Wilkinson Expands Cue Sheet Claims With 7 Additional TV Series

Film Music Magazine • March 3, 2010

Composer Alex Wilkinson has expanded his claims for cue sheet credit and royalties against composer Joel Goldsmith to include 7 additional television series that Wilkinson says he wrote original music for and has been denied cue sheet credit by Goldsmith.

Last month, Wilkinson claimed that Joel Goldsmith refused to give him cue sheet credit for 29 cues he says he wrote for the “Stargate SG-1” hit television series. Goldsmith told Film Music Magazine in response that Wilkinson was hired and worked only as an orchestrator on the series.

In a February 25 online post to Film Music Magazine, Wilkinson says he wrote original music for television series that he has been denied cue sheet credit for including “Hawkeye” (1994), “Diagnosis: Murder” (1998-1999), “Martial Law” (1998), “The Untouchables” (1993-1994), “Poltergeist: The Legacy” (1998), “Rattled” (1996), and “Monster!” (1999).

According to IMDB, Wilkinson is listed as having composed additional music for all of the newly claimed series except for “Hawkeye” where he is listed as music editor for 23 episodes and “The Untouchables” where he is listed as orchestrator for 30 episodes. Wilkinson says he has not received any cue sheet credit for any of the original music he says he wrote for these series.

Wilkinson says that Goldsmith “has threatened me with a libel lawsuit” about claims of authorship over the “Stargate” cues, and Wilkinson says he has a “mountain of evidence” to prove all of his claims including dated sequencer files, notes, DAT mixes, correspondence and more.

Joel Goldsmith could not be reached for comment, but has stated that he would not be publicly responding to Wilkinson’s claims beyond his online statement refuting Wilkinson’s Stargate claims.


By Chris on March 2nd, 2010 at 10:10 am

To the FMM editor-if you had some kind of independent reporting which verified one persons claims over the other then maybe you would have something to report here. But as it stands you are just allowing one side to vent a completely unsubstantiated claim about the injustice he believes he was subjected to from another. This is very much a case of one mans word against another and that’s all you have here. I know that ghostwriters can be taken advantage of and that this is indeed an issue in the film music community, however I don’t believe you are serving the community well by giving credence to one mans side of the argument without independently verified evidence. I personally do not believe that an IMDB reference is enough info to make a case. How about seeing some of the mountains of evidence and reporting-independently-on that? I make no claims that either side is right or wrong-simply that if you are going to publicize something that is a direct attack on an individual you need to have something more than simply one mans word against another. If you do, then by all means this would be newsworthy. If you don’t, I feel that you are simply reporting gossip. Or maybe just a case of sour grapes-and again that isn’t really newsworthy. I personally believe this site is and should remain above that kind of thing. So how about it? If you as the editor or reporter feel strongly that Mr. Wilkinson is telling the truth and there is a case to be made then I would recommend getting inside the story and publishing what you find. If you don’t want to or can’t, or maybe that’s above and beyond the call of FMM then I think that’s OK, but again I would recommend you keep it off the site. Without some independent reporting on this particular matter it comes across like FMM is very sympathetic to Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Goldsmith is the bad guy. My question is-is this fact or fiction? From this article and one from Feb 25th we simply don’t know.

By Chris on March 2nd, 2010 at 10:13 am

To reiterate one thing to my post above-I make no judgments about either side. I am not for or against Mr. Wilkinson or Mr. Goldsmith and I just want to make clear that more info is what we need here before making that judgement.

By Mark Northam on March 2nd, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Hi Chris -

You’re asking us to be judge and jury here, which is not the appropriate role of a news organization. Alex has stated in his legal claims that he has a great deal of evidence to back up his claim, and in the case of Stargate, sent us a detailed study of every episode the cues he claims he wrote appeared in with the timing for each cue, episode it was originally used in, and any further episodes each cue was re-used in. Alex says that Joel never walked him through any cues for Stargate at his house or provided blockings, timings, and tempo maps for the Stargate cues or any other films.

Goldsmith has just as strongly refuted Alex’s claims in terms of the Stargate music, and says he did spend a great deal of time at Alex’s house providing the blocking, timings, and tempo maps, and says that Alex worked only as an orchestrator. Clearly the difference between the versions the two parties is significant, but we’re not in a position to argue or decide which elements of which party’s legal claims are correct – that’s for lawyers, judges and juries to do. Once it became a legal matter, we made the decision it was newsworthy.

We have attempted to represent, as best we can, both sides of this legal claim, and I have had many conversations and emails with both sides in an attempt to get to the core issues here and portray them accurately and concisely as this issue touches on a huge issue in our community – when does orchestrating become composing? Depending on the arrangements between the 2 parties and the outcome of the case, the situation may also clarify what if any rights under the law ghostwriters have to music they’ve composed. Again, another issue that affects a great many people in our industry.

Although it’s a phrase used by another news organization I don’t always agree with, “we report, you decide” comes to mind here. We have, and will continue to provide the best coverage we know of regarding this legal situation between Alex and Joel to the extent that any legal settlement has the potential to affect others in our industry.

By Chris on March 2nd, 2010 at 5:07 pm

I respectfully disagree. I don’t expect you to be judge and jury merely a conveyor of information and fact. What you have mostly provided is one sides belief of what is fact and that’s not the same thing. Yes-Joel gets a reply in there but Alex is getting a lot of free air time, so to speak. His claim may be completely justified. But I think you give him so much deference and latitude in your story that in fact YOU ARE becoming judge and jury. The article very much feels one sided. Just because someone doesn’t want to comment further like Joel refuses to do, doesn’t necessarily make him out to be guilty of what he’s been accused. My whole point is the weight and credence you give Alex Wilkinson seems to give him the benefit of the doubt in this matter-at least that’s the way it comes across to my ear. And that’s why I think you need to dig deeper in a matter such as this or avoid it entirely. It’s one thing to kind of go after an institution like ASCAP like you often do in your opinion pieces but it’s quite another to be a part of an attack on an individual. I think the level of proof and the standards you apply when an individual’s reputation is being attacked should be a bit higher than the standards I think you have applied in this case. In any event something feels decidely one sided here and I as a reader would prefer not to read more stories like this if it’s just going to be one persons word over another without a little more independent fact seeking. That is what I expect out of the press and what is lacking here in my view.

By Mark Northam on March 2nd, 2010 at 5:31 pm

I appreciate your viewpoint, Chris. In this case, Alex has had a lot more to say than Joel, and I don’t think it would be appropriate to limit Alex’s claims and the details he has provided just because Joel has chosen to comment less.

In legal disputes like this, we try to include as many relevant and pertinent details as the parties are willing to provide. So let me ask you – if you were in my shoes, how would you go about verifying the evidence in this case? Alex has said he has a great deal of evidence including sequencer files, notes, correspondence, DAT tape mixes and more that he says proves his authorship of the cues in question and he has offered to send us copies of all of this. Would having those copies change his claims? Nope. Would it change Joel’s response? I don’t think so. And even if we verified that the tapes and notes were accurate regarding the cues, the core issue of these legal claims – that Alex acted as an orchestrator only and did not compose the music in question – still wouldn’t be solved. Only Joel and Alex know the truth regarding the role of each one in the creation of this music, and all the sequencer files and DAT tapes in the world won’t conclusively prove the case one way or another.

I remain open to any suggestion you might have as to what we could have done (or could do now) with all this evidence to improve our reporting on the legal dispute between these 2 parties. Ideally, we could post it online and let readers make up their own minds, but the legal and licensing issues re: the music would likely prevent that.

Finally, I have to disagree with your characterization of Alex and Joel’s dispute as “attacking” the reputation of either and your usage of terms like “sour grapes” and “gossip”. This is not about name calling, it’s a legal dispute regarding what may be six figures of royalty income over many years that relates to a core business issue for many composers – what is composing vs. what is orchestration and when is cue sheet credit appropriate to be given. We’ve filtered out all the personal “comments” that we received from both sides and focused on the core business dispute. As I said, if you think we should have done more with the evidence which remains available to us from Alex, I’d be interested in your specific suggestions.

By Alex Wilkinson on March 2nd, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Hi Chris. Stone me down if I am wrong, but does Joel not have a freedom of speech on FMM?

