There’s the right way to license songs for a movie or a compilation album… and then there’s what they did.
In 2014, I was in talks to have one of my songs placed in a movie. I sent them a demo of the tune (and specified as such) in mp3 form, with the intentions to go back in and touch up the vocals. I received a license draft from them and sent it back with my revisions. This was the last point of contact I had on the topic.
Fast forward to February 2016. I signed up for a trial run of the Tidal streaming service, and did a search of my artist name to make sure my records were up there. What else did I find? You guessed it: the demo of that song, as included on that movie’s soundtrack.
I’m not super upset about it, as it was a throwaway tune I cut during the To The Sky era, but this situation is a prime example of what not to do when assembling a product.
Strike 1: The licensing process was never completed.
They may consider it a done deal, but I never received a copy of the license signed by both parties with the revisions I made. It could’ve been due to a case of miscommunication. Yet, since the soundtrack has been released (and most likely the film as well), this technically makes them copyright infringers.
If I was petty and had deep pockets, I could send a cease and desist letter, get the film and soundtrack pulled down from every distribution channel, AND sue for damages (since I’ve seen no royalties). I literally couldn’t care less, but I could legally do so if I wanted to and win.
Proper Protocol: Get the license signed by both parties (or at least a memo of understanding) BEFORE the release date, and each party should have a copy of the license. It is also an added courtesy to put the licensor on notice whenever the product is released.
Strike 2: The soundtrack wasn’t mastered.
I skimmed-listened to the soundtrack once I realized it existed. While I will refrain judgment on the song selections, I could tell by the second or third song that the album wasn’t mastered. The levels for each song weren’t matched to one another, so some of the songs were too quiet while others were okay, and the EQ levels were all over the place. It sounds more like a WinAmp playlist than a soundtrack. (Yea, I said it)
Proper Protocol: Get the entire product mastered. This will ensure that the product sounds polished and sonically comparable to other professionally-released music releases.
Strike 3: The “masters” they used were mp3s.
I can hear every mastering engineer clutching their pearls. The only file they received from me was the demo in mp3 format. It’s on me that I never touched up the vocals, but it’s a BIG no-no on their end for using an MP3 file as the master.
Proper Protocol: Use uncompressed files (WAV, AIFF). It’s just like photos: you can decrease the quality of a high-resolution audio file, but it doesn’t work the other way around.
What’d we learn?
Don’t cut corners when it comes to your product. On the creative side, make sure that it is properly mixed and mastered. If you want to impress people enough to purchase your product, it needs to be able to sonically hold its own beside the music on the radio. On the business side, make sure you license everything that needs to be licensed. There are so many people that have lost out on opportunities and income because their business skills were that of a house plant.
As for my situation, I’m gonna take the L on this one. Don’t let my apathetic reaction fool you: the song has been registered at ASCAP in case any performance royalties funnel through, and I will come for my mechanicals if I get any inclination that it’s selling enough for grab a steak dinner at the nearest Sizzler. But in terms of me putting up a fight with the production company, I don’t see that happening.
Won’t happen again though.