I recently did some work for a songwriter who was licensing out a song to a production company for use in a television show. In this case, the relevant contract was several pages long and included some quite complex legal concepts within it. Now let me say, I know a lot of songwriters, but I am quite sure the majority of them do not understand the nuances of subleases and assignments or indemnification. Yet most of these songwriters are bound by these sorts of contracts whether they fully understand them or not. The scary part for songwriters is that textual there is sometimes very little difference between a contract that is fair and a contract that is almost deceptively tricky. If you are not trained in the law it can be very easy to miss something that could potentially have a huge effect on your career. The companies that want your songs have hired lawyers to write their contracts and to ensure that they are getting the best deal they possibly can, so you owe it to yourself to at least be on equal footing and to have the piece of mind of knowing what terms your song and your career is bound by.
To understand a license contract, you need to know the answers to questions such as; What is the length of the agreement? Are there options? Who has the right to exercise these options and under what circumstances? Is the license exclusive or non-exclusive? Is the license world-wide or limited to a specific country or area of the world? What am I representing to the licensor by signing the contract? What could I be liable for? What laws govern the contract?
In addition to reviewing the contract, an experienced entertainment lawyer can be your advocate to negotiate on your behalf. Terms that are frequently negotiated include the compensation, length of license, and options. Not all contracts are “take it or leave it”, and knowing which terms are most flexible can give you maximum bargaining power. However there is no one stop solution to any of these questions, and what deal is “best” will largely depend on the trajectory you want for your career and what goals you have for the work in question. For example, a song that was written to be used as a commercial jingle will need to be treated differently from a radio-ready single that you also want to shop to record labels.
Personally I like to see contracts where the license is non-exclusive, with the exception being for a true “work-for-hire” or a tune that has no other commercial viability. Non-exclusive licenses are great because they provide you with a little money now and increase your exposure which could lead to a lot of money later. Since the contract is non-exclusive you are then free to also license that song out to the next summer blockbuster film now that you are huge.
Sync licenses can be a lucrative source of income, as well as an effective method of market penetration, especially for smaller songwriters. I encourage you to reach out to me through e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org as I am happy to provide free consultations to songwriters and I offer very competitive rates for both review and negotiation.