Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Jack Segal: Four Rules to the Perfect Song

Every now and again, angels enter our lives.  February 5, 2005, we lost the angel Jack Segal at the young age of 86.  He was writing songs up until the very end.

A throw-back to the classic songwriting days of the 40's, 50's and 60's, I had the good fortune of producing most of Jack's music for the last 15 years of his life.  

From his earlier years as a tin pan alley songwriter of the late 40's and into the 2000's, his classics have been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole and Tony Bennet, to more recently Barbara Streisand, Al Jereau and Snead O'Connor.  

Jack also spent decades as a songwriting coach, holding continuous salons and seminars.  Although I was never his "student," he was in every way, shape and form, my teacher.  I just got to be the fly on the wall, running the gear as the young tech guy during these lectures, and often I would be asked to critique the songs and productions as well.

In an effort of full disclosure:  When I first started working with Jack, I never considered myself a lyricist and when it came to my favorite performances of the classic songs, I barely took notice of the lyric, preferring to listen to the instrumental versions.

I think Jack cured me of this "malady" in the first week of our working together.  

The Numbers Game:  The Wit and Wisdom

In one of our first meetings, Jack proudly stated:
"In my life as a songwriter, I've written thousands of songs.  Out of those three or four thousand, four are perfect.  I'd rewrite all the rest.  The key to writing great songs is to write a lot of them!"
I translate this to one of my favorite phrases:  "No Song (or work of art) is ever finished, only abandoned."

Jack stated his four perfect songs were:

  1. When Joanna Loved Me
  2. When Sunny Gets Blue
  3. Scarlet Ribbons
  4. More Love
Jack's Four Rules to the Perfect Song:

Jack's songs and his rules might seem a bit archaic when you apply them to the latest Billboard chart topper, but when you look deeper at the contemporary songs that have real meaning to people, I think you'll find them as valid today as ever.  They are:

1.  There's a simple and universal story (or concept) that states a desire, and through the singing of song, the narrator is transformed in their desire. 
2.  All the rhymes are true - but not always easily predicted.  No words are rhymed with themselves!
3.  There is a perfect balance between repetition of words, novelty, and familiarity in the words and phrases, that is, as soon as the listener thinks they know the pattern, it changes ever so slightly to keep the interest.
4.  The melody and the tension and release of the harmony match the meaning of the lyric in position and intensity.
With these four rules in mind, I invite you to explore the four perfect songs below.

Today is just another day, tomorrow is a guess
But yesterday, oh, what I'd give for yesterday
To relive one yesterday and its happiness
When Joanna loved me
Every town was Paris
Every day was Sunday
Every month was May
When Joanna loved me
Every sound was music
Music made of laughter
Laughter that was bright and gay
But when Joanna left me
May became December

But, even in December, I remember

Her touch, her smile, and for a little while
She loves me
And once again it's Paris
Paris on a Sunday
And the month is May

When Sunny gets blue
Her eyes get gray and cloudy
Then the rain begins to fall

Pitter patter, pitter patter
Love has gone so what can matter
No sweet lover man comes to call

When Sunny gets blue
She breathes a sigh of sadness
Like the wind that stirs the trees

Wind that sets the leaves to swayin'
Like some violins are playin'
Weird and haunting melodies

People used to love to
Hear her laugh, see her smile
That's how Sunny got her name

Since that sad affair
She's lost her smile
Changed her style
Somehow she's not the same

But mem'ries will fade
And pretty dreams will rise up
Where her other dreams fell through

Hurry, new love, hurry here
To kiss away each lonely tear
And hold her near when Sunny gets blue

Hold her near, when Sunny gets blue

I peeked in to say goodnight
Then I heard my child in prayer
And for me some scarlet ribbons
Scarlet ribbons for my hair
All the stores were closed and shuttered
All the streets were dark and bare
In our town, no scarlet ribbons
Not one ribbon for her hair
Through the night my heart was aching
And just before the dawn was breaking
I peeked in and on her bed
In gay profusion lying there
Lovely ribbons, scarlet ribbons
Scarlet ribbons for her hair

