Filmmakers often spend months, if not years, preparing for production of their next film. Storyboards, development, casting, scouting locations - these are just some of the time consuming and stressful parts of preproduction, and yet one thing that can put all of this on hold is the budget. So when it comes to music, what choices do filmmakers have?
The answer is somewhat complicated, so let's break it down a little.
Whether hiring a composer to write a score or licensing songs from a publisher, there is going to be an upfront fee. For composers, the filmmaker has the option to pay the composer a fee for writing the music and also setting aside an additional budget for the composer's expenses (recording studio, musicians, etc). If the filmmaker does not set aside an additional budget, the composer may or may not use his or her fee for whatever he or she may need, if anything. This fee can literally be anything, from $20 to $2,000,000 (for John Williams or Danny Elfman). There is no average, it just depends who you're hiring and what it is you want. You may find a composer who will write for free, but if the film needs a live rock band or an expressive violin solo, that costs money.
When licensing a song, the filmmaker will pay to license both the song ("sync license") and the recording ("master license") - it's important to understand the difference. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 may be public domain, but your favorite recording of it belongs to someone. Likewise, you can license the "song" (not the recording) and have the composer record a cover of the song. It is also important to note that the person who owns the "song", usually the writer/composer, may not own the master as well. Don't worry, a music supervisor can take care of all of this for you! As with the composer's fee, a licensing fee could range from $50 for something generic or $1,500,000 for an Aretha Franklin song.
Composers and songwriters will receive "performance" royalties whenever the film is played on TV, collected by a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) such as ASCAP, BMI or SESAC in America. Although theaters are technically public performances, writers do not collect performance royalties for films played in theaters in America - many international theaters do pay royalties. It's also important to understand that this is not money coming out of the filmmaker's pocket, the theater is paying a license to play the film and music. There is also a "mechanical royalty" paid for physical copies sold. Rates for both types of royalties change over time and are determined by many different factors - such as where the film is played, the over all film budget, and how long the license is good for (one year, 5 years, forever).
I can go on forever about royalties and ownership, I'll save that for another blog post.
So which option is cheaper? In general, and this is a VERY generalized "general", hiring a composer for an indie film is probably going to be cheaper. The important thing is to ask yourself "what does my film DESERVE". If you're proud of your work, be proud of the soundtrack.
Film | Music
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