A friend recently sent me this post from Craigslist. See if you can point out the one major flaw in this person’s offer:
I’m a video producer working on advertising media for a new, young company that makes wearable digital sports cameras — small cams that fit in a durable housing and are attached to helmets, wristbands, etc., and are specifically designed for surfers, snowboarders, bikers, racers, bungee jumpers, any crazy athletic person out there. It’s a very cool product and has started to attract lots of young people.
I’m looking for music segments to pair with the footage these athletic users have shot and donated for promotional use. What I’m looking for in music pieces:
- AIFF format (the highest quality)
- 2 to 5 minutes long
- adrenaline music (I’m kinda old, but Propellerheads comes to mind), also good old rock
- can be completely computer-generated by one person or generated by a group with instruments
- looking to communicate excitement and “in the zone” mood (but needs to engage, not alienate)
- no lyrics needed
- can’t be samples of existing copyrighted music but 100% original (imperative!)
Who you might be: somebody who noodles around with music, comes up with cool/energetic/meandering riffs and pieces, looking for a creative outlet.
What I can offer: what will probably be national exposure if this campaign takes off, and we’d give an MTV-style credit with band name/music piece/website info. Also a camera (worth about $200).
The downside: We want to own the music in perpetuity and there’s no money.
Find the flaw? He even prefaced it with a hint (“The downside”). He wants you to transfer all your rights to the song for the princely sum of ZERO. Well, you would get a gimmicky camera and… credit. But please, everyone, never transfer your rights to someone else for a penny less than what it deserves. And that is going to be greater than zero. Probably much greater.
The poster did seem to indicate the gig was aimed more toward hobbyists but even hobbyists should be compensated for their time and talent. If they think the music is worth using in their national campaign, then the music is worth paying for. Both professional and hobbyist musicians, never transfer for your rights to your music for anything less than an adequate sum up front. Royalties are acceptable for people to use your music in their work, but not for transferring rights.
If you think getting the exposure is good enough, then fine. That’s a risk that could pan out. But, again, there is no need to transfer your rights. That is an outright scam. Once they have the rights, they can do whatever they want with the music. And all that possible profit will not find its way to the music’s creator. That is simply unfair. And it’s disrespectful to musicians to insinuate we would be happy to hand over our music’s rights just for the chance of getting a little exposure.
Anyway, be careful out there. Always keep in mind your work is worth something and don’t settle for any bad deal.
Watching the presidential debate today reminded me of a story from a few months ago. Back in June, John McCain used some music from a video game in one of his ads. It was all fine and dandy until the composer of that music came forward and said he doesn’t support John McCain, and is in fact an Obama supporter. You can read more about it here. Sounds like a horrible scandal, right? Except the way our business is set up right now, this sort of thing is bound to happen and is legally and ethically fine.
Unfortunately today it is common for a composer to completely sign their rights for their music over to the developer or publisher they did the work for. This is called “work for hire” and benefits the developer or publisher greatly. If a cartoon series develops based on the game and they want to use your music for it, they can. Or if they want to use your music to advertise the latest greatest rat trap, or for any other reason, they can go ahead and use your music for that too. Once you sign that contract, your music is out of your control.
The composer of the game music used in the McCain ad, Christopher Lennertz, was upset that his music was used for something with which he does not agree. Sadly for any composer who signs such work for hire contracts, the composer’s thoughts on the matter are almost completely irrelevant. Legally the music is the developer or publisher’s to do with as they please. As long as McCain or anyone else buys a license to that music, it can appear anywhere. You’ve got to just roll with it. You decided to sign the contract, so accept that it just may appear somewhere you may not agree with.
I said above that the composer’s thoughts on the matter are almost completely irrelevant because the Lennertz case shows that it can backfire at least a little bit if the full background of the music is not considered by those using it. Even though nothing illegal or inappropriate happened, the McCain campaign still got some negative press because there is at least the appearance of some disharmony within the campaign. The question could be asked, why couldn’t they find some music by a McCain supporter?
This is in fact one of the risks inherent in using library assets for anything. It bit Hillary Clinton’s campaign in their infamous “3am” commercial. In that, they used some stock library footage of a little girl sleeping soundly during the night and asked who the viewer would trust to protect the country if a catastrophe struck late at night. It was a wonderful, fear-mongering ad that would stick in people’s minds. The problem is, the girl in the ad is now 18 and a fervent Obama supporter. Read more about that story here, it’s actually pretty funny.
So what do we do to keep people from using our music in the next project that we personally find offensive? It’s all about who owns the copyrights. The contracts are still weighted heavily in favor of the companies we do the work for, but we can do our best to change the terms. Keep 100% of our copyrights if possible, or at least keep any of the rights we can… like “ancillary rights”. That is, for any project that comes from that game (cartoons, spin-off games, sequels, TV shows, etc.), they will have to get our permission to use our music again. That increases the possibility of making more money from your music, which is only fair. If the game springs further revenue streams, the composer who is partly responsible for that success should share in the rewards.
Of course, it is a compliment when our music is found to be of value by anyone other than the people for whom we originally created it. But sometimes we don’t like the people giving us that compliment. That’s just part of being human. Not everyone gets along. All we can do as composers is keep on fighting to get fairer copyright terms in our contracts. That way, we don’t need to apologize for our creativity being used for purposes we do not agree with. Now if you don’t mind, I need to go finish a PETA ad with licensed music by Ted Nugent…
I just found out that Alexander Courage died last month on May 15. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the Star Trek theme he composed. His music really captured the spirit of that show, exotic and moving (and firmly planted in the 60′s).
Unfortunately, whenever I think of Courage I also think of how rough the music business and show biz in general can be. He didn’t know what he was getting into with the original Star Trek but he composed one of his best works and was entitled to his share of the success the show would later achieve. I’m sure everyone would agree about that… except the creator of the show, Gene Roddenberry. Turns out Roddenberry was a sly one and wanted his share of the music royalty pie. He slapped some lyrics on the music after Courage finished writing it and then, because of the royalty rules, he was instantly entitled to 50% of the royalties the music would receive. The lyrics just add SO much:
Beyond the rim of the starlight,
my love is wand’ring in star flight.
I know he’ll find
In star clustered reaches
Love, strange love
A starwoman teaches.
I know his journey ends never.
His Star Trek will go on forever.
But tell him while
He wanders his starry sea,
Roddenberry claims to have had a handshake and later written agreement from Courage to do this, but Courage would of course claim this was completely unfair. And it was. But I guess the lesson here is to be very careful about contracts you sign. It’s common practice now to sign 100% of your game music over to the company you’re working for. Yes, that’s extremely unfair. You worked hard on that music and you’re entitled to its rewards. Let’s hope the game industry and show biz both aim for more fairness. It won’t happen if we don’t actively pursue it.
Qapla’, Alexander Courage.