In 2018 the film industry was worth $136 billion. It’s a huge, global industry that spans countless genres, niches, fanbases and markets. Filmmakers have redefined storytelling since the dawn of cinema. They are always looking to produce films that stay with the audience long after viewing.
Music is one of the most emotive storytelling tools available to filmmakers. That makes cinema a world of opportunity for emerging artists. We’re going to examine the role of marketing your music in film and what a filmmaker looks for in terms of cinematic soundtracks.
This is an inclusive term as it comprises productions both big and small. A film director has creative control over the entirety of a film; they often develop concepts and screenplays, make casting decisions, hire production and costume designers and oversee shooting and editing. Producers oversee the more logistical, and business elements of film production however many producers also direct their films. Whether it’s a huge Hollywood blockbuster or a small independent film, there will be a director/producer.
Filmmakers are passionate about their projects and each has a different style of direction. Some are very precise with their instructions with a clear idea of the final outcome. Others prefer to let the other creative voices in the room speak up. A good director should be able to instil their vision for the film in each of their staff and cast so they collectively produce the best story possible.
Each director will have a different idea of the kind of music they’re looking for to accompany their visual sequence. Some storylines suit pre-existing tracks to play in the background at party scenes. Some require a subtle musical score that invisibly adds to the dramatic atmosphere on screen. The film industry spans all sorts of genres and styles, so no matter the stylistic identity of your music, there are opportunities for you.
When it comes to music in the film, the filmmaker will either have direct contact with musicians or composers, or they will hire a music supervisor to source the soundtrack. It’s most likely that for small-scale productions you’ll work with the filmmaker directly. On larger budget films a music supervisor will generally be the one you’ll be in contact with. Music is generally added in the final stage of the film production process; post-production.
This is how music is legally added to visual media. Any filmmaker, on a large or small scale, must obtain the correct license to use music. Sync licenses allow the rights holders (artists, composers, record labels and publishers) to monetise the use of their music in a film.
Sync licensing is a great source of income for artists and composers. The fees from a sync can really help you put money into furthering your career. As well as the financial benefits, it can be a valuable music promotion for artists and drastically increase their exposure. Films can project your music to new consumer demographics and can have an international reach.
In the modern age, sync licenses can encourage engagement across your digital touchpoints as an artist. If someone is watching a film at home, they might notice the soundtrack and Shazam the song to find its title and artist. From here they might go to your Spotify or Youtube channel to discover more of your music. This can lead to them purchasing your music or discovering your social media accounts.
There was a decline in the popularity of musical soundtracks when online retail services rose in popularity. This meant consumers were able to purchase singular tracks instead of having to purchase an entire album. As we’ve entered into a golden era of TV and the film industry has produced some of the best-selling films of all time in recent years, soundtracks have once again become a source of hype surrounding new releases.
The first Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack received huge praise with the presence of some 70s and 80s classics on Peter’s ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 1’. Before the release of the second movie, director James Gunn previewed the soundtrack online and starred in a special feature in Rolling Stone, detailing the musical selection process for the film.
Sync licenses are agreed between filmmaker/music supervisors and the rights holders to a piece of music. Usually, a one-time sync fee is agreed and paid to the rights holders. Sync fees can vary depending on the presence of the song in the film and the reputation/popularity of the artist. An emerging indie band is going to be a lot cheaper in terms of sync fees than i.e. Ariana Grande. Once the song is synced in the film, the rights holders will receive royalties each time the track is ‘performed’. This is all organised and paid through the performing right organisation they are registered with.
So sync licenses not only generate immediate cash, but also continue generating income throughout the lifetime of the film. If you’re a relatively unknown band, your sync fee won’t be particularly high. Sometimes a film may be a small independent production and they can’t pay you a sync fee in advance; meaning your only revenue would come from sync royalties. Despite not getting an upfront sync fee, it is good music promotion, so if you’re trying to broaden your fan base it’s worth considering.
As an artist, you may be approached by filmmakers looking to incorporate your music into their film. Or you could approach them for a current project. As your music already exists, it’s up to you and the copyright holders to agree with the filmmaker on a sync fee and how your music will be used in the film. If you’re approached by a filmmaker whose vision and project you don’t want to be involved in, you can absolutely say no.
Sometimes a filmmaker may want to sample your work and rework it or produce a cover version of your track. In order to do this, the filmmaker must obtain a legal clearance from the copyright holders. This way, the rights holders can request to listen to the new version of the track before granting permission.
When discussing sync fees with filmmakers it can be hard to know the worth of your song. Especially as every case is very different. Licensing fees can depend upon the budget of the film, the reputation of the artist and the commercial success of the song as well as its presence within the film. If you’re trying to get an idea of a fair price, ask any musical contacts you have that have signed sync licenses before. If you’re working with a music publisher, they can advise you on a respectable sync fee.
