Singing to the Masses
Musicians Sell Tunes to TV and the Silver Screen

By Gareth Vieira

The older man meets up with the younger woman on a busy street in Japan. He whispers something in her ear. They kiss and part. A song that echoes their feelings begins to play. The movie is Lost in Translation and the song is ‘Just Like Honey’ from the band Jesus and Mary Chain. Together, the scene and the song create the atmosphere.

Courtesy shot, Illustration by Dila Velazquez

“A song has to have the ability to relate to the storyline,” says Linda Noelle Bush, the director of licensing for film and television at Maple Music. “Sometimes songs are chosen from an artist catalogue, but sometimes a new song is written specifically for a movie or TV show.”

Music licensing for film and television can be a complicated business to work in. There are hurdles to cross, and minor details to remember. “Almost everyday you go through your contact database to find which artist or song would best express the emotion of the TV show or film. Sometimes the producer is looking for songs with certain words like ‘smart,’ ‘sassy,’ or ‘rainbow.’ You can spend all day trying to find these words,” says Bush.

The first step is for the production company or network to approach an artist, or label, and ask if the songs can be licensed in an episode of a television program or movie.
“Licensing music can be very beneficial to the artist. Not only do they get paid, but the songs reach a larger audience,” says Greg David, the former editor of TV Guide. “Imagine how many times people heard the Journey tune ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ in the Sopranos finale and then went online and downloaded it. All that cash -- well most of it goes into Journey’s pocket.”
Melanie Doane, a Juno award-winning pop singer-songwriter has four top singles under her belt. “I’ve had some really great placements that have turned lots of people on to my tunes. I think the scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the most memorable, since it was a pivotal scene people really bonded with the song.”

Some artists are very concerned about what product they allow their music to be used for.  William “Skinny” Tenn manages the artist Hayden. Tenn says that Hayden is one of those artists who is very cautious about who he sells his music to. “If someone were to ask Hayden to write a song for the Coen Brothers he would do it in a second. If he was asked to write a song for a Dove commercial he would say no.”
Every television show has its techniques in acquiring music. On Freaks and Geeks, the writers, creators and producers came up with the music. “They sit around, talk about it, and they picture which song works best,” says David.

There can be some common problems that arise when dealing with licensing music. “A show like Freaks and Geeks or Beverly Hills, 90210 is really hard to put on DVD, because of licensing issues, cost and other issues that can slow down production.  In many cases, a DVD comes out with different music on it because of these same issues,” says David. The show Dawson’s Creek quickly released its DVD by changing most of the music that was actually played on the show.

Courtesy shot, Illustration by Laura Cicchirillo

Another issue that can arise with licensing music is how long it takes to get the song licensed. “That all depends on the artists, if they are alive or in the event of their being deceased, if an estate and lawyers are involved. There’s no set amount of time for how long licensing could take,” says David.

Recently, more and more artists, like Doane, have been writing songs knowing that this is a great way to reach audiences. “For some types of artists it’s easier to be heard on TV, in the context of the show than it is to get on radio.  Many artist have broken through using this method and people look to their favourite shows to hear about new artists and new music.”

Independent music labels have also been getting into the business of music licensing for film and television. Scott Mcrieght, head of the soundtrack department at Last Gang Records says licensing benefits everyone -- the artist and the label. “We have had some great opportunities in licensing our music, even though we are an independent label. Some of our songs have been on CSI Miami, Men in Trees, Project Runway, and Falcon Beach,” says Mcrieght.

 The process can be tedious. A lot of give and take has to happen before a contract can be signed, but the outcome, says Bush, when done well, can be a great triumph.

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