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Home » Officer Columns » Limited-Edition Historical Soundtrack Agreement

Limited-Edition Historical Soundtrack Agreement


by Andie Childs, AFM EMSD Clips and Soundtracks Administrator

Film and television scores represent some of the finest orchestral music of the modern era. Works such as Bernard Herrmann’s North by Northwest, Elmer Bernstein’s rousing Western scores like The Magnificent Seven, or Henry Mancini’s lovely music for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, provide immense listening pleasure, apart from the movie they enhance. In years past, most film music was unavailable once the original soundtrack LP or CD went out of print. Or it was simply never released at all.

In the late 1990s, the AFM West Coast Office created the Limited-Edition Historical Soundtrack Agreement (LEHSA) to make it economically feasible for labels to release older scores in limited collector’s editions of up to 3,000 CDs. Finally, the wonderful film and TV compositions recorded by the top studio players of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), and in a few cases Local 802 (New York City), could be brought out of the vaults and enjoyed by the small but dedicated worldwide community of film music lovers. 

Since then, Internet-based specialty labels such as Varese Sarabande, Intrada, and Film Score Monthly have released hundreds of finely crafted deluxe soundtrack editions containing every possible cue including unused and alternate takes. These soundtracks are digitally remastered for best possible sound quality and rounded out with meticulously detailed and scholarly researched liner notes. Under the LEHSA the labels must pay for previously unreleased film score music in per-disc amounts, ranging from $0.75 to $2.25, plus pension, depending on the decade when the film was originally released. (The rate is proportionally reduced if the disc includes music previously released on LP or CD under the MP/TVF Agreement.) And the musicians must be credited by name.

After 10 years or so, the demand for these discs was overtaking the 3,000-unit limit. Fans who grew up with the blockbuster movies of the ’70s and ’80s were now coming into the soundtrack buyer’s market in large numbers. If the labels could sell more CDs then our cut would increase too. So, in 2009, we modified the LEHSA to allow up to 10,000 units (after which an upgrade to full soundtrack status under the terms of the MP/TVF Agreement is required) and to pay after sales, instead of requiring the entire sum for an edition upfront. The per-unit rates remained unchanged, as the retail price for these CDs has held steady at around $20 for a single-disc release. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983, composed by Jerry Goldsmith) and Black Sunday (1977, composed by John Williams) were among the first CDs released under the updated agreement, and they are still available as of this writing.

The next years saw a veritable explosion of crowd-pleasing score CDs including Back to the Future (1985, by Alan Silvestri), the Rocky and Karate Kid series (by Bill Conti), the Lethal Weapon series (by Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, and David Sanborn), and all the original Star Trek movies (by Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Leonard Rosenman, and Cliff Eidelman). At the same time, some of the most magnificent “golden age” releases came out, including a six-disc box set of Spartacus (1960, by Alex North) from Varese Sarabande. The crown jewel was undoubtedly La-La Land Records’ 15-disc set of the complete original Star Trek TV series!

In fact, television score releases have come into their own in recent years with everything from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy to Stu Phillip’s original Battlestar Galactica and Knight Rider getting the deluxe treatment. Box sets of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine are out. And one of the few female score composers, the late great Shirley Walker, has been getting overdue recognition with albums of her splendid music for Warner Bros. animated superhero series and more.

Today electronic media is rushing headlong into the future and the soundtrack album is no exception. We are adapting LEHSA single-project agreements to cover new forms of distribution such as digital downloads and audiophile vinyl pressings. Our goal is always to strike a balance between making a project viable and not compromising on the compensation requirements. It’s a fact that the amounts collected under LEHSA are small potatoes compared to new use payments under MP/TVF, commercials, and other major agreements. But without this agreement, all the magnificent music cited here, and much more, would still be in the vaults, or circulating on inferior bootlegs, with neither cash nor credit for the AFM members who made the music.

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