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Word Description
A F of M (American Federation of Musicians) (also known as the Musicians Union) In the United States, this is the national Musicians Union. They have contract agreements with film and television production companies which cover the performance of their musician, orchestrator, and copyist members on recording sessions for film and television scores. The A F of M also oversees contracts for musicians working in live performances, album recording, demo recording, and radio and television jingles and commercials.
Arranger An arranger works with existing musical material and creates a custom version for a specific kind or size of musical group. For example, an arranger might be asked to take a piece of film music originally written for a large orchestra and create a version for a smaller musical group. Arrangers can also create versions of music in different styles, like arranging traditional music for a contemporary music group such as a big band or rock group.
Assumption Agreement (US) An agreement that a production company must sign with the A F of M (Musicians Union) in order to use the services of union members on a film or television music recording session. The agreement covers various issues including who is responsible for paying potential future payments to the musicians based on any new uses of the music. The agreement also specifies any special payments to the musicians that may be required in the future based on the commercial success of the film.
Breakdown Notes (or Timing Notes) A document prepared by the Music Editor for a film or television production which details specific events within a scene. Breakdown Notes are almost always prepared by the Music Editor and are supplied in printed and electronic form, if requested, to the composer who uses these notes to reference the time code locations of events within a scene. Breakdown Notes usually contain the time code location of each event along with a brief description of the event. Most Breakdown Notes contain all camera moves and edits as well as key action and dialogue points.
Bumper A short piece of music that is played before or after a commercial or other break in a television program. The music signifies the beginning or end of a segment of the program.
Buy-out A term used to describe a deal or arrangement where no future royalties or income will be paid to the person being hired. This term is sometimes used when a musician is hired for a non-union recording session and will not be paid any residuals or future payments.
Click (or Click Track) Click is an audible metronome signal that the conductor and musicians hear through their headphones during recording. Click helps the conductor and musicians perform music at exactly the right tempo so that it will synchronize with the picture as the composer intended. Composers will either indicate a constant or varying click speed for each piece of music that is written. If the microphones inadvertently pick up this sound coming from the headphones during recording, the problem is called click bleed. Clicks that are played for musicians before the cue starts in order to establish the tempo of the cue are called free clicks.
Contractor A contractor works with the composer for a film or television project to hire the musicians who will play on the recording sessions. The contractor also interfaces with the A F of M (Musicians Union) when appropriate to ensure that the proper paperwork and forms are completed and filed for union recording sessions. A good contractor also knows how to hire skilled, professional musicians, how to work with the musicians to ensure that the compose's needs are met, and knows how to hire musicians who work well together. The contractor is usually hired or designated by the composer. In England, a contractor is known as a "fixer."
Cue Sheet The document prepared after a film or television project is completed that specifies information about each cue and how it was used. The cue sheet indicates the composer, publishing company, performing rights affiliations of composer(s) and publisher(s), title, length as actually used, and usage (background instrumental, visual vocal, etc.) for each cue. This document is filed with the performing rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC) that the composer(s) and publisher(s) are affiliated with, and is the basis for payment of performing rights royalties. The Cue Sheet is usually prepared by the Music Editor. Payment of performing rights royalties is only possible if a cue sheet is filed for a production.
Engineer (see Scoring Mixer)
Free-Time Used to describe the process of recording music without a click track. The conductor references some other source such as a clock or events in the picture, and may use streamers and punches added to the picture image to establish the correct timing of the music.
Ghostwriter A person who composes music for another composer but is not credited on the cue sheet or in the final product in any way. In a ghostwriting situation, the person hiring the ghostwriter takes credit for writing the music and the ghostwriter is usually not allowed to reveal to anyone that he/she wrote the music or worked on the project in any way. Ghostwriting is one of the dirty little secrets of the film and television music business and is considered by most professional composers to be unethical.
Hummer A derogatory term for someone who calls himself a composer but lacks the skills and knowledge to create an actual score synchronized to picture. Hummers usually achieve an image of success by taking credit for the products of others. Hummers require the assistance of many other composers, arrangers and orchestrators who are exploited and taken advantage of. See also Ghostwriter.
Most Favored Nations Refers to a specific phrase which can be included as language in a sync or master use license. It essentially means: "This is my price and terms unless you give another company in my position a better deal. If you do, you agree to automatically revise my price and terms to be equal to the better price and terms." This language is often requested by publishers or recording companies when you are negotiating with more than one company or publisher on a project. Each company wants to make sure they get as favorable prices and terms as are being given to others for the project.