By Chris on March 3rd, 2010 at 9:24 am

You are not wrong. But even if you were I would not stone you down. But my one of my points here is just because Joel CAN say more-that doesn’t mean he HAS to-he may or may not be in the wrong here. But his silence (other than his single post) doesn’t make him wrong (or right) in my eyes. And on the flip side-your constant response to every comment doesn’t make you more in the right (or wrong). It’s just talk! Which is why I was looking for a little independent verification of things from the report itself. I think I’ve said enough about this. Best of luck to you. Thanks.

By Anon on March 3rd, 2010 at 10:22 am

Mark can post whatever he wants, it’s HIS site. No one is forced to read it. If Joel or anyone wants to claim that something is slander (or libel), he’s allowed to do that too!! I’m sure Mark has lawyers making sure what he posts are ok.

By hahaha on March 3rd, 2010 at 11:18 am

“THE STONING OF ALEX W.” financed and scored by Joel Goldsmith

By Gael MacGregor on March 3rd, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Mr. Wilkinson has made his dispute with Mr. Goldsmith public. Since this particular dispute deals with two specific issues many composers face (ghostwriting & when does orchestration become composition) FMM is definitely an appropriate spot for an article about them (in fact, this is simply a follow-up article reporting on the expanded claims).

It is Mr. Goldsmith who has not responded beyond his singular online statement in response to the original story — despite FMM’s reported attempts to reach him for comment (a link to Mr. Goldsmith’s original statement was provided in this follow-up article).

FMM has not presented a one-sided viewpoint, merely reported on the allegations Mr. Wilkinson has made RE his agreement and work with/for Mr. Goldsmith. Mr. Goldsmith has refuted Mr. Wilkinson’s claims and until concrete proof is provided and the dispute is settled in court, it is clearly one man’s word against another.

FMM has not claimed that merely by having credits on IMDb that it is proof of Mr. Wilkinson’s claims, simply that the info appears there.

I just wish some folks would read things more thoroughly and stop inferring things that don’t exist in the actual articles.

By Alex Wilkinson on March 4th, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Hello Gael. Thank you for your comments.

Please understand, I did not orchestrate for Goldsmith on Stargate or any other television series or film. Our history is that I was hired to compose music for Goldsmith, never to orchestrate.
In the cues Goldsmith hired me to compose music for, if I needed to use his theme in the middle, end or start of my composition I would use it. He would use my themes in his cues as well.

In all of the films and television we have scored together that is how it went. We each independently composed and produced cues in our own home MIDI studios. There simply was never any orchestration. Only the occasional use of each other’s themes if/when necessary. So in fact, the question of “When does orchestration become composition?” does not apply here.


By Richard Bellis on March 5th, 2010 at 4:26 pm

When one person is hired as the composer by virtue of THEIR reputation, THEIR demo or the pitch from THEIR agent, there are circumstances in which they may be jeopardizing both their job and the job of whomever they hire by listing people other than themselves on the cue sheet. When a deadline has forced me to use others to compose cues, they either receive cue sheet credit or extra money on a per minute of music created basis. Yes, they know this in advance.
I once had a producer go absolutely ballistic when he found out that I had “sub-contracted” the source music to a fellow composer. This in spite of the fact that it allowed me more time to compose the dramatic underscore for his film and it allowed the other composer more time to concentrate on the source. There are, in some cases, reasons for not listing others on the cue sheet. YOU were the one hired and YOU are the one who they expect, rightly or wrongly given the deadline, to compose the music.

By Alex Wilkinson on March 5th, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Hello Richard. I have seen your name and heard some of your scores, which I admire.
Being in he situation I am currently in, I have a questions about your comments which may give me some insight on how lead composers work.

You said:
“There are circumstances in which they may be jeopardizing both their job and the job of whomever they hire by listing people other than themselves on the cue sheet.”

1. How would giving cue sheet credit hurt the Additional Music Composer to whom YOU trust to represent YOU musically on one of your projects?

2 There usually is a per minute fee paid as a creative fee to Additional Music Composers aside from cue sheet credit. So what does “extra money on a per minute of music created basis.” mean?

3 In my case with Stargate SG-1 and all other films I composed with Goldsmith, my job was to compose some of the more dramatic underscore, rarely source music.
So how did you handle the more dramatic underscore with your Additional Music Composers?. Did they get cue sheet credit?

4 You said: “There are, in some cases, reasons for not listing others on the cue sheet.”
What are those reasons?


By Mark Northam on March 5th, 2010 at 8:50 pm


Producers rightly go “ballistic” when they discover that ghostwriters are used for copyright reasons since the producer has no legal agreement or license with the ghost who would by default own copyright on all original music he/she writes unless you have a binding written contract with the ghost. Plus, the secret use of a ghostwriter almost always puts the name composer in legal breach of the certificate of authorship and originality provisions of his/her composer agreement if it’s a work for hire job. If a composer doesn’t have time to complete a job, there are much better and more honest ways of handling it than hiring ghostwriters.

The practice of using uncredited ghostwriters for any reason both encourages and condones the unscrupulous practice of falsifying authorship on cue sheets, which is the beginning of a very nasty slippery slope that ends with disreputable companies and individuals as a matter of policy taking partial or complete authorship of music they had no hand in writing. It abandons any sense of integrity of authorship, and instead makes authorship nothing more than another negotiating point in a deal to be sold or taken as a condition of getting hired. Sadly, the performing rights organizations are content to look the other way when this happens, despite the fact it’s in direct violation of their rules.

I cannot tell you how many new and emerging composers I’ve seen completely screwed over on deals because of the willingness of some people in this town to put authorship “up for sale” or simply demand it with the usual slimy excuses like “sorry, but I have to be listed on the sheet” etc. At least with the “hey, kid, just do it for the exposure” free work scam, the composer comes out of the deal with his authorship intact. Robbing another of his or her cue sheet authorship for a buck is a far more abusive practice, and like it or not, the cue sheet is commonly accepted as THE official record of authorship for film and television music.

There’s a very simple concept that applies:

1. If you wrote the music, you’re the author.
2. If you co-wrote the music, you’re a co-author.
3. If you didn’t write the music, you have no business putting your name on the cue sheet as author or co-author.

Listing anyone other than the true author of music on a cue sheet is a direct attack on the concept of authorship and the very integrity of our art and craft. To allow authorship to be reduced to a negotiating item is to put the integrity of our music and the composing process up for sale and treats music no differently than treating a hubcap coming off an assembly line where the concept of which person actually created the product has little or no relevance. In my book, who actually writes music has a great deal of relevance, not to mention it being the basis for our entire system of royalties.

To put it another way, authorship is a function, not a commodity to be bought and sold or given and taken. A composer is an author because of their actual role in writing the music, not because of some deal point they’ve bought or sold, and certainly not as a result of some hapless ghostwriter or naive newbie they’ve talked into giving up authorship of their music for their lifetime + 70 years. In some ways authorship is like respect – it’s earned, not given or handed over.

The fact that so many people and organizations in our industry support and condone this destructive, dangerous practice is a sad testimony to the state of our industry. And just because it’s the way it’s always been done doesn’t make it right. Not by a long shot.

P.S. My comments are in response to Richard Bellis’ statements and address the concept of authorship – they are not intended in any way to address the situation between Alex and Joel.

By Richard Bellis on March 6th, 2010 at 6:35 am

Mark – We should all be lucky enough to live in the perfect world which you describe where everything is black or white. Where right is an absolute. Where a composer, feeling that the schedule is too tight, turns the job down rather than ask someone else to work on the project and accept up-front money rather than cue sheet credit.

Frustration has its basis in expectation. Every individual should be responsible for getting the answers up front. “What is the deal? No cue sheet credit for additional music? Thank you but I don’t work that way”

And BTW, the PROs do not “look the other way”. They will respond to anyone who raises a challenge to a cue sheet entry. Can they search out and track down all of the instances where an inappropriate or fraudulent entry has been made? Simply, no. You may have heard by now that ASCAP will be making cue sheets available for viewing online through Member Access later this year. That’s for those who might not have put language in their contract about receiving a copy of the cue sheet.

