International Songwriters Association (ISA) Songs And Songwriting Songs In The Movies
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ISA Songs In Movies

This is one of a series of short and very simplified articles, designed to improve your understanding of the songwriting business. If you know little or nothing about the industry, might we suggest that you first click on the Songwriting The Basics button at the top of this page, and continue on from there?

And remember, if having read this or any other article, you have a query, simply email us HERE and we will be more than happy to respond.

ISA Songs In Movies

To sit in the darkened cinema, and hear your song played over the opening credits, is something which most of us songwriters dream about.

But with thousands of new movies released annually, it is not all that impossible, as Aaron Davison explains.

Getting your songs placed in television shows and films can be a wonderful source of supplemental income for musicians, or even a full time income in many cases.

These days there are endless opportunities to provide your music as background music for various mediums. From TV shows to movies to websites and video games, independent music is everywhere.

The music industry, like all industries, is constantly changing and evolving.

To survive, and eventually thrive, it's imperative that you stay abreast of where the music industry is headed and stay on top of where the demand is for your music.

Getting Paid
For television shows, each time a song is used on air, a performance royalty is generated.

The royalty amount varies based on a number of factors including the length of the segment as well as how prominently it is used.

Each performance generates both a writer's and publisher's royalty.

If you work with a music publisher, you both essentially get half of the entire royalty.

If you are able to place the music without the aid of a publisher you retain both the writer's share and publisher's share of the performance royalty.

Again, the amount varies, but to give you an example the first song I had placed was in a scene that lasted about 55 seconds on a daytime drama in 2002.

The royalty check I received for the placement was over $800.00! Not bad for less than a minute of airtime.

The first step in getting started in this business is to start making contacts and submitting your music to people in the industry.

There are literally thousands of different opportunities for places to submit your music for potential placements in film and television so let's look at two different approaches you can take:

The Direct Route
One way to get started in this business is to directly contact music supervisors who place music in TV shows and Films. Music Supervisors make their living by selecting the music that is used in the productions they are involved in.

They are ultimately the people who make the decision as to what music is used. The upside of this approach is that when you operate this way you are essentially acting as your own publisher and you will receive both a writer's and publisher's royalty if your music gets used.

The downside is that you probably don't have any relationships established with music supervisors and although it's certainly possible to establish relationships and "break in" this way, it's going to take a lot of leg work!

The Indirect Route
This is the way I got started and I suggest you try this approach first.

In addition to music supervisors there are also music publishers whose job it is to screen music and present music to music supervisors for potential placement.

These people typically have established relationships (if they're established publishers) and they make their living by "shopping" music to supervisors. They typically work hand in hand with supervisors and help them find the right type of music for their project.

For example, let's say a music supervisor is working on a film and they need a song that sounds something like the latest White Stripes song.

Since they can't actually afford to license the latest White Stripes song they will then contact a publisher, or several publishers, and put the word out that they are looking for songs in the vein of The White Stripes.

These publishers will then scour their catalogs looking for songs that are a match and they'll present these songs to the supervisor.

The downside of working with a publisher is that they typically receive half of all royalties generated.

This is what's called a publisher's royalty, and it's how publishers make their living.

Publishers typically also split licensing fees with writers, which is a one time fee paid for the use of whatever song is being used.

Unless you already have connections in the music industry, I suggest starting with a publisher that is established in the business.

Usually they have established relationships that have taken them years to establish.

Splitting your royalties is a fair trade off when you consider how helpful they can be in getting your music into the right hands.

Aaron Davison is a Berklee College Of Music Alumnus who has been working in the music business for over ten years. His songs have been heard on a variety of television shows and he has performed live throughout the midwest. Click on

How To License Your Music

for more information on getting your songs placed in TV and Film.


Well if you have got this far, and have actually read all of this admittedly short course on the basics of songwriting (and what's more are still awake at the end of it), then all I can say is that you have demonstrated that you posess the first important quality of any apsiring songwriter - namely a dogged determination.

Anyway, thanks for dropping by, and if you need any further information, or clarificiation of anything at all, please drop me an email.

I guarantee to answer, and when I do, I promise it will be a lot shorter than heretofore!

Jim Liddane

ISA International Songwriters Association (1967) Ltd
PO Box 46 Limerick City Ireland Tel 061-228837 Fax 061-2288379
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