How can reality shows afford the rights to all the popular music they employ?
November 8, 2004 12:42 PM   Subscribe

MTV series like the Real World use a huge amount of current popular music as background noise. How can this not be prohibitive in cost?
posted by smackfu to Media & Arts (21 answers total)
The productions have huge budgets for rights clearance. The producers recognize the value in including current hits. MTV is such a big player that their cache opens many doors. There also may be ongoing licensing deals between MTV and some labels and publishers, hence possibly obviating the need to negotiate each song separately. I'm not 100% sure about that, but package deals would make since. That said, I know for a fact that quite a few small bands on small labels have music placed in shows all the time.
posted by anathema at 12:52 PM on November 8, 2004

I'm making this up, but I'd also think it's posible that for shows like the Real World, whose demographic screams "popular music buyers/definers", labels would cut the shows' producers sweet deals just to get air time. Payola for TV?
posted by o2b at 1:03 PM on November 8, 2004

Some friends of mine are in a band (Mad Parade) that had a short bit from one of their songs used in the second episode of The Osbournes. They only knew because they saw the show- no one contacted them prior to airing the show, and they never saw any money for that.

When the DVD was about to come out they got a call from a lawyer offering them a lump sum for use rights to their song. It was more than they had ever gotten for their music before, but it wasn't a lot of money by any means.

My only guess as to why it worked this way is maybe there are fair use rights for incidental music used on TV, but including the music on a published DVD is a different story.
posted by InfidelZombie at 1:13 PM on November 8, 2004

I can assure you it had nothing at all to do with fair use. It had to do with the contract they signed with a label and/or publisher and the subsequent contract between label/publisher and production company.
posted by anathema at 1:22 PM on November 8, 2004

Yeah, MTV is probably selling those spots for $$$

It's called "product placement."
posted by scarabic at 1:40 PM on November 8, 2004

My friend's band (Sushirobo!) has been in the background of Real World episodes too, and he never got a dime.

And the DVDs have been released without the original music, which takes a LOT away from the show.
posted by GaelFC at 1:47 PM on November 8, 2004

Like I said, you have to look at the contracts.
posted by anathema at 1:53 PM on November 8, 2004

I am former employee, but this wasn't my area. But, anyhoo, one of the great secrets of MTV is that they don't really pay for videos (there are general licensing and exclusive deals, but for the most part vids are considered promotional), However, if a piece of music didn't have a video then you would have to get the "synch" rights from the publisher (not necessarily the artist). Or, if they were to package the format in another media like DVDs . But, don't take my word on this I am a little rusty on it.
posted by Duck_Lips at 2:15 PM on November 8, 2004

Thing is anathema, I know the owner of their record label too, and there was no contract between him and the Osbournes folks or MTV. He was just as surprised as the band, and got the same check they did when the DVD came out. You seem to be assuming the participation of a major label (and the lawyers that entails), but there is lots of other music out there.

There was a video done for the song that was submitted to MTV, so maybe the situation is covered by what Duck_Lips describes.
posted by InfidelZombie at 4:00 PM on November 8, 2004

I would assume the record companies would pay MTV to have their music played. Or, you can see MTV as a giant radio station, just playing music whenever they want since they have the rights to play a song.

I listen to a Clear Channel talk radio station and they are always checking their database for songs that they can play, if Clear Channel owns a copy of it, they can play whatever they want. A jukebox for a national audience, if you will.
posted by graventy at 5:15 PM on November 8, 2004

Yeah, InfidelZombie, it was submitting the video that probably implied consent. MTV productions are an exception to normal rights clearance situations- I believe that by submitting a video you implicitly agree to let MTV Productions do whatever they want with it or the song. All of MTV's shows have taken great advantage of this situation.

On the other hand, if your song gets played on, say, The O.C. or Joan Of Arcadia, it is probably by virtue of a deal (which now usually includes a mention of the band's name and album at the end of the show, if not an actual live guest appearance).
posted by obloquy at 5:34 PM on November 8, 2004

episodes of real world and road rules in syndication use incidental music in place of popular music, youll notice (if you ever see it in syndication which is rare)

my assumption is once an artist has sent mtv the song they are free to use it however they please. just count how many times theyve used radiohead's 'pyramid song' to add bummed-out-ness to things like 'true life: im addicted to adderal' or, whatever.
posted by c at 5:35 PM on November 8, 2004

One of my songs was licensed for a show on VH1 on the weekend ('Totally Obsessed' - no idea how popular it is). In the license it specified I was being paid the money (not very much) and "promotional opportunities" (aka I get to say my song was on a show on VH1.) I assume the bigger the show, the bigger the "promotional opportunities".

