With the steady rise of South Africa’s film industry, filmmakers need to be reminded and made aware of the legal implications that come with the use of music in a movie.
Can you imagine a movie without music? Music is an important component that enhances the visuals, adding to the emotional dimension of a film. Many composers/producers have made a career for themselves writing music for film and television. Today, more and more South African musicians are seeing the value of licensing their hit songs for movie soundtracks or writing film scores.
But what is it that filmmakers need to know about the intricacies of licensing their music for film productions? There are four main types of music that are used in film, namely: the title music, mood/dramatic underscore, the character theme and the source music.
The title music is used during the credits at the beginning or end of a film or TV programme, and instills a sense of expectation in the audience, setting up the place, the period, and the style or genre. Mood music powerfully establishes or supports the atmosphere of a scene.
The character theme is music that is connected to the various characters in the film, and the source music is when the origin of the music is part of the setting and is visible on the screen (such as a character turning on a radio or singing along to a karaoke machine).
Should you wish to use a piece of music, you will need to get in touch with the publisher to investigate who owns the rights. You will find that the rights of a song you want to use for your film or programme are held by the artist, artist’s record label, record producer, the songwriter, publisher, the owner of the master for any samples in the song, the publisher that owns the song that was sampled, and the list goes on.
It is extremely important to evaluate the song’s owners and popularity prior to including it in the film. Keep in mind that the more artists, songwriters, publishers and so on that are involved, the more approvals and money will be required for the use of the song. Once you’ve determined who owns the publishing and the master rights, you must contact them separately and ask for permission to use the song.
If your budget for acquiring music that’s already been released is tight, you might have to consider commissioning a composer or use up-and-coming talent not yet signed to a label to write music for your film. Another alternative route is to use library music. This option is more financially viable because these music libraries have vast catalogues of pre-cleared tracks that you can access at an affordable rate.
So, what do you need to get this music cleared? There are two types of licences that are potentially needed for each song that you include in your film:
- A synchronisation licence. A “synch” licence allows you to use the underlying music composition of the song. The songwriters, composers or their publishers grant this licence.
- The master use licence. This particular licence is granted by the artist’s record label and gives the film company the right to use the recording of the song. In the event that the artist is unsigned, this licence is granted by the artist.
This is “music licensing for films” in its simplest form. There are many more factors that may need to be considered and the licensing process can get much more complex. In any event, it is always best to consult an attorney or someone who has had experience with music licensing to assist you in getting the relevant permissions to use the music.