer. This should command additional fees. If the music is re-edited for the trailer, it’s commonly referred to as an out of context use.

Other People

If other people contribute to the score, from writers to performers, ensure you’re being assigned their rights too, in writing, as you’re providing the producer with the rights created by everyone who collectively created the music.

Here’s some advice from three talented musicians.

“Try to negotiate for future you, not the present one hungry to work. Have a lawyer read/explain what the contract all means, and don’t be afraid to read it all yourself because even the feeble mind of a music maker might find something worth addressing,”

– advises the Emmy-nominated composer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, engineer, and producer Matt Ouimet. Matt wrote feature music for the Nickelodeon series Pig Goat Banana Cricket and is the composer and songwriter for The Bagel and Becky Show (Radical Sheep, Teletoon, BBC WorldWide).

“With regards to a composer’s agreement for television, there is always room for negotiation for the work that is being proposed. The most important term in any agreement however is ensuring that the composer receives the writer’s share of the performance royalties. This is where the majority of the composer’s income is to be made and in many cases for years to come,”

– according to Jonathan Evans who has composed for many series including Now You Know, Pound Puppies, Henry’s World, Guess with Jess, Lunar Jim and My Dad the Rock Star.

 

“In a fair deal there is room for negotiation and it’s important to have confidence in the fact that if they are proposing an agreement to you, they want what you are delivering. Make sure there is at least enough money up front to compensate you for your time and out-of-pocket expenses, not just the promise of royalties down the road. Sometimes projects end prematurely,”

-says musician Jeremy Fisher, who wrote the Ring the Bell theme song for Disney Channel’s Fish Hooks.

Byron Pascoe is a lawyer with the Ottawa-based Edwards PC, Creative Law (www.edwardslaw.ca), which provides legal services to Music, Digital Media, Game, TV, Film, and Animation industry clients. He can be reached at byron.pascoe@edwardslaw.ca

Byron works with musicians and music companies to assist with record label agreements, publishing contracts, distribution deals, producer agreements, band agreements, etc.

This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Please contact a lawyer if you wish to apply these concepts to your specific circumstances.