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The Motion Picture Industry

From start to finish, there is so much work going on behind the scenes for music and film to work together.

Sometimes the process is simple and easy. Most of the time it’s an uphill battle. This article is designed to help artists and their teams understand the process a little bit better. To have an edge over their competitors, understanding licensing rates and information that can be used to help land an artist’s music in film. Along with negotiating proper rates and not being taken advantage of.

How does music fit in during the movie production process?

  • Music is left until the last possible moment

  • The amount of money spent on music pales in comparison to the other production costs

  • It must meet a critical release date, so recording and editing need to be completed in time for distribution

  • The composer has 8–10 weeks to score and record the music. Sometimes even less

The three types of music primary to most films

  • Original Underscore

  • Original Song

  • Licensed Pre-existing Song

What are the deals involved in Motion Picture Music?

  • The Performer (singer/instrumental)

  • The Songwriter

  • The Record Producer

  • The Publisher to whom the songwriter is signed

  • The Publisher who owns a song that’s being sampled

  • The Owner of a Master Recording that’s sampled in the song

  • The Record Company to whom the performer is signed

  • The Record Company putting out the soundtrack album

Liz Tip: Remember to know your worth! Don’t be afraid to ask for more, but don’t pass up a great opportunity at the same time. Also, NDAs are common in this industry.

What are the rights involved in Film Music?

  • Acquisition of/obtaining rights for the picture

➢ Performing artists

➢ Songwriters, composers, and publishers

➢ Record producers

➢ Record companies (both for use of existing masters or samples in the film, and for clearing rights to put new recordings of their artists in the film)

  • The license of rights from the picture company to others

➢ A deal with a record company to release a soundtrack album

➢ Licensing film clips for music videos

➢ Possibly a publishing administration deal

➢ Commercials — TV and/or radio

What are the two types of Film Music Performer Deals?

  • One to perform in the picture

  • The other to use the performance on a soundtrack album or single

How are artists usually paid to perform in a film?

A flat fee

What are some standard fees for this?

  • Up to $400,000+ for a major artist

Norm is:

➢ $200,000 — $400,000 for a superstar

➢ $15,000 — $25,000 for mid level artist

➢ $5,000 — $10,000 for a minor artist

➢ $10,000 — $20,000 for featured instrumentalists

➢ $100,000 for big names

What kinds of royalties are paid to composers, producers and conductors on soundtracks?

  • Composers don’t automatically get record royalties. It needs to be negotiated. Underscore royalties are only paid for conducting the orchestra and/or producing the recording.

  • Producing: 3–4% | Conducting: 6–10%

What is the one thing that the record company normally recoups in a soundtrack deal?

  • Conversion costs (Costs of converting a song used in a film to a full track)

What is a composer package deal and what is the normal pricing?

  • A composer package deal means the composer is asked to deliver a package deal, which is the music including recording costs.


  • $50K for budget to $2 million for major films

  • Purely electronic: $100K — $400K

  • Hybrid of electronic and real instruments: $50K — $250K (Orchestra and Studio are both paid)

  • Low budget: $5K to $10K (Composers will want the publishing and soundtrack)

What are the normal exclusions from composer deals?

  • Licensing of outside music (music not written by the composer)

  • Recording costs of outside music

  • Re-use fees (the union fees charged when you take a recording made for one medium — i.e. a motion picture, to use it in another — i.e. records and vice versa)

  • Re-scoring (re-recording)

  • Lyricist expense

  • Vocalist expense

  • Music editor fees

  • Mag stock (soundtrack imprinted on the film) and transfer costs

  • Pre-records

  • Sidelining

  • Excess Musicians

  • Library Music (composer’s written music not intended for the film, but chosen for the film)

What will a composer usually ask for on low budget films?

  • They will usually be paid somewhere between $5,000 — $10,000, and they will want the publishing and soundtrack.

What are the normal fees for TV composers?

  • Background Score: $2,000 — $7,000 for 30 minutes. $12,000 — $22,000 for 1 hour. $35,000 — $90,000 for 2 hours.

  • TV Themes: $10,000 — $25,000 and up to $40,000+

What are All-in Deals for Film Music

For a set fee, the artist will record and deliver a completed track. In other words, the artist takes on the recording costs themselves and keeps the difference as payment for the track

Important aspects of a soundtrack record album to ask about

  • What is the royalty to the artist?

  • Who is the royalty paid to?

  • For the distributor, what can be recouped against your royalty?

  • What can your record company recoup?

  • What rights does the film company have?

  • Roles in the release of music videos

What are the royalty amounts for soundtrack albums?

  • 12–14% all in, prorated

  • 16–18% for major artists

What is recoupable in soundtrack albums?

Usually, only the conversion costs if it’s purely an underscore soundtrack album (this is recoupment against the composer)

Performer deals: negotiate whether or not the film company can recoup:

  • Recording costs

  • Artist’s performance fee

  • Conversion costs

  • Re-use fees

Rights to ask for when artists have music in film recordings

  • Can use it on the Artist’s Own Record

  • Restriction on Re-Recording (usually 5 years)

  • Right to release singles

  • Music videos (limited footage allowed on the music video)

Licensing of the master for motion pictures

  • We are talking about song licensing and not the score or underscore

  • The deal for these licenses is between the record and film company

  • Artists may or may not have approval rights from the record company, they can block the deal if they own the publishing on the song

  • The right to use the master is only the right to use the physical recording, not the publishing rights.

Liz Tip: Often in films, even if an artist wrote a song, wrote and sang the song, the film company will ask for 25-50% of the publishing of the song. Since they are agreeing to you put your song in their film. If you don’t agree, then they will have no problem using someone else’s song. There is a whole world of artists waiting to be in your place. 50% of something is better than nothing. There are exceptions, mainly if you are a big artist (Randy Newman) who has the power to negotiate. Typically they do not take writer’s share, that stays with the artist. But, it does happen sometimes, where they may ask for 25%. (Guard writers share with your life!)

What determines the fee the record company will charge?

The popularity of the artist

How the music will be used in the film

What are the royalty ranges for this?

11–14% prorated with a Most Favored Nations (MFN) Clause — (No one gets a higher royalty)

How is the money split between the record company and the artist?


Who pays a majority of the costs to release soundtrack albums?

The film company

What are the two types of soundtrack albums?

Score Albums — an album wholly of underscore music (no songs)

Song Albums — songs by major artists comprised of pre-existing songs and songs written for the film

What are the advances and royalty rates for both score albums and song albums?

Score Albums

➢ Advance: usually just the re-use fee as these albums don’t sell that well

➢ Royalties: 17–18%

Song Albums

➢ Advance: $100,000 — $300,000, with some up to $500,000

➢ Royalties: 18–20% with escalations up to 22% based on sales of over 1 million copies

About Liz Kamlet

Liz Kamlet is a top music industry professional. Her clients have sold over 100+ million records, 2+ billion streams, 50+ million social media followers, and won/been nominated for multiple Oscar and Grammy awards.


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