Alex – Because things are never clear cut, black and white, there could be situations where the scope of the work unexpectedly increases. There might be a family illness or death. There might be mandatory evacuations (living in Santa Barbara I’m too familiar with those) all of which might create the necessity to get help. If the contract including the Certificate of Authorship has been signed and executed, there may not be time to create another contract for the additional composer before the deadline. Corporations are not fond of having someone do the work and THEN negotiate the deal. Theoretically, which is how legal departments think, the other composer could do his/her work, the film gets dubbed and there is no agreement in place. Yes, you and I know that it would be professional suicide for that composer to try and stick it to the company at that point but no one in the legal department is ready to accept responsibility for being asleep at the wheel.
That’s just one possible scenario. Every job contains situations where flexibility is called for.

In the situations where I have needed help (which BTW have been few), there have been three possible scenarios.
1.) Give cue sheet credit-always preferable-with Certificate of Authorship
2.) No cue sheet credit but 50% more per minute up front
3.) No cue sheet credit but I pay the individual every time I receive a distribution. I still, like a publisher, cut checks for projects which were done in the 80′s. I consider this a lifetime commitment even though some of the people have told me I don’t have to continue.

These composers not only agreed to the terms but are still happy with the decision they made and are still friends today. Good friends.

By Alex Wilkinson on March 6th, 2010 at 9:42 am

Hi Richard, 1. I am sorry but the PRO’S do look the other way even when detailed instances where inappropriate, fraudulent cue sheet entry have been clearly documented and presented to them. Even when there is previously documented history of cue sheet fraud committed by the same entity once again and yet again. Still the PRO’S look the other way.
I was told more than once that the cue sheet fraud issue is between the credited composer and myself and nothing can be done until my name is on the cue sheets. Richard, you are on the Board, I ask you, is that not looking the other way?

2. So, are you in essence saying that it is acceptable common practice for the lead composer to breach his / her binding contract with the studios regarding authorship if: the workload increases, or there is terrible weather, a death in the family or there is no time to print out a standard C of A before the deadline or because “Corporations are not fond of having someone do the work and THEN negotiate the deal.” ? Wow!
Just as it is the Production company’s responsibility to provide contracts to the hired composer outlining the parameters of their deal, It is the hired composer’s responsibility to provide contracts to the Additional Music Composer outlining the parameters of their deal. Especially if the hired composer intends to claim authorship of the Additional Music Composer’s compositions.
Otherwise, if you wrote the music, you’re the author. And should at least be given cue sheet credit. Period.

3. After your lifetime commitment of making payments to your Additional Music Composers, who pays the + 70 years of payments?


By Alex Wilkinson on March 6th, 2010 at 10:33 am

Thanks Richard. I ‘ll need it.
All the best!

By Alex Wilkinson on March 6th, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Richard, my question about the +70 years of payments was not intended to offend or pry into your personal business. I’m sorry if it came across that way. My question to was meant to be a global kind of question, not personal.
I have heard about that rare kind of payment arrangement before. Myself and many others are curious about how that actually works. That’s all.

By Mark Northam on March 6th, 2010 at 1:51 pm


As Alex asked you, are you concerned at all about breaching your legal composer contract by using ghostwriters, because that’s exactly what doing this does. In my many years in this business, I have yet to see a composer agreement with a clause that permits ghostwriters.

While I agree it may be inconvenient to get the studio to create an extra COA/agreement for the additional music composer, I would think that would be a better and more honest and ethical approach than using a ghost, creating a potential copyright problem, and “hoping” the studio doesn’t catch you in the act of breaching your composer agreement. You talk about “career suicide” but getting caught in the act of breaching your composer agreement could easily result in this. And if the studios start hearing from composers in this area, they might realize they’re not giving composers enough time to get the job done themselves.

The PROs certainly do look the other way when well-known cue sheet robbers are allowed to flourish at ASCAP. A few years ago, a major animation company whose policies in this area are well known to ASCAP and the industry was welcomed to ASCAP as a new member after they were “asked to leave” another PRO due to their unscrupulous business practices of demanding a big chunk of cue sheet credit as kickback for the head of the company who, of course, had nothing to do with writing the music.

And speaking of career suicide, that’s exactly what ASCAP and the PROs expect composers to do in these cases – instead of taking responsibility for policing the system that they create and run, they expect an individual composer to put their careers on the line by making public charges against a company they probably said “no” to anyway. Who has the legal budget for that? It’s a ridiculous and impractical policy designed to avoid addressing any integrity issues when it comes to allowing known cue sheet robbers to flourish.

These companies simply keep going around to one composer after another until they find one willing to take the “deal”. That composer isn’t going to complain, and the rest of the composers never took the “deal” anyway, so what standing do they have to charge the company in court or otherwise?

Richard, true there is black & white on one end, but on the other end there is what we have now – a system that lacks even the most basic safeguards to prevent the wholesale ripoff of composer royalties from the most vulnerable among us. It is simply unacceptable that the organizations that make and enforce the rules regarding cue sheets bury their heads in the sand, or expect individual composers to commit career suicide, when it comes to well-known institutionalized cases of cue sheet robbers. And perhaps worse yet, it sends a message loud and clear to the industry: cue sheet ripoffs are OK, the PROs won’t lift a finger to stop them.

Glad to hear ASCAP is finally giving composers what we’ve been asking for for years – online access to cue sheets. Now for the critical part: what is the online process for edits, adds and changes? And will RapidCue finally be opened to to EVERYONE, not just the big shots who do a high volume of work while the rest of us are left to hope that the clerks at ASCAP “type” our printed cue sheets in correctly or import our Excel sheets correctly? At least with online access to cue sheets, we will be able to spot any mistakes quickly.

By Mark Northam on March 6th, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Speaking of career suicide, I saw it happen to a fairly well known television composer years ago and it’s worthy of a mention.

The composer had used ghostwriters on several occasions, including a friend of mine. My friend says the composer said it was “ok” to use the music on demos, so he did. One day, the head of music at a big-3 TV network got 2 demos on his desk, and both had some of the same music on it – one from the ghost, one from the name composer. The network exec went crazy and called them both into his office, discovered the truth, and was so worried about copyright issues that he had the ghost sign documents on the spot to grant the network copyright. The ghost was happy to do so, and only wanted to improve his relationship with the network. Remember that copyright automatically is owned by the person who writes music unless that person has a WRITTEN work for hire agreement or other written agreement in place that transfers copyright to the employer or someone else. Most composers don’t have written agreements with their ghostwriters as that would provide a paper trail to evidence the fact that they breached their legal composer agreement by using a ghostwriter. And in the USA, copyright cannot, by law, be transferred orally.

The end result? The name composer was essentially frozen out of the business (since music execs talk to each other) and no longer was able to work as a film & TV composer. The ghost, unfortunately, suffered the same fate as he was “involved” in what the network saw as a nasty breach of contract and deception by the name composer. Not long after this incident, he was selling real estate and was no longer composing.

Bottom line: Ghostwriters represent legal and career time-bombs that can pop up any time in the future and cause irreparable legal and career damage to composers. Beyond the legal aspects of their copyrights, the fact that name composers choose to deceive their employer and breach their legal composer agreements is not something that studios or any other employer appreciates.

If you’re going to use ghostwriters, or work as a ghostwriter, make sure you understand what you’ll be expected to do down the road to maintain the conspiracy of deception that you’re part of. And for the name composers, you had better make sure you keep those ghosts friends – good friends – for a long time to come.

By Jack Jackson on March 6th, 2010 at 5:49 pm

It is beyond shocking that an ASCAP board member, professional composer and “educator,” is admitting here that he has violated federal copyright law on numerous occasions and thinks there is nothing wrong with it. Since this was done knowingly and willfully for personal gain, it might be considered a crime, not just a civil matter. Maybe some day a federal prosecutor will take an interest in this issue. Not to mention the utter lack of moral compass, that one composer, one so-called “artist,” is stealing authorship of and taking credit for the work of another.

Sorry, Richard, the fact that you’re evacuated from your Santa Barbara home (lucky you, partially paid for by the work of ghostwriters) does not, by any stretch of the imagination, make it okay for you to steal another artist’s authorship of their work. This sounds like how any criminal tries to justify their bad deeds.

