December 01, 2002

Songs Into Film & Television

Want To Get Songs Into Film & Television? Here are helpful tips from a group of music supervisors

Independent songwriters can generate a significant stream of income from a song used in a film or television project if they understand how the business works and who to deal with. While there are several avenues one could choose to help guide a song's path into a visual medium (i.e. knowing the director, producer, music editor, etc.), one major source for getting songs placed in film or television is through a music supervisor. Here, ASCAP's Mike Todd shares some frequently asked questions after conversations with a group of film and television music supervisors who gave their advice about song placement.


ASCAP's Mike Todd assembled a "Film & TV Music" panel of music supervisors and consultants for the DIY Convention last February. The panel shared insights on the basics of licensing songs in film and television followed by a question & answer session. Pictured (l-r) are Joel C. High (Head of Music for Lions Gate Films & TV), music supervisors Thomas Golubic, PJ Bloom and Michele Wernick, creative consultant Bambi Moé (consultant to recording artists for Unencumbered Productions), Mike Todd, and music supervisor Julianne Jordan.

What is a "music supervisor?"

A music supervisor oversees all aspects of music in a particular production and plays a key role in the development of the entire musical landscape. This may include facilitating a show's creative needs with artists, songs and score, handling all licensing and contractual elements, dealing with the technical aspects of on-camera and studio production work, soundtrack solicitation and more. We are the liaisons between the music and production worlds.

How does one license a song for use in a film or a television program?

Once the creative decisions have been made with regards to a song, we locate and contact the master and copyright owners (usually, record labels own the master and a publishing company owns the copyright) and, based on a particular production's music budget and the necessary licensing rights needed, we proceed with the negotiation process.

Can I license a song that has never been published?

Yes. A song can be licensed if it has not been previously published or registered with a performing rights society. In this case, the music supervisor would deal with the songwriter directly. However, it behooves a songwriter to publish their material so that future performance income can be generated and potential theft prevented. Moreover, if you get a song licensed in a television program or any kind of feature film, you are entitled to get a copy of the "Cue Sheet" from the production company who is usually the one responsible for submitting this form to the Performing Rights Organization ("PRO"). A cue sheet contains information on each piece of music used, how it was used (i.e. theme, background, feature performance), how long it was used (down to the second), and the list of songwriter(s) and publisher(s) along with their PRO. For a sample of a cue sheet visit ASCAP's website here. You should always keep a file of these "Cue Sheets" if any piece of your music is used in television or film. Remember, many times production offices disappear after a film has "wrapped" (or ended) and it then becomes virtually impossible to get a copy of the cue sheet at that point. This is important because if you ever need to show proof to your "PRO" after your program or movie has aired, you'll have a file on it as proof.

It is also very important to know and understand how money can be generated from licensing songs. Three separate streams of income could come from the following:

1) A Synchronization License fee (also known as a "Sync" License fee) on the "front-end" which is a fee for the actual use of a composition in a film or TV program.

2) A Master Use License fee on the "front-end" as well which is a fee for the use of the actual Master recording.

Both a Sync and Master Use agreement can be lumped into one license if the Master and Copyright owner are the same person or entity. This is often preferred by Music Supervisors due to the ease of licensing. Generally speaking however, there will be at least two different Licenses issued by two or more parties.

3) A Public Performance royalty on the "back-end" which is a royalty for the "public performance" or "broadcast" of a song that is aired over a television station (including cable and local) as well as foreign theaters. Performance royalties are not collected for the use of music on films in movie theaters within the United States because of a 1948 court decision when most of the major film studios also owned the movie theaters. Even though this is not the case today, this non-licensing status has never been reversed.

Here a few resources for a complete list of Music Supervisors

The Music Business Registry: Film & Television Music Guide
7510 Sunset Blvd., #1041 Los Angeles, CA 90046-3418 Office: (800) 377-7411 or (818) 769-2722, Fax: (800) 228-9411 or (740) 587-3916, E-mail: Website:

Hollywood Reporter: Blu-Book Office: (323) 525-2150 For a list of outlets, call SCB Distributors at (310) 532-9400. Website:

• Also, look for the Hollywood Reporter: Film & TV Music Special Issue which is released four times a year (January, April, August and November). For details visit: For information contact:

• For more detailed information on this topic and an excellent resource guide, purchase the book titled, Music, Money and Success: The Insider's Guide to Making Money in the Music Industry by Jeffrey Brabec and Todd Brabec. To Order Call: (800) 431-7187, Fax: (800) 345-6842. E-mail: $24.95 in USA. Schirmer Trade Books, Order No. SCH10104. UPC:7.52187.42837.4. ASCAP members receive a 20% discount.

• For a complimentary condensed version in a booklet called "Music, Money, Success and the Movies: The Basics of Music in Film Deals" from the book, contact ASCAP at (323) 883-1000.

• ASCAP Film & TV Music Dept.: Los Angeles (323) 883-1000 or New York (212) 621-6227

How do I find or contact a music supervisor and what are the chances that they will really listen to my music?

While there is no "directory" that specifies what supervisor may be working on a particular project, the information is out there if you take the time to look. There is resource material available that lists Music Supervisors and their contact information, but it generally won't list projects (see the end of this article). Also, keep in mind that the question, "So what are you working on?" is incredibly annoying. The reality is that you, the licensor, aren't really interested in what we're working on but rather how can you get involved. Remember, you are just one person, but we get bombarded by people all day long. Accordingly, you want to make the conversations quick and painless for us. Try something to the effect of "Is there anything you're looking for or need?" or "Can I help you with music in any way?" Also, we constantly listen to music but it must be done at our pace. We know you're anxious to hear back and do business, but if you haven't gotten a call it means that we haven't found anything of use yet. You wouldn't want someone standing over your shoulder bugging you to finish writing a song, right? You can always check back. Two months is appropriate versus a few days down the road. In addition, only send what we request. Do not "throw in a few extra things just in case." It only confuses the entire process and takes up limited office space.