If I live to be a hundred
I will never know from where
Came those lovely scarlet ribbons
Scarlet ribbons for her hair

I should have listened more and listened well
I should have been your shelter in the rain

I should have touched you more and held you closer
Til I felt it melt your quiet pain

Should I have had more time to spare for you
Should have been there for you, to care for you

With more love, more love

I could have given you the gifts I threw to total strangers
Passing through my nights

I could have cuddled near your gentle flame
Been warmer there than in these glaring lights

Should have had more time to spare for you
Should have been there for you, to care for you

With more love, more love, more love

What would it have taken if only could have taken
My eyes off me for a while
I’d have seen the hurtin hidin,
Just behind the curtain of your smile

Oh, I swear I didn't know, which goes to show
How long it takes a man to be a man

But if I say enough
And try enough
And pray enough
And cry enough
I can still can

Have more time to spare for you
Always be there for you, to care for you

With more love, more love, more love

Epilogue, Craig Tries to Write a Lyric:  A Nuclear Disaster

A number of years ago I was hired to write a "classic song" for the video game, "Fallout, A Brotherhood of Steel."  In the game, the song plays through a post apocalyptic, 40's era burned out radio.

At this point in my career, even though I had written countless songs (Hasbro, The Little Mermaid Series, et all), I had never attempted to write the lyrics.  I always partnered with a dedicated lyricist.

But times and budgets were tight, and in speaking with the audio director from the company, the concept for the lyric was clear and came to me quickly.  I decided to go for it.  Channelling my best Jack Segal, I painstakingly applied all I had soaked up at his feet.

Perhaps it's foolhardy to put my lyric on the same page with Jack's, but in reading mine below, I trust you can see how all I am doing is paying tribute to the master.  Not bad for a first attempt.

A Nuclear Blast

A lonely Electron, with nothing to do,

Pairs up with a Neutron for a cocktail or two

Atomic kisses, survived by a few, they had a...

Nuclear Blast!

Said the Electron to the Neutron, you sure can be dense

With this much attraction there's no Civil Defense

Let go of that energy, no need to be tense

Give me that...

Nuclear blast!

Einstein said that space is elastic

Twist his theory, it comes out bombastic

A mushroom cloud, a sight fantastic

Stick your head between your legs, kiss your ass goodbye

A happy Electron, a Neutron its mate

Don't give a damn about apocalyptic fate

They'll party 'til midnight, then boom it's too late, it's a...

Nuclear blast!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Your Composer Fees - Free, Frugal, Fine, or Fu%^ed!

To My Fellow Composers:

If you are at all like me, creating music is the breath of life bordering on obsession.

In order to build a career, you've spent a lifetime studying your craft, paid a fortune on college fees, lessons, seminars, gear....

You'd work for free just for the chance to create.   One might imagine an addiction to cocaine would have made more financial sense.

And then it happens: you land a gig where someone is actually offering you money to create music.

At this point you have to figure out how to price your music, a process I affectionally refer to as deciding if your are going to be "Free, Frugal, Fine or Fu%^!"

Let's start with "Fine:"

When I landed one of my first gigs writing music for a network sit-com, I learned that I had been chosen when one of the competing composers called to congratulate me on my good fortune.   At the time this composer had more shows on the air than anyone in the history of television and I had lost out to him on dozens of occasions, and I had expected I would again.  Happily, I was wrong.

I found it a bit odd that he had found out about the gig before I did, but I took that in stride.  He was famous.  I was just getting started.

The composer then proceeded to tell me exactly his deal for such a show saying,
"This is what I would have charged.  This is what they can afford and what is fair per episode.  I also get half the publishing royalties.  Don't let them low-ball you and give you less. 
"They hired you because they felt your music would work better than mine.  They are not hiring you because they think you'll work cheaper than me - it's not about the money. 
"And remember, the moment 'the powers that be' think they can get great music for cheap, we're all Fu%^ed!"
I went into the negotiation with this information, and I was indeed "Fine."

