Why are there no song credits in TV shows?
July 5, 2019 2:56 AM   Subscribe

Movies always have full credits for the songs they use. US TV shows (typically) don't. Why?

For instance, period songs play an important role in Stranger Things, but they're not in the credits. People have asked this question before (e.g. here and here and three tentative answers have been given:
1. Having song credits is not a contractual obligation
2. TV shows have strict time constraints and don't have time for the extra seconds needed for song credits
3. Shows are domestic and international licensing may require cost more

Answers 2 and 3 may make sense for strictly domestic (US-only) shows but are irrelevant for Netflix/HBO/Amazon shows. There are 2 minutes of very detailed credits at the end of Stranger Things, but no songs, even though the song titles are in the subtitles/captions, and the show is released internationally on the same day.

Answer 1 is probably the right one, but then why are the contracts different for movies and TV shows when it comes to song credits? For musicians and music producers, having the song listed properly should be at least as important for shows than it is for movies, so why do they have less bargaining power in that case? If unions can get the 4th assistant for foliage maintenance credited on Stranger Things (which is good), why can't Warner/Chappell Music get a credit for the Hot Blooded song used in episode 1. In some other countries, TV shows do include songs in the credits.
posted by elgilito to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm just spitballing here but I have experienced TV shows in syndication with different music than what was originally broadcast. Given the complexities of licensing it may be pointless to a certain extent to set in writing a list of songs that may change in future viewings. And probably with that kind of thing in mind, no obligation to credit them was written into the contract.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 3:48 AM on July 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Answer 1 is probably the right one, but then why are the contracts different for movies and TV shows when it comes to song credits?

I would imagine that this is because movies and TV evolved differently. Crediting practices haven't caught up yet. And the answer mostly boils down to money.

You go to a movie, you sit through the movie and then leave. If it's a Marvel movie or something you might stay until the end and then see all the credits so you also see the post-credits scenes. Then they clean the theater (one hopes) and the next crowd comes in 10-20 minutes later.

On TV they're trying to cram in commercials. Time is literally money. Five seconds of credits multiplied by, say, three hours of half-hour sitcoms in prime time is 30 seconds of commercial time wasted.

Also - unions. As you point out "unions can get the 4th assistant for foliage maintenance credited..." but Warner/Chappell Music are not unions, and the musicians aren't unionized. There are unions for musicians but that would seem to apply more to the performers who do the incidental music and so forth rather than the popular songs included. (See also the Basic Television Film Agreement PDF.)

You will, I think, see composers of the show's theme song or whatnot credited.

And Hal Mumkin also points out syndication. I'm a big fan of the late 70s TV show WKRP. It was shot on video, IIRC, because video and film had different licensing rates for music. They had to pull some of the music used in the show (like, I believe, Pink Floyd's "Dogs") when syndicating or releasing on DVD. In fact the show took forever to be released in full on DVD. The first one or two seasons were released and then it stalled for years in part due to haggling over the music rights for DVD which weren't even conceived of when the show was shot.

Also interesting, the BBC's information on what categories may be used in opening credits.
posted by jzb at 4:26 AM on July 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's been a while since my media business course in film school, but let's see what I remember:

First, music publishing rights and the laws behind them predate recordings, movies and TV by decades, because of publishing in the very literal sense -- distributing sheet music -- and when player pianos and other automatic devices became popular. Film was the first upstart, and since sound hadn't been added, early film reels were performed with live accompaniment, the rights for which were already settled law. The music houses did enforce their rights pretty strictly back then once recorded sound came along. They demanded that all songs be credited explicitly in the visual medium, and the studios complied. Often, the big studios commissioned the songs themselves to be sold later.

In the US, using music in broadcast television is covered under the same blanket licensing laws as radio broadcasts. Fees are still being collected every time a song plays, someone behind the scenes is still keeping track, but it's not required to credit or seek permission for a pre-existing song. The 10 O'Clock news could play the entirety of Pink Floyd's The Wall without securing permission. On the other hand, music commissioned for the show must be credited, but the show's producers own that song and can use it whenever they want as long as they pay the statutory residuals.

Music houses never pushed back for a different deal because reruns weren't considered a revenue source, but the popularity of home video distribution caught everyone unawares so they had to cover it under existing law about selling recordings. The WKRP fiasco is mentioned above, but as to more recent examples:

--Mark Snow made a killing off of The X-Files when VHS tape sets of each season were being sold in the late 90s
--CBS couldn't pay The Who the full amount for the use of "Who Are You" in the opening credits to sell DVD sets of C.S.I., so instead Townshend/Daltrey et al. got back-end deals on the entire franchise in exchange for the song, and allowing "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O'Reilly" to be used for the Miami and NY spinoffs.

