HowStuffWorks: How Music Licensing Works

edited December 2012 in History of Rock
Found this HowStuffWorks article from back in May, thought that maybe some folks on the forums would be interested in reading. Very little of it relates directly to video games, but they touch on a lot of different kinds of licensing that illustrate just how crazy the whole process can get.

Here is the article.

A few choice excerpts:

* It turns out, however, that music licensing is something that happens constantly, all around us. When you listen to music on the radio, that music is licensed. When you hear music in a restaurant, that music is licensed too. In this article, you will have the chance to learn about all the different forms that music licensing can take.

* There are several things that can be copyrighted in any sound recording for a song.

There are the actual sounds themselves -- the performance of the work.
There are the notes that the musicians play to create the song -- they could be embodied in sheet music.
There are the lyrics for the song -- they can be written down on a sheet of paper.


* In the case of a "real song", like something you would hear on a top-40 radio play-list, there are several different parties involved with the song:

The label owns the actual sound recording -- the performance of the song as recorded in the label's studio.

The publisher works on behalf of the song's composer (the person who arranged the music) and songwriter (the person who wrote the lyrics). The composer and songwriter probably own the actual copyrights for the song, and the publisher represents them in all business dealings.

If you want to use a song for any reason, you have to somehow obtain rights at least from the publisher, and possibly from the label as well (if you are planning to use a specific performance).


* Low-end TV usage (e.g. -- music is playing from a jukebox in a scene, but no one in the scene is paying any attention to the music) -- free (for exposure) to $2,000 for a 5-year license. In a film, the fee would be $10,000 in perpetuity.

A more popular song is worth more, perhaps $3,000 for TV and $25,000 for film.

A song used as the theme song for a film might get $50,000 to $75,000.

Commercials fetch even more money: "a song can command anywhere from $25,000 to $500,000 plus per year. The typical range for a well-known song is $75,000 to $200,000 for a one year national usage in the United States, on television and radio."

Comments

  • SheSaidSheSaidSheSaidSheSaid Washed Up
    edited November 2012
    hmxhenry;4936672 said:
    In a film, the fee would be $10,000 in perpetuity.

    I will say there are a couple of songs by a certain RBN band I envision working into one of my movies should it ever actually be made. They'd be worth every penny of that hypothetical $10k I don't have :p
  • FujiSkunkFujiSkunk Headliner
    edited November 2012
    And this is why "WKRP in Cincinatti" will never be released unedited on DVD or Blu-ray.

    Edit: Forgive me, but I have to nitpick a few things. A "composer" is not necessarily someone who "arranges" a song, and a "songwriter" is not necessarily someone who writes the lyrics. A "composer" writes the music, which in its raw form may be a single melody or a rough sketch of chords. An "arranger" then maps out what instruments will play what notes to present the composer's music. A "songwriter" writes the music, or the lyrics, or both; it's a pretty generic term. Someone who only writes lyrics can also be called a "lyricist." Obviously for many songs, the composer, arranger and lyricist are all the same person, or group of people.

    My understanding is that copyright protection doesn't extend to an "arrangement" of a song, though I could be wrong. Protection is granted for the writing of a song and the specific recording of a song, but if someone wants to make an "as made famous by" cover, there is no "arrangement" license to clear before doing so.

    Also, "Happy Birthday" is a bit longer than six notes.
  • Santa ClaustrophobiaSanta Claustrophobia Road Warrior
    edited December 2012
    WKRP won't see an unedited release because the original licensing was cheap for videotaped programmes and now FOX owns it and they're even cheaper.

    So everybody *****ed about it and we won't even get the rest of the series at all.

    And no, a band doesn't have to 'license' a song they didn't write. All fees are generally taken care of for live performances by the clubs/theatres/etc. And if they wish to record it, the only factor is that the royalties have to be divvied up properly. But a band playing somebody else's song is a completely different situation than a TV show, movie, or video game using the song in a commercial property.
  • GandWuserGandWuser Road Warrior
    edited December 2012
    Does it cost more to license a song if you need the actual master tracks?
  • Santa ClaustrophobiaSanta Claustrophobia Road Warrior
    edited December 2012
    As opposed to using a cover version? Yes. You have to license both, but covers cost less.
  • GandWuserGandWuser Road Warrior
    edited December 2012
    Santa Claustrophobia;4937447 said:
    As opposed to using a cover version? Yes. You have to license both, but covers cost less.
    No, as opposed to simply playing the finished song (like what you hear on the radio).
  • Santa ClaustrophobiaSanta Claustrophobia Road Warrior
    edited December 2012
    So when you say 'master track', you simply mean 'final studio cut'? Or are you talking about stems and such a la RB DLC?

    Because licensing deals will vary, but using the audio of an original recording is always going to be more expensive than using the audio of a cover of the same song.

    The costs depend on how it's used plus a myriad of other factors.
  • GandWuserGandWuser Road Warrior
    edited December 2012
    Santa Claustrophobia;4937455 said:
    So when you say 'master track', you simply mean 'final studio cut'? Or are you talking about stems and such a la RB DLC?