This idea of overpaying ghostwriters for their hourly labor or writing checks to them out of your royalties for the rest of your life is preposterous… And you know it. I believe copyright now extends to life plus 95 years to the author and their heirs. What happens when your “lifetime commitment” ends? You think someone else is going to continue writing those checks? Of course not. At some point you, or your heirs after your death, will stop making the payments and just keep the money.

You represent everything that is wrong with the entertainment industry and this greed-driven world we now live in.

Good luck, Richard.

By Alex Wilkinson on March 6th, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Thank you for responding Jack. I realize that your comment is not directed at my personal situation, but I thank you for your insight and understanding of the topic at hand. Thanks again!


By Richard Bellis on March 6th, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Yes Jack. Incredible insights and wisdom.

By Jack Jackson on March 6th, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Actually, Mr. Wilkinson, I think it does apply to your situation, and many others. The funny thing is, it seems that you guys have been arguing for days here about whether this job of ghostwriting goes on at all, or whether it’s really composing or just orchestrating, right? Well here you have an expert, a star witness, a real live “Perry Mason” moment…

Richard Bellis, ASCAP board member and working composer, is saying that ghostwriting does occur without copyright transfer, cue sheet credit, or approval or knowledge by the production companies. Bellis is saying that this ghostwriting is indeed composing (no mention of orchestrating blocked out/timed cues by Bellis), and that he engages in this practice! And it sounds like it’s okay with ASCAP, since Bellis is a member of the board of directors! If anyone in the industry or the film community at large was not sure before tonight, they can rest assured now, thanks to Richard Bellis and FMM, that uncredited ghostwriting is common practice.

By Mark Northam on March 7th, 2010 at 1:18 am

Fascinating thread. Jack, here’s my question to you: assuming you’re right about the points you make and the practice of uncredited ghostwriting has and is going on and is a common practice, how do you apply that to Alex’s situation with Joel?

I frankly am still concerned about the willful breach of legal composer agreements by hiring uncredited ghostwriters and the potential copyright and career issues for both parties this creates. In my opinion, it’s a slimy, indefensible practice.

By Les Hurdle on March 7th, 2010 at 7:43 am

Hmmmmmmmm all the more reason to use Library music !
On that note………
The composer had used ghostwriters on several occasions, including a friend of mine. My friend says the composer said it was “ok” to use the music on demos, so he did. One day, the head of music at a big-3 TV network got 2 demos on his desk, and both had some of the same music on it – one from the ghost, one from the name composer. The network exec went crazy and called them both into his office, discovered the truth, and was so worried about copyright issues that he had the ghost sign documents on the spot to grant the network copyright.

Be very aware of re-titled product.

However, let’s not point the finger at Mr Bellis.
ASCAP has awarded those who did not write the music they claim, long before Mr Bellis was on the board.

We are in a business, it stinks, those we employ [and vote for] make it their job and life’s work to ensure most of are not paid…….. what is a cue sheet among friends ;-(


By Jack Jackson on March 7th, 2010 at 9:12 am

Yes, it is a slimy, indefensible practice, agreed. Bellis’ comments are an example that this is done without much concern for the legal or moral breaches involved. It’s amazing. And amazing that Bellis has the audacity to admit this on the internet. He knows that he is violating his composer agreement, he knows that he is potentially putting both himself and the production company at risk of being sued at a later date by the ghostwriters, yet he brazenly admits to this practice. This says to me that he must feel completely confident that the system that ought to be protecting the actual composers will instead protect the establishment. As usual.

Re. Wilkinson/Goldsmith: I think Bellis’ comments just show that ghostwriting–precisely as Wilkinson describes it–is common practice. It lends credence to Wilkinson’s story, if you will, and makes Goldsmith’s defense less believable than it already sounds on its face. When considering your Goldsmith quote: “I spent many, many hours in his studio with him blocking these cues out because our studios weren’t communicating at the time. I distinctly remember thinking to myself at the time that this was ridiculous and that by this time I could have just done these myself.” In light of Bellis’ comments, I think one tends to agree with Goldsmith himself that this idea sounds “ridiculous” and we notice that Wilkinson’s claim is completely in line with ASCAP board member Bellis’ description of ghostwriting.

I’m not pointing the finger at Bellis for inventing ghostwriting. However, he is a member of the board of directors of ASCAP. ASCAP is one of the world’s largest royalty collecting and distributing organizations. ASCAP should be dedicated to the fair and proper distribution of royalties. Being a board member, the practices of Richard Bellis can fairly be used as an example of the policies of ASCAP in general. If this is not the case, if these practices are not condoned by ASCAP, maybe an ASCAP representative will step up and clarify the issue.

By Chris on March 7th, 2010 at 11:24 am

HO HO HOLD ON for a minute. Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in…Not to defend wholeheartedly the practice of ghostwriting but there are a number of things people are not considering. First and foremost everyone in the film and tv music community whines and complains about the shrinking post production schedules for composing and I think there is the simple reality in a lot of ghost writing cases that there is simply not enough time for the originally hired composer to complete a job in the time they are given in the end. I have worked on lots of shows that have a post schedule that looks perfectly adequate and by the time all is said and done that schedule isn’t even close to what happens. There have been cuts and re-cuts and fine cuts thrown out and some exec hates the cut and by the time you get a copy of the show that you can actually work on most of the time you had to compose is just gone. And because we are almost always last in the chain we often still have the final deadline to meet even though we might not have gotten a cut to work from in some cases until just a few days before the show is supposed to mix. So I think many people go into a gig with the best of intentions and then due to no fault of their own they need to bring some help on board to finish the job. And, when the composer may have thought most of the money would end up in their own pocket, a whole bunch of it ends up going into the helping composers (ghost writers) pocket. What are you supposed to do when this kind of situation arises? Bail on the gig completely? Stand firm and tell the producers you just can’t finish in time? Please! Let me tell you that you will simply not work in this business if this is what you do. Another problem that I have run into which is similar is when you get booked on a couple of gigs which are originally scheduled with ample time for each one and again the post schedule on one gig starts to delay and delay and delay and then all the sudden it’s smack dab in the middle of the other show. You have two choices-bail on one of the gigs or do them both and hire some help. Again, you will be taking a pay cut one way or the other just to finish the gigs and keep the producers happy. And again, if you end up walking away and leaving the producers hi and dry you will likely find your composing career a short one. So in my experience, these two scenarios happen an awful lot and are probably responsible for a good chunk of the ghost writing going on, with most composers I know preferring NOT to hire anyone to help them. So in these cases I think you have to look at ghost writing for what it is, the best solution to a problem that isn’t going to go away and is simply part of the gig. It isn’t perfect, but if you are fair to the ghost writers (AND I believe you should always credit them on the cue sheet) then it’s usually a win-win for the everyone. I have felt this way as the guy hiring the writer as well as being the ghost writer. It’s not the blight on the industry that many of the previous comments have made it out to be. It is also an excellent way to learn-as sometimes being a ghost writer you get to work on a project you may not be able to get on your own-depending of course on ones experience. Go on and slay me if you must-as I know there is a bent to this thread that ghost writing is the devil-but that is simply ridiculous. There IS a way to do it where all parties end up happy. In regard to the legal aspects, there may be a case to be made that it violates a contract that has been signed-but when schedules aren’t adhered to by producers-they too are violating the agreement that has been signed. So in my opinion you simply are trying to work around obstacles in a much less than perfect world and most producers are glad in the end that you are able to finish when they need their music and though everyone wants the music to be great it often just has to be done-on time!

Now about the greedy composers who do this commonly and regularly. There ARE a bunch of these guys for sure. They may be very talented in their own right but they simply will not turn down work they KNOW they can’t do and continue to take the work and hire a bunch of guys to help them-all the time. This in my opinion is a very different scenario than the ones I describe above. It is abhorrent in my view for a number of reasons. First and foremost is-hey you’ve got enough gigs and plenty of money why not leave some for the rest of us. And then of course is the cue sheet credit. I do know that some of these guys DO NOT put their ghost writers on the cue sheet. The writers get paid a flat rate per minute of music and that is all they’ll ever get. It’s too bad because many of them don’t know what they are giving up by not being on the cue sheet, but they will learn. In my personal experience I did some work for SABAN (yuk!!!) I’ll say it and they can find me and sue me if they want but there was a time when I didn’t really know how much money I was giving up. I needed the work and was much younger and it sounded good at the time. But I learned my lesson and how much money I didn’t get because I wasn’t on the cue sheet.

