There is a major source of income that many songwriters overlook: the use of music in television or film. Television and film producers need material for their projects. Not only is there money involved in licensing music for television and film, the use of a song in either of these mediums can mean widespread exposure. However, a producer will require the songwriter to sign a contract so that the producer can "license the rights". This allows the producer to utilize the material in whatever way the producer wishes.
In the world of film and television, decisions are made quickly and the producer will generally license the song which is the easiest to obtain at the cheapest price. The producer will not use a song until there is satisfaction that all of the rights are "cleared" (i.e., the copyright owner has granted the producer the right to use the song). If there are several songwriters, clearance must be obtained from each. Thus, songwriters need to make sure that the rights are easily obtainable.
The earnings generated from the use of a song in television or film normally come from performing and synchronization rights. A significant portion of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (performance rights societies) revenues are collected from television broadcasters (in the United States, motion pictures currently do not generate performance royalties payable by ASCAP, BMI or SESAC). These monies are divided up amongst ASCAP, BMI and SESAC writers and publishers. Therefore, songwriters are advised to become members of one of these societies, and register with them all songs written. A producer will not usually take a chance on using unregistered material because of the likelihood that the rights may not be available. Further, in the television and film business, music is reproduced when it is recorded on the soundtrack for the production. The right for the producer to make such a reproduction is called a synchronization right and the producer must negotiate a synchronization ("synch") license for each composition to be used.
[part 2 next week]
Ben McLane Esq