    Because licensing deals will vary, but using the audio of an original recording is always going to be more expensive than using the audio of a cover of the same song.

    The costs depend on how it's used plus a myriad of other factors.
    Stems. Does it cost more to have the stems licensed as opposed to the final cut of the song?
  • Santa ClaustrophobiaSanta Claustrophobia Road Warrior
    edited December 2012
    Yes. It costs the licensor money to separate them if they aren't already. Plus, for use in something like Rock Band or just some re-mixing project, the combined master of the final pressing is all but useless.

    Also, the rights holders tend not to want to just hand out the stems. Not without an assload of legal protection. And that costs money.
  • ThatAuthoringGroupThatAuthoringGroup Numero Uno Super **** Fanboy #1
    edited December 2012
    I believe this is just the longer version of licensing is hard.

    (which should have and expensive tacked on it :P )
  • Santa ClaustrophobiaSanta Claustrophobia Road Warrior
    edited December 2012
    Oddly, repeating that won't ever answer the question.
  • FujiSkunkFujiSkunk Headliner
    edited December 2012
    Santa Claustrophobia;4937156 said:
    WKRP won't see an unedited release because the original licensing was cheap for videotaped programmes and now FOX owns it and they're even cheaper.
    Studios like to penny-pinch, no argument there, but licensing for the show was hardly cheap. Cheaper than if they'd used film, yes, but still not cheap. And those original licenses were not perpetual, so any rerelease now would require a renegotiation. A lot of those songs have become more "legendary" since the show's original airings, and now the show itself commands attention as well. License holders will try to charge accordingly.
    So everybody *****ed about it and we won't even get the rest of the series at all.
    Some people decided a gimped show was worse than none at all. Given how much of the show revolved around the music they were playing, removing that music kills the show's purpose. It sucks every which way you look at it, but the people that b****ed hardly did so without merit.
    And no, a band doesn't have to 'license' a song they didn't write. All fees are generally taken care of for live performances by the clubs/theatres/etc. And if they wish to record it, the only factor is that the royalties have to be divvied up properly. But a band playing somebody else's song is a completely different situation than a TV show, movie, or video game using the song in a commercial property.
    It's not a completely different situation. It's a different scenario that requires a different license, but the article's point was, any public performance of a song requires permission. It's simply the "little" details like what that permission costs, and who pays who to get it, that depend on what kind of public performance you're talking about.
  • Santa ClaustrophobiaSanta Claustrophobia Road Warrior
    edited December 2012
    FujiSkunk;4937572 said:
    Some people decided a gimped show was worse than none at all. Given how much of the show revolved around the music they were playing, removing that music kills the show's purpose. It sucks every which way you look at it, but the people that b****ed hardly did so without merit.

    I don't like it either, but if you think the show was about the music, rather than merely involving it, you didn't watch the show. Very few episodes strictly revolved around the music being played.

    And I didn't like the edits, either. But the same complaints about WKRP can be made about Quantum Leap. Merit or no, I'd have been extremely pissed if QL didn't get a full release. Simply put, there is no alternative to viewing WKRP. I mean sure, I have eighteen video tapes of the series when it was syndicated (back when they did the new show). And sure I couldn't complete the run because the local station played them pretty much whenever they wanted and then moved the show from its timeslot to somewhere else that I couldn't seem to find.

    And they're all VHS tapes that I can play on the VCR that I no longer own.

    So, yeah. Screw merit.


    It's also a different situation because, strictly speaking, no band has to ask for permission to play the song. But TV shows and such do to play the original recording.

    The TBS show Wedding Band probably has to jump through licensing hoops, but they're mostly using covers. That makes it easier and cheaper. But it's a TV show and not a real band. So they do have to negotiate permission to play the song on the broadcast.

    For all intents and purposes, Local Garage Band doesn't have to talk to anybody. And that's what makes it different.
  • FujiSkunkFujiSkunk Headliner
    edited December 2012
    I don't like it either, but if you think the show was about the music, rather than merely involving it, you didn't watch the show. Very few episodes strictly revolved around the music being played.
    Still, you have to admit the music was a bigger part than it was in, say, "Married... with Children." In the later DVD's of MwC, they decided to cheap out and replace Frank Sinatra's "Love and Marriage" with generic music over the titles. Annoying, but not essential to the show, so there were far fewer complains. But "WKRP" fans, for the most part, want the tunes. It was a show about a modern music radio station, after all...
    It's also a different situation because, strictly speaking, no band has to ask for permission to play the song. But TV shows and such do to play the original recording
    We're nitpicking semantics, admittedly, but the bottom line remains: You want to perform someone else's copyrighted work, you have to have permission to do so. Now, in some countries, in some cases, permission does not have to be explicitly asked for, because it has been granted ahead of time through a compulsory license. As noted, compulsory licenses granted by U.S. copyright law allow, among other things, one band to record and release another band's song. However, not every country grants compulsory licenses the same way the U.S. does.
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