How to license my songs to a student filmmaker?
April 19, 2008 8:58 PM   Subscribe

What arrangements should I make with a student filmmaker who wants to use my music in his film?

Someone contacted me via e-mail about using two of my songs on the soundtrack to his film. He tells me he's a college student and that his total budget for the film is $500-$1,000. He says he will release the film on DVD next year, he doesn't have much of an advertising campagin planned, and he'll mainly be selling the DVDs at school, online, and to friends and families of cast/crew.

The songs are from an album which I produced as a college student and self-released, so I understand where he's coming from. I don't plan on asking him for any money, but what exactly should I say? Do I just explain how I'd like my credit to appear and ask for a copy of the film when it's ready? Or are there other bases I should cover?
posted by ludwig_van to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't want money (kudos for you, btw, former student filmmaker here), tell him how you would like your credit listed and yes, ask him to send you a copy of the film. That's all you need to do.

If for some reason you feel like giving him solid advice in the name of karma, charge him $1 for the rights to your music and give him a receipt. However, this doesn't help you any-- in fact, it will prevent you from being able to sue him for more cash later should the movie become the next "Clerks."
posted by ®@ at 9:24 PM on April 19, 2008

For one or two of my student productions I used a few tracks from local bands . I would just draft an agreement (essentially culled from a Creative Commons Non-Commercial license) which said that I would not make money off of my piece and that if I did the terms would be renegotiated at that point. It wasn't a big deal, obviously, since my pieces sit gathering dust somewhere...
posted by SassHat at 9:59 PM on April 19, 2008

"[Charging him a dollar] will prevent you from being able to sue him for more cash later should the movie become the next 'Clerks.'"

No, it won't.

"Do I just explain how I'd like my credit to appear and ask for a copy of the film when it's ready?"

Basically, yes. Unless you have any concerns that you'd like addressed (say, for example, the film is highly critical of a value/belief that you hold dear) but I can't imagine being able to know what those other concerns might be.

Nobody is going to come along later and make you sue the kid or anything ridiculous like that... what bases might you expect need to be covered?
posted by toomuchpete at 10:22 PM on April 19, 2008

Negotiate for points. Either neither of you make money, or you both make money.

I've been there before, we treated it as fair (and I've never made anything off the documentary we appeared in).
posted by sourwookie at 10:26 PM on April 19, 2008

Response by poster: I suppose I'm uncertain because he's a student and has a negligible budget but he says he will be producing a physical product and selling the movie online and at school, so I'm not sure if it would be reasonable to ask for royalties or something.

Or I was thinking maybe I should make sure to say that there's no license to alter the tracks, or ask that there be a link to my website from the film's web site, or something, I don't know, come on you guys are supposed to have the answers here.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:31 PM on April 19, 2008

1. Ask for points. A super tiny percentage >1% of DVD or online sales of the movie, a higher percentage for soundtrack sales (should they release a stand-alone soundtrack).

2. No license to alter the tracks, unless you're a CCL kinda guy, then let them.

3. Demand a link to your website.

4. Make it clear you own the song and can release it in any context you wish, no matter how the movie fares.


Sell the song outright. For a bundle. Then surrender all rights.
posted by sourwookie at 10:57 PM on April 19, 2008

Oops. I meant "less than."
posted by sourwookie at 11:01 PM on April 19, 2008

What Sourwookie said -- this is basically a fairness thing. It's good of you to not want any cash from the starving filmmaker, BUT if the movie does make money, it's only fair for you to get some, so the points thing makes perfect sense.
posted by paultopia at 11:34 PM on April 19, 2008

Best answer: I think two things are key if you actually draft an agreement:

a) it should say explicitly that the license you are giving him is not an exclusive license (so you can still use those recordings elsewhere), and

b) it should limit specifically what he can or can't do with it (for instance, use it in the film, not alter it, use it in the trailer, not sublicense it to an potential sponsor for any purposes) and have the text of the agreement say that you reserve all rights not granted expressly in that agreement.

If the idea is to "cover all bases" the people upthread are already covering some economic aspects, but be sure you are not giving away the right to use your songs at a later point or, giving the filmmaker rights that you would rather control yourself (like the "sublicensing" the song to someone who might be interested in using it for marketing purposes related to this film, or the filmmaker)
posted by micayetoca at 1:50 AM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you ask for a percentage (even a really tiny one) on all income from the film, he might back out. And he's not being unreasonable, because he's probably not going to actually net anything from the movie and it'll be more work than it's worth to figure out what your .3% take is on every single DVD he sells.

So ask for a percentage after a certain point (a certain point he's unlikely to reach). He said he's spending no more than 1000 dollars on it, so say that after his income from the movie reaches 3000 dollars, you're owed 1% (or whatever). This satisfies everyone. You only get money if the film actually makes more money than he thought, but he doesn't have to pay you anything if it stays the size of a student film.

The key is to make sure you agree to a percentage of the gross and not the net. The net seems more logical, but "creative accounting" always screws people out of net royalties. So instead agree for gross royalties and merely have them kick in at a higher amount.
posted by aswego at 6:28 AM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, that's the kind of stuff I was thinking. Thanks!
posted by ludwig_van at 9:38 AM on April 20, 2008

Good points there. If this was me the thing that I would be most concerned with is that if this film is successful some serious royalties would be forthcoming, so I think that that should color the rest of your thinking here. I'm really not that clear on the finer points of synchronization rights, but I'm sure that there are some online resources that can help.
posted by ob at 12:33 PM on April 20, 2008

What micayetoca said.

Also, if it were me, I wouldn't charge. It's not quite karma, but it's close enough.
posted by desuetude at 4:10 PM on April 20, 2008

Response by poster: Here are the terms I proposed and he agreed to:
I will grant you a limited non-exclusive license to the tracks "(track 1)" and "(track 2)" for use in the film "(film)" and any associated promotional materials free of charge. You are not permitted to alter the tracks in any way. The film's web site should contain song credits and a link to (web site). I reserve all rights not explicitly granted by this license. Any use of the songs on a standalone soundtrack will not be covered by this license and will have to be renegotiated. Should the gross earnings of the film exceed $3000 I will be entitled to 1% of that gross as royalties. I will receive a physical copy of the film when it's finished.
Thanks again for the suggestions.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:19 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Name that anime!   |   A pill as big as a small town. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.