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Home » Officer Columns » Vice President from Canada » Be Careful What You Sign—They Don’t Care About You; They Want Your Song

Be Careful What You Sign—They Don’t Care About You; They Want Your Song

  -  AFM Vice President from Canada

Over the last few years, I have noticed an increase in the number of panels that feature music supervisors at music festivals, informational sessions, and music/film events. These are the folks responsible for selecting the music that is synchronized to video, television, motion pictures, commercial announcements, video games, and so forth. Many have experience as musicians, producers, agents, managers, or with business or law. But the primary prerequisite is a familiarity with a wide array of music styles, genres, and artists/bands. They may work for a specific company or freelance, picking music to portray mood, feeling, and emotion to match/enhance video content.

The idea of presenting a panel about music supervision and placement of songs is, on the surface, useful. However, the information presented is usually skewed to benefit the panelists and their company, not the musicians and songwriters in the audience eager to have their songs heard. At least, that has been my experience at such events.

These “experts” generally give attendees advice like: don’t submit more than three or four songs, properly prepare and label the submissions, and have instrumental versions ready. While this information is helpful, other stuff is not. For instance, it’s often stated that you should not expect payment the first time, or first few times, until you are known; or, to expect a low remuneration, perhaps $50 or less. There is little or no mention of the fact that synchronization is contained within the Right of Reproduction under the Copyright Act, and that the only way to escape payment is if the songwriter waives these rights. Now, go back and read the title of this article again.

There is also no mention of the rights AFM members have under contract law—that of new use payments required under the Sound Recording Labour Agreement. When you record for a signatory label, or for a label that has signed a Letter of Adherence and filed a B-4 report form, all the musicians on the recording are entitled to be paid the prevailing rates for a session as specified by the agreement that covers the type of medium the track is being licensed into. (These payments are in addition to negotiated synch fees.) While this is an obligation of the label (to pay those fees upon licensing the track), often they pass the responsibility onto the licensee in the master licence agreement.

Many times members are handed a document, either during the recording session or during licensing negotiations, asking them to “waive” certain rights, among them being the secondary payments for new use called for under our agreements. Don’t sign these papers! In fact, members have no authority to sign such a document when it circumvents the terms of one of our scale agreements, and therefore, such a wavier is not enforceable. Don’t sign them.

Members may also be enticed to enlist the services of a placement company, such as Sonic Bids or Taxi. Without being specific about any of them, I have seen placement contracts that require the artist to assign all rights, exclusively, to these services. In return, you may receive a percentage of anything they make, if the song is used. The cautionary word here is “exclusive.” This means you no longer are entitled to payments from performing rights organizations such as the Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) and Musicians’ Rights Organization Canada (MROC), or agencies such as the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA), as you no longer have title to those rights. You would only receive a percentage of those rights—whatever is specified in your agreement with the company. Don’t sign a placement contract. Go back and read the headline of this article again.

I have also seen contracts where the requirement is to sign over all the songs and rights, and the company is up front about saying they will rename the tracks and obtain a copyright under their name. Don’t sign the contract.

A better choice is to sign a nonexclusive agreement, where they agree to try and get action on your repertoire, but you still retain the right to make direct deals and collect statutory royalties.

Also, in some of these contracts may lurk language similar to “We do not pay/collect fees required under union contracts.” This is a red flag to not sign, or to negotiate that clause out. These are your rights. It’s your money that they are treating so capriciously. These are rights that, over the years, may accrue thousands upon thousands of dollars. They may also present you with a paperwork that designates the songs you give them as “work made for hire.” Don’t sign it!

Never be intimidated by the panache or cachet of the title “music supervisor.” In the end, they are an employer, attempting to get your music as cheaply as possible for their client. If you are presented with contracts or licensing agreements to sign, please take the time to understand what they contain. I highly recommend the services of an entertainment lawyer before signing anything.

Now, go back to title of this article: “They don’t care about you; they want your song.”

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