How would a music supervisor want a CD presented to them for each project?

Make all the contact information (artists and songs) clear, simple and highly visible on the CD as well as the jewel case with the important information on the spine. Some even like to include the name of the artist on the spine as well. We need the facts – artist and record company (or if self-released), writer(s) and publisher(s), PRO (performing rights organization) affiliation and contact info. Ideally, it is also helpful to include the genre (Latin, Alternative Rock, etc.) and tempo (Mid-tempo, Ballad, etc.) of each track along with what project the song is being pitched for. It is generally not necessary to send bios or glossies. We can always get that from you later. If you don't have neat handwriting though, you should print the information from a computer. Please note: Music supervisors are not record companies! We are not concerned with how cool you are or how artsy your album looks. The creativity will shine through in the music, but if we can't locate you or find your album in the sea of material we constantly get – we can't license your music.

What should I know about the film or television project before submitting any of my songs?

First, you should know what type of music the music supervisor is looking for. Investigate the nature of the production you are submitting for and use deductive reasoning. Second, make sure that ALL the legalities of your music are in order so that when we contact you to license your material it is quick and easy. This is a business and relationships are crucial. Being a fantastic songwriter or artist is not enough. And remember, there is never only one song that works for a particular scene. If it is difficult or becomes too complicated to do business with you, we will find another song and another person to license from, period.

What are the rights and terms I can expect to deal with when licensing a song?

While all License Quote Requests look different, they all contain the same basic information. There will be a "Rights" section that reflects the licensing needs of a particular Production (like theatrical, television, home video or trailer use), a "Territory" section that defines where a Production needs rights for, a "Term" section that defines the period of time a license is good for (most companies try to license "in perpetuity") and a section that has a description of how the song will be used within the body of a show and for how long.

How do I compete with other major publishers and major record labels?

Make the licensing of your material FAST, EASY and INEXPENSIVE. We will keep coming back. Keep it simple – No extra pictures, folders or press stuff. BUILD THE RELATIONSHIP. Don't try to bilk a supervisor for a big score up front. Think long-term. If you end up walking away with less than you hoped, it is not a reflection on your creativity. It is merely a byproduct of a supervisor's project budget.

What can I do to make sure my music is available and ready to license and what would make my package stand out to a music supervisor?

There are many books on the subject of licensing and your PRO rep is available to help you through the legalities of it all. It's difficult to say what will make a package stand out as our creative needs are constantly changing. Some music supervisors might be more visually oriented and would give more attention to a CD that looks unusual (even if its just a color xerox), as long as the song titles are easy to read. The important thing is to keep developing relationships and don't be too pushy. Something will happen eventually. Be sure to add a cover letter referencing the conversation and the project you are submitting for. Also, including a "post-it" of standout tracks may work as we don't often have time to listen to an entire album. Feel free to call but don't do it too frequently. Again, once every two months is appropriate.

Should I have a manager or lawyer or other representative submit my songs on my behalf?

Frankly, this only works if your manager or lawyer has a relationship with a music supervisor. If they don't, it's no different than you calling. However, if you are unable to conduct business on your own in an appropriate manner (which is okay, many artists can't), find a representative who can do this on your behalf. But keep in mind that, in the eyes of most supervisors, the involvement of an attorney tends to put us off. It smacks of being too complicated and difficult to license. Any representative should incorporate everything previously discussed in this article into his/her approach as well.


Music supervisors for television in many cases are more in a position to place songs than in major films, usually because time is a big issue. In major films, there are more decision makers that may get involved with the music decision process. However, for independent films it may vary. Also, in television, production studio executives and network executives in their music departments are the ones who hire music supervisors. Although these executives have final approval over the music, it is typically left up to the music supervisors to place and clear the music licenses.

It is important to understand that television music licensing business is cyclical and for the most part, coincides with pilot season. A majority of pilot programs are produced in January through April, then in May the networks makes the announcements of the new programs chosen for the fall season. Therefore, a large portion of music licensing takes place in the summer during the preparation for the fall season, which starts in September. If you really want to contact the right person for a particular show or movie, the best thing to do is watch for the credits at the end of that program or movie and start there.

While all of these comments and responses came from music supervisors (and most of them share similar views), every person is different and there is no exact formula for getting music or songs into film and television. That is why it is up to you, the individual, to do your homework and understand the music business as well as the players involved.

Contributions to this article were made by PJ Bloom. Additional comments were also contributed by Thomas Golubic, Julianne Jordan and Bambi Moé.

PJ Bloom's recent credits include Michael Mann's "Robbery Homicide Division," "The Shield," Crazy/Beautiful and John Frankenheimer's Path To War.

Thomas Golubic's credits include: HBO's "Six Feet Under, Synchronize:the Live Re-scoring/DJ residency at club Dorscia, and radio host at KCRW FM in Los Angeles.

Julianne Jordan's credits include the upcoming feature film Agent Cody Banks (2003), The Bourne Identity, Rollerball, Tortilla Soup, Go and Swingers.

Bambi Moé is a Film/TV/ Commercial music licensing rep for indie recording artists. Clients include Jonatha Brooke, Nina Storey, Judith Owen, Cary Pierce and others. Moé is a former VP of Music at Walt Disney Television Animation and provided music supervision on numerous features and TV series including A Tigger Movie, PepperAnn and A Goofy Movie.