Anyway, I think this discussion is getting a little off track and vilifying a practice which is not necessarily evil. Yes it definitely CAN be a bad thing but I think there are a lot of people who are using is as I describe in the first paragraph and are not trying to abuse anyone or take advantage of anyone or trying to defy the language of a contract they may have signed but instead are simply trying to make the best of a bad post productions situation and get the job done. I now lay down my sword and prepare to be slain….

PS-My comments don’t imply guilt or innocence to Alex or Joel here just in response to where the comments seem to have taken things.

By Jack Jackson on March 7th, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Excellent points, Chris!

I agree with everything you’re saying with a huge bold-face, large-type, underline on the part about putting the ghostwriters on the cue sheets. When that is done, I don’t think anyone complains about the practice. When the ghostwriter is on the cue sheet, then it is everything you describe: a solution to an intolerable work situation, a path for young composers to gain experience, and an equitable and accurate way to dole out the royalties. Also, in order to put the ghostwriter on the cue sheet, the studio must know about it, so there is no contract violation.

When ghostwriters are left off of the cue sheets and someone else’s name is put there as if they composed the music (no matter what the justification), then I believe it is illegal, unethical, immoral, and borders on pure evil, as you also imply.

By Alex Wilkinson on March 7th, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Great comments Guys! I could not have said it better!!!


By Richard Bellis on March 7th, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Okay. This is not necessary but there is a situation of which no one has spoken and it happens to be the situation which was mine.
In the late 80′s and through the 90′s I had enough work to justify an assistant. Actually, a couple of assistants. They had been my students at USC.
I have never believed in internships. I believe if someone does a job, they deserve to be paid. I paid my assistants an hourly wage for the “office” type jobs – taking scores to the copyist, answering the phone, booking studio time, etc.
Occasionally, I would have need for a small copying job. Maybe a vocal or a rhythm chart and I would have my assistant do that. He would come off the “office” clock and would be paid as a copyist even though he lacked the professional experience.
I’m an arranger and consequently did all of my own orchestration unless time ran out and then I hired a professional orchestrator. However, if there was a small-group piece of music that needed to be orchestrated, I would give it to my assistant and pay him, at the very least, the scale page rate. I was fully aware that my assistant did not want to be an assistant but rather a composer. If there was a cue or two that I felt he was ready to compose, I would give him those cues. Sometimes they involved my thematic material sometimes not. I did not call the filmmaker at that point and say, “Listen, would you mind if I have my assistant do a couple of cues? He’s very good and needs the experience.” “Oh, and we’ll need another COA as well. Is that cool?”
You and I know what the answer would have been. I assumed responsibility for those cues because I could absorb the criticism. If the cue was problematic, I would claim it and rewrite it. This, on one occasion, proved an invaluable lesson to my assistant. I couldn’t go to the dub that day so he went. He was privy to hearing the director and producer talk about his cue freely because they thought it was mine and held nothing back.

He wanted to compose but had little or no chance at the time of getting his own movies. He learned his craft with anonymity. I took the heat and the praise. You can’t have one without the other. He, as well as my other assistant, has gone on to have very successful careers in this business. I feel confident in saying they feel more grateful than abused by working for me. My concern was for them to learn in a nonthreatening environment. That’s what mentors do.
My house in Santa Barbara was not purchased on their sweat.

By Richard Bellis on March 7th, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Jack, you’re up!

By Mark Northam on March 7th, 2010 at 6:50 pm


I’ll let Jack respond with this thoughts, but from my point of view, acting as a mentor with whatever good intentions you may have had, is no excuse for the taking of authorship or co-authorship. And the taking of authorship is about the most “threatening” environment I can imagine for a writer, whether new or experienced. When you threaten or take authorship, you take everything a writer stands for.

I realize that in some cases it may not be convenient for you to put the actual writer or co-writer (if he/she used your themes) on the sheet, but inconvenience is no excuse for the taking of authorship and submitting cue sheets with fraudulent authors listed – fraudulent, as in they are not the actual authors of the music – the people who actually wrote the music.

I’ll say it again… authorship is a function of writing music, not a commodity to be bought and sold, given and taken at will, no matter how convenient it might be. It’s not only my opinion, it’s codified into the rules at ASCAP and BMI.

If you want to be a mentor, great, but frankly I think you ought to be setting a better example. Breaching composer agreements by hiring uncredited ghostwriters, then putting your name on their music – for whatever reason – is simply wrong. It’s legally wrong, and it’s morally wrong, and it furthers a decades-old dangerous practice that our young composers should be shown by example is unacceptable if we as an industry are to maintain the integrity of authorship.

Sorry, Richard, but I couldn’t disagree with you more on this issue.

By Mark Northam on March 7th, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Also, it’s not fair to single out Richard as if he were the only one that takes authorship. He comes from a generation where the taking of authorship, especially from younger or newer composers, was much more prevalent and accepted than it is now.

I just think we can do better. I think the next generation of composers needs to move beyond the dangerous and destructive practices of the past generation and it becomes incumbent upon our educators to help newer composers understand the moral issues as well as the financial costs of these actions so that they can move beyond the injustices of the past and create a better and more enlightened working environment in which to build their careers.

By Richard Bellis on March 7th, 2010 at 7:15 pm

That’s alright Mark. You speak hypothetically. I speak from practical experience.

If any generation can get their own work without the help of the established, more power to them. Then writing without credit becomes is a nonissue.
As a matter of fact, if, in the case of apprentices and interns, your approach was to be followed, we would probably see a significant reduction in the overpopulation of aspiring film composers.

All the young composers have to say is “No, thank you”. that would bring about your vision of integrity.

It might have been in keeping with your point of view for me not to give my assistants an opportunity to learn. But, they, who now have significant catalogs of their own, would not agree.

By Richard Bellis on March 7th, 2010 at 7:45 pm

“If you want to be a mentor, great, but frankly I think you ought to be setting a better example.”

I have a pretty good record as a mentor and with all (or whatever) due respect I think I may disregard your admonishment.

By Mark Northam on March 7th, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Richard says, “That’s alright Mark. You speak hypothetically. I speak from practical experience. If any generation can get their own work without the help of the established, more power to them. Then writing without credit becomes is a nonissue.”

Actually I have considerable experience with the ghostwriter issue, having been asked to ghostwrite early in my composing career, and having spoken with a great number of composers, especially younger ones, who have been in this situation.

The problem I have with your argument, Richard, is that you equate the “help of the established” with “writing without credit”. Where on earth is it written that the cost of mentorship must be the taking of authorship from young composers?? That is exactly the mentality we need to get beyond in this industry. There are far better examples that we can set for the next generation other than taking their authorship for life + 70 years as the cost of receiving mentorship, not to mention breaching legally binding composer agreements.

We can, and must do better.

By Richard Bellis on March 7th, 2010 at 8:08 pm

I’m afraid you don’t understand. I could have written those cues that I let my assistants write. If it had been the choice between asking for permission to let my assistant write some cues or merely doing them myself, prudence and actually common sense would have led me to do them myself. I could have continued to pay my assistant an hourly wage, have them get my car washed, pick up the cleaning until they tired of that and went to work for another composer. I believed in them and gave them an opportunity which led to a significant degree of success.

Sorry ’bout that.

By Richard Bellis on March 7th, 2010 at 8:11 pm

By the way, the futility quotient being just as high as it has ever been, I’m done here.

By Mark Northam on March 7th, 2010 at 8:15 pm

I understand perfectly, Richard. You gave them the “opportunity” to write music and have their authorship taken from them by you.

Hell of an opportunity.

Why not just be up front, pay them for their work, or let them know there’s no pay involved but let them keep their authorship as compensation?

