I will admit I knew none of this when I began making my first film and I learned most of it either by asking questions or by making mistakes. Hopefully this guide will keep you from making the same ones. Here we go.
Mistake #1: Contacting the Artist(s)
As much as you might like to have the approval of the person(s) who sings the song you want to use, it’s unnecessary. The artist(s) has no bearing on use of the song and you can spend up to a month finding this out.
Mistake #2: The Cart before the Horse
What I mean by this is that contacting anyone before all the details of your film have been decided is not only impractical, but also unprofessional. There will be questions you cannot answer, and money you may not have. And don’t set up the film so that the whole movie hinges on the song(s) you want to use. The fact is you may not be able to use the whole song, or use the song at all. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. So instead follow the steps of this guide and make life easier for yourself.
How to License Music in 6 Easy Steps
Step 1: Set the Budget
When licensing music, it’s important to know exactly how much you are willing to spend. For a low-budget direct-to-DVD film, you may pay total $700 - $1, 100 per song. If this cost is too high, you may wish to use lesser-known songs or none at all.
Step 2: Get the Money Together
There is unfortunately no reason to contact anyone regarding licensing if you don’t have the funds on hand. You will be expected to send payment within a reasonable amount of time, before the film is released. I highly recommend waiting until the film is reasonably close to finished as well.
Step 3: Answer the Following Questions
This is an example of the questions the record company and the publishers will ask you when you contact them. Have the answers ready, or better yet include them in your song request.
This means the song title, and sometimes the album title as well
The person(s) who sings the song
Name of Production
The title of your movie
The company making the film, for example, Disney and Buena Vista
The total budget for your film
Your total music budget
Summary of the film
Detailed Scene Description
Tell us exactly what’s happening while the song is playing
Nature of Use
How you’re using the song. Is it over the credits, over a scene, or just coming out of a radio?
Duration of Use
How much of the song are you using? Just a few minutes? The whole song? It matters. Believe me it matters. If you are using less that the whole song, watch the readout that counts down the seconds, and use that. For example: 0:02 – 0:10.
Is you film a DVD, or a theatrical release? Maybe just an online download. Whichever let them know.
How long do you want the rights for? A year? Forever? Keep in mind this limits how long the movie can be distributed.
What country or countries will your film be released in?
Step 4: Contact the Publisher(s)
It may come as a surprise, but the first person to get the rights from isn’t the record company. In fact, some record companies will want proof of the publisher’s approval before they even work with you. But what if you don’t know the publisher? Check with www.bmi.com and www.ascap.com to find out just who they are and their contact information.
Step 5: Contact the Record CompanySometimes this is easier said than done. On the company’s website, look for something that says “Music Licensing” or “Sync Requests” and go from there. Just what you will have to do varies on the company.
Step 6: Pay the People and Sign the Licensing AgreementOnce you have approval and a quote, the next step is to pay the publishers and the record company. Then you will have to enter a licensing agreement.
Congratulations! You did it!If you have followed all these steps, then you have successfully licensed music for your film. Give yourself a pat on the back. You earned it.
DISCLAIMER: This is a rough guide on licensing music for low-budget animated films. I do not guarantee it will work for you, nor am I responsible if it doesn’t. But I do wish there had been one like it when I started. Use at your own risk, since I never actually managed to license any songs.