Clearances: How Sigur Ros helped me make the shortlist20 September, 2011 3:03pm
“Last year, at around this time, I was in complete agony. I was pretty inconsolable to be honest. I know what you’re thinking - ‘we’ve all been there, we’ve all stubbed our toe on the table leg’ - but this was worse. About ten billion times worse. It felt like I’d just stubbed out my soul on the sharpest and heaviest table leg ever conceived.
Last year, I entered my film The Dreamers into the Virgin Media Shorts competition. I had, amongst other things, a track that was written, scored and performed by the incredible Icelandic vocal explorers Sigur Ros.
Before the 2010 shortlist was announced to the world, I was contacted by Virgin Media Shorts and asked to submit my paperwork for The Dreamers, as the curators wanted my film in the final 12..You can imagine the feeling - it’s a lot like scoring in injury time in the World Cup Final. An incredible combination of contentment, achievement and masses of relief.
But I had no idea what that would ultimately feel like, because I didn’t get the clearance for the track. I didn’t make the 2010 shortlist. I hated myself and I cried bitterly for nearly a year.
So, why didn’t I just skip all this grief and get the clearance for the track? At the time, I had literally no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know anything about clearances. I didn’t know where to start, nor how many (burning) hoops I had to jump through to get permission to use the song. Nor how many emails needed to be sent or how much money it was likely to cost.
Suffice to say, you need a little bit of knowledge on each of the above if you’re ever going to proceed in purchasing the rights to a song. Over the next year, however, I learnt a lot about clearances and I’m here to write about not being an idiot when trying to secure them.
First things first: know how big your artist is.
Six foot three? Seven foot two? Height doesn’t matter. In essence, it’s how many bits of magic the musician in question has sold and shelved. And not just that - there are some musicians out there who haven’t sold a single MP3 but their music is used in commercials, cinema and advertising the world over and they’re big - massive - because of publishing
The bigger the artist, the harder it is likely to be to get permission to use the song. So, if you’ve got a choice between tracks that make you feel the same thing when you’re watching your scene, and one is Eagles of Death Metal and the other is Metal Death Eagles, go with the band that no one has ever heard of. They’re likely to be incredibly stoked that you want to use their track in your film and may give the clearance to you for free.
But if you do proceed with going for the Big Dogs, here’s the battle plan...
1. Be Honest. Be Nice. Be Patient.
With every single person you talk to. Tell people where you are in life - don’t pretend to be bigger than you are. Be charming and get the people on the phone to remember who you are.
This whole process can be frustrating, but if you’re frustrated with someone on the end of the phone, you can expect the process to take twice as long (or to end abruptly).
2. Know what you want before you ask for it
What kind of clearance do you need? If your film is a short and you want to get it into festivals you’ll need a festival clearance. Often these run for two years but you can ask for them longer or shorter if you need to (once you’ve got a clearance, you can always extend it).
If you want to enter your film into Virgin Media Shorts and go for the first prize (why wouldn’t you?), you’ll need an ‘All Media Clearance’ and it’s comprehensive. It’ll cover you for everything from internet to cinema, TV to On Demand.
This is a much bigger clearance than a festival clearance, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while and plan extra time accordingly.
3. Write to sync and management
Email or phone the band’s management, or find out what sync company the band work with. The sync company often have authority over both the record label and publishing, so if you can get someone on your side it makes everything much easier. Send them a link to your film and ask them what they think. If they believe in the film, they’ll believe in you. They might even forward something over like the message below to the record label, which will help when it comes to the number crunching: -
‘A lot of the people who enter these competitions (this request is not our first) don't have much, if any, budget for the film, so we like to cut them some slack. After all, we all need a break sometimes...’
4. Clearance is two things… Publishing and Recordings
When you go for a clearance you need to approach not only the publishing company, but the record label, too. The difference between the two is that the publishing company can sell the rights to any media (TV, cinema and advertising), whereas the record label owns the rights to selling the material in record stores and online via iTunes and other MP3 outlets.
Approach publishing first but beware this phone call -the amount you agree to pay publishing will be the same amount you have to pay the record label. Remember step two above and all will go swimmingly.
There is no science in what figure you end up with. It’s people - not spreadsheets or computers - that make the decision, so the nicer you are, the nicer they’ll be. Be honest about how much you’ve got to spend. That’s where the email from sync or management will really come in handy. When you’ve agreed a fee, pay them as soon as possible.
5. Next stop, record labels
Every band has one and when you purchasing a track, that’s who the majority of the money goes to.
With the publishing secure, send the record label a copy of this contract and how much you’ve paid. More often that not they’ll just duplicate what publishing have agreed and you’ll have to pay the same amount.
6. Go to the gym, learn how to make sushi
Did I mention that this process takes a long time?
7. Be appreciative
Once everything is in place, send an email to those who helped you secure the clearance. You never know when you may need them for your next film. Sending an email thanking everyone will go a long way and remember - it’s always nice to be invited to a premiere.
8 Go big or go home
There’s a massive misconception held amongst universities and film schools that using commercial music is a big no-no. Well, teachers can be wrong. It can be done, and it should be done – so long as you understand that securing it will often be a frustrating (and costly) process, As Melody said in the seventh series of The Apprentice (yes, I’m going there): -
“Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon…”
Before you embark on the journey that is music clearance, you need to ask yourself the following questions. How much time can you dedicate towards it? How much do you want it? If the answer to both question is LOTS, then do it. Aim big.
Bands and musicians want their work to inspire people. They want it to cross worlds, ideas and boundaries and the people who work with those artists often want the same thing, be it the record label or publishing company. They want as many as people as possible to hear their tune, so don’t be afraid to approach them.
Lastly, remember this, write it on your wall, tattoo it: securing clearances can be a long and expensive process and waiting until the week before deadline will only end in tears (take this from a boy who knows). Get organised, be confident and go for it."
Director, The Dreamers
Virgin Media Shorts 2011 shortlist
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