In the 2023 SXSW panel titled “The Real World of Music Licensing and Money,” panelists Jeff Brabec, senior vice president of business and legal affairs of BMG, and entertainment law attorney Todd Brabec gave clear and straightforward answers about licensing music for different media—movies, television shows, and video games.
The panelists, twins who are co-authors of Music, Money and Success: the Insider’s Guide to Making Money in the Music Business, shared intricate details about how music can be licensed for movies, beginning with the music itself. They stated that it’s common to ask for additional fees when an artist is asked to change the lyrics in a song or if the actors in a movie will be covering the music during the film. Additionally, they said that musicians should always ask for a scene description.
“In any license, you ask for the scene description because you want to know how your song is being licensed into what type of vehicle, you know, what the scene is going to be like, whether there is extreme violence, sexual activity, nudity, straightforward. So you ask a lot of questions, and if you’re not satisfied, keep on asking questions,” Jeff said.
They then described how much money an artist can make from their song being licensed in a movie. For a major motion picture, the fees can range from $25,000 to $75,000, while for an indie film, it can be as little as $100.
After sharing information on movies, they moved on to television, covering two types of series—drama and music- and dance-based shows. A standard licensing agreement is now around five years with an option to extend, they said, explaining that this is because of the nature of streaming and because platform holders cancel shows on a rapid-fire basis. They also talked about music and dance shows, mentioning that if a clip is being played from a previous episode in a flashback and contains music, the musician can ask for additional fees.
Jeff and Todd explained revenues for music streaming platforms and lightly touched on video games. They explained that there are differences between non-music-based video games, music-based video games, and additional downloadable content for the games.
During the panel, they made multiple mentions to ensure the terms are correct on the contract so that the artist can get paid on what they agreed to during the negotiations. Jeff and Todd ended the panel by sharing multiple free resources that can help artists during the different stages of music licensing for media.
After the panel, an audience member asked Todd how long music licensing deals could take. He mentioned that these deals are relatively standard and can be completed quickly. “In most cases, it can take a couple of weeks.”