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The Motion Picture Industry: Understanding the Role of Music in Film Production

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

The motion picture industry is a complex and multifaceted field that requires collaboration between various professionals to create a successful film. One of the most critical components of a film is the music. While music may seem like a small part of the overall production, it plays a crucial role in creating the mood, tone, and atmosphere of a film. In this article, we will explore how music fits into the movie production process, the deals and rights involved in motion picture music, and the fees associated with composers and performers.

How does music fit in during the movie production process?

Music is often left until the last possible moment when the film is locked, and 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. A composer typically has eight to ten weeks to score and record the music, sometimes even less. There are three types of music primary to most films: original underscore, original song, and licensed preexisting song.

What are the deals involved in Motion Picture Music?

Many deals are involved in motion picture music, including deals with the performer, songwriter, record producer, publisher, record company, and more. It's crucial for artists and their teams to understand licensing, rates, and information that can be used to help land an artist's music in a film. It's also essential to negotiate proper rates and not be taken advantage of. NDAs are common in this industry.

What are the rights involved in Film Music?

There are various rights involved in film music, including acquisition and obtaining rights for the picture from performing artists, songwriters, composers, publishers, record producers, record companies, and more. The picture company can also license rights to others, such as a deal with a record company to release a soundtrack album, licensing film clips for music videos, and possibly a publishing administration deal. Commercials, TV, and radio are also involved.

What are the two types of Film Music Performer Deals?

There are two types of film music performer deals: one to perform in the picture and the other to use the performance on a soundtrack album or single.

How are artists usually paid to perform in a film?

Artists are typically paid a flat fee to perform in a film. Fees can vary widely, with major artists receiving up to $400,000 or more, while mid-level artists can receive $15,000 to $25,000, and minor artists can receive $5,000 to $10,000. Featured instrumentalists can receive $10,000 to $20,000, while big names can receive $100,000.

What kinds of royalties are paid to composers, producers, and conductors on soundtracks? Composers don't automatically get record royalties, and it needs to be negotiated. Underscore royalties are only paid for conducting the orchestra and/or producing the recording. Producing can range from 3% to 4%, while conducting can range from 6% to 10%.

What is the one thing that the record company normally recoups in a soundtrack deal? Conversion costs, which are the costs of converting a song used in a film to a full track, are the one thing that the record company typically recoups in a soundtrack deal.

What is a composer package deal?

A composer package deal is a type of agreement between a composer and a client (e.g., a film production company) in which the composer is responsible for creating and delivering a package of music that includes composition, orchestration, recording, and possibly other related services. The goal of the package deal is to provide a complete and cohesive musical score for the client's project.

What about pricing?

The pricing for a composer package deal can vary widely depending on the scope and complexity of the project, as well as the experience and reputation of the composer. For example, a budget film might have a package deal budget of around $50,000, while a major film might have a budget of up to $2 million. The pricing for purely electronic compositions can range from $100,000 to $400,000, while a hybrid of electronic and real instruments can have a similar range depending on the specifics of the project.

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)

How are video game composers paid and the normal rates? They are paid $1,000 - $2,000 per minute of music (done as a package deal)

What are the roles of the Music Supervisor? Coordinates the music for the film Focuses on the choice of songs May be involved in the underscore as well Works with the producer and director to work out the type of music needed before production Songs on camera must be pre-recorded. They are then lip synched or danced to on the film. Comes up with a suggested list of artists, songwriters + composers after meeting with the producer/director of the film Attend the recording sessions Oversee the process of making everything happen

How are Music Supervisors paid? Fees and royalties Royalties on soundtracks Escalations of percentages based on how many units sold Royalties are paid after recoupment of costs Sometimes box office bonuses $25K to $100K per picture Top supervisors have royalties on the soundtrack - 1-2%

Are Music Supervisors used in television? Yes, they’re used when TV shows have licensed a lot of music. Rush productions Smaller budgets TV production departments not equipped to deal with complex clearance issues Fees are $3,500 or so per episode with 1% royalty with records or downloads + sales escalations They search indie record labels, YouTube and similar sites looking for unknown artists with cool material to put it on a TV show (pay is very little but placements promote artists career)

It's worth noting that these are just general guidelines, and pricing can vary greatly depending on many factors. Additionally, some composers may prefer to work on a different payment model, such as receiving a percentage of the project's profits. Ultimately, the pricing for a composer package deal is determined through negotiation between the composer and the client.


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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