Free or Frugal:

There's a big difference between working for free or for less than you want, and getting Fu%^ed!

Your music has real and tangible value and you need to demand fair compensation for it.  Still, there might be times when it makes sense to give your music away for free if there is some sort of alternative compensation in the offing.

When you approach such opportunities, you need to understand all the parameters of the gig and the alternative opportunities for monetization of your music. Then you can make an informed decision as to the value of the project as it relates to your time.  Maybe it's a high profile gig that will enhance your value as a composer?  Maybe it's a style of music you need for your reel?  Maybe there's a valuable collaboration?

Just don't let yourself be Fu%^ed!   Here's where the difference lies:
Whenever I am working for less than my real value, I never give away the copyright nor publishing to my music.  I own it and exploit it in other markets.  
Here's how I demand to keep my ownership:

I was asked to write the music for a low budget indie film.  I liked the film and felt it had a chance at getting some real distribution, but as it is in most of these cases, the music budget was appalling.  I insisted on a small orchestra, which completely ate the budget.  I may have even kicked in a bit of money.  One might think I was being Fu%^ed.  This was not the case.

The deal I made:  

In exchange for working below my rate, I retained all the rights to the music.   Working below my rate only made sense because at the time I was supplying music for many, many film trailers.  I understood the value of that alternative monetization.  I also knew that a single license for a trailer would pay more than the entire music budget for the film.

At first the client balked.  "What do you mean, I won't own the music in my film?  I have to own the music!  I won't be able to distribute the film without owning the music."

To which I explained:
"First, we treat the music composed for the film, like any song you might license, as if it existed before the film.  Then, with a proper Sync and Master License, you'll have all the rights needed to distribute the music with film.   You know filmmakers license existing songs for films all the time and it doesn't hinder the film's distribution, right?
This can be a win/win situation.  You get great music for your film, performed by a real orchestra at a budget you can afford, and I get to monetize the music in other projects to make up for the lack of budget."
Then there's the kicker - a dose of reality to the filmmaker.
 "As much as I want to work with you on the film, you really can't expect me to spend six weeks (or more) writing and producing 60 minutes of music (or more), and pay me less then my music gets for a single license for 30 seconds in a film trailer.   That's simply not fair and I can't do it.  You have to let me make a fair return on my time and my investment in your film."
Using this method of negotiating when working on lower budget projects, I have been able to build a personal music library of over 500 cues.  To date, the music has appeared in over 140 trailers ranging from the "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" franchises, to films like "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." My library is also used extensively on TV for everything from HGTV to The X-Factor.  Because I had access to these avenues of monetization, working for these films made financial sense - as long as I owned the music.


Each composer will face their own challenges in their career, and getting fair compensation for their work is always going to be an issue. And when you love what you do as much as we do, it's even harder to say no to an opportunity.

The key to not being "Fu%^ed," at least for me, has been my demand to own my music whenever the budgets are small. Otherwise, composing would have long ago gone from career to hobby.

Finally, for the new crew of composers entering the industry, I recall the words said to me when I landed that sit-com at the beginning of my career.
"...the moment 'the powers that be' think they can get great music for cheap, we're all Fu%^ed!"
Words to live by...

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Sync and Master License for Use of Music in a Film Demystified (kind of)

I am not a lawyer.  I have no right to give legal advice and I am not doing that now.  That's my disclaimer.

Still, I have often joked, a lawyer spends just three years learning their craft before becoming a professional lawyer.  Most musicians, after only three years of study, can barely play a listenable tune, (I would have been 10 years old at the time) much less charge $100+ an hour for what they play. But I digress....

