The Business

Composers are like screenwriters: their contributions to a screen-based project creates something with unique value, generating copyright. Composer Agreements provide licenses and assign rights to producers so that they can develop and distribute their product, while assuring composers the benefits of copyright.
To use music in your project you will need two licenses: a master use license and a synchronization license. A master use license gives you permission to use the actual recording of a song or composition, while a ‘sync’ license gives you permission to use the intellectual property (the songs or score) in conjunction with your screen-based audio-visual work.

The SCGC Model Agreement is an agreement which contains both of of the licenses you need in one comprehensive document. It is a great starting point that can help both you and your composer get the best value for your music budget, minimizing (and often avoiding) expensive legal fees.  We’ve helped to make using the model agreement easy by providing detailed descriptions of each section.

Hiring a composer to create a custom score

Think of your favourite score.  Did you know that 99% of award-winning film and game scores have been custom created specifically for each project?  Working with a composer gives a screen media creator the best opportunity to find a unique musical sound for their project and have music which captures the emotional and subtle nuances of each and every scene.  A custom music score has the important ability to seamlessly change to match on-screen action too!
A composer is able to maintain contiuity in the overall sound by using recurring thematic material in different ways throughout a score.  Music libraries can be a great place to find specific period music or songs which pair with a particular scene but when it comes to the underscore, many libraries are restrictive with the choices available and a music editor is needed to create smooth edits and transitions between pieces.

Working with a composer is often more cost effective and reduces the administrative challenges for a producer by providing one point of contact to acquire the Master Use and Synchronisation Rights that you need!

What is a music cue sheet?

A music cue sheet is a legal document which lists all the music used in a production (including the original score created by your composer and any licensed songs), how the music is used, and who owns the copyright shares as it relates to the royalty collection for the use of this music.  A completed music cue sheets is a delivery requirement with any distributor or broadcaster, and needs to be filed with SOCAN in Canada.  Your composer may help you in filling out (and filing) the cue sheet, to make sure it is accurate.

SOCAN AV Cue Sheet

The Process of Creating a Music Score

The job of a screen composer includes more than just writing music!
A composer is often responsible for:

  • Meeting with the director, producer, or game developer to discuss music needs for the film,
  • taking part in a spotting session, in which the film composer, director and others watch the movie and decide where each segment of music should start and stop in the film, why it’s being included and how it should sound,
  • researching which may include music styles, innovative sounds, genre specific elements, new ways of recording to achieve the “sound” of the project,
  • writing the “score” which refers to all the musical pieces needed for the project (The score for a feature film is usually about half the length of the film, so a composer would probably have to write about 50 minutes of music for a 100-minute movie),
  • preparing scores for the musicians, or gives notes and a rough score to the arrangers and copyists so that they can provide a complete musicians’ score, and
  • supervising the recording and final mix of the music score.

Occasionally the duties of a composer may also include on-set coaching for any actors needing to look like they are playing an instrument, or consultation to find a suitable coach.

On smaller projects or independent productions, the composer may also provide services often rendered by the following person(s) on larger productions:

Music editor: mixes and synchronizes the music with the film soundtrack, often overseeing the scoring process.

Orchestrator: uses the composer’s work and instructions to create a score for the orchestra, band, chorus and solo instrumentalists or vocalists.  May work in conjunction with a copyist who creates the actual music sheets.

Contractor: hires the musicians and deals with union contract obligations through the American Federation of Musicians.

Conductor: rehearses the musicians and conducts them during the recording session. He/she listens to input from the composer and producer during the session and has the musicians make changes.

Other Resources

The SCGC has exciting panel discussions, educational outreach, articles and video content which may be of interest to both composers and screen media creators alike.  Stay connected with us through  FacebookTwitter and our Publications page.