Create and advocate: opportunities and tips for screen composers

Friday, 15 May 2020

It’s never been a more challenging time for screen composers. 

Screen composer and APRA AMCOS Ambassador Caitlin Yeo gives us the lay of the land for Australian screen composers right now, and shares how you act to help preserve Australian stories and compositions on our screens. 

  • Screen content quotas for broadcasters were recently suspended, due to COVID-19.
  • Most Australian TV & film productions have been suspended or are unable to continue.
  • SVOD platforms (like Netflix, Stan) have no obligations to create Australian film & TV content.
  • Screen Australia and ACMA recently released ‘Supporting Australian stories on our screens’ - an options paper detailing Australian Government support for the screen sector, the state of play, and four options for change. Screen composers are encouraged to download the paper, read it and have your say by 12 June 2020.

More resources for screen composers 

Tips on navigating screen composer agreements

The Australian Guild of Screen Composers (AGSC) recently held a webinar, hosted by Caitlin, on all kind of screen composer agreements, including buyouts, licensing deals and work-for-hire. Particularly relevant for those new to composing for screen projects, AGSC members can view the webinar here

We’ve compiled key takeaways from the webinar: 

  • Copyright is made up of many different rights – reproduction, public performance, communication to the public and more. An agreement should include the scope of the rights that are needed for the use of your music.
  • There’s many different types of agreements – non-exclusive licences, exclusive licences, assignments, work-for-hire, buyouts, direct source licences. All of them have different ramifications to the rights you assign, and to your future income streams, and potential income streams for those particular jobs.
  • An example of a non-exclusive rights agreement could be one where you provide a piece of your existing music to someone making a film – essentially this is a synchronisation licence.
  • An example of an exclusive rights agreement could be where a big budget film wants to use a well-known song as the film’s theme song. They could negotiate with the rights holder (usually the publisher) to ensure that song is not used in any other films or as a theme as part of this synchronisation licence. Eg: The Breakfast Club licensed ‘Don’t You Forgot About Me’ for exclusive use.

    Note: This type of rights assignment is quite common now.
  • commissioning agreement is where there is an assignment of rights for all uses to the producer or broadcaster. An assignment is essentially handing over your rights for perpetuity.
  • Work-for-hire, buyout and direct license agreements all essentially mean: for a one-time upfront fee, you would irrevocably transfer all right, title and interest in your music to your client/employer for the entire term of copyright throughout the world. 

    To understand the consequences of signing these kind of agreements, read this excellent explanation from the AGSC.

    Generally in Australia, we aren’t dealing with these types of agreements at the moment, they are more common in the USA.
  • As an APRA member, you should remember that you have assigned public performance, broadcast and communication rights for your existing and future works to APRA. So when you are negotiating agreements for assignment of rights, you need to consider the rights you’ve already assigned to APRA.

    In an agreement, check the Grant of Rights section to ensure that the agreement is subject to the prior rights in APRA.
  • Be aware: the kind of rights you are sometimes asked to give up – eg: public performance rights that APRA would collect on your behalf – could be important future earnings for you. Think about the upfront fee offered vs the long-term earning capacity from future royalties that you might forgo.
  • Contracts are ever-changing. Every contract is different. Definitions are malleable – particularly in international agreements. Make sure you understand the terms and definitions being used. Get advice.
  • Remember that every contract is a negotiation – nothing is set in stone. Negotiate for the points you want crossed-out and those you want added in!
  • Reminder: you should consider seeking legal or financial advice before entering into an agreement. Arts Law is a good place to start if you are seeking a lawyer.

Upcoming webinar 

AGSC will host an In Conversation with Matt Schrader, director of the highly-acclaimed documentary Score, on Friday 22 May, 2:00pm – 3:00pm AEST.

This documentary brings Hollywood’s premier composers together to share the musical challenges creative secrecy of scoring films. Watch the documentary on ABC’s iview before tuning into Matt’s In Conversation.

Register now for this free webinar on 22 May. 

COVID-19 funding sources for creatives

We’ve created a resource hub for cash support for creatives. Updated regularly, the guide includes government support available to sole-traders and businesses, as well as creative grants on offer from government or other bodies. 

Screen composer members based anywhere in the world can apply for a grant from our Sustainability Fund. Applications close Friday 29 May 2020. 

Check Screen Australia funding and support page for production and composer opportunities.

Screen Producers Australia has a dedicated COVID-19 guidance for producers resource.


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