As a media composer, I have, by necessity, learned a thing or two about music law, copyright, synchronization licenses, performance royalties, trademarks, master licenses, statutory royalties, and just about everything else that has to do with the monetization of music.   When one's very survival depends on your knowledge of these things, one has a tendency to study well.   The rules are complicated and constantly changing as new delivery methods and technologies emerge.  It's maddening.

Despite all the changes in the business, here is one of the most basic questions one must be able to answer.  

"What type of agreements do you need to put in place with a production company in order to have your music included in a media project?"

A "Synchronization License" and a "Master License. " 
For demonstration purposes only,
Download a Generic Sync and Master License

•  Synchronization License:

I define a "Synchronization License" as the right to synchronize the abstract creation that is the composition to an image.  In essence, it's kind of like Paul McCartney saying to the film company, "Here's a lead sheet to my song 'Yesterday,' including the melody and harmony, now do with it as you will to make that work with your image."

Notice, this license has nothing to do with any tangible version of the music, just the abstract intellectual property of the work.  With a sync license, you either need to create your own "Master Recording," or find a "Master Recording" that you wish to include and pay for separately.  We'll address that in a moment.

Who grants the "Synchronization License?"

If you are a filmmaker who wants to use a specific composition in your movie, 95% of the time you have to get the sync license from the publisher of the composition.  ASCAP,  BMI, and most other Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) worldwide have searchable databases that will share that contact information.

Buyer beware:  I have many times had a filmmaker say to me, "I am best friends with 'So and So' from the band 'Such and Such.'  He told me it's OK to use the song for free." I quietly nod and think, "Call me when the publisher tells you the license is going to cost $10K."

If you are the composer, upon the completion of the creation of the composition, you own the publishing rights and copyright to the intellectual property that is the composition and therefore, you grant the "Synchronization License."

Fun Fact:  As a composer, you can not grant your publishing or copyright in your music to anyone without a written contract.  Verbal agreements do not count!  If the contract is not in writing, it doesn't exist.  This protects composers from people making unjust claims against the ownership of your music.  

•  Master License

I define the "Master License" as the right to synchronize a specific "Master Recording" to an image.   

Take for example, the song "Yesterday" mentioned above.  Through the fore-mentioned "Synchronization License," the filmmaker was granted the right to take the abstract work that is the song "Yesterday," and include it in their project. 

Through the "Master License," the filmmaker is granted the right to a specific master recording of the song.

As one might imagine, there are hundreds of recordings of the song "Yesterday" and they can vary widely in price to license.  If it's the Beatles recording, the license fee can range in the millions of dollars.  If it's your neighbor's recording in their garage (unless you live next to Sir Paul) it might cost a fiver.

The filmmaker can also create their own master recording and avoid paying the "Master License" to an outside party, once they have the sync license.

Who grants the "Master License?"

The owner in the copyright in the "Master Recording" grants the "Master License."  Usually this is whomever paid for the recording. 

If the composition appeared on a released CD, usually the master is owned by the record company. Sometimes, the master is also owned by the publisher.  If you are the composer and the recording was created in your home studio, you own the copyright in the master recording and grant the license.


These are by far the most basic of descriptions of a Synchronization License and a Master License, but hopefully this will start the demystification process.  

To study more you might wish to Download a Generic Sync and Master License.

Finally, if you are an aspiring media composer interested in learning more about the business of music,  I recommended this book by Jeffery and Todd Brabec.  In it's seventh edition, it's doing its best to stay up to date on the shifting sands of the ever changing music landscape.

I also recommend these 4 books.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Production Companies Benefit When Composers Keep their Royalties

A recent Facebook post by a young colleague asking for assistance in dealing with a documentary producer has led me to repost this letter that I used to share with all my UCLA students.  I invited my students to use this letter freely, whenever they confronted the same challenge.

Here's the situation:

Music rights are complicated and unless you live in that world, the details might get lost. People misunderstand terms and are frightened by the unknown.

