How much does it cost to license a song for a short movie?

by Jimmy on April 27, 2010

Email from Music Sales Corporation (A music publishing company) when I inquired about using one of their songs in Island Dog Robber for a film festival.  I wanted to obtain the rights to the copyrighted music I put into my movie in order to enter the movie into film festivals.  It would have been quite unprofessional and illegal to use unlicensed copyrighted music in a movie shown to audiences at a film festival.

Dear Jimmy,

Thank you for your email.

As discussed yesterday, we control “That’s the Way of the World” 33.33% throughout the world.  The remaining 66.66% world share is controlled by EMI Music Publishing.  There are no objections to this use in your film entitled ISLAND DOG ROBBER, subject to the following terms and conditions:

Media: Film festivals –  D.C. Asian Pacific American Film Festival, D.C. Shorts Film Festival

Term:                One (1) year
Territory:           United States
Use/Timing:       End credit – background vocal – 1:21 minutes
Quote:              $1,500.00 based on 100% on a most favored nations basis with the co-publisher

Best regards,

Synchronization Licensing Manager
Music Sales Corporation/G. Schirmer, Inc.
257 Park Avenue South, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10010


$1,500???  My ideal price for using the Earth, Wind, and Fire song in my movie was more in the range of “Hey, you can use it for free, just remember us when you make it big.”  Actually, I’m not shocked that they wanted to charge me so much money.  And remember $1,500 was only to have the rights to 33.33% of the song.  The other two members of the group had a publishing deal with another company, which would have probably charged me around the same amount of money for the rest of the rights to the song.  So in the end, it would have probably cost me at a minimum $3,000 to use this song for one year.  And if I actually did have the money to purchase the synchronization rights for one year, I would probably use the song in everything I did just to get my money’s worth.

“Hey, you know what would be great for that love scene?  Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World.””

“Hey, you know what would be great for that shootout scene?  Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World.””

The only thing that slightly upset me was the realization that Earth, Wind, and Fire probably would have only seen a small fraction of that money.  The $1,500 would have went to lining everyone’s pocket at the publishing company that in the end not much would have been left for the actual artists.  I wish I could just email Earth, Wind, or Fire directly and say, “Hey, I’ll pay you each $100 to be able to use your song in one of my amateurish short movies.  Deal or no deal?”  Then if they said yes, I would just send a check directly to their houses.  If any of my connected readers out there knows Earth, Wind, or Fire a.k.a. Charles Stepney, Maurice White, and Verdine Adams White personally, then you tell them to contact me directly because I have a proposition for them that they might not be able to refuse.

So now it’s back to the editing room, where I will replace all the copyrighted songs in Island Dog Robber with original scores by Eric Roberts and Raycurt Johnson.  In the end, I’m glad I was forced to do this because it’s the right thing to do both ethically and creatively.

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