Clearing music

You may have heard about the documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom.” It’s the story of a group of school kids who are involved in competitive ballroom dancing. For those of us who follow the DVD industry closely, we know there are always problems with clearing the rights to use certain songs. It’s why shows cost so much, or so often have music replaced. It’s why WKRP IN CINCINNATI will likely never be released, barring some sea change in the music industry.

So how does a low budget documentary maker manage to clear all the rights to the songs used in her movie? It’s a painful story and one that makes the music industry look as bad as ever.

Stay Free! Daily: How did Mad Hot Ballroom survive the copyright cartel?

We first cleared music for two years for festival use, and then went back and negotiated for worldwide commercial use in all media, for perpetuity. It was extremely expensive. For most films, music licensing is 1 to 10 percent of the production budget; ours came in at 45 percent: $140,000.

One kid mentions a line from a song. It would have cost the filmmakers $5,000 to license the rights for that kid to say, “Everybody dance now!” in the course of playing around. The C&C Music Factory isn’t worth that much. And Fair Usage takes another hit in the process.

(Kottke linked to this today, and I’m already seeing it everywhere else, too. My apologies if this is the tenth site you’ve seen this link at today.)

2 thoughts on “Clearing music

  1. Nothing is as bad as the Beatles catalog. Song rights cost $500,000 and recording rights cost another $500,000. That’s why the soundtrack to I AM SAM ended up being covers of Beatles songs instead of the actual recordings themselves.

  2. You also can’t get any of the Beatles catalog on iTunes. The usual litigation wars between Apple and Apple might have something to do with that, too, I guess.

    I’m trying to find some royalty-free music I can use for my podcasts, but there’s not a lot of great stuff out there. UGH I keep pushing on, though. . .

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