By Richard Bellis on March 7th, 2010 at 8:25 pm

You should ask them!

By Chris on March 8th, 2010 at 7:39 am

I can only speak of my personal experience but I mentored under another composer for about 2 years-early in my career. He also did not give me cue sheet credit for anything I wrote. We did a lot of PBS work and I think the argument was there isn’t much money to be had anyway (PBS royalties are low-very low-for anyone who doesn’t know) so he was going to keep me off of the cue sheet. I was young and I really didn’t know any better. Now-shame on me for not knowing, but sometimes it takes a while to learn. Anyway, it was because of my lack of experience with how residuals worked and how much money can be made from them that led me to work with Saban (yuk!! again). They asked me to sign my rights away and I thought OK-it’s just not a big deal. It really wasn’t until I got a little further in my career that I realized, hey signing your residuals away is really really stupid! So I think Mark has a very valid point although beating Richard up about isn’t going to help. In Richard’s defense I have a sense that there was a lot of good that came out of his mentoring for his assistants and maybe that’s true for me as well. I think the question is, if he had it do over would he keep their names off the cue sheet or would he think better of it now. Maybe there is a generational thing here and I think you can look back to a lot of things people “used to do” (in all facets of society) and now they would not. Usually it’s for the better. Anyway, I think there is a lesson to be learned here in that if you are mentoring young composers it’s important to mentor both the business side and art side if possible. In my case, I was behind the curve after being mentored when it came to how residuals worked. I have learned well since. I do wonder if I would have made some of the same choices early in my career if I had known some of the things I mentioned above a little bit earlier. Anyway food for thought. On another topic. I personally really appreciate someone like Richard Bellis not being afraid to say what he thinks and to tell of his experiences here without censorship. So I hope you don’t go away. I think those of you who are attacking him personally (Mark I know you are not trying to make the attack personal but you are definitely brow beating a bit) should give him a little bit of deference. He’s posting what he thinks and he is someone who has been around the block in the film music community and FMM could really use more people like him on the comment boards here-meaning a real, longtime pro.

By Jack Jackson on March 8th, 2010 at 11:36 am

Well this has become a very complicated discussion… I wonder how many people are reading along silently. Do you know, Mr. Northam?

As I read Bellis’ first comment about being a mentor, I must admit that I bought into it. It makes sense, a composer giving a student an opportunity to score a cue without credit, for the learning experience. But then I read Northam’s response and realized that his perspective is truly correct. This is an issue of authorship, copyright, and royalties, and there is never an excuse to claim authorship of someone else’s creative work. There is no provision in the Copyright Act for student/mentor relationships being excluded from the law. Also, to get back on track, that is NOT what this discussion has been about. Bellis’ first two comments (I had to scroll up 12 pages to find them) had nothing to do with mentoring. Recall this quote from Bellis:

“Because things are never clear cut, black and white, there could be situations where the scope of the work unexpectedly increases. There might be a family illness or death. There might be mandatory evacuations (living in Santa Barbara I’m too familiar with those) all of which might create the necessity to get help. If the contract including the Certificate of Authorship has been signed and executed, there may not be time to create another contract for the additional composer before the deadline.”

This has nothing to do with mentoring students. This is the case of a composer unable to finish his work, and instead of being honest with the production company, he hired ghostwriters and then took compositional, screen, copyright, and cue sheet (royalty) credit for their work. If we go back to the issue that started this whole conversation, Wilkinson v. Goldsmith, according to Wilkinson, although it seems that Goldsmith did give Wilkinson some early breaks, it was not a mentor/student relationship. According to both Goldsmith and Wilkinson, Goldsmith hired Wilkinson when Goldsmith was unable to finish his work on his own. The only issue there is whether or not Goldsmith spent many, many hours at Wilkinson’s house writing the cues for Wilkinson to orchestrate. Doesn’t sound likely, since a lack of time was the reason Goldsmith hired Wilkinson, but that should be fairly easy to figure out.

On a side note, I wonder what Goldsmith means by “our studios weren’t communicating at the time.” We’re talking about the late 1990′s and into the 2000′s here. I’m pretty sure Al Gore had already rolled out the internet by then and all of us had email…

One last thing. I think there is something to this talk of generational differences. Some people still think the old way is best, but it’s not what is acceptable anymore.

By Mark Northam on March 8th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Chris -

Good points, and you’re right – I shouldn’t have been so hard on Richard. Years ago when I was a relatively new composer in LA, out of the blue he did a very unethical, nasty, public thing that targeted me and my writing partner at the time personally. Although he apologized 10 years later when I finally decided to confront him about it, I admit that act really colored my view of Richard, and perhaps still does. As a relatively new composer, I was astonished that a supposed “pro” like him would go after someone else that he barely knew with such a vengeance, especially a new composer. It was a startling wake-up call for me as a new composer to the truly cutthroat, knife-in-the-back nature of LA composer politics.

Despite the fact I’ve heard for years how Richard despises me and what we do with FMM, FMN, etc (he’s made no secret of his criticism), reading over my comments to Richard, I was a bit over the top, and I did let my “history” with him color my writing. I am also very passionate about my objections to uncredited ghostwriting and how that has hurt so many composers, so that also added to the zeal of my comments. So Chris, thanks – point taken. And Richard, sorry if I was too harsh on you. Maybe one day you’ll see we’re both trying to help composers in our own way.

Jack, I think you’re right on target with your comments – all of them.

By Deane Ogden on March 20th, 2010 at 8:26 am

Interesting (*explosive?) read, fellas!

A lot to take in, but two knee-jerk reactions right off the bat:

1. “You’re asking us to be judge and jury here, which is not the appropriate role of a news organization.” Yet, as things finished up toward the end of the thread, that is EXACTLY what happened. Opinions were stated and “unbiased news reporting” was relegated to the back of the bus.

2. It’s profoundly interesting to me that this industry wants all composers who make use of ghostwriters, assistants, and additional music composers to come clean and be honest with their use of such resources, yet when one does (in this case, Mr. Bellis), he/she is tried and convicted on the spot. Seems like Richard Bellis’ real-world perspective as a veteran working composer/film music educator would have been better used here as a springboard for a greater discussion rather than a witch hunt on his character as a human being.

Aside from those two things, I think the core focus of this thread could be the beginnings of reform in our industry for things that need to be addressed. Of course, that will require us moving beyond ourselves and entering into a more productive dialog that can actually make a difference.

By Mark Northam on March 20th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Good points, Deane. While I stand by the news standpoint of the story, when you allow open comments in a thread, opinions will always carry the day. It’s the very nature of open comment threads, but I have to believe that the benefits of an open forum like this outweigh the fact that opinions are introduced into the thread of a news article.

Regarding Richard Bellis, I appreciate his candor, but you’ll notice that he consistently ducked questions about the fact that his use of ghostwriters and approval and justification for using uncredited ghostwriters was illegal under most composer agreements. It’s a direct violation of the originality promises that most composers must sign, and it sets up a legal time bomb for the ghostwriter, named composer and production company that could explode any time in the future. Uncredited ghostwriting is a plague on our industry, and can be avoided simply by being up front with the production company about the need for additional help to meet THEIR deadline. Being upfront with the production company about the use of ghostwriters and getting them the legal protection they deserve, not to mention the authorship they deserve for the music the write, is a far better solution than keeping them a dirty, dark secret.

Richard and I disagree on one very, core point: that sometimes it’s OK to use uncredited ghostwriters and take authorship of their music. In my mind, it’s really quite simple: you don’t put your name on music that someone else wrote. If you both co-wrote it, then share cue sheet credit, but I find it completely unacceptable to put your name on music you didn’t write. He clearly disagrees with this, and we “agree to disagree” on this point.

By Richard Bellis on March 20th, 2010 at 3:49 pm

The “legal time bomb” is easily defused by anyone being hired to write original material saying “no” if they are refused cue sheet credit.
The “plaque” can be either broken or periodontally removed, depending on the meaning you had in mind, by the prospective “ghostwriters” saying “no”.

“Don’t ask don’t tell” should only be applied to an inequity in military service.

Ask and say “no”. The simplest of solutions. Anyone capable of creating music is relatively intelligent. Let’s not depict emerging composers as innocents without a will.