As for premium cable and streaming platforms, they've just continued the current arrangement because the music industry has lost the power to push for a new one.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 10:44 AM on July 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

Im the US, music licensing rights are not covered under the same blanket license as radio - music used in conjunction with a visual media output is distinct from audio-only rights and covered under a separate synchronization license.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:01 PM on July 5, 2019

The Wikipedia article is thin, but thanks for the correction -- in my film/TV days I never handled clearance issues. But neither the songwriter's license nor the master recording license appear to compel TV producers to credit songs.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 2:11 PM on July 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the answers. So the reason is to be found in the negotiations between show producers and music rights owners, and, in the US, the latter typically do not (cannot?) require a clause concerning credits, so only the people who actually worked for the show get credited. Then what makes music licensing rights for movies (particularly made-for-TV ones) so different from those for TV shows? For instance, in the case of Netflix, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs has full songs credits (including for traditional songs that don't require credits), but Madonna's Material girl used in a recent episode of Stranger Things is not credited. It's not just music: another ST episode features several clips of the movie Back to the future which is not credited either.
posted by elgilito at 2:50 AM on July 9, 2019

Then what makes music licensing rights for movies (particularly made-for-TV ones) so different from those for TV shows?

Not A Lawyer, and not involved in this aspect of the music business, but from the contracts I do see in my line of work, I think jzb's point about "I would imagine that this is because movies and TV evolved differently. Crediting practices haven't caught up yet." is certainly part of it. A lot of the contracts I see are clearly just stock/boilerplate contracts with clauses altered as needed or noticed, with plenty of cruft left in.

So I'm guessing that back in the 60's & 70' a growing end-credits list as required by various union contracts (of folks more involved in the filming elements) + the growth of blockbuster movies seen by millions more people than any network TV show + the real possibility of hit soundtracks = music rights owners started pushing for specific credits for songs & recordings in movies. TV producers may have been required to expand credits by similar film union contracts, but since time = money they balked at expanding to music credits, and music rights owners shrugged and just took the money.

And even though the TV landscape has changed somewhat (and Netflix "TV" original programming is really new), most everyone's still probably working off "fill-in-the-blank" contracts that have been around more-or-less the same for decades. Once a certain amount of price/terms negotiation has happened on the phone or in person or by email, some assistant sends another assistant: "This is to stipulate that Production Company ______ will pay $_______ for Song ____ written by ______ and performed by ______ not to exceed ______ minutes in length for first broadcast rights in the United States, with terms of _____ years" etc etc etc blah blah blah. The "standard" TV contract for music rights probably doesn't include credits, apparently so far not a lot of people have noticed or cared enough to insist that they be credited.

in the case of Netflix, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs has full songs credits

That's by the Coen brothers, who have a film background rather than a TV background, had (arguably) their biggest movie (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) when the music was intimately entwined with the film, and (IIRC from some interviews) have a reputation for being deeply involved in music selection and being sticklers for crediting even among moviemakers. IOW, they may well be a bit of an exception.

another ST episode features several clips of the movie Back to the future which is not credited either.

Again, Not A Lawyer, but I'm pretty confident that rights to include other visual media in movies or TV shows is literally a whole other ball of laws and rights and customs and practices, not really connected with music rights at all and kind of a whole different question.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:42 PM on July 9, 2019

IOW, they may well be a bit of an exception.
I just checked the credits of other Netflix movies (Extremely wicked..., I am Mother, The Perfection) and they all feature complete song credits. But these movies have premiered in film festivals and some had limited theatrical releases, so they're probably considered as theatrical films in contracts. In any case, the presence of credits seems indeed to depend on the contract templates used, like you said. Looking at examples of sync and master licensing, some do include a line about credits, some don't. This page shows examples of sync/master licenses: one fair to artists (with credits, for a commercial campaign), one less fair (without credits, for a TV movie) and one just terrible (MTV license). So the answer is that typical sync/master licenses for TV in the US usually don't include a clause about credits, for historical reasons. It seems to be different in other countries such as France, where moral rights are better recognized.
posted by elgilito at 3:32 PM on July 10, 2019

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