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A biz question: working with composers

Discussion in 'Ask Justin Meldal-Johnsen' started by dubmon, Jun 21, 2008.

  1. dubmon


    Sep 20, 2007
    Hi Justin,
    Question for you regarding working with TV or film composers:
    I know that lots of times these days, composers come from a rock background too, and music isn't necessarily all pre-written before the players come in---some of it (maybe a lot) comes from experimenting together, jamming, or as I read when you were discussing someone like David Holmes, listening to records for vibe and riffing off of there.
    So, does it all kind of fall out pretty much like record dates, where you sort of iron out if a player has done "writing" on the project later on, or in the case of these composers, are you ever asked to sign some kind of agreement first, that states they own the rights to whatever comes out of these sessions? I would think a film composer would want things pretty tidy in that regard(?)

  2. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 25, 2005
    It's all ironed out later. But film composers are even less keen on giving out pub than record artists/producers. Not only is it an administrative hassle (anyone ever filled out a "cue sheet"?) but it's their bread and butter. I don't know...but I have gotten credit on a couple of things (Dukes of Hazzard score, Californication title theme) as a writer, and it's sure nice.

  3. dubmon


    Sep 20, 2007
    Thanks! Very interesting.
    I had talked with a composer I know who also said it is a red tape headache if they have to include other writers. He says he has a stock agreement he has people sign sometimes before a single lick is played, and just makes sure he stays in the writing "driver's seat" at all times. This is waaaayyy indie low-budg stuff though. I was curious if you ever see that at your level of the biz.
    It sounds like a lot of composers these days (but I guess not the A-list guys you work with) are having to accept buyout deals since budgets these days are bad--but at least that would eliminate some paperwork! Crazy business--I can't get my head around the whole publishing/writers share/royalties thing--very confusing stuff. Everybody says "keep your publishing!" but nobody wants you if they don't get your publishing too! I don't get it--make my head hurt.
  4. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    It's all a big power struggle. Guys like Justin developed their power base and proved themselves over the years and can get certain things that not everyone can. Whereas a guy like me would be happy just to be there contributing and getting paid scale as a session musician because I have no power.

    Publishing is tough for beginners, because sometimes the only way anyone in the free world will have anything to do with you is if they can take a cut of your publishing. And you start demanding stuff and they lose your number. But once you develop a track record of sales and get some FU money behind you, then you can start making demands.
  5. pbass2

    pbass2 Supporting Member

    Jan 25, 2007
    Los Angeles
    Speaking as someone who pays a fair amount of the bills doing composing for TV, commercials, and some film--everything from way way indie low-budget to regular studio and network stuff---I will interject that we're seeing all manner and variety of deals and arrangements these days---it's all a symptom of the economy we're all squeaking by in, the way music licensing has evolved over recent years, the internet and how content is dealt with and regarded, and other related factors---the squeeze is on big time. So personally speaking, I have had to use contracts like that when hiring players for certain gigs, when it made the most sense---but it can always be revisited if something needs to be addressed. It's gotten crazier than ever out there--it's like the wild west---but as long as you keep communication open so everybody knows what time it is things work out usually.