Licensing and Music

Music is the heart of any film, tv show, commercial and just about any other type of “content” that delivers a message.  Personally, I think that music is equally important to the visuals and dialog, in setting the feel and pace in any of those “products” I just mentioned. Imagine any of those things without music!

While working on the post production of a feature documentary recently, I became aware of just how important music was to the film and that I needed lots of it. In all I think we used over 53 pieces of music in a film that was 76 minutes long. And, I think we still could have used a little more in spots.

It’s amazing to me how many professional photographers don’t consider the licensing process when it comes to music. I’ve seen too many portfolio samples with “main stream” music that I know hasn’t been licensed because it’s prohibitively costly.
When you enter into the world of incorporating music into your creative projects and businesses be prepared to spend money and keep proper documentation. I learned a lot in this process and I’ll share with you some tips:

• Be prepared to spend money, especially if you are looking for broad rights. Even licensing royalty free music adds up if you want a mass market license. That would include everything from TV to a theatrical screenings to DVD’s and VOD, internationally.
• Even royalty free music in some cases comes with different tiers of licensing rights. One company I worked with had two options – Standard Licensing and Mass Market Licensing – the difference was that for TV broadcast, standard was national and mass market was worldwide.
• Make sure you keep all licensing agreements as well as any receipts for  music – both electronically and printed copies. You will need this documentation. If you want to mass duplicate DVD’s – you will be asked for proof of licensing.
• Keep track of the music, the title, the publisher, the recording company, the artist, the songwriter as well as how much of the music was used (time) and where in the film. You’ll need all this info for your “cue sheet”. A cue sheet is basically a list of all the music that is used in a film in the order that it appears – with all the info above listed. If your film is accepted by a film festival they will ask for it.
• Don’t forget that most times you will need two licenses for a song. One is the “synchronization license” which is permission from the publisher to use the song and the other is the “master use license” which is permission from the recording company for a particular recording of that song.
Apple Loops is “free” to use as long as you aren’t reselling just those clips as clips. But you’ll still need to download that license on the Apple website.

I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of months in what it really means to be a producer – at least in terms of what is needed to get a film off the ground after the “fun” part of creating it is over. But, while this type of work isn’t “fun” – I’ve grown by the process.


Editing a Trailer

Like anything else the best way to learn how to do something is to “see” how it’s done.  I wanted to create a trailer for my documentaryI’m working with a professional editor on this project but while he is getting acquainted with over 160 hours of footage, I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could create a trailer.

For me, it’s always much harder to edit a very short piece. Everything becomes more critical – every cut – every shot – every sound bite and sound effect – every slate and every high and low in the music. And trailers are the ultimate shorts. You need to peak someone’s interest and make them wanting more.

I started paying attention to the trailers on DVD’s and online. I watched them to see how they were constructed. I analyzed them and paid close attention to things like sound effects, music and slates and if it made me want to see the movie.  There were a couple of trailers in particular that I really liked, each for different reasons.  One trailer was for the film I Am.  This trailer gave me some ideas on how to use music and text to deliver the story idea in a concise way and get people’s attention. I also liked it because it was just vague enough to intrigue me but not to confuse me.  Another trailer I like is Dennis Connor’s Breaking Boundaries; the Art of Alex Masket.  There are a lot of things I love about this trailer.  Dennis’s subject Alex Masket couldn’t communicate verbally so Dennis blended visuals of Alex using other people’s sound bites as the narrative.  He also had a beautiful jazzy musical score composed for the trailer.

My challenge was that I had to make a trailer for a film that was about 11 stories. The first thing that I needed to remind myself was that it really wasn’t about  11 stories.  It was about 11 people but ultimately one story.  With that thought I started pulling together  my strongest sound bites.  One benefit of spending all that time editing the past few months was that I was very intimate with the interview footage and I knew where to look for the gems.  I was looking for provocative remarks that left one wondering and they needed to be short and to the point.

Once I got the stand out sound bites on a timeline I started looking for some live action footage and other b-roll.  Then I began to interweave the appropriate visuals with the sound bites – pacing them – giving the piece a bit of time to breathe.  I also added slates with text to help tell the story.

Once I got it down to a reasonable length – in my case 3:45 – which is still a minute too long – I started looking for the perfect music.  I came across a royalty free music site with some of the best RF music out there.  Picking music for me is like picking wallpaper, going back and forth until everything starts to sound the same.  After making a few painful decisions, I integrated my musical choices into the timeline.  There was still something missing and that was sound effects.  There are hundreds of great free sound effects that come with Soundtrack Pro.  I picked a couple of them to boost and emphasize certain spots in the trailer but I wanted to keep them subtle.  For example I used a sound effect of a motorcycle in one spot and a jet engine taking off in another.

What has resulted from this exercise are two variations of a trailer.  I am sharing these both with everyone because I would like feedback. I don’t want to influence opinion here, other than to say one trailer has a bit of more information than the other. One is also 15 sec. longer. Any and all comments are welcome.

Which one should I use?

Watch the links in this order.

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Some Useful Information for Workflow

I made a few new discoveries this past week.  Forgive me if these items aren’t new but they’re new to me.

One item I discovered was Drop Box and the timing was perfect.  Drop Box is a sharing and storage site.  I can upload files and documents to their server and share those files with anyone who has Drop Box installed on their computer. For instance, I am able to share project files and updates with the editor that I am working with on Opening Our Eyes.  This past week, I was working on a new trailer for my film and I was able to share that updated project file with him, along with the RF music that I licensed for it.

The other thing that I love about Drop Box is that I can share files and info with the various computers that I work on.  No more emailing docs or copying media to a DVD so that I can transfer files over to my laptop.  With Drop Box installed, I can share files, media and calendars with any and all of my computers.  As a bonus, Drop Box acts as an off site storage solution as well.

My other discovery was a royalty free music site called Neosounds. I’ve been searching through hundreds of royalty free music libraries over the years and Neosounds is definitely the best source for high quality music that I’ve found.  It stands out amongst the rest because their music doesn’t sound like royalty free music.  Recently, I needed  music for a new trailer that I was making for OOE and I was googling around for some cinematic sounds. I found the perfect background music for my film’s trailer.  I’m still tweaking the trailer a bit, but you can listen to a clip of music from Neosounds that I used in a short video I made that appeared on a recent blog post.

One last item that I’ll mention is a great source for travel guides – the unconventional type. They are called Unconventional Guides and are brought to you by Chris Guillebeau. Since discovering Chris Guillebeau’s blog The Art of Non-Conformity, I’ve become a huge fan of Chris and his writings.  If you haven’t discovered Chris’s blog , then do so. He has an amazing outlook on life and he articulates his thoughts  so beautifully in his blog.  His global view of the world and how to live life is truly an inspiration to me.  He’s definitely, a kindred spirit.

Back to tweaking.  Stay tuned for my next blog with links to some new samples.

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