As production companies seek to deliver their programmes across new forms of media, they are having to get to grips with the complex world of music licensing.

Demand for TV music has risen steadily over the past few years, thanks to a proliferation of TV channels, digital platforms and on-demand services, and the relative rise in the cost of commercial music. Indeed, there are suggestions the new bosses at Channel 5 have begun asking producers to avoid using commercial music in a bid to bring down royalty payments.

Audio Network, for example, grew its catalogue by 38% last year to 34,000 titles and grew its revenues by 35% after spending £1.5m on new content.

“There’s a general expansion in the need for music because there are suddenly production opportunities in different spaces thanks to the rise of video on the internet,” says director of UK music sales Chris Blakeston.

Warren Dewolfe, who runs Dewolfe Music, says his business has grown by 60% over five years and the company now has 70,000 tracks in its catalogue.”As the number of TV stations rises, there’s considerable demand for title music, promos and idents,” he says.

Simon James at Repertoire, which was launched two years ago to aggregrate representation for several smaller music libraries, adds: “The days of musicians knocking out tunes on keyboards in a bedroom are long gone. Libraries offer great creative choice, with compositions often specially written by established bands and artists and composers working for TV. The scale of the catalogues and the ease of working with them, now including online search, downloads and digital delivery, has helped make them an indispensable resource.”

Ideally, a production company wants to exploit just one version of its programmes across all media in all markets. Yet the cost, time and red tape involved in music licensing can make it an area fraught with complexity and creative compromise.

Clearance includes rights for dubbing/sound recording, synchronisation (the right to incorporate music within a piece of content) and mechanical rights that cover products such as DVD or download-to-own. There are also public performance rights - the right to make music content publicly available, such as for broadcast or distributed online.

Blanket agreements

The BBC, Sky and ITV hold blanket UK rights agreements with the Performing Rights Society (PRS) and the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS), administered by PRS for Music, and will take care of rights clearance for programmes aired on their channels. At Channel 4 and C5, however, producers are responsible for clearance for their own programmes.

If programming is made for a broadcaster with a blanket UK rights agreement and the producer has the rights to sell the show internationally, it is up to the producer to obtain a second set of clearances.

Large indies can arrange their own worldwide blanket agreements for secondary sales. “Since the blankets became available two years ago, we’ve gone back to using production music,” says Endemol UK music supervisor Amelia Hartley, who negotiates the indie’s rate with the PRS every two years. “Library music is broad enough not to risk repeat uses across platforms.”

Indies that are part of a larger parent can find that if they retain secondary rights, it is their job to obtain a second set of clearances or to add a different soundtrack toa programme if it is made for a broadcaster with a blanket UK rights agreement.

The issue can be contentious. One head of production at an independent producer who asked not to be named says: “The BBC doesn’t want us to make aprogramme for them while we’re also thinking about international distribution costs. But to operate as an effective business, that’s the business model we have to find. So when we plan music in pre-production, we look at who the original broadcaster is, what blanket agreement they have in place and what rights we need to clear for the distributor.”

The cost in time and licensing replacement music for international versions is not something a production company necessarily budgets for. “You need to find someone to find a track that fits, usually long after the original production team has disbanded, and you need to re-edit the audio for the programme,” adds the producer.

‘Transparent’ process

According to Duncan Schwier, general manager at UMusic, it is now easier to obtain licences for multiple territories. “The MCPS was forced to recognise that when indies retain international distribution rights, they need to obtain bundles of rights for music at the outset and not have horror invoices appear down the line,” he says. “Now the process is more transparent.”

In the past year, PRS for Music has simplified the procedure, giving producers the ability, in cases where they are responsible for clearance, to pay for additional rights up front.

A basic 30-second unit is charged at £35 with a cap at £350 per programme. Worldwide, DVD and online ‘top-up’ charges are £10, £25 and £5 respectively, with a cap at £750 per programme. Economies can be made by striking annual or series deals.

“The biggest change over the past five years has been the increasing amount of distribution windows and the limited time between them for production companies to change or reversion content for different uses,” says Andy Harrower, PRS director of licensing, broadcast and online. “In many cases, you get a short window between TV and the programme then being sold to other broadcasters or to DVD or on-demand, so there’s a real need for producers to have assurances up front that they will be able to clear those rights.”

Some production companies share publishing rights with the composers of originally commissioned pieces - another issue that producers are reluctant to acknowledge openly.

“Although it is less attractive to composers to share the rights, they benefit by having their music in programmes that are widely distributed rather than being replaced by library music,” says one producer. “We benefit because the more rights we own for international distribution, the better.”

The advantage of a specially commissioned piece is that it operates as a creatively unique signature for the programme. However, Repertoire’s James says: “With production music, you know what you are getting up front and can discard what doesn’t work without commitment. Once commissioned, a writer doesn’t always deliver what the producer expects and there have been times when we’ve come to the rescue. Even when you find a library track that is not quite close enough to what’s needed, a library can remix, re-edit and re-record it if necessary.”

Diana Hunter, head of production at Outline Productions, adds: “The ideal situation for any producer is to have a programme scored so that it is unique and suitable for use throughout and also for distribution. Typically, our budgets don’t allow for specially composed music throughout, although we do usually commission compositions for titles, beds and stings to give the programmes an exclusive identity with music that perfectly fits.”

In practice, most programming is made with a mix of library and composed music. “Compositions are important to reinforce brand identity,” says Hartley. “For Deal Or No Deal, for example, it helps fans follow the brand onto other platforms such as pub games. But we work with music of all stripes to maintain quality and keep to budget.”

Original compositions

Producers could also work with music libraries to fund original compositions. Since music libraries themselves primarily grow by commissioning composers to create content written in genre, whether hip hop, orchestral or jazz, they may agree to share the cost of a commission and retain the rights after the producer’s first use of it.

For BBC3’s Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar At 14, producer Hey Buddy wanted a J-Pop (Japanese Pop) music style. Since Audio Network didn’t have anything similar in its collection, it sourced an artist who worked in that genre and commissioned tracks for use in the show. “Provided it’s in a style and genre that fits our needs and it’s a good fit for future work, then we’re happy to do this and retain the rights,” says Blakeston.

Music choice is heavily affected by budget, but it can also depend on content. “In general, published recorded tracks function in a different way emotionally because the lyrics or tune bring with it associations that people might already have,” says Greg Boardman, executive producer at Three Stones Media. “It can provide an instant dramatic device.”

Commercial tracks need to be used judiciously since they are considerably more expensive than production music.

“With libraries, you are talking about hundred of pounds, whereas working with just 30 seconds of commercial music means you are immediately into the thousands,” says Andy Wood, joint chief executive of Silver Bullet.

“If you produce a music show, you can use a quarter of your entire budget just on royalties.”