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

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Your Song In The Movies

Introduction by Jim Liddane
What have have the following ten songs (each of which has sold more than five milion records), all have in common?

No - there are no prizes - do you think we're made of money?

And it's nothing to do with the titles - nor anything to do with the performers either.

"My Heart Will Go On" - Celine Dion
"I Will Always Love You" - Whitney Houston
"Stayin' Alive" - Bee Gees
"Eye of the Tiger" - Survivor
"Let It Go" - Idina Menzel
"Ghostbusters" - Ray Parker Jr.
"Footloose" - Kenny Loggins
"Happy" - Pharrell Williams
"Over the Rainbow" - Judy Garland
"Don't You (Forget About Me)" - Simple Minds

Ok - trhat was just a bit too easy. The above are of course, all songs which found their first success - not on the charts - but in the movies. But they then went on to become multi-million sellers, achieving the status of pop music classics - even though their origins were not in pop, but in Hollywood.

Oh, and just in case, you're trying to remember which movies they came from....

"My Heart Will Go On" (from the movie "Titanic")
"I Will Always Love You" (from the movie "The Bodyguard")
"Eye of the Tiger" (from the movie "Rocky III")
"Footloose" (from the movie "Footloose")
"Stayin' Alive" (from the movie "Saturday Night Fever")
"Let It Go" (from the movie "Frozen")
"Ghostbusters" (from the movie "Ghostbusters")
"Over the Rainbow" (from the movie "The Wizard of Oz")
"Don't You Forget About Me" (from the movie "The Breakfast Club")
"Happy" (from the movie "Despicable Me 2")

Indeed there are many cases where the song ended up being more popular than the movie it came from!

How many people nowadays watch "Summer Place"? Yet the song from that film titled "Theme From A Summer Place" is still played several hundred times a day on radio stations around the world - even though the forgotten movie was made more than sixty years ago! And it still earns thousands of dollars every year for the descendants of the man who penned that tune - Max Steiner.

Gene Pitney once told us that "Town Without Pity" was doing poorly at the box office until somebody in Hollywood had the bright idea of releasing Gene's theme song as a single - and as his tune climbed the charts, people started to flock to see the movie!

Indeed, some movie songs are so powerful that they are used in more than one movie!

“Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie has been used in "Grosse Pointe Blank", "The Girl Next Door", "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" and The World's Greatest Dad", while McHammer's “U Can’t Touch This” has been heard in "Thunder" with Ben Stiller, "Into The Wild", "Grown Ups 2" and "White Chicks". And as for Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky" or ELO's "Mr Blue Sky" - what can I say - they seem to be in every second movie I watch

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.

Jim Liddane

Putting Your Songs In The Movies

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.

Copyright Songwriter Magazine, International Songwriters Association & Aaron Davison: All Rights Reserved

The Knowledge

If you have wandered onto this page by accident, then you may very well be wondering what "The Knowledge" button above is all about.

"The Knowledge" is a free multi-part course which takes you from thinking up the basic idea for your song, through using AI or Artificial Intelligence to help improve your writing skills, to penning the title, the lyric and the melody. It then covers plagiarism (what to do if you're told your song sounds like another one!) and copyrighting your song, so that you can take action if your work is stolen.

Finally, it deals with selling your song, promoting your demo, music publishers, putting your songs on the web, and in movies, or on television, getting the money in, raising cash to fund your career via crowd-funding, before setting up your own music publishing company so that you get to keep all of the money! And that blue button at the bottom of each lesson simply takes you to the next lesson.

If however you would like to go back to Lesson 1 and start the course (it will take about 90 minutes to complete), then just press HERE!

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