Don’t be a victim! Say “no”.

By Mark Northam on March 20th, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Hi Richard -

But it’s as much a legal time bomb for the name composer, who is in almost every case violating his legally binding composer agreement if he hires uncredited ghostwriters. This can come back and bite people years later, and it’s not pretty. I saw it happen at a big-3 network in the 90s and 2 composers got blacklisted as a result.

Regarding saying “no”, that’s not always easy for a young composer who is offered a “break” by a veteran composer who is in a position to have a great influence on the new composer’s career and contacts. It’s by no means a level playing field, and the new composer is at a significant disadvantage.

Instead of expecting new composers to just “say no”, let’s not put new composers in that tough position and just not ask them to give up their authorship. Or if we need help on a project, be up front with the production company and get them added to the contract as credited additional music composers. Either of these options is far more fair, not to mention legal, as compared to breaching a composer agreement and taking authorship by hiring uncredited ghostwriters.

(and I used the word “plague”, not “plaque”)

By Richard Bellis on March 20th, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Sorry. Then plague can be eradicated..

You seem to think that contacting the production company and finding agreement is a simple solution. While my experience may be different from yours (maybe even significantly), I find it’s not as simple as the aspiring composer just saying “no”. If enough emerging composers would say “no” to the very few, established composers, who ask for this type of concession, it would quickly result in abandonment of the situation.
Any emerging composer who doesn’t know the challenges facing him or her has not received or sought out a realistic view of the current business. I would here suggest my book. Let’s not blame our parents or our therapist for our misunderstanding of where we find ourselves. We are not oblivious “imaginers” or innocent “creatives”. We are spending significant dollars and hours on trying to become Michael Giacchino. If this was time and money invested in the stock market we would have to claim our ignorance or intelligence. No more “It’s not my fault. I’m just the victim here”.

By Mark Northam on March 20th, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Richard says, “If enough emerging composers would say “no” to the very few, established composers, who ask for this type of concession, it would quickly result in abandonment of the situation.”

Sorry, but I just don’t think that’s realistic given the huge numbers of emerging composers and the relatively small number of jobs available. Also, why should emerging composers shoulder the brunt of this – the ones who are in the least powerful position to do anything about it? This is a matter of leverage. Without leverage, you cannot create change. And emerging composers – regardless of their career investment – have very little leverage.

In my career, I’ve been asked by 5 different composers (well, 4 composers and one songwriter who masqueraded as a composer) to ghostwrite, uncredited, and none of these folks were anywhere near the A list. The practice is widespread, and the refusal of the PROs to enforce their own rules only throws fuel on the fire as it signals to all concerned that “anything goes” when it comes to authorship on the legal cue sheets. It’s a total abandonment of integrity when it comes to whether the “author” listed on the cue sheet actually authored the music, and it’s at the heart of this issue.

Why shouldn’t the PROs start enforcing the rules they have on the books against it?

Why shouldn’t existing composers find their PRO membership in jeopardy if they violate these clearly-stated rules?

Sadly, in this oversupplied industry, there will always be a virtually unlimited number of composers ready to take any deal out there. Everybody knows this. So change must happen from the top down. Only those who make the rules are in a position to enforce them. They obviously can’t play “cop” and chase down every cue sheet fraudster, but a few public cases would send a message loud and clear to everybody down the food chain: submit a fraudulent cue sheet, you’re in trouble. Fraud and misrepresentation are no way to do business no matter what level of the business you’re at.

By Richard Bellis on March 20th, 2010 at 5:35 pm

” Also, why should emerging composers shoulder the brunt of this – the ones who are in the least powerful position to do anything about it?”

This is the same as saying that rather than a women saying “No” it’s up to the rapist to behave himself. If it’s not mutual, then take the appropriate steps to guard against being taken advantage of. Don’t go to the park at night! You’re saying: “Let’s change the mind of the rapists”. Production companies will always try to find the cheapest composer – and the composer will always try to find the cheapest recording facility, copyist, mixer or conductor. I was hoping to, and apparently did, help those under my tutelage. If individuals deem it necessary or, to their advantage, to cooperate with a certain scenario, that should be their choice.

The PROs can do any number of things. The more they do the more expense is incurred. ASCAP has the lowest operating expense ratio of all PROs. This, in spite of the fact that we shoulder the expense of litigation ourselves most of the time. Can we police? Probably. Your royalties at work. Frankly, I have no problem policing my own works. That’s part of being professional. IMHO. I’d rather have the distribution.

Because we differ on so many issues and so severely at most times, I think it’s telling to point out our individual mast-heads. These might be construed as in keeping with our priorities.

Mark Northam

Richard Bellis
Film Composer/Arranger/Teacher

By Jack Jackson on March 20th, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Richard Bellis, you should be ashamed of yourself for what you have said here about women and young composers. It is beyond belief, really. Maybe something has gotten the better of your judgement this evening and you will regret this tomorrow. Probably not. And that is because you are from a generation for whom victims are blamed for their injuries. Thankfully your generation is retiring and disappearing. You really are a mean old man, Mr. Bellis. And you are painfully ignorant of contract law as well as criminal law in our society. Either that or you are trying to cover and justify your own guilt.

•The hired composer who signs the contract to deliver original music written by himself is the only one violating the contract when he/she uses a ghostwriter–not the ghostwriter nor the production company.

•The hired composer is the only one violating the Copyright Act when he/she puts their name on a cue that was written by a ghostwriter–not the ghostwriter nor the production company.

•The hired composer is the only one stealing royalties from the ghostwriter when he/she cashes the ASCAP check–not the ghostwriter nor the production company.

•The rapist is the only one sent to jail–not the innocent girl for walking to the corner store after dark.

Mr. Bellis, you must be joking (manipulating) when you say the solution is for ghostwriters to say “no.” It’s an absurd and pathetic concept. Young ghostwriters have not signed a contract, they might never have composed professionally, and they might not yet have learned about their legal rights under the Copyright Act. They are trying to get a break and earn a living. It is the legal and moral responsibility of the hired composer to abide by the terms of the contract he has signed, not that of every struggling composer on earth to “just say no.” Come now, Nancy…

Mr. Bellis, you should really be ashamed of your mean spirit and tragic ignorance. You are blaming rape victims for going out at night and ghostwriters for being abused and ripped off. It is quite shocking. Really. And to think that you are a representative of ASCAP and you call yourself a teacher. A sad state of affairs.

Let us all not forget about Mr. Bellis’s earlier comments defending his use of ghostwriters in various scenarios. If he is comparing struggling ghostwriter/composers to rape victims then Mr. Bellis must be compared to the rapist. And so, of course, he does not want the rapist held responsible. Mr. Bellis apparently believes that the rapist should continue his evil deeds until those damn victims wise up.

Mr. Northam et al, It is clear that this plague will not be eradicated until Mr. Bellis and his ilk are retired and gone.

By Mark Northam on March 20th, 2010 at 11:12 pm


You’ve really got me stumped. You’re basically condoning and defending the illegal act of a composer breaching his legal composer agreement by hiring uncredited ghostwriters, while at the same time saying that the PROs, who make the rules by which performance royalties are paid, should ignore the fraud and misrepresentation that occurs when cue sheets are falsified and authorship is taken. Sorry, but I have to believe that we could do things a lot better than that. I believe we can operate on a much more moral and enlightened basis where the integrity of authorship is respected and earned, not bargained away or taken from those least in a position to understand the long-term effects of this dangerous practice.

I have to say this again because I believe it is at the core of what we’re discussing: Authorship is a FUNCTION, not a COMMODITY. A composer is an author because of what they DO(writing the music at issue), not because a composer, crooked music executive or other slimy middleman has bought it or convinced someone to hand it over to them as part of some shady deal that is both illegal in terms of breaching the composer agreement, and illegal according to the rules of the performing rights organizations.

It’s interesting you quoted the masthead from my personal blog (which covers all my activities including non-music ones). I’m proud of my record in this industry, especially the “educator” and “disruptor” parts as we continue to expose and educate composers about the business, including some of the most abusive and shady business practices in the industry that more than a few of the old-guard types would prefer we not discuss in public so that they may continue unfettered.