Because of this, a producer makes an unreasonable demand: that the composer needs to give up his writer's/publisher's share of performance royalty income.  In this instance, the producer believes that this is needed in order to free the film or game from any legal encumbrances that might stop the film from being sold.  Nothing could be further from the truth and the letter explains this.

For the sake of this letter, we'll also assume the fee is substantial enough for the production company to ask for some or all of the publishing - I'll post another blog about what to do when the fees are not really reflective of the work.

Here's the letter:

Dear Producer who wants a “Buyout”

I want to thank you for being open on this subject and for the offer to pass the following information on to your legal advisors for review.  The copyright law as it relates to music is indeed complicated, but with a little understanding, we can all benefit from the systems that have been in place since the late 1800s to protect composer's rights as well as those who want to employ composers.

The basics:

Yes, you can employ me as a “Work for Hire” and include that language in our contract. And yes, in this case, the copyright, publishing, and control of the music is granted to your production company. This is often the standard under which composers work.

But “Performance Royalties” are a different matter as is the income stream associated with them.  

They are separate from the ownership and copyright, and it is actually in the best interest of your production company to make certain that I, as the composer, be granted all my rights and royalties in this regard.  

This is why Disney, Universal, Columbia Tri-Star, Miramax, and the myriad of other companies I have worked for have always granted these rights to me.  They know it's in their best interest and here’s why:
1. ”Performance Royalties” are paid by broadcasters, not your production company.  There is no negative impact on your production company.
Broadcasters and other entities that “perform music in public” already have deals in place that pay “performance royalties” to the world's "Performance Rights Organizations" (PROs). This fee is called a “Blanket License.”   
When the Broadcasters and others pay this fee, they have the right to broadcast/perform any music that is assigned to these respective PROs.

Then, after the performance or broadcast, the worldwide PROs divide the blanket license fees they have collected according to what music was performed, as cataloged in a document called a "cue sheet."  I'll be supplying this "cue sheet" at the end of the project, and you will learn that upon distribution of your film, an accurate cue sheet will be a required deliverable along with your master video.
This is where the production company might benefit.   
For every dollar the PROs distribute, 50% goes to me as the composer of the music and 50% will go to the publisher of the music.  Since your production company has paid me a premium fee for my work, your production company will be entitled to some, if not all of this publisher's share of royalty income.  
That said, no matter what the fee, in no case is the production company entitled to "the writer's share" and in fact, it is detrimental to the production company to limit my ability to collect this royalty.  Let me explain further.

2.  The “writers share” of the performance royalty will only be paid to the writer.  This is separate from the “Authorship” owned or controlled by the production company under the “work for hire” agreement.
As a matter of fact, both ASCAP and BMI state clearly on their websites and in their literature that under no circumstance will the writer's share of performance royalties be paid to the employer or any other entity other than the composer.  

If we follow your request that I forfeit my composer's share, the money that I should have collected is simply re-distributed to other composers.  The production company and publisher see no benefit to this, and as I will show, it actually adversely effects the production company and their ability to collect their share of any royalties.

3.  If a cue sheet is filed where no recognized writer is listed as the composer, or if a production company’s name is listed under “composer,” it will adversely effect the production company’s ability to collect their publisher’s share of the royalties – especially in foreign territories.
Yes, it is true that if a cue sheet is filed without an affiliated composer listed, the publisher will still get their 50% share of the domestic performance royalty income, but that is only in the USA.

Most foreign publishing rights societies will not pay the publisher unless a recognized composer is listed on the cue sheet!
And foreign performance royalties, over the life of a film, can be 10-100 times the domestic royalty!
So, in summary, by allowing me to file cue sheets that accurately list me as the composer of the music, we all benefit from the royalty streams and ensure that income from around the world.

I know this is a lot of information for a brief e-mail.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the details.  I am certain we can work out an arrangement to our mutual benefit.



I hope this letter is of help to my colleagues and it is my pleasure to share it here.

Craig Stuart Garfinkle