Some filmmakers may want an entirely original musical score for their film, this can apply to the biggest of budgets and the smallest. In these cases, filmmakers will find a composer they feel will produce a score to align with their vision. Scores are usually composed in the post-production stage, once the film has been edited. This is so that the music fits perfectly to the sequence.
For composers looking to start their careers and gain experience, there are always independent or student films looking for music. For small scale productions, you might not receive a lot of pay, (if any), but the experience is vital to progress your career.
You must be flexible as a composer as the film can be edited again and sound editors may ask you to produce various parts again to mix more smoothly with the rest of the audio elements. As you do more films, with bigger budgets and growing commercial success, you can start to charge more for your services. As with any kind of freelance work, you must demonstrate your ability by starting small and work your way up.
In terms of royalties and getting paid, you may be asked only to write the score and then the filmmaker’s own musicians will record the finished score. In this case, you will own the compositional rights to the piece which can generate you royalties. Unless the filmmakers offer you a ‘Buyout deal’. This means that they offer you a flat fee for writing it and they then own the rights. This means that you get a bigger flat fee upfront, but don’t profit from ongoing royalty payments.
You can also ask for a commission for writing the music, especially with bigger budget productions, but for smaller ones, this again may not be possible.
If you’re starting your compositional career, ask the advice of other composers in your network or online. Trade unions can help you understand the industry better and advise you on fair starting rates for your work, as well as good practice and legal advice for contracts.
This could potentially be the hardest element you will face in this process. There are opportunities out there but you need to know where to find them. The most successful method is usually to employ a music publisher. We’ve touched on them in this article already but we’ll now explain their role further.
When you write and release music, you’ll usually do so through a publisher. Some publishing agreements just cover the administrative elements of publishing and pay you your deserved royalties. These kinds of deals usually take a 10-20% cut of the publishing royalties in payment for their services. Other publishers, however, will promote your music and attempt to open up opportunities for you, such as sync licenses.
The benefit of having a publisher is that they have broad networks of filmmakers, production companies and music supervisors. Publishers are one of the first port of calls for filmmakers and supervisors when looking to source music for projects. This is because they have a catalogue of artists with tracks hoping to be synced.
Publishers submit your music on your behalf and manage the licensing agreement. They take all of the legal elements off your hands and fight for you to get the best deal. Publishers who offer these services often ask for a 50% share of the publishing rights for their services.
If you don’t want to go through a publisher, if you’re an independent artist or composer, you can seek out opportunities for yourself. Online community pages and forums can be a great place to look for work and you can access global opportunities. You also need to start networking with people in the entertainment industry.
The best way to find someone to work with is to think of your friends and connections first. Start going to industry events and networking with a mix of different professionals. Even if you meet someone whose career doesn’t align with yours, they may recommend you to a friend. Everyone wants to work with people they get on with! So by making a good impression, putting yourself forward and speaking confidently about your work, you can land a job. Don’t just to try to get out of it what you want though, build a relationship – it’s a two-way street!
Make yourself easy to find online. Engage with fans and the entertainment industry through social media, forums, unions, community pages and have a good website where filmmakers can find you. Ensure all your information is up to date and most importantly include your contact information.
Alternatively, you can also contact filmmakers and put yourself forward via email without an in-person introduction. If there’s a filmmaker you admire and you’ve found they’re working on a new project, find their contact details and send them your music for consideration. Contact details can usually be found on a filmmaker’s website or through the website of their production company.
This practice won’t always be successful and you should consider the reputation and station of who you’re contacting. For example, if you’re a small band only making waves in your hometown, then you’re probably not going to be chosen for Christopher Nolan’s latest project. Manage your expectations but by all means, aim high.
When pitching your services or your music to filmmakers, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of success. First, be human, polite and genuine; filmmakers are people too! While you need to be professional, good manners and authenticity can go a long way. You can complement them by saying how much you admire their work, but keep it short!
When putting forward your music, it’s preferred to send links to Spotify, Soundcloud or your website where they can easily listen to it without downloading it themselves. This means they’re not removing tracks from their computer if you’re not successful or waiting a long time to download it. Make it as easy for them as possible to access your music.
If you’re sending them finished tracks for consideration, make sure they are high quality and have all the necessary metadata. Filmmakers do not have time for you to re-record a demo into a finished track. Only send work that’s polished.
Focus your pitching, don’t send a hundred identical emails to filmmakers that are generic. They can tell! Especially if you put your music forward for projects that aren’t relevant. It wastes people’s time, wastes your time and it’s obvious when an email has been sent to multiple recipients. It will turn people off and you simply won’t be successful.
This industry really can be about who you know, so it’s vital to make and maintain key connections throughout your career. If you work on a project with a filmmaker and they’re happy with your work, they’re likely to hire you again or recommend you to others. As your career takes off and so does theirs, it’s good practice to stay in contact. Their success can also have a ripple effect on yours and potentially present opportunities in the future. Poor networking can be one of the biggest downfalls people face so it’s vital that you make connections and stay in contact. Even if it’s just an occasional email or meeting for a coffee once every six months.