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What is music clearance all about?
While music clearance is usually the job of the Music Supervisor of a film or television production, filmmakers may need to function as the Music Supervisor where it is not possible to hire a Music Supervisor. In any case, it is advantageous for filmmakers to be familiar with the job of the Music Supervisor.

Music clearing is the process of negotiating and obtaining permission from a publisher to use one or more songs or source music cues in a film or television production, and negotiating a fee for that use. The end result is a Synchronization License, in which all the terms for usage of the music are clearly stated.

If you wish to use an existing sound recording of the music in a film or television project, an additional license called a Master Use License from the owner of the sound recording is usually required.

It is wise to start as early as possible with the licensing process, because many times music is published by more than one publisher and the process of negotiating with each publishing company can be quite time consuming.

Once you've identified the music you want to use, the first thing you'll need to do is identify the publisher(s) of the music. The best way to get publishing information is to call the offices of ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, or use their online Internet title search sites. Complete information for these organizations is listed in the Organizations section of this FAQ. Be sure to have the names of the authors  and the title, since many songs can have the same title. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC usually refer to the author(s) of music as writers.

Once you've obtained the publisher information, call the publisher(s) to determine what information they will need to give you a quote. Usually, publishers will require a written request letter stating all the terms of your proposed usage of the music. A typical quote request letter contains the following information:
*  Title
*  Author(s)
*  Duration of the song (if unsure, decide on a maximum length the usage could be and state "up to but not more than...")
*  Territory, for example, the world, the U.S., film festivals, the universe, etc.
*  Proposed Advertising and marketing uses such as trailers and television/radio commercials
*  Description of the scene where the music will be used (sometimes publishers will request script pages or rough video footage). Also included here would be whether you wish to use an existing sound recording or intend to re-record the song.
*  Length of the license, usually in years or in perpetuity

After receiving a quote it is important to send a letter confirming all the terms of the license. The publisher or record company will then issue a license when the fee has been paid. At this point you may want to request that the publisher or record company supply you with exact information for the end title screen credits.

Other tips

Let the publisher know if a film will only be shown at festivals or is a student work. These types of projects have special rates that are often much lower than rates for commercial projects intended for theatrical, pay-TV, or other commercial distribution. Many filmmakers purchase festival licenses for music used in independently produced films in order to show the films at festivals and shows. When a distribution deal is made for the film, the distributor is usually responsible for re-negotiating final licenses for commercial usage of the music.

When contacting publishers, ask what percentage of the publishing rights for the music they own. You want to make sure 100% of the publishing is accounted for. Also, world publishing rights of some music is divided - one publisher may own the domestic publishing rights, while another may own the foreign rights.

If the music was recorded using union musicians, fees may have to be paid to the original musicians who recorded the music. Contact the American Federation of Musicians (see contact information in the Organizations section of this knowledgebase) for more information.

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