I think I assumed that bands basically paid MTV/VH1 for placement in shows, but apparently that's not the case.
posted by frenetic at 5:38 PM on November 8, 2004

frenetic, congrats! And I'm listening to your music right now - it's really good. I'm in Ottawa too, so if you're ever doing a local show, you should drop me a line, I'd love to come out.

Um, nothing to say on the topic - sorry.
posted by livii at 6:35 PM on November 8, 2004

MTV productions are an exception to normal rights clearance situations- I believe that by submitting a video you implicitly agree to let MTV Productions do whatever they want with it or the song.

Not so. When it comes to synch rights there really isn't a lot of "implicit" licensing going on.

You seem to be assuming the participation of a major label (and the lawyers that entails), but there is lots of other music out there.

I'm well aware there is "other" music out there. I would say I listen to 80% independent music. Even small labels have contracts with artists. If they don't, they shouldn't be in the business at all. The indie ethos is great until something goes wrong or money starts rolling in.
posted by anathema at 6:50 PM on November 8, 2004

Sorry if I sound clinical, but I work with artists and labels all the time doing rights clearance and licensing. It's incredible how much bad information is out there that people repeat over and over.
posted by anathema at 6:59 PM on November 8, 2004

Best answer: There's nothing implicit about the licensing. I worked at an indie label for several years, and when we submitted videos to MTV (hoping for a single play during 120 Minutes--good for a laugh!) we had to sign a form giving them the rights to use the music in shows that MTV produced. Most of the videos never aired, but several of the songs turned up as background music during chart shows, or on shows like The Real World.
posted by bcwinters at 7:30 PM on November 8, 2004

I have a similar story to GaelFC & InfidelZombie, but it worked a little differently:

One of the the little editing rodents who worked in MTV's audio department took a liking to a track by my friend's band (Manishevitz) and called our mutual friend's label (Jagjaguwar) to inform them of a "pay to play" scenario which would feature Manishevitz's music on a Real World episode.

My friend agreed, just for the sake of experiment, and they used his song. Only problem is, the agreement also gave MTV the right to edit vocals from the track. Plus, there is no text on the screen telling anyone who made the music so you can't even say it qualifies as advertising.

In sum, MTV seems to be capitalizing on other people's music without proper compensation.
posted by dhoyt at 7:45 PM on November 8, 2004

Not to belabor the point, and in full disclosure I was former employee of MTV, but, MTV is and was one of the most profitable businesses out there chiefly because of this. They were for the most part, airing commercials on the behalf of record companies, and paying nothing to do so (exclusive and output deals notwithstanding). However, there really is no pay for play a la payola, although the record labwls do try. (and maybe Tom Calderone, or Abbey K. , or whoever was music programming chief at the time might have taken something, but I doubt it--sometime you should get me talking about the radio biz, !!!). the thing is, it turns out that videos scared off advertisers because the ratings were off (or not quantify-able---as short form programming). Hence, the arrival of long-form no video programming . And, as an appeasement to record labels (and as a fighting brand) MTV2. Besides MTV isn't a music video station it is a YOUTH LIFESTYLE Channel.

Oh , and dhoyt, I was not in production, but on their behalf I take offense to "little editing rodents." For the most part, the production person who would have deal with your friend was an underpaid, benefit-less, overworked little rodent, who was just trying to get his bit of cheese in the big city (even if their contected parents or nepotism got them there). Regardless, everyone I dealt with was good people.
posted by Duck_Lips at 8:37 PM on November 8, 2004

(I meant no offense, DuckLips, I was just passing on the description that was given to me. I know they're not actually rodents!)
posted by dhoyt at 6:33 AM on November 9, 2004

Best answer: Looking at some of the old agreements...There is language allowing songs to be used in MTV productions. Writers/Publishers are still entitled to public performance income. Unless an artist has Madonna level leverage I suspect it's in most of the contracts.
posted by anathema at 6:49 AM on November 9, 2004

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