Part of our role as your representatives at the AGSC is to provide support to screen composers. To that end we regularly take phone calls from our members seeking advice, allowing us to 'take the temperature' of the industry. Furthermore, as working composers ourselves we are acutely aware of the rapid change that is enveloping us all. While change in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, failing to adapt to this change is. So how do we adapt to change in our industry? Unfortunately we are already at a disadvantage because we work in isolation and rarely get together to discuss these challenges as a community.
Put simply, unless we start talking with each other more our craft will become further undervalued and our ability to eke out a career put in jeopardy (if it isn't already for some of us). This is equally as important for established composers as for emerging composers, perhaps more so. So how do we fortify ourselves? What are we talking about?
We are talking about respecting yourself, your significant talent and the many years of experience you bring to a production. We are talking about valuing your creative contribution.
It's also about understanding that copyright (both the in the master recording and the music), publishing agreements, your writer's share of your APRA, and terms of licensing agreements, your time, and your skill, are all your assets and so have significant financial value. As such, these assets can (and arguably should) be factored into your negotiations.
The importance of this point cannot be overstated, and understanding it in depth may well be critical to your career sustainability and the long term career viability of all screen composers.
Here's a case study...
Let's say you are a mid-tier jobbing composer, you've been in the game for a while and you typically charge around $xxxxx to score a documentary. Perhaps you might routinely grant copyright in the master recording and a worldwide sync license to the client but you retain all your publishing (and yes, unless you have a pre-existing publishing agreement it's yours automatically upon creation of the music work).
However, ask yourself, would you then be prepared to accept the same fee if you had to give up your publishing (half of your APRA royalties), assign copyright in the music (which means the client can re-use your music in subsequent unrelated productions without having to pay you a fee) or even give up part of your writer's share of APRA, to which you have a statutory right? Might it not be sensible to seek compensation for the loss of future earnings, either with a higher up-front fee or with concessions in your music agreement or benefits elsewhere?
It's important to acknowledge that we are all at different stages of our careers, and every composer will need to find a solution that is right for them given their professional relationships, experience and track record. It is our job at the Guild to help you to find a way to say “yes” to a commission, but also to help you better understand what saying “yes” means with respect to your future earning capacity. To help you understand that the job is more, far more, than the up-front fee, and that often the scope of rights you negotiate with a client the first time sets the precedent for future contracts.
And we haven't even touched on how schedules have shrunk making it harder than ever to deliver the highest possible quality score without compromise. Does anyone really think it's possible to deliver a complex score in less than a week after picture lock to the same standard as if you had a month?
We can't tell you how many conversations we have had with composers who are questioning whether they can keep doing this. It is tougher than you think to make a living out of creating music for the screen. Many of you know what we're talking about. Things will change, this is inevitable. Globalisation is here and the creeping Americanisation of contracts continues apace. The entry of multiple international streaming players into the market with contracts better suited for other territories also poses huge challenges. But if we value our creative contributions and our rights, then negotiation on something approaching equal terms is possible. To quote some text from our upcoming website refresh:
“Ideal negotiations result in both parties getting at least some measure of what they want. Compromise is part of negotiations, but there is almost always a way to get to “yes” if your client respects you and what you can bring to their project.
If you are making concessions, being reasonable and respectful, you will likely find the same approach reciprocated by your client and collaborator.
If not, you have to consider if this is a commission worth accepting, or a relationship worth building.”
There should be no shame or guilt associated with accepting a commission with either too little a fee or the loss of too many rights. We've all been there. However, not learning from the experience and sharing what we've learned does us all a disservice.
We have a lot more useful information coming which will be found on our new resources pages from our forth-coming website refresh. Until then good luck, pick up the phone, call us or meet up with a fellow composer and keep talking and learning from each other.
Caitlin & Brett