How much does sampling / licensing cost?
July 1, 2014 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Do you do rights clearance work in the music industry (or know someone who does)? If so, can you satisfy my curiosity about how much it might be expected to cost to license rights in the four scenarios described inside?

First and foremost, 1) this is just for idle curiosity as a music lover, and not for any kind of reliance by me, and 2) I am aware that, as negotiated contracts, the cost for the license will be whatever the parties agree upon, so there is not going to be one prescribed rate (subject to any ASCAP/BMI requirements, if relevant).

The four contexts I'm curious about are:
1) The big hits--popular music sampled in popular music (example: the extensive use of the Tom Tom Club's Genius of Love in Mariah Carey's Fantasy--both of which were huge hits, but take any number of examples, I'm Coming Out/Mo Money, Mo Problems, etc.; this seems like it would be the most well-defined marketplace)

2) music other than popular music sampled in popular music (example: extensive use of John Barry's Black Hole Theme in the Beta Band's It's Not Too Beautiful; again, there are lots of examples, but it seems like a less-defined marketplace than pop music sampled for pop music--and the length of this sample seems notable)

3) audio other than music sampled in popular music (example: Albert Finney in The Dresser sampled in the closing seconds of the Manic Street Preachers' PCP; again, tons of this, but this was a particularly random example to frame the question--I only remember this movie because my mother worked on it)

4) music (and I'll assume popular music) "quoted" in other popular music, but not sampled (example: Salt-n-Pepa's Push It quoted in The Twang's Push the Ghosts, both in the bass line and the lyrics)

Again, I realize that the cost in each case is going to be a negotiated amount, but I'm curious even just at the general magnitude of the payments that might be involved. For group 1), we're talking huge hits--what does that add up to? $100,000? $500,000? More? Group 2) represents music that is less likely to be sampled; is it a buyer's market? Also, in the case I mentioned, the Beta Band are indie darlings, but not huge names like Carey--but the sample was so extensive (and presumably Disney would be involved, as the studio behind the film). Group 3) isn't even music; is there really paid licensing, or just permission (and presumably from both the studio and Finney?). And Group 4) isn't mechanical, it's a new cut (and the Salt-n-Pepa quotes and samples from other works, of course).

Lots of examples of each group, and lots of other interesting sampling war stories (like the Verve being forced to assign 100% of their royalties from Bittersweet Symphony to the Stones, or the KLF and Whitney Houston, etc.).

But here, I'm just looking for a ballpark on the amounts that might be involved in each of the four categories above.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Like you said, It Depends, but this random internet dude claims that a clearance service told him that both sides of "most" samples can be cleared outright for $5-$10k.

Non-music audio is still (usually) copyrighted, and you're going to have to clear the sound recording. I wouldn't be surprised if the rates were similar (i.e., $2-5k), but I have absolutely nothing to back that up.

And yes, in the case where a hit is expected, the rightsholders will almost certainly ask for a piece (or all) of the pie rather than be bought out. 100% of the songwriting on Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You" goes to Sting, which is worth an enormous amount of money. I don't know about the master in that case, but you can be fairly sure it was big bucks (assuming it wasn't re-recorded).

Which is to say, some samples are also re-recorded, sometimes made to be nearly-indistinguishable from the original; you only need to clear the publishing in that case (this is also why acts sometimes re-release their back catalogs whose masters are owned by record labels).
posted by uncleozzy at 12:59 PM on July 1, 2014

The Harry Fox Agency is where you go to obtain licenses (in the USA). Might be fun to enter some titles and amounts to see what it will add up to.
posted by monospace at 1:20 PM on July 1, 2014

Peter DiCola has done really good writing on the economics of music licensing. His book is really interesting, if you want an in depth look (Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling), but there are also papers on SSRN.
posted by mercredi at 1:32 PM on July 1, 2014

The Harry Fox Agency is where you go to obtain licenses (in the USA)

Just for the record, HFA doesn't license samples, only mechanical rights for compositions (releasing a cover version on an album, for example).
posted by uncleozzy at 2:19 PM on July 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

A pretty standard setup is something like: $5k recoupable advance plus a 3% royalty rate (or a cent rate like $.03 per unit). Plus 15% misc net receipts. There may be advances of $100k for a superstar's lead single but that's very rare and it's more of a bargaining chip allowing the sampled artist to get paid sooner.

I've seen plenty of advances that are closer to $2-3k, and the cent rate can vary too.

Sorry I know nothing about how this works on an indie level but I can't imagine it would be very different.
posted by acidic at 10:10 PM on July 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

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