Music Editor The Music Editor works with the composer and production company to organize, document, and time the music cues for a project. The Music Editor works very closely with the composer during the early phases of a production to document the decisions of the director and composer about the placement, timing, length, and type of music to be used throughout a project. The Music Editor is usually present during the recording sessions to document each cue as it is recorded, and may be responsible for generating the click that is often used to keep the timings of the performance precise (see click). The Music Editor is also present at the dubbing or prelay sessions where the recorded music is inserted into the film at the correct time code locations.
Music Supervisor An person who manages the licensing of music for a film or television production. The Music Supervisor handles music clearance and rights licensing of existing music, and also may be involved with supervising the score composer. Choosing appropriate music, especially Source Cues and Songs is usually the responsibility of the Music Supervisor. More and more, Music Supervisors are getting involved in the hiring decision for score composers, something that composers should be aware of.
Performing Rights Royalties Royalties that are charged for the public performance of music, including music used in television programs, bars and restaurants, and non-U.S. theaters. These royalties are collected by performing rights organizations (in the United States by ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC), and are paid to the songwriter, composer, and publisher members of these organizations based on various factors including how often the music is played and the historical popularity of the music.
Pre-Record Recording of music that is used during the shooting of a film or television project. The music must be recorded before the actual scene is filmed, since the actors in a scene must be able to synchronize their actions and movements to the music that will be used in the scene. Examples include dance scenes and scenes where the actor must sing or play an instrument.
Public Domain (PD) Composition (US) A composition that is no longer owned by a Publishing company (usually because of the amount of time that has passed since the composer has died) is said to be in the Public Domain and can be re-recorded without payment to a publisher or negotiation of rights. Note that existing recordings of public domain music may generally not be used without the permission of the owner of the recording. For example, a piece by Beethoven would be considered Public Domain, however, in order to be used in a film or television project a sound recording of the music must be licensed. In this case, the appropriate license would be a Master Use License.
Score Supervisor A person who assists the composer at recording sessions by watching the printed score and listening to the performances of the musicians to aid the composer. The Score Supervisor often communicates with the composer or orchestra conductor through a private headphone mix that only the composer/conductor can hear. The composer/conductor then makes comments to the musicians as he/she deems necessary. The Score Supervisor may occasionally make comments to the Scoring Engineer about the volume levels of different instruments and other technical aspects of the recording process.
Scoring Mixer (aka Scoring Engineer) The person who records, mixes (adjusts levels, effects, and tone), and has overall responsibility for microphone placement and recording the musicians at a recording session. Also known as a Recording Engineer.
Sidelining A term used to describe musicians appearing on-screen in a film or television production. The musicians usually appear with their musical instruments, and may or may not actually play the instruments.
Signatory (US) A signatory is a business or individual who is authorized by the American Federation of Musicians to act as an employer of musicians. In certain A F of M contracts and agreements such as the Assumption Agreement, the signatory becomes legally responsible for possible future payments to the musicians.
SMPTE (or Time Code) SMPTE stands for The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and usually refers to time code, for which this organization developed various standards. The terms SMPTE and time code are often used interchangeably. SMPTE is recorded as an audio signal, and is also usually shown in a window on the screen for reference purposes. An example of a time code location might be 01:00:16:23, which refers to a time code location of "One Hour, zero minutes, sixteen seconds, and twenty-three frames." SMPTE is used to refer to specific locations in a piece of video or audio product, and comes in several types including Drop Frame and Non- Drop Time Code.
Spotting Session The Spotting Session usually takes place after the filming and editing phases of a production have been completed. At the Spotting Session, the director and composer agree on what types of music will be used in a project and on where in the film (usually time code locations) specific musical cues will occur. The Music Editor documents these decisions and provides Spotting Notes to the composer and director for reference.
Synchronization Rights (or Sync Rights) Refers to the privilege of using an existing piece of music, often a Source Cue, in timed relation with the picture in a film or television production. Synchronization rights are usually negotiated with the publisher of the music. A license to record or use music in sync with picture is called a Synchronization License.
Temp Track (or Temp Music) Music added to a film or television project before the actual music is composed. Temp music is often added before screening the film to test audiences and film production executives. Getting involved in the selection of temp music can be helpful to the composer in understanding the music needs of the director, however some composers prefer not to be involved in the temp music selection process.

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