As for me personally, I’ll happily wear the title of “educator” and “disruptor” any day if the alternative is defending the status quo at any cost, including sacrificing the integrity of authorship.

I find it telling that after so many posts on this subject here, you continue to avoid the fact that what you’re defending (the hiring of uncredited ghostwriters in some circumstances) is illegal under most composer contracts. And it’s not “parking ticket” level illegal, it violates the most fundamental aspect of what composers are hired to do – to personally write original music!

Finally, you can try and make this personal and insinuate whatever you want about what you think my motives and priorities are, and I could make this personal by pointing out that while you were “studying” as a child actor, I was studying the works of Bach, Chopin, Debussy and Beethoven as a young classical pianist from age 4, but what does that prove? Nothing. Making things personal only serves as a sideshow to distract us and those reading this thread from the actual issue we’re discussing – your justification for and my opposition to the practice of hiring uncredited ghostwriters.

In the end, the illegality, not to mention the intellectual fraud and misrepresentation, of taking credit for another’s musical works remains a business practice I strongly oppose, under ANY circumstances.

Clearly as an industry, we can and must do better.

By Alex Wilkinson on March 21st, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Hi Richard
Being a member of the board of ascap, you may have different royalty payment options available to you. You said:
“Frankly, I have no problem policing my own works. That’s part of being professional.”
How does one person police every show in his/ her catalogue worldwide? I really want to know. That info may help countless struggling composers at least pay their rent, so to speak.


By Greg on March 22nd, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Change the culture. Be honest with producers that you occasionally have an assistant work on a cue or two, and that they deserve cue sheet credit for doing so. Tell them this before you sign the contract. Procure the necessary documents.

All the producer cares about is that their movie gets scored, and gets scored well. Sure, you need to deal with the legal paperwork of having multiple people involved. Just push through it. Do it right. You’ll only have to do it once per producer, and in the process you’ll put yourself on the road to a positive, transparent, and honest relationship with your employers.

Idealistic? Maybe. Hopefully I can make it happen.

Despite the negativity in this thread, this is a healthy debate.

By Michael on March 23rd, 2010 at 8:33 am

I have been following this thread for quite some time, and as a very young composer it has been eye opening and helpful. I must say that I find myself agreeing with both parties in this instance.

I have been experiencing some growing success lately very early on in my career and pondering these very questions being posed.

First I will comment on Richard’s view, I first want to thank him for being honest and making this information available to me, honestly, thank you. I know that some of the people on this post have made some very direct attacks towards him, but I above all appreciate his honesty. I see what he saying, If my professor (very established, big credits to his name) were to offer me some work to write on one of his jobs I would admittedly most likely take it even if that meant giving up my authorship for a couple reasons. Richard makes a great point in saying that this allows me to perform on a professional level with no pressure, which is invaluable, I can receive quality feedback, and if I excel continuously my professor may even throw me a whole project that I would be the lead composer on, as I know for a fact happened to him many times when he was working for and A-List composer. I would in no way hold a grudge towards him. To an 18 year old composer the options to work on something like this may be more valuable than the money from royalties. I feel it is unrealistic to demand authorship all the time for projects that may not be mine and expect to have continuous work come back to me, if you want ghost writing to go away you have to change the whole system (Studios, PRO’s, Composers). Everybody involved has to commit, and thats just not realistic. I am not a fan of compromising integrity for the situation, but I’m not sure there is a better option. The idea of ghostwriting on paper is a dirty one Mark, I agree whole heartedly, but I don’t think that means that everything about it is evil. The second reason I would give it up (authorship) is because I trust my professor he is a man who values his word and I know that his offering me a job would be to benefit both of us, not just him, he would not take advantage of my abilities. That being said, I would be weary of a composer coming to me who I did not know asking to give up my cue sheet credit.

Now on to what Mark is saying. My very admittance to being OK with giving up authorship only helps to progress the practice of ghost writing and I recognize that, everyone must say “no” if we want the practice to go away. Also, it is a very risky thing for everyone involved, and breaching a legally binding contract is never a good idea, regardless of how common the practice is. I do agree that my intellectual abilities/music is not something to be bought and sold, but something that I own, that is specifically unique to me, and I should be credited appropriately for that.

I guess my final note would be this. I have integrity, and I should be rewarded and compensated for the work that I produce no matter what, that should be my right, but as a young aspiring film composer entering a field where principles and morals are “flexible”, holding fast to your integrity might just be your ticket to nowhere.

Feedback is welcome!

By Alex Wilkinson on March 23rd, 2010 at 9:54 am

Hello Michael and thank you for your comments.

Mentorship should never mean that you have to give up your authorship. Before I scored one note with Goldsmith I was asked to ghostwrite on two Disney series and I received cue sheet credit for both series. These were my very first composing works for television and I was never asked to give up my cue sheet credit.
I was asked” “Are you ASCAP or BMI?”
Again, I have scored many films and shared cue sheet credit and screen credit with Goldsmith prior to STARGATE SG-1. For him to hire me to score on STARGATE SG-1, the biggest project he has ever had and then exclude me from the cue sheets is simply wrong, illegal, immoral, dishonest, harmful to me and my family personally and professionally. It is theft and that is what this article is about. Name composers stealing authorship and cue sheet credit from fellow composers.


By legal eagle on March 24th, 2010 at 10:11 pm

After much thought and legal research I have come up with a legal method for the ghost to get his or her due, regardless of what they do at the beginning of their relationship with the composer of record.

By Jack Jackson on April 9th, 2010 at 9:05 am

A question has been burning in the back of my mind since I first read these articles.

Considering the issues and evidence brought up by Wilkinson, I’m wondering why Goldsmith doesn’t settle this thing in private and make it go away. My guess is that a settlement would amount to the tiniest fraction of Goldsmith’s income from the years of these successful series.

Let us score the two paths of action for Goldsmith.

Upside is it goes away in private, nobody ever knows what happened, probably at less than 100% of the claimed value, and with very low legal costs.
Downside is it costs Goldsmith some cash. No other downside I can see.

Wait it out:
Upside is it might go away on its own–at little or no cost–although Wilkinson seems quite driven to pursue this. Or Goldsmith might win in court.
Downside is huge. Court case will be completely public information so if it turns out that Goldsmith was wrong he will look very bad–articles in Daily Variety, New York Times, etc.–which could impact his career quite negatively, with Wilkinson free to blog about the details at will. If Wilkinson wins in court it will cost Goldsmith a fortune; possibility of treble damages plus legal fees for both sides and court costs. Wilkinson has the advantage financially because, unless there’s something we don’t know, it sounds like he is not sitting on a fortune. In other words, Wilkinson can afford to go bankrupt, while a loss for Goldsmith might affect his life considerably. And even if Goldsmith wins in court, court battles take a toll–emotionally, financially, timewise, etc. If Goldsmith is working on a series and Wilkinson is not, a legal battle will be harder on Goldsmith than on Wilkinson.

At this point I think that Goldsmith’s attorneys are disserving him, hoping to churn some big dollars out of their client in a protracted legal battle.

By toxic avenger on April 17th, 2010 at 10:43 pm

I always love it when composers think they know the law and legal tactics.


By David Bondelevitch on July 14th, 2010 at 7:53 am

I think most of the people writing here have no idea how common ghostwriting is.

When a studio hires a composer, they expect that person to be the sole person to write the music. Yet they give him or her an unnaturally short period of time to write the music. In every case I’ve seen, when the composer asks for split credits on the cue sheet, the studio freaks out and refuses. Ironically, the reason is that they are afraid of lawsuits about who deserves what credits and how much money goes to whom. With one person, there are no arguments, and no lawsuits.

I have never dealt with a ghostwriter who ever expected anything beyond an opportunity to practice and learn the craft. They understand that the system stinks, but that’s how it is, and you work your way up from there. If you don’t want the gig, you don’t have to take it.

If anyone expects this culture to change, they should take it up with the studios, not the composers. They are not the bad guys here. They are getting screwed just like everyone else. Nothing will change until the studios either allow additional credits or they give longer post-produciton schedules. (Schedules were significantly longer 30 years ago then they are now!)

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