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What does a composer need to know about business basics when dealing with a production/publishing co?

What does a composer need to know about contracts/copyrights/royalties when being asked to send original music to a production/publishing company that functions as a music library for film/TV contacts? This company requested me to work with them by sending in my original music on mp3s.  They take a 10-25% cut if I send mp3s of my music that don't require much production repair/fix, but a bigger cut if more work is to be done.  No explanation of those details, though.  They offer 50/50 split if co-writing--by adding tracks to my submitted mp3, for example (which I thought was called producing/arranging?).

How do I learn these business aspects in order to protect my music and myself?  I've never had my music placed, but aspire to compose for film/TV.  Is getting this connection a good step toward that or does it limit my creative rights?  Where do I go to find resources about these kinds of questions?  (I'm a ASCAP member, so I can start there...)

If there are already forums here addressing this, please direct me there!

Thanks for any advice!

Jenny Leigh Hodgins

Musician/Composer

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That all sounds a bit vague to me and I can't say I've ever come across such an arrangement.

I have many hundreds of tracks with various production music companies. I've never been asked to send mp3s except as a demo. It's always wavs or aiffs (mac). I've always done a 50/50 publishing split and that is for tracks which are assigned to the publisher exclusively and forever. When I started there was no internet and only a handful of well established libraries. Things are different now and I imagine there are all sorts of deals being done and a sliding scale of percentage splits is a model that I've not come across but I suppose in principal it could be workable. However...

The way it has always worked for me is that the composer /producer does their job- composing and producing the music and supplying the library. The library does their job of  mastering the tracks and getting them used. The better connected the library/publisher is the more usage the tracks get. Some produce CDs and others now do only online stuff but the major ones do a mixture of both. 50/50 is fair as long as the publisher is getting good usage and 'working' the catalogue.

There are licensing deals which I've occasionally had where the company has the track for a limited period and non-exclusively. I'm sure there are other arrangements that other people here can advise you on.

The co-writing thing is a bit perplexing and I suppose it depends on what kind of music they are dealing with but how they can just add something to a stereo mix is frankly a bizarre concept.

You should ask for a sample contract to look over and I and I'm sure others here could have a look at it with the caveat that you'd be getting informal feedback and not legal advice :)

The music biz is and always has been run on trust. If the company is legit you've probably got no worries and you can test them out with a few tracks. Bear in mind though that it can take up to 2 years before and money reaches you.

Good luck.

Michael, THANK YOU so much for your prompt and thorough reply!  Yes, I also find it odd that I'd send a mp3.  I've never done this, but it's my dream job to compose for film/TV (SO jealous of you!) so am eager to find out if this is legit.  I'll ask for the sample contract and get back on here for informal feedback.

Your reply educated me.  I didn't realize that wav/aiff files are the norm for submissions.  So 50/50 split means whatever royalties or fees are paid, we split equally, right?  And once I submit that particular music piece to a publisher, and sign a contract, exclusive and forever means I cannot use the music elsewhere, correct?

I do understand that typically the composer does the job and sends to the library, but in my case I don't yet have the gear for making best quality recordings.  So in this case, would that mean I'd send the wav/aiff to this producer so HE can tweak it up to par?  Which seems odd to me--seems like I'd just hafta go to his studio and have him record my music performance there...

His website DOES show placements on some well-known stuff (bravo, own, kardashians, real housewives, chevrolet..).  but the samples of music I heard in the 'catalogue' seem pretty generic to me (not so very original, in my humble opinion).  He has a long profile of playing with big names in music industry.  

I guess I'll do some research on ASCAP, too.

Thanks again!

As regards royalties, library tracks earn in two main ways.1) Mechanical royalties which are to do with fees paid to the publisher (library) by the music user for the right to synchronise the music to film, TV or non broadcast corporate type videos etc. The company will receive the money and distribute the compeer's share (50%) with a statement usually twice a year. 2) Performance/broadcast royalties which ASCAP or whatever PRO the composer and publisher belong to, distribute directly to the composer and publisher individually according to what splits were registered with them.

If you have an exclusive contract for any tracks then the publisher owns the rights and you cannot use the music elsewhere without their permission and they will always receive their share.

I still don't get the co-writing angle so you'd better seek clarity from them.

As for the 'generic' nature of library music-well, that is it's raison d'être. It is cheaper and quicker for the end user to buy some 'off the shelf' music than to commission a composer to write something specific. If someone needs a bit of gentle piano tinkling in the background of a gardening feature lasting 25 secs on some magazine style program ...well you get the picture. In my experience people are not looking for music that is particularly original but more music that is full of character and sets a mood without intruding on whatever pictures/voiceovers etc it is there to serve. And serve is the operative word. 

Very little library music or indeed film music actually stands up to listening as 'composition' (IMO) but it can be a good earner, creative and fun to do. 

I think Jenny is dealing with a production music library for which the contracts have always been fairly standard.

Once upon a time, before the age of computers, the libraries would meet the cost of studio hire, session musicians and the manufacturing of vinyl records as well as all the marketing, wining and dining of TV execs and other promotional activity. Basically they would be investing a large sum of money in every project.

When the 'home' studio became a place where broadcast ready mixes could be produced it seemed fair that the composer would receive up-front production costs per track or album as the library no longer had to foot a large production bill themselves. So both sides benefited.

Sadly, these days it is rare for a library to offer production costs unless it is for a project that requires live musicians and/or a large studio. If the music is produced solely 'in the box' I wouldn't expect an up front fee. I stress, this applies to LIBRARY music not specially commissioned music for a particular programme, for which the fee is negotiable.

Also in the good old days a commissioning body such as the BBC would pay the composer a fee for a track and the composer would own 100% of the copyright. I have written tracks for BBC and Sky and others and one day some bright spark in these institutions realised that if they had their own publishing department they could in fact take 40% of the composer's money by insisting that any commissioned music is published by them. Nice!! Still, their reasoning is that that are giving the music all the exposure and promoting the music by having it on their shows so why shouldn't they have a piece of the action.

The bottom line is, unless we are a big 'name' in the business and wanted for our unique and world renowned 'sound', we have to take what we can get. As in most creative professions  there is no shortage of young, up and coming talent willing to work for nothing in order to get a foothold. If we price ourselves out of the market they'll just get the music from someone else. There is no shortage of music out there, that's for sure!

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